10 November 2021

Former NSW and Victorian judges Anthony Whealy and Stephen Charles [$]: “It is regrettable that The Australian Financial Review’s editorial — Voters, not ICAC, should judge the business of politics — of November 3 should have taken a narrow view of the need for proper integrity oversight of the political process in NSW. This is a grotesque view. Voters are in no position to investigate at close quarters the minutiae of events surrounding any particular grant decision. Consider the detail of the Auditor-General’s report into the Sport Rorts scandal. Consider also the months of inquiry, the call for and collection of documents, the interviewing of witnesses, the compulsory examinations in connection with the Maguire/Berejiklian investigation. The material uncovered in both these matters, one federal and one state, emphasises how voters, left solely to their own prejudices, know little of the detailed circumstances involving ‘the business of politics’. It is laughable to suggest that voters, in the absence of independent scrutiny, are in any position to judge the lawfulness, probity and rectitude of government decisions.” It’s true that voters should judge the business of politics — but they need a range of institutions, including well-resourced independent anti-corruption commissions, to provide the information that allows them to cast an informed vote.

5 November 2021

Dr Joanna Howe: “Farm workers in Australia have toiled for as little as $1 an hour. Or they can slave away all day filling a bucket with oranges for $5 an hour, so it amounts to just $40 in wages. Until now. On Thursday, in a landmark decision, the Fair Work Commission has ruled that farm workers can no longer be paid below the hourly minimum wage through the use of piece rates. This is a foundational step to ending the endemic exploitation of migrant farmworkers. … In my research we encountered workers effectively being paid $1 an hour on piece rates and more generally we found piece-rate workers earned less than $15 an hour, more than $5 below the legal minimum hourly rate for a 38-hour week. This was often because workers bore the cost for things that were beyond their control. For example, if the weather was bad and the fruit was damaged, or it was the end of the season and there was less fruit on the trees. Or it was often the case that workers couldn’t get up to the unrealistically high picking speed demanded by the farmer. … This decision will force some growers to face an uncomfortable reality. Some will have to change their business model and raise their rates to become compliant if they want to stay in business. Others will calculate the risk of being detected and decide to ignore this decision and keep paying workers well below the minimum wage. So although this decision is a step in the right direction, it needs to be accompanied by further reform to ensure the horticulture industry is not built upon a norm of non-compliance with labour standards.”

Related [$]: “Australia’s already-stalled seasonal-worker program is under challenge from a proposed class action by Pacific Island workers against labour hire companies accused of exploitation and massive wage theft… The Australian has sighted dozens of pay slips showing some South Sea islanders brought to Australia as farm workers on the promise of wages of $900 a week are left with less than $300 a week to pay for basic items such as food after excessive deductions.”

27 October 2021

Katharine Murphy: “There’s not a lot of good news, so for the sake of all our sanity, let’s start with the good news. The Morrison government has adopted a mid-century target of net zero emissions by 2050. … But sadly, that’s where our good news begins and ends. Morrison’s so-called mid-century plan has very little substantive content. It really is extraordinary that we could spend the best part of a year tracking towards Tuesday’s pre-Glasgow crescendo — and land with a ‘plan’ that is actually the status quo with some new speculative graphs. … According to the government’s materials, nearly half the abatement to be undertaken between now and 2050 will be delivered by ‘global technology trends’, ‘further technology breakthroughs’ and international and domestic offsets. … The concept the prime minister unfurled in the Blue Room at Parliament House on Tuesday was a whole-of-economy transition achieved by technology magic (with a safety valve of carbon offsets in the event that tech is not quite as magical as hoped). Australia’s net zero strategy will be delivered by … wait for it … existing policy.” Laura Tingle’s icy coverage captures the mood.

