June 9th 2007


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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Climate change: don't spoil a good story with facts

NATIONAL SECURITY: How to fight global terrorism

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd attack on Howard comes unstuck

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Nuclear power, ethanol can cut CO2 emissions

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Wheat industry win, but final outcome uncertain

OPINION: Caving in to predatory big business

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Workplace relations and human asset-stripping / The Tampa victory revisited / Another tinsel turkey for Auntie / Show and tell

DRUGS POLICY: Drugs must be a federal election issue

CHINA: Beijing's crackdown ahead of Olympics

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Can we afford to ignore the Middle East?

MEDICAL ETHICS: Intentionally deformed ... for her own good?

EDUCATION: Intact family the single most critical factor in academic success

THE WORLD: Poland - front line in the culture wars

OBITUARY: Polish-Australian Stan Gotowicz a man of many parts

Howard Government's 'generosity' disputed (letter)

Apology for error (letter)

Why families can't afford a home (letter)

CINEMA: Family - the necessary refuge for sinners

BOOKS: MENACE IN EUROPE: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, by Claire Berlinski

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STRAWS IN THE WIND:
Workplace relations and human asset-stripping / The Tampa victory revisited / Another tinsel turkey for Auntie / Show and tell


by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, June 9, 2007
Workplace relations and human asset-stripping

Senator Steve Fielding's article on the subject of industrial relations (News Weekly, May 28, 2007), summed up what many of us here, and elsewhere, have been saying for a long time.

Fielding and his Family First party should be supported, for they, unlike most of the protagonists, haven't painted themselves into a corner.

The conservatives seem quite likely to lose the next federal election, barring unforeseen developments, and it will be because of this legislation; for the reaction against it started up a whole series of re-evaluations of the Prime Minister in the public mind.

A champion of the little battlers wouldn't have countenanced such legislation. The new employment philosophy rests upon the assumption that growth could continue ad infinitum, so there will be no more periods of belt-tightening, or substantial unemployment, or cutting costs by reducing the price of labour. Who could seriously guarantee such a rosy future?

Only when things get tight, and businesses are fighting to retain solvency - forget the expansion story then! - will the new legislation start to bite and reveal its dark underside.

To revert to Senator Fielding and his putative amendments: at a time when all the talk is of the ubiquity of stress in the world of work, and the social and economic damage that it is causing; at a time when we are reminded constantly, but correctly, that the obesity epidemic is advancing, and that no matter how many diet charts and sensible cooking programs are around, large numbers of people are eating quickly and badly and on takeaways, too busy to relax and to eat a proper meal ...

At such a time, workers are being invited to give up a meal break altogether and "smokos", i.e., tea-time. The contrast between these different scenarios is profound.

What would a conscientious Minister of Health truthfully answer, if questioned: "Is working eight or 10 hours non-stop, without a break, good or bad for one's health? And not just once or twice, but every day and every night, i.e., a permanent regime?"

What would the AMA say? That many people appear to thrive on such a regime, especially if everything is speeded up (but a great many people don't enjoy it)? We haven't heard from this kind of human people, i.e., a majority, lately.

So this is not just a political or economic issue, but a health and psychological business. I won't discuss the effects on the family.

I actually think people should be prevented from selling off their meal-breaks and their tea-breaks (often under covert pressure), just as they should be forbidden to sell their organs (other than donate to a loved one as a life-saver).

And they shouldn't be seduced or bullied into selling their future health prospects or their present peace of mind. Or their family life.

I hope Senator Fielding puts these concerns into the form of amendments, and I hope that the Government has the grace and the foresight to accept that.

For we are watching a process of human asset-stripping.

It may not save the Coalition parties their election, for I think Kevin Andrews and John Howard have doomed their government with their absurd initial hubris; but it would restore a lot of the Government's reputation.

;

The Tampa victory revisited

Yet another left-wing think-tank, the Centre for Policy Development, was launched in Sydney the other night, as reported by Peter Lalor (The Australian, May 24, 2007).

This one had Julian Burnside QC speaking. For the uninitiated, Burnside shared the great civil liberties victory against the government, under the friendly but impartial eye of Federal Court Judge North.

This was the Tampa case, which produced, indirectly, some very interesting results in the 2001 election.

One could understand Mr Burnside and some others still being dizzy with success, for certainly they created waves for poor Kim Beazley.

At the think-tank launch, "the activist", as Lalor describes Burnside QC, suggested that refugees would be unable to "readily distinguish between the cruelty of the Taliban and the Liberal Party's family values".

These kinds of failed bon mots belong to Labor barbie-drinkathons, or gatherings of Labor lawyers and magistrates - not the launching of an institute for discussing and analysing ideas and, hopefully, suggesting remedies for some of our social ills.

Mr Burnside went on to express admiration for Robert Menzies, just as Kevin Rudd takes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as his lode-star.

My father wrote to me in England saying he was voting for Menzies, for Menzies and Australia deserved one another.

I, on the other hand, greatly preferred watching and listening to Alice Faye and the young Ginger Rogers.

But, strictly entre nous, does anyone care?

As to this most recent think-tank ... these radical soup-kitchens of the human spirit, with their unvarying cuisine of fried brains and sheeps' tongues are shooting up like mushrooms as the election approaches. There appears to be unlimited funding for these centres for propaganda and childish over-simplification.

 

Another tinsel turkey for Auntie

I thought some time should be allowed to elapse before we looked at the ABC television film on the 1998 dock strike.

