Before you read the thoughts of Janelle, Kathy, Andrea, Ewen and Penelope, you should prepare the right way: in the sixty seconds, whatever you do, under no circumstances should you think of PINK ELEPHANTS. NO PINK ELEPHANTS.
Of course, if you are human, your mind was immediately flooded with nothing but images of pink elephants.
The same thing happens when we read words like “free market”, “job creators”, “productivity”, “flexibility” or “competition”, or when we see certain images representing those concepts. Our brains fire off memories and reactions that are burned deep inside us. We often aren’t even conscious of the feeling and emotions triggered by those words or images.
Those images and words, then, shape how we think about our world.
But, many of the words and images used to describe what is happening in the economy—words and images the traditional media has repeated daily for decades—are built on lies. Those lies make us feel like it’s our fault that we can’t make a decent living. Or that certain things happen naturally in the economy, like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
Which bring us to this startling fact: 40 percent of Australians—people like Janelle, Kathy, Andrea, Ewen and Penelope—wake up every day working in an insecure job. They are stuck in a cycle of insecure work not because of a lack of “productivity” or knowledge.
Rather, a sea of people are being crushed by a life of insecure work for one reason, and one reason only, according to “Lives On Hold”, a national inquiry into insecure work:
“This has occurred for a number of reasons, but the key driver has been the emergence of a business model across both the private and the public sectors that shifts the risks associated with work from the employer to the employee, and minimises labour costs at the expense of job quality.”
In plain English, what the authors of the inquiry are saying is this: the Robber Barons running the “free market”—which is just a figment of Tony Abbott’s imagination because there really is no such thing as the “free market”—want to make more money for themselves by keeping money out of your pocket.
They want you to work more hours for less pay. They do not want to give you any security—at all. They want all the wealth created by workers to flow into the pockets of a few.
This isn’t natural—and it isn’t even good, as we will see, from a pure economic standpoint.
It’s about a Gina Rinehart-like greed: a vision of a country where the minimum wage is slashed and, as Rinehart publicly stated recently, workers’ wages are competitive with workers in Africa earning $2 per day. That is the Australia that Rinehart, the richest woman in the world, believes in.
To be sure, Rinehart’s “Let-Them-Eat-Cake” posture is extreme. But, it is only extreme because she is not shy about letting the expressions of her inner greed pass across her lips, to be heard by the public.
Across the business world, the basic philosophy is now pretty uniform: no permanent jobs, no benefits, no Super, low wages, no sick pay, no annual leave. Instead, the view of business is to push for more people to be in casual work, and to use more independent contractors who cost less to the businesses.
It is, at heart, a philosophy that we, business, have no responsibility to workers. We have no responsibility to society or the future of the country.
For a lot of people, it’s a bit hard to see because we read that Australia has an official unemployment rate of 5 per cent. Yes, that’s way better than the USA or most of Europe, but what rarely gets discussed is the added underemployment rate of seven per cent. Taken together, then, 12 per cent of Australians want to work more than they currently are.
If you, then, add to that the people on a low-wage, short-term contract who are likely to be out of work after a few months, the bottom 20 per cent of Australia’s workforce is stuck in a churn between unemployment, underemployment and short-term work.
These people have no job security, any small savings are burned up by periods of unemployment, and they are stuck in jobs that do not increase their skills or make them any more employable. They are trapped on the periphery of our economy, earning a little in boom times, but pushed to the scrapheap when times get tough.
These people are not being treated as human beings by the market, but as a disposable labour force.
What exactly does insecure work look like for 40 percent of the country? Back to the words of the independent inquiry:
“They are employed on various insecure arrangements, casual, contract or through labour hire companies, on low wages and with far fewer if any benefits.”
Many do not know what hours they will work from week to week, and often juggle multiple jobs to attempt to earn what they need. If their skills are low, or outdated, they are not offered training through work. They shift between periods of unemployment and underemployment that destroy their ability to save money.
Their work is not a “career”; it is a series of unrelated temporary positions that they need to pay rent, bills and food.
For them, flexibility is not knowing when and where they will work, facing the risk of being laid off with no warning, and being required to fit family responsibilities around unpredictable periods of work.”