26 October 2021

Michael Bradley on the Crown Casino royal commission [$]: “‘Within a very short time, the commission discovered that for years Crown Melbourne had engaged in conduct that is, in a word, disgraceful.’ So begins the 652-page report of the royal commission into Crown’s fitness to hold its Melbourne casino licence, conducted by retired judge Ray Finkelstein QC. He goes on: ‘This is a convenient shorthand for describing conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative.’ And on: ‘alarming’, ‘callous’, ‘appalling’, ‘damning’, ‘distressing’ appear in the executive summary, with observations such as ‘the board fell asleep at the wheel’ and ‘many senior executives were indifferent to their ethical, moral and sometimes legal obligations’. It’s hardly surprising then that Finkelstein concluded: ‘It was inevitable that Crown Melbourne would be found unsuitable to hold its casino licence. No other finding was open.’ As Patricia Bergin had found in Sydney, Crown failed every single test of integrity, honesty, legal compliance and even the faintest shred of justification to continue holding the social licence that a casino operator surely requires. It has been exposed — again — as a criminal organisation, not a company. Obviously, then, its casino licence for Crown Melbourne will be torn up and the doors closed, to save the public from any further exposure to the stinking cancer that Crown is. Ha-ha-ha, no. Of course not. Crown will keep its casino licence, thank you very much.” Capital trumps the rule of law.

19 October 2021

Our tax system is completely screwed up: “The tax on $100,000 goes to the heart of one of the problems. If you are on a salary of this amount, you will end up paying almost $23,000 a year in personal income tax. But if you happen to be in a small business partnership or trust that made $100,000, then you (and your partner) will pay $6717 in income tax – about $10,000 less than the salaried worker. Make $100,000 selling shares in a company that you’ve held for at least 12 months and you have the same tax liability as the small business partnership. If you make $100,000 selling the family home in the nation’s currently hot property market, you won’t pay a cent on the capital gain. Then there’s the shareholder who’ll pocket a $5000 cheque from the Tax Office if the Australian company they invest in pays out $100,000 in fully franked dividends.” It’s so bad that even Saul Eslake almost sounds like a radical: “We don’t honour wealth from toil because we tax it [income] so heavily. What we honour is wealth from sport, gambling and property speculation, all of which our tax system taxes much more lightly. What has worsened is inequality in the distribution of wealth.”

Not surprising: “New data shows three-quarters of the 12,000 enforcement actions taken since 2015 were against for-profit providers.” (They make up about half of all centres.) “They also have the highest proportion of centres not meeting national quality standards, a report from the United Workers Union, which represents childcare staff, finds. The problem is especially acute in Victoria and NSW. Educators say their concerns about safety in for-profit centres often relate to staffing arrangements, with the bare minimum rostered on to meet legal mandates. … The report shows in Victoria, about nine in 10 instances of enforcement for breaches have been at for-profit providers since 2018. In NSW, 77 per cent of enforcement actions were taken against for-profit providers. Breaches include not having enough staff, inadequate supervision of children, using inappropriate discipline, failing to protect children from harm and hazards, and not delivering educational programs. … The report also examines childcare quality ratings and finds that one in six for-profit centres, more than 1200, don’t yet meet national quality standards. It found that 16 per cent of for-profit centres exceeded quality standards compared with 36 per cent of not-for-profits and 40 per cent of publicly-run centres.” You can read the full report via the UWU’s Big Steps campaign.

5 October 2021

I’m late linking to Jeff Sparrow’s excellent post because I couldn’t decide which aspect to highlight. Perhaps this: “The fight against the virus now depends on direct politics: the democratic mobilisation of the entire population. That’s the only way we might sustain popular enthusiasm for the measures required. A radical response to Covid … would rest on employees deciding for themselves whether their industries could or should operate or close down; it would entail neighbourhood groups providing mutual aid; it would refocus the entire economy on people’s basic needs. Obviously, that all sounds fanciful, in a context in which community groups and unions have never been weaker. But it’s far more fanciful to imagine that an entirely marginal Left could somehow compel the state to act on its behalf. … Yes, we’re in a terribly weak condition. But that makes articulating, as best we can, our own, independent positions even more important. The response by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism to the attack on the CFMEU provides a good example. Using the hashtag, #DontScabGetTheJab, the group is encouraging workers to circulate pics in which they display the slogan ‘pro-vax, pro-union, anti-fascist’. Ok, it’s small beer: everyone knows that social media won’t, in and of itself, change the world. Conceptually, though, there’s an important difference between neatly-coiffured politicians belittling vaccine-hesitant communities as ignorant morons and ordinary workers presenting the fight against Covid as an expression of social solidarity by which we might keep each other safe.”

