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Early childhood workers left out in support package, says ACTU

By William Olson  

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Michele O’Neil has hit out at the hypocrisy of the Morrison government’s committal of funding geared to support Victoria’s mostly privatised area of early childhood education centres while doing nothing to aid marginalised workers within the sector.

O’Neil and the ACTU have pointed out that the plan jointly announced on Wednesday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Dan Tehan, the government’s education minister, have provisions to support the centres and parents who were leaving their young children there prior to any pandemic-related closures, but leaves no guarantees for support for early childhood educators.

Whereas JobKeeper was not reinstated as a part of the government’s $33 million plan of investment to the early childhood education sector, O’Neil pointed out its other flaws which would have otherwise seen early childhood educators being looked after in the COVID-19 crisis.

“Working people need to be supported so that they can stay safe and stop the spread of the virus. Not one dollar of what Minister Tehan has announced today is guaranteed to make it into the pocket of an early childhood educator,” said O’Neil.

“The so-called job guarantee only requires that workers remain employed, but does nothing to stop widespread unpaid stand-downs which would be devastating to the workforce.

“Under this scheme, a centre which is running at 80 per cent of its usual profit would not be required to guarantee work and pay for its workforce,” O’Neil added.

The government’s plan would only apply to Victorian centres and families affected by the Stage 4 lockdown measures across Melbourne, over the current six-week block of restrictions, and an additional 30 days of absence for areas of regional Victoria currently under Stage 3 restrictions.

As for the centres’ early childhood educators, the government is providing $16.3 million of income support, but it only covers 30 per cent of centres’ pre-pandemic operating revenue, which the ACTU says falls well short of the 80 per cent of cited profit margins.

“We will also make direct payments to childcare centres, so they stay operational and staff are kept with an employment guarantee, while remaining open for workers and vulnerable families,” said Morrison, speaking in general terms about the government’s plan of investment.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to our early learning and childcare workers who have done such important work this year as our country has dealt with the coronavirus – every parent values your commitment to their children and their early education,” Tehan said, in an attempt to try and place a compassionate human-based spin on the program.

However, O’Neil remained adamant that much more can be done to ensure that early childhood educators are looked after and compensated on the same scale as the bookends of the centres and the parents as their clients.

“The Morrison Government is trying to save money during a pandemic when it should be fully committing to programs which will keep people in jobs, with pay, and allow them to prevent the further spread of this virus,” she said.

But overall, O’Neil insists that returning the JobKeeper subsidy to early childhood educators, after it was stripped away last month under the government’s revisions to the JobKeeper scheme, would be a proper complement to the government’s investment program.

The government announced in June that once the JobKeeper scheme ceased to be offered to workers in the early childcare education sector, all early childhood educators would be switched onto a “transition payment” which would equate to 25 per cent of a centre’s fee revenue or the hourly rate cap, whichever is less per fortnight.

When Tehan announced this alternate payment in June, he also said that a return to the previous Child Care Subsidy (CCS) package – a means-tested program to examine which families on the lowest set of earnings deserve the highest entitlement of subsidy – would also be included.

Which in the six weeks that passed between these announcements and the actual application of replacing JobKeeper with the transition payments, a different context was required at that time – a potential outcome which has neither been realised nor maintained.

“A review of the package found it had succeeded in its objective of keeping services open and viable, with 99 pe rcent of around 13,400 services operational,” Tehan said in early June.

“Because of our success at flattening the curve, Australia is re-opening for business and that means an increase in demand for child care places, with attendance currently at 74 per cent of pre-COVID levels,” he added at the time.

But O’Neil feels that early childhood educators would remain better off under their old JobKeeper scheme, versus any revisions and programs that Tehan and the Morrison government has unveiled since early June.

“The Government [has] stubbornly refused to admit their mistake in bringing JobKeeper support to an early end last month for workers in this sector,” she said.

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Climate Snippets #1

Reef Bleaching

From James Paten Gilmour, Research Scientist, Coral Ecology, Australian Institute of Marine Science writing in The Conversation (July 15, 2020):

“With no work in lockdown, tour operators helped find coal bleaching on Western Australia’s remote reefs.”

“This most recent event (2019/20) is significant because of the extent and duration of heat stress. It’s also notable because it occurred outside the extreme El Nino – Southern Oscillation phases [my empasis] – warming or cooling of the ocean’s surface that has damaged the northern and southern reefs in the past.”

Chris Mitchell has claimed (6/7/2020) that only natural events, such as El Nino and the Southern Oscillation, not human actions, have affected the Antarctic. Not so, according to Gilmour:

“The impacts from climate change are not restricted to Western Australia or the Great Barrier Reef – a similar scenario is playing out on reefs around the world, including those already degraded by local pressures.”