That life of insecurity should explain to the elites, or the willfully blind politicians or the media commentators why so many Australians are nervous about the future. Even though the most recent unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent—a figure that, on its face, should be a cause for celebration if one looks across the ocean at the U.S. and Europe much higher jobless rates—workers don’t feel good about their prospects; thousands have just stopped looking for work because they can’t bear the burden of insecure jobs being shoved down their throats.
You know that feeling, don’t you? Janelle does. She’s a 35-year old teacher at Beaconsfield Public School in Victoria and was the first person in her family to go to university. “I wanted more than fruit picking in my life,” she says. But ever since she graduated, as an older student, she has only been able to find casual teaching jobs. “I got sick of it really quickly. Some times, I’d work all week and if I worked every day, I was fine. Some weeks I didn’t know if I would work and I wasn’t sure if I could pay my rent and that’s when I would start to panic.”
And, long term, it plays havoc with her life. “I can’t get a house loan, I can’t get a mortgage. I can’t take time off because we don’t get annual leave and I can’t be sick,” she says. Every end of the year is a mess for her. “It comes in November and December, we’re writing the kids’ reports and at the same I have to write job applications. I often end up a ball of tears. I live six months to six months.” So, why does she stick with the insecurity? “I love interacting with the kids, I like being a role model and it’s amazing to me that they look up to me.”
Kathy, who is 40-years old, with a mortgage, is in the same predicament:
“It’s really soul-destroying,” she says.
“I have had 40 jobs with 20 different agencies/labour hire over the past year. They tell me it could lead to permanent employment but it never does. We are always let go and sent somewhere else at the end of our three-month trial. “We are made to feel disposable and some places I am sent to the managers and employees say ‘Oh you’re just a casual’. This might be true but I still need to eat!”
Or Andrea who was fired when she made a bullying complaint against her manager but, because she did not have a union, she had no protection:
Often people are juggling two casual jobs in market research and then they say no to one shift in order to say yes to the other but then they cancel your shift and you can’t go back to the other. You would get booked for work and get ready to be paid and they would cancel on you. “This would happen at least once a month. Financially it is very hard being casual and I’ve had to move to a place with cheaper rent because my other place was going up and up. My new house is a bit dingier than I would normally like to live in, but I couldn’t afford to pay $300 per week in rent when working casually.”
As Ewen points out, there is a personal cost to insecure work that goes beyond how much is in his bank account:
Relationships are hard to keep with women; they don’t understand the nature of my work. When I have to wait long periods in between work it causes tension and can’t handle it and leave. I have had numerous relationships failed over the years because of this and now it’s hard for me to be in a serious relationship because the conditioning of instability has become a part of me.
Penelope is highly-educated with a Phd but, still, her world of work is not a happy place even with her advanced degree:
“As a casual employee I have no access to conditions like sick leave, paid parental leave, etc. I also have no access to funding to attend things like academic conferences, which are an important part of the academic career progression,” Penelope says. “A large proportion of the academic workforce in Australia are also on casual contracts – either teaching, researching or general staff. I know I’m not the only one, and something really needs to change. “Career prospects are few and far between for someone in my position. I have a PhD but full-time positions are rare and extremely competitive. My current and previous roles (as a tutor and research assistant on various projects) have definitely developed my skills, but there is no clear pathway in terms of training and development that might lead to promotion or progression towards more secure employment.
“Women are much more likely to be in casual employment than men: with 25.5% of all female employees are casual compared to 19.7% of male employees.”
What should be of deepest concern to society is that the business model of insecure work is not temporary. It is a long-term vision that is already hurting future generations. In 2011, the Foundation for Young Australians found that:
“Over the 25-year period, the clear long-term pattern is one of decline in full-time employment for each age group, a trend which has been much more severe among teenagers (dropping by more than 22 percentage points) than among young adults (for whom there was a fall of 9 percentage points)…There is a shadow of unstable employment behind any estimates of the proportions of young people who may be at risk of marginalisation.”
So, how did we get into this mess? In a country where the notion of a secure job and fairness is part of the story one tells about the good life in Australia, how did a cancerous business model spread?