Seeing that we covered it at the time, in these pages - blow by blow, so to speak - it was refreshing to see and hear an ABC version of what had happened, and compare with what we had observed and knew about those events and of the main characters involved.

Bastard Boys would have to be one of the most unprofessional, selective and disjointed pieces of dated agitprop that we have had from the ABC for a long time - an utter parody of complex matters and of some by no means simple persons.

When nailed as to the facts and the major gaps in the narrative, the producers told us it was not strictly factual but a drama. How can a parody be a drama?

Clearly designed for the election - an intended aphrodisiac for the ACTU, etc, etc - it drew only angry repudiations from the principal real-life characters.

So ... the drama's ultimate artistic destiny will see it end up on the school syllabus for Australian history. ("You're kidding?" No. I'm not.). Or for English, to join Rabbit-Proof Fence and Inheritance: A Fisherman's Story.

Unsuspecting students will be told that this was how industrial relations were in 1998, and what heroes the wharfies were, etc, etc.

Any students whose parents gave them the facts will soon find, in many cases, the student marked down by some affronted chalkie. Then, their parents will have to find the victim a tutor who can train him to give the liar back his lies, in fancy-wrapping, the village propagandist his village propaganda. Better that than walking the plank with a C-minus.

Chris Corrigan, Bill Kelty, Josh Bornstein of Maurice Blackburn, and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) boss of the day, John Coombs, put on an almost unheard of popular front to disassociate themselves from the film, while Greg Combet was anything but entranced.

By way of contrast and, with unfortunate timing - that is, just before the real people involved in the real strike had said their piece, as above - Robert Manne wrote: "By its conclusion, through intellectual rigour, a historically accurate and politically fair-minded balance has been achieved. ... Bastard Boys is one of the finest pieces of Australian television I have seen." (Melbourne Age, May 8, 2007).

I don't think I should say anything here - except that the last sentence could very well be true.

We all remember what the wharves and the Maritime Union were like before Peter Reith and then Chris Corrigan set out to lift productivity and reduce rorts, crime and chronic over-manning.

The waterside workers' regard for the public interest, or the rights of fellow-workers, already fragile, took a distinct downer when they were joined by the disbanded Federated Ship-Painters and Dockers Union - a virtually criminal organisation and the subject of the original Costigan Commission. This was initiated by the Fraser Government and the Victorian Government of the day.

As Michael Duffy pointed out, we didn't hear how the union movement and the Labor Party continually told the public that no more than 15 crane-lifts an hour were possible, except under inhuman conditions.

Two years after the dispute ended, the rate was 25 and the labour force down to half. Payouts of $100,000 were the average.

The effects upon costs and the speeding up of traffic in and out of ports has been dramatic, and the wharves have become comparatively free of obvious criminals. Presumably, they have had to move into the casino area.

There was an inordinate amount of foul language in the drama. In my experience, the new bourgeoisie, especially the bourgeois left, male and female, are much more foul-mouthed than the average unionist.

When we first joined the armed forces many moons ago, much swearing broke out for six to 12 months. Every third word was a b- or an f-, until we noticed that the older and more senior men with us were not impressed; so we dropped the macho youth stuff and spoke normally.

Maybe the ABC was adding some spurious local colour. Prole-speak? But more likely it was to plug gaps in the dialogue which the writers were too unimaginative to fill, with things like character development or just some plausible dialogue.

This woeful effort from the ABC costs the taxpayers $6.5 million and, although we can't reasonably expect Eisenstein, we didn't expect Frankenstein.

 

Show and tell

With a year-long federal election campaign in progress - to the sound of a hurricane of yawns (for the public appears sick and tired of dodgy politics and designer-celebrities) - demonstrations are again to be the order of the day.

Our famous old Labor Day march took place the other day, and in Melbourne there were fewer than 2,000.

When one recalls how, not many years ago, many thousands of actual believers used to make their way through the city, the bankruptcy of the union/Labor ideal is painful to behold.

And the Aboriginal industry is back with a roar, the latest reason to turn out being the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

You must have noticed the blitz in the papers and the electronic media on the whole range of indigenous problems. So - the paladins of the Say Sorry campaign turned out throughout Australia to demand, yet again, that we all say sorry.

It was really bumper crowd in Sydney - about 2,000 at most. In Melbourne, the city of The Age, it was reported to be a couple of hundred.

Viewing the media shots, I'd say that that was a genuine figure.

When one remembers that 200,000 people went over Sydney Harbour Bridge just a few years ago, you can realise what has happened. Even the rent-a-crowds gave it a miss.

But ... Michael Long was going to lead a night march with interested parties on the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I don't know what happened to that.

The fact is, there is now a dialogue, rather than a confrontation, taking place, and the time for marching down the streets, shouting, is gone.

Finally, the "unions" and Labor are going to have a big, big Indignation Day about workplace agreements.

(Please, no weak jokes about who might be making a surprise guest appearance).

Presumably, other cities will have these too. The attendances have to be larger than Labor Day. The question is: will they match Anzac Day, and will the transport facilities be as primitive?

The answer to the second question is: no, of course not. It will be laid on.

It would be nice if our resident demonstration-watcher, Mark Lopez, were free to go, count the house and take the snaps; for then we'd get the truth of the matter.

But Dr Lopez, like Kevin Donnelly, is fully occupied picking through the ruins of our education system, and trying to rescue students trapped under the wreckage.

- Max Teichmann
 




























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