WA’s reefs stretch from Geraldton to the Kimberley and there are still some healthy reefs.

Dr Peter Ridd, claims reefs can survive bleaching, soil and fertiliser run-off in North Queensland and can recover in a decade.

Gilmour says:

“…we’ve seen the same reefs [in WA] recover over just one or two decades, only to again be devastated by mass bleaching – this time with little chance of a full recovery in the future climate.”

Last year, James Paton Gilmour and Rebecca Green reported: ‘Bright white skeletons’: some WA reefs have the lowest coral cover on record. (The Conversation, May 22, 2019).

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered 3 bleaching events in the past 5 years!

Rising Seas

There are still people who insist that they can see that the ocean at the local beach is not rising because when they go down there, the water rises no more than it did when they were children, years ago.

Rising sea can be, like the coronavirus, invisible – but the effects can be disastrous.

Recently our attention has been drawn to the plight of people and their houses at Wamberal on the mid-coast of NSW. People there tell us that there was a similar problem there 40 years ago and in 2016. And there are other places in Australia which have been affected by surging seas in recent years.

As well, various places have been named as being in danger from sea rises.

From The Canberra Times, August 5, 219, the terrible prediction that:

“WA beaches, homes and roads at risk of crumbling into the sea.”

And from The Guardian, 5 August 2019 a similar threat exists in WA:

“Port Beach in Fremantle and South Thompson Bay at Rottnest Island top list of 55 locations where coastal erosion poses serious threats.”

Other places in the world, such as Venice, Florida, and Pacific islands are suffering from rising seas. In the case of Pacific islands, some are seen to be expanding in area, especially as smaller islands are eroded and island sand and gravel is washed onto the larger island. Some will say the increase in size will provide more agricultural land, but the islanders themselves are not so convinced. They suffer rising heat and infrastructural damage from rising seas.

This focus by some on the addition of more land area might remind us of the Groucho Marx joke in which he describes some cloth. Don’t think about the quality, he says, feel the width.

In the case of Wamberal, does the existence of high cliffs of sand suggest any long term danger from erosion? And what would be the cost for the local council to build a high protective wall?

And yet further risks:

“Unwelcome sea change: new research finds coastal flooding may cost up to 20% of global economy by 2100.” (The Conversation, July 31, 2020)

Chris Mitchell raised the issue of some Pacific Islands expanding in size by wave action as discussed by Paul Kench from a New Zealand university. But Mitchell did not take into account the impacts of heat, destruction of infrastructure and surging seas on the islanders.

Interestingly, Kench transferred to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada in 2018. A report from two universities, Simon Fraser and Princeton Environmental Institute in New Jersey:

“… point to overwhelming evidence that the world oceans are rising at an accelerating rate. At the same time, the oceans are heating as much as 40% faster based on research done at universities across the US and the UK.”

States Professor Paul Kench, Dean of Science at Simon Fraser, said:

“We know that certain types of fossil corals act as important recorders of past sea levels. By measuring the ages and depths of these fossil corals, we are identifying that there have been periods several hundred years ago that the sea levels have been lower than we thought in the Indian Ocean.”

“The study, published in ‘Nature Geoscience’ on December 16, 2019, concludes that the last two centuries have seen the central Indian Ocean around the Maldives rise by nearly a metre. The threat lies in the rate of sea level rise over the past 200 years which suggests an accelerating trend posing a threat to coastal cities and human habitation around the Indian Ocean. The rate of acceleration and sea level rise will exceed anything in recorded history.

“Last Sunday, on the American news magazine show ’60 Minutes’, Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geoscience and International Affairs at the Princeton Environmental Institute, stated that ‘Sea level is rising almost everywhere on Earth…Not only is sea level rising, the rise is accelerating – it’s happening faster and faster…By the year 2050, which is only 30 years into the future, many places around the world, including in the US, are going to experience the ‘historical’, ‘once-in a hundred year’ once a year or more frequently.. Let me repeat that: An event that used to cause severe flooding once a century, we are going to get that same water level once a year.’”

And that is going to lead to more forced migration – another story.

And so the deniers prefer to claim that all this is panic, catastrophic alarmism and apocalyptic fear-mongering. Because they know if the burning of fossil fuels leads to massive destruction, then their fossil fuel business model is in tatters.