A big part of the answer lies at the feet of the transcribers of press releases, the people we once called “journalists”. They have bought, and promoted almost without challenge, a whole set of lies and misinformation: the idea of the glory of the “free market”, the genius of “job creators”, the supposed crisis in worker “productivity”, the need for a company to have “flexibility” in order to win the “competition” for the future and that the high tax level for businesses discourages investment.
Some of this is just pure laziness. It is easier to just regurgitate slogans or rhetoric, without actually doing the hard work of thinking through what is factual or not. And it’s not even hard work, thanks to an apparently obscure tool called “Google”. For example, in virtually every independent, honest survey of business executives around the world over the past 25 years, worries about tax rates rank far below, for example, access to an educated, skilled workforce, and good transport systems—all of which can’t happen unless a society has a significant tax base.
It is the laziness of regurgitating the word “cost” without thinking what it means. Business leaders, and their political mouthpieces in The Coalition, spit out the word “cost” only in what it means in some business plan.
But, that word “cost” is a weapon that allows the murder-by-spreadsheet of Australian society. Lowering “costs” in the world of insecure work is aimed right at the annihilation of a middle class, killing the ability of every person to hang on to a modicum of a fair living.
It is the laziness of the media’s slavish acceptance of the phrase “free market” and an almost religious reverence accorded CEOs, particularly when business leaders attack government, taxes or any regulation that is deemed a drag on “competition”. Rare is a moment when a journalist will point out that not one of these vaunted “job creators” made his profit in the mythical “free market” because every dollar was made because of investments made by the government—meaning, us—in roads, bridges, broadband, and schools. By in large, Australia avoided the worst of the Global Financial Crisis thanks to strong government regulation of the banking sector, which prevented Australia’s bankers from mimicking the criminal and irresponsible behaviour on Wall Street.
Some of it is the fear, especially in an era when media organs are shedding jobs faster than a long-haired puppy. When everyone around you in the office, and every other media organ, is repeating the idea, for example, that we have a worker productivity “crisis”, it’s scary to go against the tide (though exceptions can be found to the rule: Ian Verrender shredded the lie about the productivity “crisis”—but, of course, his was one column of opinion, outweighed by daily mountains of copy in the news and opinion pages and TV programs bemoaning the “crisis”).
Which leads to the prevailing disease of “false equivalency” practiced by the media. That is, if a union points out the attack against workers is eviscerating, based on the facts, wages or secure jobs, the media feels obligated to get “the other side”. The “other side” will wave its rhetorical wand, invoking “productivity crisis” and “competition”, even if the facts don’t support the rhetoric. Yet, the opposing arguments are treated as equally rationale or fact-based. This is “false equivalency” because one side’s argument is based on facts and the other side’s argument is a mountain of lies.
Of course, we can’t stick the media with the sole responsibility for the crisis. Unions have not been successful at stopping the insecure work virus. However, what is really refreshing is how forthright union leaders are about the challenge. Ged Kearney, the president of the ACTU, is single-minded about attacking the challenge of insecure work to the point of passionate, heartfelt pleading but she starts with the recognition of the union movement’s late response.
That’s understandable, truthfully. The union movement doesn’t have unlimited resources and it is hard work just to make sure the people who are covered by industry agreements are looked after. Especially in an era when, day after day, employers seek to break agreements and at least half of the political class—in the form of state and federal Coalition ideologues—want to roll back the Fair Work provisions.
It is also true that the sense of solidarity is not strong. “Permanent workers are not terribly keen on fighting the fight for casual workers,” she concedes. The task of the ACTU, then, is that “We have to raise the point among them as that this is the world your kids are going to live on.”
And, with all the good intentions, people who are not in permanent jobs are just tougher to organize into unions. “They are not all casuals,” says Kearney. “They are very, very difficult to organize into the movement. They are on the periphery of our movement.”
One can be assured that if Gina Rinehart decided, on a whim, to donate say one billion dollars to the ACTU to organise these casuals, it would happen much quicker.
Now, of course, the notion of a Rinehart-funded union organizing drive is preposterous and lunacy—but only because of the unpatriotic, selfish posture adopted by Rinehart, or a whole coterie of billionaires and elites.
