Search results for "trust"
Feb 24, 2012
Essential Research

Media just a pebble in the shoe of Big Mining

First published on the Drum on 16th Feb

Tony Maher, National President CFMEU

There’s been much hand-wringing about the impact Gina Rinehart’s buy-up of Fairfax shares will have on editorial standards at its popular mastheads.

Fair enough. Any more exposure to the views of her preferred mouthpieces Ian Plimer, Andrew Bolt and Christopher Monckton would push the average Australian well over the safe daily limit of exposure to unsubstantiated bluster and fallacy.

Though as last year’s carbon and minerals tax debates showed, newspapers don’t need to be owned by mining magnates to prosecute the interests of Big Mining. It’s just an added bonus.

The wealth and influence of the likes of Gina Rinehart are beyond the imaginations of most of us. Her fortune – twenty billion dollars and growing – is generated by vast tracts of resource-rich land, fuelled by the record prices being paid for Australian resources by developing Asian economies.

When you’re about to overtake Bill Gates as the richest person in the world, a non-compliant media is an annoyance, a pebble in the shoe. You don’t need to own the media to have a good shot at getting your own way. The sheer scale of the investment decisions at your discretion attracts the attention of governments.

You don’t need to own the media. But if you can afford it, you might as well.

Australia breeds a variety of mining magnate that attracts easy ridicule. Along with Gina Rinehart there’s youngster Nathan Tinkler, who at 30 took a gamble on a coal mining lease he turned over for $275 million – he still looks surprised; Twiggy Forrest who led the charge against the mining tax and is being prosecuted by ASIC over allegedly misleading the market; and Clive Palmer, who you would draw if you picked ‘capitalist’ in Pictionary.

Unsophisticated to a fault, with their conspicuous excess, private jets and family trust brawls – it’s easy to be distracted by the spectacle and lose sight of the extreme and dangerous agenda these people are promoting.

The diminishing independence of Australian media is to be deplored. But if we really want to worry about Gina Rinehart’s influence, let’s look bigger. Let’s look at the shape and direction of the Australian economy into the next century.

Mining is growing at a phenomenal rate, transforming the Australian economy as it goes. We all know about the Australian dollar – driven up by the resources boom and sucking the life out of manufacturing and other currency-sensitive sectors like education, tourism and retail.

Fewer of us know about the social havoc being wrought in mining regions: exorbitant housing costs driving out families, upheaval caused by Fly in Fly Out workforces, roads dangerously crowded with trucks and commuters.

The challenge facing policy-makers is how to make sure the mining boom delivers more value than pain to the economy; that it delivers good, skilled jobs to Australians; that it builds rather than destroys regional communities; that the extraordinary profits being generated in the finite decades of the boom leave a positive legacy for future generations.

But sharing the benefits of the boom is not an agenda Gina Rinehart is interested in. Quite the opposite.

Rinehart’s staunch opposition to the minerals and carbon taxes are well known; and her campaigning is not limited to her bizarre back-of-the-truck performance with Twiggy last year. Despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Rinehart is fond of telling business audiences that the slightest further tax imposition will see miners pack up their diggers and go to Africa.

But Rinehart’s grand vision for mining is the creation of extensive special economic zones across Northern Australia.

The lobby group she spearheads, Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision, argue that the special economic zones resources should essentially be tax free, with no resources, payroll or income tax collected.

But that’s not all. Companies would not just import their steel and machinery but could import a low-wage workforce to build major projects as well.

“Making our projects too expensive to compete internationally only jeopardises Australia’s future,” says ANDEV’s manifesto.

“Hence, in these special Northern “economic zones”, we should allow competitive and temporary short term workers to build our projects, say for a duration of up to two years nine months or so … our Government could choose, if such workers had proven to be good workers and potentially good citizens, whether to extend their stay to a longer period.”

ANDEV supporters, a collection of mining executives mostly based in Western Australia, find it grossly unfair that other industries can simply off-shore jobs to low-wage economies, but they are restricted by the realities of geography.

“Various industries in Australia already make use of overseas countries labour without restriction – for example, sending work overseas to India and the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia where labour costs are lower. The group argues mining companies should be allowed to hire short term workers from overseas … rather than becoming uncompetitive.”

