13 February 2023

ABC Business Editor Ian Verrender: “What if you woke up one morning only to be told the very essence of everything you believed in was wrong? And what if those beliefs — and the decisions you made based upon them — underpinned the living standards of millions of people, here and around the world? That’s the reality dawning on a generation of economists who suddenly have been beset with doubts about one of the great tenets of modern economic theory: the relationship between jobs, wages and inflation. … Known as the Phillips Curve — after New Zealand economist William Phillips who first formulated it in 1958 — it maintains that as more people find work, pressure builds on wages, which then leads to higher prices and ultimately entrenches inflation. … Given their primary remit is to control inflation, it’s been the credo to which all central banks have subscribed. Until now. For whatever reason, the relationship between unemployment and inflation has become less clear across the developed world. … [T]he primary problem is that the world has changed dramatically since it first became popular as workers’ rights have been eroded. They no longer have the same kind of bargaining power they once had. In Australia, you can’t just walk off the job in protest at your pay and conditions in the way workers in the 1970s did. You need [FWC] approval to take industrial action. That’s obliterated the number of disputes and strikes… Even now, wages growth is running at way below inflation, meaning most workers are taking a real wages cut while simultaneously being whacked by the most punishing round of interest rate hikes in history. … But … the RBA remains fixated on the notion that if jobs numbers remain strong, inflation could become entrenched, which has only hardened its resolve to keep pushing rates higher. Eventually, they’ll get there. Higher interest rates at some stage will curb spending, cut profits and result in mass layoffs. It could well be recession we didn’t have to have.”

10 February 2023

A good column from a coalition of human rights and migrant rights organisations: “Since 1996, when the Howard government introduced the temporary employer-sponsored sub-class 457 visa, two key trends have come to dominate immigration policy. The first is the endless proliferation of temporary visas with no direct pathways to permanent residency. As the Human Rights Law Centre and Migrant Workers Centre pointed out in joint submissions to the review, it is increasingly common for people to spend more than 10 years on temporary visas searching for an opportunity to permanently migrate. … The second trend is the dependence of permanent pathways upon decisions made by employers. Temporary migrants must rely on the goodwill of their employers at various points in the immigration maze: to obtain certification of their skills, to accrue the points necessary in the cut-throat process of skilled migration, or to sponsor them for a limited range of employment-based visas. The reliance of migrant workers on their employers for immigration outcomes robs them of bargaining power at work. It becomes unthinkable to refuse extra hours or cashback requests, demand fair pay or decent conditions at work if losing your job means losing your visa and a future in Australia. The migration system offers no protection to temporary migrants, extending them a standing invitation to ‘go home’ if things get tough. It is time Australia confronts and addresses the systemic exploitation of migrant workers. This requires a fundamental shift that puts the rights of migrants at the heart of the migration system.”

7 February 2023

In 2014, Daniel Andrews promised to make Victoria “The Education State” and turn our cars into mobile billboards by putting the slogan on number plates. Two terms later, it’s clear he is just gaslighting us: “[F]ederal and state funding per student in Victorian non-government schools grew 31 per cent over the 10 years to 2021. Funding per student in Victorian state schools grew by 27.1 per cent over the same period. … [A]t $17,174 per student, Victorian students are the second-lowest funded in the country, only ahead of South Australian students. Victoria’s public schools received $20,047 per student in government funding in 2020-21, while non-government schools attracted $12,087 per student. … The Andrews government has committed to fund non-government schools fully in 2023, but has yet to commit to fully funding state schools. It has agreed to increase its share of the student resourcing standard — an estimate of how much public funding a school requires to meet educational needs — to 75 per cent by 2029, while the Commonwealth funds 20 per cent. There is no agreement on the remaining 5 per cent.” Fully funding private schools today, but only committing to 95% funding for public schools in 2029! There’s a lot of blather about how to improve educational outcomes, but if we don’t stop pissing away hundreds of millions of dollars on overfunded private schools, and redirect that money to students who actually need it, we have no chance.