But, from a pure economic standpoint, and even slightly selfish perspective, it would entirely make sense. Before you reach for the smelling salts, consider this:
- No economy can function, and no business can make money, if average people don’t have money to spend. Even Gina Rinehart can only buy so many flat screen televisions, high calorie meals, cars and other goods. As rough a man as there ever was in the annals of global business, US auto czar Henry Ford, used to say he wanted to make sure his workers earned enough money to buy his cars.
- It is an unchallenged fact that unions ensure people get a fair return on the work they do and, then, have more money in their pockets.
- Thus, unions mean broad economic prosperity and sustained economic activity.
About the Fair Work provisions, which are a critical anchor to make sure prosperity is shared, a recent review found:
”After considering the economic aspects of the Fair Work Act the panel concludes that since the Fair Work Act came into force, important outcomes such as wages growth, industrial disputation, the responsiveness of wages to supply and demand, the rate of employment growth and the flexibility of work patterns have been favourable to Australia’s continuing prosperity,” it says.[emphasis added]”
When you get that equation, and you add in the actual experience of Fair Work, you quickly understand that what is driving economic policy is ideology and greed, not economic logic and facts.
At the end of the day, economics is not bloodless and boring. It’s actually a question of morality and vision. The path one chooses for an economy is a reflection of who we are as a people.
Australia has historically had a unique welfare system, based not on direct payments from governments (except for the Aged Pension) but on guarantees built into the free market itself. We have had an industrial relations culture based on the centralised fixing of wages and conditions to allow a wage earner permanent secure employment at a wage, not set by the market, but set at a level that was seen as fair and allowed for a family to live a decent life. Unions made sure that benefits like sick leave were the responsibility of the employer.
The ethos was to celebrate a great degree of social equality within Australia, which, for many years, meant that we avoided the emergence of a working poor, allowed for high rates of home ownership, and it has meant that the majority of people spent their entire working lives without requiring food stamps or payments from the government to provide them with economic security. By contrast, for example, the US recently hit a dubious mark: the highest level of poverty since the government started measuring statistics fifty years ago.
But, it’s now Gina Rinehart’s vision of the world: the welfare safety net that was wrapped up in our industrial relations system has been lost. Casual workers now have none of the protections that were once guaranteed, and no government-funded safety net has sprung up to fill the gap.
We are seeing, for the first time in Australian history, the emergence of a working poor.
We are seeing a level of inequality which would have been quite alien to Australians of a couple of generations ago.
The response from Coalition governments, in particular, has been to implement policies that subsidise those wealthy enough to afford private health or education, which will only further entrench these inequalities. Even the compulsory superannuation scheme, a forward thinking piece of public policy, delivers benefits to workers based on their ability to pay into a fund, rather than the equal payment to all guaranteed by the Aged Pension.
Insecure work, then, is a challenge to define what kind of Australia we want. The choice is crystal clear: either the future ends up adopting the Gina Rinehart vision of slave wages, no middle class, a growing gap between rich and poor and a society where all the power is in the hands of the elite and business owners. Or we choose a democratic society in which the wealth of the nation is shared fairly and where real security means workers of every age, gender and different backgrounds have power over their lives, waking up every day knowing that, when they walk out the door of their homes, they are going to come home paid for a fair day’s work at a job that awaits when the sun rises the next morning.
No, this isn’t a plea to save the big white polar guys lumbering about on the disappearing ice floes of Greenland. The Central Coast Bears! The pride of the Central Coast rugby is making a big-time move to return to its fans.
Check out this video from Greg Florimo:
Read Greg’s opinion piece here.
And, then, hop over to here and sign the petition to bring back the Bears!
A week rarely goes by when some political figure doesn’t rise up to praise the concept of family. So, it seems odd, and even a little bizarre, to learn that people who want to start a family can end up fined and in jail.
No joke. Turns out that parents are willing to risk a lot to have a child via international surrogacy. As in two years in jail and a $110,000 fine because commercial surrogacy is illegal in three jurisdictions–NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
And that is at a time when a recent survey by Surrogacy Australia of 14 major international surrogacy agencies in India, the
US & Thailand during 2011 showed a 177% increase in babies born to Australians over a three year period.