The current rate of growth in the resources sector means that there is a necessity to bring in skilled workers from overseas. The Federal Government is currently developing the terms of a new arrangement – Employment Migration Agreements – which companies could enter into on major projects.

Unions are not opposed to all use of foreign workers, but we argue they must be paid at local rates and only used when local workers aren’t available.

If Gina Rinehart had her way, mining companies ‘in the zone’ would be given carte blanche to import cut-rate foreign workforces in the construction phase of their projects – the phase that delivers 90% of jobs.

So if we don’t get Australian jobs, if we don’t collect any tax, if we don’t put anything away for the future, if the profits from Australian resources are simply lining the pockets of mining magnates and foreign shareholders – what are we left with?

A buggered economy and some holes in the ground. That’s the real headline.

Feb 10, 2012
Essential Research

Trends: The Fingerhut effect

EMC Director Peter Lewis on framing the economic debate

Home Ground Advantage

Long-time American pollster Vic Fingerhut has been advising progressive politicians since the 1960s and he has a reassuring message  – it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in – and it might even win you elections.

That such a message should be a revelation is a sad indication of where left of centre politics has gone in Australia – but it may also be reassuring that in this we are not alone.

Over more than three decades Fingerhut, who has been advising EMC since the 2007 federal election campaign – has been researching campaigns for unions and progressive parties in the USA, Canada, Britain and Germany – polling people on their perceptions of issues and the differences between major parties

And what he has discovered is a sort of immutable truth – there are some issues that belong to the Right and others that belong to the Left and it’s not about policy either. It’s about language and the way you frame an issue.

As a general rule where the issue is about managing the economy or handling terrorism or keeping taxes low, Republicans and conservatives have a marked advantage, with more than two thirds of voters perceiving they are superior on the issue.

But bring people into the equation, particularly working people, and the numbers swing around. By merely adding the words ‘for working people’ to the question ‘who is better at managing the economy?’, Democrats pick up 30 percentage points.

Likewise change the proposition ‘keeping taxes down’ to ‘fighting for fairer taxes for working people’ and the issue goes from being a negative for the left to a positive.

It’s early days, but the trends seem to translate into Australian politics as well. And if they do they add a new dimension to the ‘accepted wisdom’ that Labor needs to be stronger on the economy.

As Fingerhut observes, merely going out and engaging in an economic argument – even when you have better arguments than your conservative opponents – does nothing more than shift the debate onto their turf.

In other words, becoming a daily commentator on the current account deficit, employment figures and interest rates might get media, but if you do not draw the connection between economic indicators and people’s lives you are not advancing your cause.

At the moment the Labor Government is stuck in the least advantageous  ‘economic management’ frame – by signing up to a budget surplus they have taken a conscious decision to fight on the Opposition’s turf.

A better place to be would be on the jobs front – not just the decade-low unemployment figures – but a narrative that actually translates government activity to job creation.

While conservative commentators hate it – support for industries like manufacturing are big vote-winners, when linked to a coherent government plan to support industries in the long-term as the impact of a rising Australian dollar sheets home.

Better still focus industrial relations – a key indicator of the way an economy operates for, in Vic’s words, regular working people – and the innate recognition that given the chance, the Liberals would bring back some form of WorkChoices.

So let’s put Vic’s theory to the test.

On the simple question who is better at managing the economy? Labor is getting smashed – although there are large number of uncommitted, proof that the Liberals are under-performing on their home turf.

Q. Which party do you trust most to manage the Australian economy, Labor or the Liberals?




No difference

Don’t know

+17% Liberal





But give the question the Vic treatment – admittedly around the performance of the Treasurers – and Labor enjoys a 19 per cent point turnaround.

Q. Who would you trust most to manage economy in the interests of workers and families




No difference

Don’t know

+2% Labor






This sort of analysis is we in the trade call ‘framing’, talking about your policies and political brand in the most advantageous way; reinforcing what people think about you, not trying to make them change their minds.

As you can see bringing working people into the economic frame is no magic bullet, especially for this government, but it does shift nearly one in five voters, which when you are in the fight for your very survival is nothing to be taken lightly.