(Support the CARF campaign!)

24 September 2021

Australian bosses are world-leaders in employee surveillance [$]: ”About 61 per cent of senior executives in large corporations in Australia told a Herbert Smith Freehills’ global survey released on Wednesday they expect to see a rise in employee activism over the next three to five years, with employee surveillance (40 per cent) topping pay (36 per cent) and vaccine status (15 per cent) as the key trigger. According to the report, more than 90 per cent of Australian employers are using software to monitor their employee location when they work remotely, far more than any other region. North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the United Kingdom all ranked less than 80 per cent. … The dominance of surveillance technology comes as firms reported a surge in sales of monitoring software last year, including webcam access, random screenshot monitoring and keystroke monitoring. … Large corporates are already taking active steps to mitigate the risk of employee activism, with 97 per cent of Australian employers saying they restricted or controlled employee actions.“

23 September 2021

Nicholas Stuart: “What could possibly explain last week’s sudden and abrupt decision to throw the project overboard and substitute a vague promise of embarking on a new build in two year’s time? Defence analysts increasingly believe the only way to make sense of the move is to see it as the first step in the creation of an independent nuclear deterrent.” In other words, Australia is preparing to break its anti-nuclear proliferation commitment and arm up with nukes to threaten our neighbours. “The key is in the vessels themselves. … Perhaps most crucially, they can also be fitted with nuclear warheads. … [O]wning this sort of submarine is a game changer. It opens up options Scott Morrison (and, perhaps more particularly, defence minister Peter Dutton) are well aware of, and are probably seeking. Perhaps this is the vital background to why the French project was abandoned. … [T]he shift can’t be explained away as simply an acknowledgement that Australia’s submarines need to be nuclear-powered. If this was the only requirement, talks would have already begun with the French, who produce highly sophisticated nuclear vessels. Indeed, we’ve been working hard to convert one of their nuclear subs to a conventionally powered boat, so swapping in a new engine block would have been simple. The only way to make any sense of the move is to understand it as, quite possibly, the most significant strategic decision Canberra has made since the second world war, wedding the country decisively to a US/UK alliance and catapulting Australia into the ranks of potentially nuclear-armed states.”

22 September 2021

Guy Rundle on the Left’s weak response to nuclear subs [$]: “Aside from Keating, there has been pretty much crickets, apart from somewhat less powerful voices, such as myself, Vanguard — the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) paper — and Green Left. Strange times, strange times… [W]hat has been notable is the lack of concerted, institutional opposition to our new, willed dependency in a white man’s Burton. Labor fell into line dutifully, the ACTU said not a word, the left unions did not break away and speak away, the Greens emphasised the nuclear danger angle, there was no word from the churches against a willed drift to war. … Through the 1950s and ’60s we had a vigorous peace movement — which, being run largely by the Communist Party, had its biases — and then we had one of the world’s largest anti-war and anti-nuclear movements from the ’70s through to the 2000s. The active support of unions and churches was essential to such a movement, as was the presence of a more vocal and independent Labor left — and a Labor leadership that retained aspects of Labor’s dissidence. That this coalition is now absent is a disaster for the country. I don’t believe for a second that it is indicative of a wider absence in society; I think many Australians have a deep disquiet about the direction being taken, the giddy, gung-ho commitment to a race-grounded imperial alliance. But the shifts in Australian society have been so great that there has been a split between elite power group leaderships, and an atomised population which is often to the left of the people leading them.”

(This overlooks the MUA and ETU’s well articulated opposition to the AUKUS announcement, and has nothing to say about the impact of lockdowns — both the rules and the fatigue — on the ability of a community groups to organise a display of opposition, but the broader point is well made.)