That full research will be unveiled Friday by Sam Everingham of Stethoscope Research who will present his full findings at the 40th annual Australian Market and Social Research Society Conference in Melbourne. A quick peek at Everingham’s research reveals:
Despite the significantly lower total costs reported, almost half of respondents (46%) did not even consider altruistic surrogacy arrangements in Australia. The key reasons intending parents were put off included:
• the fear that an Australian surrogate would change her mind and decide to keep the child (60%)
• the feeling that asking someone to carry for love alone was too much to ask (48%)
• having no-one of the right age/ lifestage to ask (38%)
• too long/complicated a process (28%)
Of the 117 who at least considered altruistic surrogacy, nearly half (49%) did not ultimately go forward with such an arrangement. This group were most likely to report being unable to find a surrogate who would commit to carry altruistically. Other common reasons for failing to progress the arrangement were:
• risking damaging relationships with a surrogate who was already a close friend or relative
Seems like the law should catch up with the way people are trying to lead their lives, and be cognisant of the reasons people pursue international surrogacy. This seems like one of those laws mucking about with peoples’ private behaviour.
Yesterday, Cuts Hurt took its first step publicly to paint the real picture of the devastation underway because of the cuts unleashed on the people by Liberal state premiers. Yesterday, we explained that those cuts hurt everyone. It’s worth another closer look today.
One way of thinking about this is comparing the actual cuts to the what those cuts actually mean in the your daily life and the lives of the hard-working people in the public sector.
Staff reductions or voluntary redundancies have been announced in about 40 agencies
• Department of Human Services (includes Centrelink, Medicare & CSA) = 521
• Department of Health and Ageing = 378
• Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations = 500
• Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade = 150
• Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency = 300
• Australian Bureau of Statistics = 121
• Department of Veterans Affairs = 46
• Attorney Generals Department = 130
• Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry = 111
• Department of Resources Energy and Tourism = 100
• Treasury = 217
• Fair Work Ombudsman = 70
• Commonwealth Ombudsman = 35
• Regional Australia = 220
• Prime Minister and Cabinet = 40.
And, then, the impact, per the CPSU:
What has been the impact on services so far?
• The number of outstanding DHS debts has blown out to 300,000
• Some DHS customers now wait 26 days for follow up appointments, this used to be 14 days
• Waiting times in DHS office are now very often over one hour
• Cuts in DHS regional office management has resulted in administrative confusion, including
no responsibility for health and safety issues, lack of basic office supplies so that staff hide
stationery for their team, and staff cleaning tea towels for a whole building as there are no
• Some DHS programs have been told to divert all calls to voice mail and only respond to email
queries resulting in frustration for staff committed to helping their communities
• Baby Bonus claims should be processed in 21 days, some now take 70 days
• DHS call centre waiting times have blown out from two minutes to more than 30 minutes
• Student claims processing are regularly exceeding their 21 day target
• Family Payments claim backlog has jumped from 30,000 to 70,000 and it now take 22 days
to process a claim
• Security guards have been put in 70 DHS offices (at a cost of $7 million over 18 months) to
counter a rise in aggression, violence and anger from welfare recipients
• Quarantine cutting sniffer dog screening at airports
• Once staffing numbers drop below a certain level, Customs district offices may not have
enough people to safely perform their duties. Similarly, declining staff numbers will makes
shift-work difficult which means that on some days, vessels may not be boarded after 5pm
• Veterans now have to wait 40 days for pension increases to be processed
• Customs budget was cut by $34 million in 2011. This meant the loss of 77 front line staff
causing a peak wait time of increase of up to 24 minutes at Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne
and Perth airports. At the same time, passenger arrives are set to increase by 4.5% a year
over the next 10 years
• Fair Work Australia is going to close its call centre with no plan for how these calls will be
handled by the organisation
• The Australian National Maritime Museum sold a number of vessels in its working vessel
fleet as a saving exercise. This included the historic tugboat Bareki. They now hire another
• The Bureau of Meteorology announced it will not back fill positions when people are on
leave. This creates increased workloads for when people return from leave and will
encourage some people to work when on leave
• Cultural Institutions: the ongoing 1.5% efficiency dividend and capital expenditure cuts have
lead to major problems at Screen Australia, the National Museum, the War Memorial, Old
Parliament House; the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives, The
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the National Library and
the National Maritime Museum. Two major exhibitions planned for the National Gallery
have been postponed, including the internationally significant National Aboriginal triennial.