Feb 10, 2012
Essential Research

Is BHP still the Big Australian?

CFMEU National President Tony Maher explains why BHP is no longer the “big Australian”.

BHP had its humble beginnings in Broken Hill when it opened a silver and lead mine and floated it on the fledgling stock exchange in 1885. Since then it’s become the world’s biggest mining company (and the world’s third biggest company outright) venturing into iron ore, copper, steel manufacturing and more. It employs 40,000 people in 25 countries  — so is it still the iconic “big Australian”?

Well it still has its HQ in Melbourne but since it merged with mining company Billiton in 2001 it has dual listings and has a major arm in the UK.

It’s had its fair share of economic and social controversies too – not least of them, the Ok Tedi environmental disaster in PNG. You can read more about this at BHP Billiton Watch.

And as far as contributing to the Australian economy, BHP Billiton has opposed many of the tax proposals which would have helped – crying poor over the mining tax despite and labelling a carbon price on carbon as a “dead weight cost

This despite the billions of dollars in profits made every year.

Now BHP is at the centre of another controversy:  3,500 workers from seven mines off work for a week, with a hit to BHP of about $150 million.

The CFMEU wants BHP to provide extra fatigue breaks for employees working 12-hour shifts on consecutive nights. The union is also insisting that the job of safety deputies and open cut inspectors remain as union member jobs and not be done by BHP appointed staff. The CFMEU points to BHP’s previous record on mining disasters at Appin and Moura which show the company can’t be trusted to look after safety on its own.

You can listen to an interview with the CFMEU’s Stephen Smyth about the decision to take action here.

The dispute has been running for over a year now, with miners’ families taking their case to BHP’s AGM last year to raise concerns about safety issues for their husbands.

National President of the CFMEU Tony Maher says it’s time BHP put some of its massive profits back into the mining community. Last year, BHP made a record $23 billion profit.

“BHP can afford to do the right thing by its Bowen Basin workers,” said Maher.

Kloppers has warned that miners’ jobs are at risk and has blamed the Fair Work act for complicating negotiations between the union and management.

But Tony Maher says BHP has an obligation to workers’ safety. “Last year, BHP made a record $23 billion profit. These workers are taking a stand for safe, secure jobs – BHP can afford to do the right thing,” he said.

Jun 27, 2011
Essential Research

Attributes to describe the Prime Minister

Q.  Which of the following describe your opinion of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard?

5 Jul 10 4 Oct 10 7 Feb 11 27 Jun 11 Difference
Intelligent 87% 81% 75% 73% -2%
Hard-working 89% 82% 76% 75% -1%
A capable leader 72% 59% 52% 42% -10%
Arrogant 37% 39% 44% 48% +4%
Out of touch with ordinary people 35% 44% 50% 60% +10%
Understands the problems facing Australia 68% 55% 52% 44% -8%
Visionary 48% 38% 30% 26% -4%
Superficial 51% 52% +1%
Good in a crisis 61% 46% 46% 41% -5%
Narrow-minded 28% 35% 43% 46% +3%
More honest than most politicians 45% 37% 37% 29% -8%
Trustworthy 49% 42% 40% 30% -10%

Julia Gillard’s key attributes were hard-working (75%), intelligent (73%) and out of touch with ordinary people (60%).

Major changes since this question was asked in February were an increase of 10% for out of touch (to 60%) and decreases for a capable leader (down 10% to 42%) and trustworthy (down 10% to 30%).


Jun 27, 2011
Essential Research

Attributes to describe the Opposition Leader

Q.  Which of the following describe your opinion of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott?

5 Jul 10 4 Oct 10 7 Feb 11 27 Jun 11 Change
Intelligent 70% 71% 64% 61% -3%
Hard-working 76% 78% 72% 75% +3%
A capable leader 47% 52% 48% 45% -3%
Arrogant 59% 60% 58% 60% +2%
Out of touch with ordinary people 57% 53% 54% 57% +3%
Understands the problems facing Australia 50% 53% 50% 48% -2%
Visionary 32% 31% 27% 27%
Superficial 45% 49% +4%
Good in a crisis 40% 42% 41% 40% -1%
Narrow-minded 56% 53% 51% 54% +3%
More honest than most politicians 33% 32% 31% 32% +1%
Trustworthy 33% 35% 34% 32% -2%

Tony Abbott’s key attributes were hard-working (75%), intelligent (61%) and arrogant (60%).

