April 22nd 2000

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Will Telstra be fully privatised?

EDITORIAL: The "stolen generation“

CANBERRA OBSERVED: John Howard trapped in Aboriginal mine field

RURAL AFFAIRS: WA report highlights declining rural infrastructure

HEALTH FUNDS: Will genetic tests lead to discrimination?

ECONOMICS: Lessons from Malaysia's Mahathir

TAXATION: Families may suffer under GST

Why Liberal and ALP economic policies are indistinguishable

RUSSIA: What Vladimir Putin's election signifies



Globalisation: As capital goes global, unions go global

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: How the "China factor" affects US relations with Asia

Bioethics: Move to harvest human embryo stem cells

INDUSTRY POLICY: Jobs for life: the Nucor approach

TAIWAN: Opposition wins presidential election

BOOKS: 'The Packaging of Australia: Politics and Culture Wars', by Gregory Melleuish

POLITICS: Straws in the Wind

TELEVISION: The Sopranos

Books promotion page

Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 22, 2000
It seems a little strange to remember that we had an Economic Summit recently in Victoria. The usual formula, the usual media build-up, and the on-going hype. Chaired by Bob Hawke - not, I hope, at too great an expense to the management - plus the parties, unions and employers, and the kind of people who seem to wangle themselves into such extravaganzas.

But, none can say what was decided, what is planned. So the whole event has been consigned to the amnesia box, jointly owned by press and parties. It must be full to overflowing.

The reason for holding the Summit was to resolve industrial strife, and bring capital and labor, employer and employee, together in a new amity. As we know, this hope has had no influence upon anyone. With the support of some giant companies, for whom labor costs are a minor item in their operations, the building and electricians unions are forcing a settlement upon the remainder of the building and construction industry, and its clients and consumers.

The result promises to have a most deleterious effect upon construction activity, jobs and investment, supplemented as it will be by rising interest rates and any extra imposts from the GST.

Just considered on their own, these changes will be inflationary, likely to reduce employment, strengthen the hold of the big operators against the smaller, by weakening them (for labor costs constitute a much larger element in small and medium enterprises), and flash the green light to other Victorian unions as to how to stand over a weak government, hijack a helpless public, and perhaps fatally damage vulnerable companies.

No doubt these other unions will soon follow suit. And of course the builders 36 hours plus perks deal will spread through the rest of the economy. Steve Bracks needs all the media cover-ups and diversions he can get, and he is getting them.

Thus on the second day of widespread train stoppages, greatly inconveniencing many Melbourne travellers, the ABC television nightly news was too busy to mention it, choosing to fill the bulletin with a dogs breakfast of items, some of resounding vacuity. Whereas Channel 9, many of whose viewers actually use public transport, gave these stoppages and go-slows the status of a leading story. But this is par for the course.

The stolen generation

The lost generation/stolen children dispute shows, yet again, just how defective and counterproductive discussions of important issues have become in Australia. As in the case of Kemp's policies on education, and no doubt with the on-going government review of the performance of, and our relations with, UN committees and some UN agencies, the media and the Opposition set out to abort the scheduled Parliamentary hearings and examinations before they could even start.

This by arranging the "leak," - i.e. the theft, or misdirection of state documents to the media and Opposition followed immediately by orchestrated attacks, invariably vulgar and personal, on Ministers, public servants, leading to calls for resignations and censure motions - so as to prevent the public knowing what was in the reports or the submissions, or what were the government's views? (How many of us know what were the proposals for university reforms, contained in David Kemp's intended submissions?)

Of course, pre-emptive, rigged setting of the agendas relieves politicians of the task of examining and discussing often copious amounts of evidence and argument - an exercise patently beyond many of them.

John Howard and John Herron were inadvertently the whistle blowers - though in fact the real ones were the media (which is when Charles Perkins made his quite memorable Black Power comments).

That there were perhaps no more than 10 per cent of children of that time removed from parents or the tribe seems, on the face of it, terrific news. Like finding that the victims of plane crash were not 150 in number, but 15. Similarly with a massacre.

But this amended number is being treated as bad news and even if true, it shouldn't be mentioned. Why not? Either the ten per cent figure is true, or more probable that any other figure being posited, or it is not.

The Senate Inquiry should be investigating this - or is this impossible? Do the lobbies fix the figure? And, after all, the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a generation as "whole body of persons born about same time." Whereas the New Standard Illustrated Dictionary says its "the whole number of human beings living within a certain time." Do we really have to deform language, and ignore logic, in order to save the faces of a generation of mythologists, whose time has come?

And for me, one of the most unsavoury features of this debate - if we can really call it that - is the actual or implicit denigration of the work, and the lives, of so many missionaries and pastors in those far off times, who devoted their whole energies to helping and saving so many Aborigines.

How must those surviving clerics and their families feel about such politically motivated contumely? And can all of our contemporary churches honestly say that they have stood by their old faithful workers, displayed them proper gratitude? Those kinds of dedicated men and women appear to be a vanishing breed.

.Factional deals

In Victoria, a factional deal has eliminated contests for all but one of Labor's state and federal MP's. In order to obtain a clean sweep, a number of senior Labor MP's are being urged to stay on, thereby ensuring that no new blood, including young aspirants, will enter the next parliament.

Nor presumably, will the female component of Labor's parliamentary party be changed. Up to seven Labor Legislative Councillors now know they can stay on for another eleven years, assuming they can beat their non-Labor opponents at the next election. What is going to happen to Labor's electoral pledges to reform the Upper House is quite unclear.

This would have to be one of the most undemocratic and cynical moves the cliques running Victorian Labor have made, displaying, as it does, a deep-seated fear of their own rank and file supporters.

But on the other hand, the stage seemed set for an orgy of branch stacking wars, along ethnic lines, e.g., Greek vs. Macedonian, in this great multicultural party. So perhaps stopping the clock was the lesser of two evils.

.Scathing audit

I discovered this information, written up by Damien Johnston, buried in the bowels of the Herald Sun (April 7) as I did a scathing critique of Coast Watch, by the Australian National Audit Office.

Coast Watch was "failing to gather intelligence on off shore activity," and should perhaps seek advice from the US Coast Guard as how to better protect Australia. Nor did Coast Watch "properly monitor the technical skills of its staff or its own performance." Thereby hangs a tale?

As the small headline in the Herald Sun put it, "Coast Watch fails as a spy." Presumably, Four Corners will give us a couple of in depth analyses in these matters.

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