So, that’s one way of looking at the direct connection between cuts and services.
Let’s bring together a few strands today: why is the popularity of Liberal state premiers on the decline, why is Tony Abbott panicking when John Howard goes off message and why has Labor’s polling strength been a bit on the upswing? It comes down to a simple reason: a lot of people are starting to see that the Coalition’s meat cleaver, and ideological love of the “free market”, is hurting everyone as it whacks at our social safety net and services. Because cuts hurt everyone.
Indeed, that’s the simple but pretty clear message of a campaign launched by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) called “Cuts Hurt”. Over the next few posts, I’m going to go into some details about these cuts. But, for now, consider this, from the Cuts Hurt site:
Compared to most OECD countries, Australia already has a modest public sector. It is the same size today as it was in 1991, yet our population has grown by 5 million people. Every year, public sector workers deliver big things for Australia.
In 2010/11 public sector workers:
- handled 37 million Centrelink enquiries
- processed 319 million Medicare claims
- issued 6,000 flood warnings
- seized 5,187 kilograms of illicit drugs and drug-making chemicals
- cleared 13.9 million air passengers through customs.
Everyone benefits from the services provided by public servants. Try it: think about what you service you used from the above list—which is just a small sampling—or ask a friend, family member or neighbor. Then think bigger to defence, tax collection, managing our water supplies, health policy and demographic planning. It doesn’t happen by itself.
And the most recent polling from Essential Media shows the public doesn’t support the Liberals’ promise to slash 12,000 jobs from the Commonwealth public service::
The polling showed that 53 per cent of people believed the cuts would lead to worse services, while only 14 per cent believed they would lead to better services. It also showed that a clear majority of people believed the cuts would adversely impact rural and regional areas while 60 per cent believed that cuts to support staff would hurt frontline services.
Nadine Flood, CPSU’s national secretary, had it exactly right when she wrote recently:
The Coalition’s plan may deliver short-term savings, but will do long-term damage to services that have helped generations of Australians.
Australians shouldn’t be asking themselves if we can afford our public service, they should be asking if we can afford not to have it?
My father used to use the old cliche that a recession is a downturn that hits your neighbor, while a depression is a economic crisis that hits you. That’s the bottom line here: sometimes, in the rush of the day, we don’t see the impact of the cuts to our society—until we need a service that isn’t there or has been so starved for funding that it can’t respond fast enough.
Cuts hurt. Everyone.
Once the smoke of misdirection clears, you can pretty much see the truth. John Howard may have gone off message—or least, Tony Abbott panicked enough about Howard’s call to go back to the pre-Fair Work days that he, Abbott, hurried to say, “oh, no, that was back then, we’re not for that”, even though he refuses to say what exactly he is planning when it comes to workers should he become prime minister. But, we know exactly what is on the mind of Abbott because his ideological sidekicks in state governments offer a pretty good roadmap.
Per the Sydney Morning Herald, we know that Barry O’Farrell is pretty much determined to bludgeon the wages and benefits of tens of thousands of people:
AT LEAST 80,000 NSW public sector workers are set to lose salary benefits and conditions under sweeping cuts to their awards.
The O’Farrell government yesterday confirmed it had applied to the NSW Industrial Commission this week to change 98 awards for public sector workers, including 1000 nurses who assist people with disabilities and those in aged-care facilities.
Clerical staff, librarians, parks and gardens staff, school administration assistants, regulatory inspectors and legal officers are also among those set to lose their entitlement to long-held conditions, including an annual leave loading of 17.5 per cent.
The government also plans to cut penalties for all shift workers and allowances for staff stationed in remote areas.
Some sick leave entitlements, flexible work arrangements and parental leave would also be affected by the changes.
A ray of light beckons from the realm of choices we make to build a better society. There seemed to be almost unstoppable sucking of young professionals to the world of banking, law, finance and the endeavors thought to have the most earning power. But, maybe because of the influence of the Global Financial Crisis, there’s been a nice bump in people drawn to a different line of work—disability and community care.