Prudence, Panic, Catastrophism, Apocalyptic Pessimism

Henry Ergas, The Australian, 16 July, 2020, informs us about the virtue of prudence:

“Prudence seems a lost virtue in coronavirus pandemic response…[prudence] was the disposition, acquired by experience, of thinking well in order to act well…[prudence ] involved proceeding cautiously, carefully defining the aims being pursued and the consequences of pursuing them… costs, economics, personal, etc…

“But while these factors are clearly at work, they would hardly be so powerful were it not for the growing pervasiveness of apocalyptic thinking.

“From bushfires to hailstorms, climate change to the coronavirus, every occurrence seems to trigger a race in which commentators compete in predicting the worst and in demanding ever more draconian remedies. Every lump of coal, we are told, hastens Armageddon: adaptation to a changing climate is pointless – only driving carbon emissions to zero can save the planet. And by exactly the same token, every coronavirus infection heralds an unstoppable pandemic; which only the most curtailing of economics and social activity can possibly avert…

“However, it is not just the trade-offs that would have to be set aside, so would the democratic process that gives voice to the many Australians who neither believe humanity is huddled in the ante-room of its own extinction nor share the doomsday hunger for drastic action. Rather, were the extremists to prevail, society  would, as in a war, retreat from democracy into a perpetual state of emergency, invoking the ancient principle that is notoriously associated with Pyrrhus, the Macedonian king who suffered such crippling losses in prevailing over the Romans at Asculum at 279 BC as to ensure his campaign’s eventual collapse.”

There are a number of things we could say about this heavy-handed rhetoric. One is that it is itself a harbinger of panic and apocalyptic pessimism. Ergas and associates are very concerned, to the point of panic, and express their concerns to the extent we might come to the opinion they are more concerned about the money than about the people.

Another point is about the matter of prudence, about prudence being thinking well, acting well, cautiously, defining aims and costing them – and they are happening now, but then there is this “growing pervasive apocalyptic thinking”. Yes, his own panic and that of the right-wing politicians obsessed with costs.

As well, there is Ergas’s fear of “drastic action”, which destroys democracy and makes people fear for their lives, he says, “as in war”, when they might simply adapt, just as we might adapt to climate change – no need for “drastic action”.

All this is summed up by Ergas in the historic story of Pyrrhus, the Macedonian king who defeated the Romans in 279BC, but in the end was destroyed by his victory. It is the kind of Ancient History by which the leaders of the British Empire were educated in the C19th, along with Greek and Latin. Whether it applies to the way we are attacking the pandemic is not clear, but it stirs up fear and apocalyptic thinking so much that people are not able to comprehend exactly what they should do, so much conflicting advice is given. Medical experts are being accompanied by a chorus of homespun ideologues who have no real practical advice to give.

It is not clear exactly what the Murdoch media empire, for example, would have us do, with a prudent, well-considered plan of the kind which Ergas wants, but does not reveal in his writing.

More about the Money

Judith Sloan, in The Australian, 21 July, 2020 [pay-walled] tells us: “Labor forced to walk back from fantasy emissions targets.” Labor’s radical policies, she says, were firmly rejected in the last election. By how much? By a seat or two?

She briefly lists some Labor policies: half cars to be electric, CO2 emissions to be reduced by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, a price on carbon, subsidies for renewables (failures overseas, says Sloan), transition out of coal and support for workers and communities. Fantasy? Radical?

But Labor did not give the costing of their policies up to 2030/40/50, she says. And the Coalition has had trouble with costing too, which is a matter not mentioned by Sloan!

So Sloan calls on Brian Fisher, director of the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Research Economics, to do the costing. We have heard him before and we could give at least a rough idea of what he might say. He can model economics in advance, but the IPCC, apparently, cannot model climate.

“Fisher’s work,” Sloan tells us:

“… conceded the government’s policies would lead to adverse economic effects, but they were small. But he estimated that Labor’s would lead to a cumulative loss of GDP between $264bn and $542bn by 2030, with real wages falling by 3% and 167,000 fewer jobs.”

Jobs, says Sloan, and paying the bills are among top concerns now, and COVID-19.

Just domestic family matters. No science, please. Too expensive. Just look at Mr Fisher’s numbers!

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Paid pandemic leave campaigns intensify

By William Olson  

A bipartisan attack led by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and followed through by a key Labor minister has been launched towards putting pressure on the Morrison government to install any sort of a national paid pandemic leave program – five months after both the ACTU and the ALP introduced the concept when the COVID-19 pandemic was initially declared.

The ACTU and the Business Council of Australia (BCA), a pro-business lobby group, released a joint letter on Monday to implore the government’s Attorney-General Christian Porter to “move quickly” to coordinate a scheme which falls in line and complements existing public health directives around COVID-19 testing and isolation policies around Australia, in support of all affected workers.