1 February 2023

The Victorian coroner has made damning findings of systemic racism throughout the Victorian criminal justice system, which caused the death of Victoria Nelson: “I find that the use of handcuffs by Victoria Police was unjustified and disproportionate in the circumstances. I find that the police [bail decision-maker] was empowered to grant Veronica bail and failed to give proper consideration to the discretion to do so and this infringed her Charter rights. By failing to give proper consideration to the discretion, I find that the police [bail decision-maker] failed to adequately consider Veronica’s vulnerability in custody as an Aboriginal woman. I find that the training provided by Victoria Police on these topics fails to equip its members with an adequate appreciation of the vulnerability of an Aboriginal person in custody. … I find that at the time of Veronica’s appearance at the [Melbourne Magistrates’ Court]…, culturally specific support for Aboriginal court users was under-resourced and designed to address the cultural needs of only some Aboriginal people – those attending Koori Court. The restrictions of the cultural support role as planned by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, and the inadequate process for identifying people who might need it, failed to give proper consideration to Veronica’s rights to equality and culture and those of other Aboriginal court users. I find that the Bail Act has a discriminatory impact on First Nations people resulting in grossly disproportionate rates of remand in custody, the most egregious of which affect alleged offenders who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. I find that ss 4AA(2)(c), 4A, 4C and Clauses 1 and 30 of Schedule 2 of the Bail Act are incompatible with the [Victorian Human Rights] Charter.” It goes on, but the findings about the Bail Act, and the coroner’s detailed recommendations about how it should be reformed, have forced the government to promise change.

The finding about the Bail Act has captured media attention, but it is not a shocking revelation. Here is a report from 2019: “Human rights advocates say the state’s expanding prison system and legal changes that make it tougher to access bail and parole are ensnaring disadvantaged women responsible for relatively minor criminal offending linked to poverty and substance abuse. This increase is particularly stark for Aboriginal women, with a 240 per cent jump in the number of female Aboriginal prisoners in Victorian prisons over the past five years. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the total number of female prisoners in Victoria over the same period… About two-thirds of women whose period of remand had ended were released from prison without needing to serve any more time in jail.” We knew what was happening, but the Andrews Government (which loves to pat itself on the back as the most progressive government in the nation) didn’t want to upset the cops [$] by fixing it. It shouldn’t have taken the death by racism of another Aboriginal woman to shock Andrews into a response — and, frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it, because the death of Tanya Day prompted a similar promise to amend the criminal law in 2019, but it still hasn’t happened.

26 January 2023

Claire G Coleman wants the onus of proof put where it belongs [$] in land rights cases: “An important distinction in the Mabo decision is that native title exists wherever it has not been extinguished by the land being put to other uses. Land claimed by Cook and then by Arthur Phillip was determined to have always belonged to the traditional owners. In other words, all unallocated or unclaimed crown land belongs to the traditional owners and not to the government or the crown. … There is no crown land on this continent. … It’s all legally and spiritually Aboriginal land. Always was, always will be. … The Mabo decision determined that the crown did not legally occupy any land in the colony of Australia in 1788. All land holdings present in 1787, which is all land on the continent, continue to this day unless the title has been extinguished by allocation between 1788 and the Mabo decision. Post-Mabo, the crown owns no land in Australia. Crown land should not exist; the Mabo decision gives traditional owners the right to claim crown land once they have asserted their land rights. Yet regardless of this, the adversarial stance of the government against land rights continues. … The only reason I can think of why crown land is not being returned to traditional owners is a refusal to give us back what is ours. Want to prove you give a shit? Want to prove reconciliation is possible? Return all vacant crown land to the traditional owners of that land, return what you have stolen but have not used. All traditional owners have the right to claim unclaimed crown land post-Mabo, but when we ask for our land back, particularly when that land contains mineral resources or is in the temperate south of the continent or near a capital city, the government, no matter what party is in control, fights us. This fighting can end.”

Coleman gave a very good interview elaborating on her argument on the 7am podcast.

25 January 2023

“Change the date? If that’s the considered will of the people, fine by me. Yet, to foster far greater knowledge of our complex history, let’s change the curriculum first. … It should be compulsory for all secondary students to complete units on Australian history from 1788 to 1914. These units should cover, among other things, Indigenous responses to colonisation, disease, the frontier wars, the establishment of western institutions and norms, official policies regarding Indigenous Australians (including the removal of Indigenous children) and the framing of the constitution. This period of our history includes many shameful elements. At the same time, institutions and systems were established that enabled Australia to become, arguably, the most successful multicultural nation in the world. It’s imperative that young people come to an understanding of this complex history: the very good, the bad and the downright racist.” As I read this column, I found myself nodding along — and then I did a huge spit-take when I saw the byline: the Victorian Liberal shadow education minister, Matthew Bach. The debate has shifted…

The Canberra Times [$]: “The RBA governor wants any wage gains to be kept below 4 per cent. In effect, he is asking workers to accept a real pay cut now in the hope that the nation’s inflation problem will resolve reasonably quickly. It is a big ask, particularly coming, as it does, on top of a decade when wages barely kept up with rising living costs (and, in the case of most public servants, actually fell behind).” Australian Financial Review [$]: “Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe earned $1 million last year, making him one of the country’s highest paid public servants. The central bank’s annual report shows Dr Lowe’s total remuneration was $1.02 million in the 2017-18 financial year, including $114,617 in superannuation. The RBA governor is paid about double the Prime Minister and above most other senior public servants such as the heads of the Prime Minister’s Department, Treasury and financial regulators.” I have my doubts that this guy, when fulfilling his obligation to make decisions with “the economic prosperity and welfare of the people of Australia” in mind, actually understands what a real wage cut feels like to ordinary people. This is the guy who said interest rates would not increase until 2024, then reneged — and when called on it, said, “I’m sorry that people listened to what we said and then acted on that and now find themselves in a position they don’t want to be in.” He’s a disgrace.