You’d have to gather that from checking in on projectABLE, a free program offering high school students interactive disability awareness and career workshops. Coordinator Jillian Black says National Skills Week—on right now until September 2 —is an ideal time for young people to explore the benefits of choosing a career in the disability and community care sector.
Black says students love finding out how they can use their skills and passion in the sector, with a pretty exciting development:
Nearly 800 students from more than 40 schools participated in the program in NSW this year – more than double the number in previous years.
True, that’s still, in strict numbers, small compared to the tens of thousands training their thoughts on other professions. But, doubling the number of participants says something. And coupled with the push by the government to launch the National Disability Insurance Scheme, this is not only a great development but something that indicates a shift in the way people may be thinking about what makes a good society—and where they can contribute.
Sometimes, the forest is hard to see when you get confused by the trees. And speaking of forests and trees: with the slashing of 120 Rural Fire Service jobs, the public sector has now taken a hit of more than 1200 regional workers—people who won’t have a decent paycheck or benefits or security.
The NSW Government’s agenda of quick and deep public sector job cuts is tearing apart the fabric of our regional communities.Not even vital regional services like the Rural Fire Services, Office of Water and Crown Lands can escape the budget razor.
And here is something worth taking a peek at. The drip, drip, drip of job cuts imposed by Barry O’Farrell is, perhaps intentionally, not being rolled out at once. Rather, it’s a cut here, a cut there—not big enough for the public to see the big picture. And if you look even further down the list, you can see what still is yet to come: thousands more jobs on the chopping block.
|Region||Department or Service||Number of job losses announced|
|Gosford||Workcover and NSW Industrial Relations office||101*[100 Workcover jobs
re-located from regional NSW to Sydney]
|Newcastle||NSW Industrial Relations office||6|
|Illawarra, Wollongong||NSW Industrial Relations office||7|
|Illawarra||Illawarra TAFE||Up to 250|
|Coffs Harbour||NSW Industrial Relations office||3|
|Orange||NSW Industrial Relations office||1|
|Wagga||NSW Industrial Relations office||2|
|67 [17 March, 50 June] Office of Water; 175 Crown Lands and up to 350 Office of Environment and Heritage; 26 Forests NSW||618|
Projected public sector job losses in regional NSW over the next four years [location unspecified]
Source: confidential Treasury documents covered in media reports
|Region||Department or Service||Number of jobs|
|Roads and Maritime Services||Up to 400 total|
|Education||Up to 2400|
|Dept of Family and Community Services||900|
|Jails and corrective services||881|
|Centre for Road Safety||400|
It’s only in the strange world we live in, where the “free market” isn’t roundly derided as a failure, that a speech by a media executive calling for the world to “reject the idea that money is the only effective measure of all things” makes you sit up and take notice. Particularly when that executive’s last name is Murdoch. Not Rupert. Elisabeth.
Last night, Elisabeth gave the MacTaggart address at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. I can’t say what this means long term, whether the 44-year old executive who runs News Corp’s Shine Television used the speech to embark on a long campaign that takes on the very world view espoused by the Rupe and Elisabeth’s younger brother James, both of whom have been at the center of the hacking scandals, not to mention paragons of the global media industry.
But, she did make a splash, per the Sydney Morning Herald:
In marked contrast to the dry economic rhetoric preferred by both her father and brother, she said that people needed to “reject the idea that money is the only effective measure of all things or that the free market is the only sorting mechanism” and said that “the absence of purpose” could be “one of the most dangerous own goals for capitalism and for freedom”.
But she repeatedly gestured towards liberal values with references to progressive political figures, including “one of my heroes” Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela whom she watched walk from prison “through my tears”.
I can’t help but note the vast difference between the views of Elisabeth, at least as stated in this one speech, versus those of Gina Reinhart. While Elisabeth seems to want to open up new voices and encourage democracy, Gina is trying to sell off one-third of her stake in Fairfax—a move which has further depressed the stock— because she was unsuccessful, so far, at using her wealth to muzzle people.
Deep in the weeds of the 24-hour dust-up over whether the mining boom is over—on the very day that BHP reported a $15 billion profit— lurks a more obvious strategy on the part of the mining companies: a determination to build up the specter of a threat to the boom if “costs” are not controlled—”costs” being workers’ wages—and to take absolutely no responsibility for the blow-back from the boom.
