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  • Aug, 2012

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    Austerity Makes You Sick

    Austerity is a bad thing. As I’ve pointed out before, when an economy is suffering from lower demand, the last thing you want to do is squeeze the pocketbooks of the very people who you want to have out there spending money. But, here’s another thing: it makes you sick. Literally.

    So, say a group of doctors who have looked at the madness of austerity sweeping through Europe. The doctors— Martin McKee, Marina Karanikolos, Paul Belcher and David Stuckler—found that:

    However, austerity has been not only an economic failure, but also a health failure, with increasing numbers of suicides and, where cuts in health budgets are being imposed, increasing numbers of people being unable to access care. Yet their stories remain largely untold. Here, we argue that there is an alternative to austerity, but that ideology is triumphing over evidence.


    For many months, the political and financial aspects of the crisis have filled the headlines. However, behind those headlines, there are many individual human stories that remain untold. They include people with chronic diseases unable to access life sustaining medicines, persons with rare diseases who are losing income support and forced to care for themselves, and those whose hopes of a better life in the future have been dashed see no alternative but to commit suicide. So far, the discussion has been limited to finance ministers and their counterparts in the international financial institutions. Health ministers have failed to get a seat at the table. As a consequence, the impact on the health and well-being of ordinary people was barely considered until they made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

    I would add a more specific observation not touched on by the doctors, with the caveat that I could only play a doctor on television. The depression people feel has to be about the feeling that, hey, “I had nothing to do with this crisis, it was brought on by greedy bankers but you are blaming me for it and making me pay the costs”. There has to be an element of anger, frustration and despair.

    This is all relevant to what we see happening in Australia. True, austerity is not the order of the day. But, when The Coalition and its business allies are, every day, telling people productivity isn’t high enough and its the fault of workers — even though the productivity crisis is a myth—and, when those same forces, The Coalition and its business allies, attack relentlessly the Fair Work framework — even though that Fair Work framework has benefited people throughout the country— it is not a big leap forward to a society where the health of our work workers declines because of the stress they feel at work.

    Remember, forty percent of Australians are shackled with insecure work. That makes for a landscape that will hurt people—not just in their bank accounts but in their physical well-being.


  • Aug, 2012


    Who’s On Top?

    This is a head scratcher. Is Ross Gittins living in the same world as the rest of us?

    This morning, Gittins, who doesn’t hail from the Fantasy Review (better know in the banker world as the Financial Review) world of seeing things, wrings his hands about the review of the Fair Work Act, ending with:

    My guess is a few big, militant unions are taking every advantage of Fair Work to make unreasonable demands. And they’re being vigorously opposed by a few equally militant, unreasonable big businesses.

    But we shouldn’t allow people with a vested interest in conflict to misdirect us. The real problem with Fair Work is that it’s not doing as much good as it could be at a time when bosses and workers need to pull together.

    Actually, as I pointed out last week, the key part of the 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. It also criticises Work Choices. ”Of the four bargaining frameworks over the last 20 years, Work Choices is least like the others. Its period of effective operation was relatively brief and during that period it was significantly amended.” [emphasis added]

    It’s fine to call for employers and workers to “pull together”. But, when you have the Empty Suit, leader of the Coalition, leading a full-throated assault on basic working conditions and wages, the balance of power is not equal. It is, indeed, a false equivalence to pit unions fighting for members rights versus corporate leaders trying to preserve their own huge pay packages and profit margins. They are not the same.


  • Jul, 2012

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    Do industry funds have an unfair advantage?

    Richard Watts discusses the implications of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations to change the default super arrangement.

    There’s been some big shake ups in the world of super in the past six months. And one of the biggest is the Productivity Commission’s call to change the way workers are channelled into default super funds. At the moment, the default fund is most often an industry fund but the recommendations pave the way to give retail funds a bigger slice of the $7 billion a year super pie.

    Instead of the current system where unions and employers choose the default fund, the PC recommends that Fair Work Australia or another independent body choose who qualifies to be a default fund.

    Richard Watts, from Industry Super Network, tells 3Q that he is receptive to a merit based system if it means retail funds meet the same governance arrangements and produce returns equal to the industry funds.

  • Nov, 2011

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    Liberal Party and WorkChoices

    Q. If they won the next election, how likely do you think it would be that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party would try to bring back industrial laws similar to WorkChoices?

    31 May 10 12 July 10 Total Vote Labor Vote Lib/Nat Vote Greens
    Total likely 58% 56% 51% 75% 33% 78%
    Total unlikely 21% 24% 27% 13% 44% 11%
    Very likely 28% 26% 22% 45% 4% 41%
    Quite likely 30% 30% 29% 30% 29% 37%
    Not very likely 18% 18% 19% 9% 31% 8%
    Not at all likely 3% 6% 8% 4% 13% 3%
    Don’t know 20% 20% 22% 11% 23% 11%

    Respondents were less likely to think that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party would try to bring back industrial laws similar to WorkChoices than when a similar question was asked last year. 51% (down 5%) think it is likely that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party would try to bring back industrial laws similar to WorkChoices if they won the next election and 27% (up 3%) think it is unlikely.

    75% of Labor voters and 78% of Greens voters think it is likely, while Liberal/National voters are split 33% likely to 44% unlikely.

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  • Nov, 2011

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    Concern about Liberals Bringing Back WorkChoices

    Q. If the Liberals won the election and reintroduced WorkChoices or similar laws, how concerned would you be?

    31 May 10 12 July 10 Total Vote Labor Vote Lib/Nat Vote Greens
    Very concerned 28% 29% 26% 53% 4% 54%
    Quite concerned 17% 19% 15% 22% 11% 15%
    A little concerned 20% 16% 20% 12% 24% 21%
    Not concerned 24% 25% 27% 6% 52% 6%
    Don’t know 11% 11% 11% 7% 9% 4%

    Respondents were also less concerned about the re-introduction of WorkChoices than last year. 41% (down 7%) would be quite or very concerned if WorkChoices or similar laws were re-introduced and 47% (up 6%) were only a little or not concerned.

    75% of Labor voters and 69% of Greens voters would be concerned. 76% of Liberal/National voters would be a little/not concerned and 15% concerned. Those most concerned were aged 25-34 (47%) and aged 45-54 (48%).

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