24 January 2023

You might have seen reports that radicals within the Aboriginal community are opposed to the Voice. This is no surprise — a minority group led by Lidia Thorpe walked out of the Statement from the Heart conference when they realised the overwhelming majority of delegates supported Voice before Treaty, and while she said she won’t campaign against the referendum, she seems to be walking away from that commitment. I’m sympathetic to the splinter group’s view (they argue that including Indigenous people within the Constitution without a treaty will undermine their sovereignty) but it is too theoretical — in reality, sovereignty comes from power, not words on a page, and leveraging the existing legal structures to build power is the better way to achieve a treaty. I think Eddie Synot [$] is right when he says, “Having a permanent, constitutionally protected and mandated representative body that enables Indigenous people to mobilise around will have a massive impact in pushing for these kinds of issues to be dealt with and dealt with respectfully.” As Megan Davis explains, “At an institutional level, Victoria has the most advanced treaty process in Australia and may deliver an alternative Indigenous vision for the nation and the globe. To negotiate a treaty, it had to do what the Uluru statement contemplates and create a political Voice first: this pioneering Voice is known as the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. The assembly advanced its treaty negotiation framework and, on the advice of communities, has now established the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. (Yoo-rrook being a Wamba Wamba / Wemba Wemba word meaning ‘truth’.)” The Uluru vision is that the Voice underpins Treaty and Truth, so it must come first. Does that mean I think the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance should drop their campaign? Not at all — the radical wing pushing for more than just the Voice will ensure that the momentum of the referendum campaign will continue for further change in future. But I will be voting Yes, and I hope you will too.

Michael Bradley: “To seek change as ground-shifting as the Voice, you need to be honest and you need to try to build the widest constituency of support. In the context of Australian constitutional reforms, that means bipartisanship. So it was wise to come out open-handed, asking the Coalition to join hands in the cause. But now we know that is never going to happen. We know that even if the polls shifted radically in favour of the Voice question being answered Yes, Dutton would only triple down on his mission to wreck it. This is a cast-iron fact. Dutton has also settled on a strategy that is likely to work if the government maintains its tactical approach. … If there was bipartisanship, the ‘lack of detail’ wouldn’t matter and the entire debate could focus where it should: on the question of principle. However, there is and will be no bipartisanship. The Liberals are disingenuously demanding ‘the detail’, and Albanese is not going to succeed if he continues just calling bullshit on that. Yes, it is bullshit, but … [it’s] time to change tack to find a way to neutralise the attack. … The 260-page report does exist, and nobody’s going to read it. If they did, they’d understand the necessity of the Voice. They wouldn’t lose this one chance to change our country, permanently, for the better. Albanese’s task now is to take those 260 pages, distil their essence and deliver that to the right brains — the emotional, triggered brains — of the fearful. To still their fears, neuter Dutton’s shamelessness, and engage their empathy for a righteous cause.” Albanese reckons “more detail would be released by the referendum working group, which is due to meet again on 2 February” — I think letting the detail come from the expert group is the right approach, but they need to get a move on.

Australia is, rightly, a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which requires all places of detention to be open to independent inspections by the UN to ensure there is no inhumane treatment of detainees. The process is has uncovered dangerous and illegal treatment of prisoners in immigration detention: “An immigration detainee [in the Park Hotel detention centre] served a contaminated meal was not offered an alternative because the maggots were ‘just on the vegetables’… The report made 18 recommendations to the Department of Home Affairs and detailed several incidents, including how fire extinguishers were deployed against immigration detainees on Christmas Island last year in a ‘planned and systematic use of force’. The report also uncovered two ‘holding cells’ — rooms with just a mattress on a concrete slab — in New South Wales’s Villawood immigration detention centre were being used without any time limits or consultation with health or mental health staff, despite a toilet, sink or running water being a requirement for inmates kept for any significant amount of time.” Unfortunately, Victoria, Queensland and NSW are refusing to open their prisons to the same scrutiny. They are complaining about the cost — but frankly, if you’re going to open a prison the cost of independent inspections should be part of it. Their recalcitrance is putting Australia in breach of treaty obligations.