There have only been minor changes since this question was asked in February.


Jun 27, 2011
Essential Research

Comparison of Leader Attributes

Julia Gillard Tony Abbott Difference
Intelligent 73% 61% +12%
Hard-working 75% 75%
A capable leader 42% 45% -3%
Arrogant 48% 60% -12%
Out of touch with ordinary people 60% 57% +3%
Understands the problems facing Australia 44% 48% -4%
Visionary 26% 27% -1%
Superficial 52% 49% +3%
Good in a crisis 41% 40% +1%
Narrow-minded 46% 54% -8%
More honest than most politicians 29% 32% -3%
Trustworthy 30% 32% -2%

Julia Gillard rates substantially higher than Tony Abbott as intelligent (+12%) and lower on the negative attributes of arrogant (-12%) and narrow-minded (-8%). There were only minor differences on the other attributes.


May 2, 2011
Essential Research

Perceptions of Media

Q. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Total agree Total disagree Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
The media usually reports the news accurately 35% 54% 2% 33% 41% 13% 12%
The media usually reports all sides of a story 21% 69% 1% 20% 46% 23% 10%
The media is too critical of government and politicians in Australia 29% 57% 4% 25% 46% 11% 14%
These days I rely more on the internet than newspapers and TV for my news and information about politics. 44% 46% 12% 32% 37% 9% 10%
I trust the media more than I trust politicians 37% 43% 4% 33% 33% 10% 20%
I trust politicians more than I trust the media 16% 65% 1% 15% 44% 21% 18%
The media does a good job of scrutinizing politics and holding politicians accountable 45% 43% 3% 42% 31% 12% 12%
Overall, the media are politically biased in favour of the Liberal Party 19% 55% 4% 15% 44% 11% 26%
Overall, the media are politically biased in favour of the Labor Party 23% 50% 5% 18% 41% 9% 25%
The media are too focused on personalities and not enough on policies 70% 18% 21% 49% 15% 3% 12%
There is too much coverage of politics in the media 34% 52% 7% 27% 45% 7% 14%
The media does a good job of helping people to understand political and social issues 40% 48% 2% 38% 36% 12% 12%
I follow the news closely every day 57% 38% 10% 47% 32% 6% 6%

The majority of respondents disagree that the media usually reports all sides of a story (69%) and that the media reports the news accurately (54%).

However, they tend to trust the media a little more than they trust politicians – 37% agree they trust the media more and 16% agree they trust politicians more.

The results also indicate that respondents want more rather than less coverage of politics – only 34% agree that there is too much coverage of politics and 57% disagree that the media is too critical of government and politicians.

Respondents were divided over whether the media does a good job of scrutinizing politics and holding politicians accountable (45% agree/43% disagree) and tended to disagree that the media does a good job of helping people to understand political and social issues (40% agree/48% disagree).

70% agree that the media are too focused on personalities and not enough on policies.

A minority of respondents think the media are biased – 23% think they are biased in favour of the Labor Party and 19% in favour of the Liberal Party.


Apr 12, 2011
Essential Research

Green-baiting and the art of product differentiation

First published on The Drum: 12/04/2011

The Prime Minister has been dedicating a significant slice of stump time in recent weeks to explaining the differences between the ALP and the Greens, how one emerges from real-world struggles and the other is a group of out-of-touch extremists.

A similar debate has been being waged within the Greens following their underwhelming NSW state election performance, where a local candidate’s intervention in the Middle East peace provided the platform to portray the party as a collective of bat-faced ideologues.

But as the debate about the Greens’ orientation gains pertinence as they move to assume the balance of power in the Senate a more basic fact is being missed: Labor voters and Green voters agree on just about everything.

A review of findings to Essential Research questions over the past few months finds that on nearly every big debate the similarities between Greens voters and Labor voters far outweigh their differences.


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