Some of this is subtle, some not so subtle. The boom is far from bust, as Paul Cleary pointed out in The Australian:
The projects that mining companies have put on hold are completely overshadowed by the $260 billion in investment already approved by company boards and government authorities that is being poured into mammoth mining and energy projects across the country.
Even if commodity prices fall by 50 per cent, these increased volumes will generate increased flows of income into Australia, keeping the dollar strong while driving far-reaching structural change in our economy. This means the mining boom can be expected to deliver benefits and challenges for all Australians for some time to come. [emphasis added]
The mining barons, themselves, swore up and down yesterday that, no, the boom wasn’t over. But, the Fin gives a little insight into where they are going:
At The Australian Financial Review and Macquarie Future Forum in Perth, resources chiefs were confident that Chinese demand for commodities will grow in the longer term, despite a slowdown that has seen iron ore and coking coal prices fall to four-year lows.
However, they warned Australia had become a high-cost place to develop projects, and needed to improve its international competitiveness through reforms to taxation, industrial relations and environmental approvals. [emphasis added]
Aha. “Reforms” in taxation and industrial relations are code words for the Coalition’s agenda: repeal the resources tax and attack the system of bargaining that protects wages and benefits that makes Australia a decent society. In a decent society, leaders would embrace a once-in-a-lifetime mining boom to invest some of the profits in infrastructure, schools and other in life-changing, society-altering projects. Nope, the mining barons make clear, we’re just not in to that.
Note that “high cost” never refers to the compensation of the CEOs of the mining companies, or the staggering wealth of the owners of the companies like Gina Reinhart, the richest woman in the world. “High cost” translates into “take it out of the hide of society and the working person”.
The mining barons view can be summed up thus:
We don’t care how many people are hurt by the rising Australian dollar. That’s the “free market”.
We will fight tooth and nail against resources taxes because, well, the “free market” cannot be messed with.
We truly don’t care what Australia looks like in 20, 30 or 40 years.
Earlier today, we were musing about the danger of society not taking care of its seniors. And we pointed out that the measure of a decent society is how it treats and cares for its children and its elderly. And, sure enough, workers in Kings Cross walked off the job today because of a threat by the state government to cripple the ability to help adolescent kids.
Here is what happened, per The Australian:
The Public Services Association (PSA) says the Department of Community Services is currently reviewing funding of the Kings Cross Adolescent Unit, which has been operating since 1986.
“We’ve got a government trying to clean up Kings Cross but they can’t give a guarantee that this unit, which does that work, will be kept open,” said PSA assistant-secretary Steve Turner.
The union and other Sydney-based caseworkers held an emergency meeting on Thursday after details emerged that case work levels were being reviewed across the state.
Staff from the Kings Cross Adolescent Unit then voted to stop for the rest of the day, after the government refused to guarantee the future of the unit.
Turner has more to say in his own comments distributed publicly:
The Kings Cross Adolescent Unit is on the frontline of locating and removing children and young people from some of the most dangerous streets in Sydney. These dedicated, hard-working professionals divert at risk youth away from living on the streets, helping them access support services and get their lives back on track.
For more than 25 years, the team has reached out to tens of thousands of street kids and built a strong presence and invaluable relationships in the community.
The closure of the Kings Cross Adolescent Unit would be a sign that the Government has given up on the serious issue of youth at risk or involved in drugs or prostitution at the Cross.
If the government doesn’t want to stand up for kids, looks like it’s left to the PSA to take it on. Good on the union.
Two Party Preferred: 17 June 2013
In this week's report:
19 Sep 2012
Lewis and Woods talk through this week’s polling numbers: voting intention, leader attributes, drug laws in Australia, and more…
12 Sep 2012
Ken Morrison says our cities need to be transformed for our ageing population – and it’s not solely about nursing homes.
11 Sep 2012
Tim Ayres wishes Clive Palmer and other mining giants would give local manufacturers a go instead of heading overseas.
11 Sep 2012
Nadine Flood questions whether governments take our science and other publicly funded breakthroughs for granted.