As the ACTU and BCA have joined forces to express a sense of urgency being required to make a paid pandemic leave program happen, shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke has warned that any further delays by the Morrison government to install such a program could possess “deadly” consequences.

“Every day the Morrison Government delays on paid pandemic leave puts Australian lives and livelihoods at risk,” Burke said on Monday.

Burke added that as the government is wasting valuable time on bureaucratic procedures, all they need to do is examine the recent spike in positive cases in the state of Victoria that have led to Stage 4 restrictions around Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions within regional Victorian areas.

“It has been obvious since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March that paid pandemic leave is a critical measure to protect workers’ lives, public health and the national economy. And yet five months later the Government is talking about consultation processes and evidence gathering.

“The crisis in Victoria should be all the evidence they need.

“With 80 per cent of new coronavirus infections linked to workplaces, it is clear we need financial incentives to keep people at home when they’re sick or have been exposed to the virus.

“There can be no doubt a universal paid pandemic leave scheme could have prevented some of Victoria’s terrible toll. If we don’t move now, other states could follow,” Burke said.

Meanwhile, ACTU secretary Sally McManus, allied with BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott, echoed Burke’s concerns while pointing to the Victorian example, but also unveiled a three-point plan to recommend a starting point for any paid pandemic leave program.

Those points expressed to Porter consist of:

  • The amending of the Fair Work Act (2009) to incorporate a leave entitlement consistent with the decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in relation to the Aged Care Awards (2010);
  • The provision for reimbursement to business to facilitate the leave entitlement. Mechanisms such as those used for JobKeeper or the Paid Parental Leave payment may appear appropriate compared to any paid pandemic leave program;
  • And the funding would come from the Federal Government and, where necessary, the relevant state governments

“For many workers who have no or inadequate sick leave, that the cost of isolation can be particularly burdensome. Furthermore, whilst many businesses have implemented policies to provide for paid pandemic leave, not all are able to do so given the cost, especially in the current circumstances where workers are often required to isolate and get tested on multiple occasions,” McManus and Westacott jointly said in the letter.

McManus and Westacott also acknowledged the recent scheme unveiled by Victorian premier Daniel Andrews to provide financial one-off incentives to eligible affected workers, in the way of $300 for anyone tested and awaiting results and $1500 for anyone testing positive and requiring prolonged isolation plus any additional instructions from public health professionals.

But they said plans such as Victoria’s may require some enhancement, as a model for other states and territories.

“Unfortunately, the mechanisms available to state governments to effectively implement and administer such a scheme are inadequate and consequently we have seen minimal take up over recent weeks,” they said.

The comments from McManus, Westacott and Burke came before the Morrison government announced a $1500 payment only for a small group of Victorians who would have to isolate after returning positive COVID-19 results but had no other form of leave entitlements – and McManus was quick to slam the government’s move as reactionary and an underpayment against workers’ average wages.

“Any money for workers who are saving lives and saving jobs by staying home and doing the right thing is welcome, but this payment does not address the full scale of the problems which [a] fully-funded paid pandemic leave [program] would address,” McManus said on Monday evening.

“This payment will mean that nearly all fulltime workers who are forced to rely on it will take a pay cut while they isolate. This will mean that [while] a financial penalty still remains, this just weakens our COVID-19 defences.

“We need to do better. We need to do everything we reasonably can. The Morrison Government cannot stop at this half-measure,” added McManus.

While McManus and Westacott – an alliance perhaps viewed by some observers as unlikely of a pairing as when McManus and Porter met ahead of the declaration of the pandemic for talks which eventually yielded the JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes – have saluted their ability to work together and appealed to Porter for his immediate feedback, Burke has sternly warned that any further delays would have severe consequences.

“Workers cannot be forced to choose between paying their bills and protecting their colleagues, customers and patients,” said Burke.

“Unless we get a universal scheme, we will have more community transmission, leading to more outbreaks and economy-smashing lockdowns. We cannot afford not to do this.

“The Government needs to wake up. It is out of time. It was out of time on this months ago.

“Further delay will be deadly,” Burke added.

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Is adversarial politics damaging our democracy?

By Ad astra  

It was twelve years ago, on July 10, 2008, before The Political Sword was inaugurated, that I wrote Is adversarial politics damaging our democracy?. It was published on The Possum Box hosted by Possum Comitatus, who gave me my start at political blogging, for which I continue to be grateful. Some of that piece is reproduced below because recent political events demonstrate that its messages are as relevant today as they were then.

While most readers will have their own ideas about the meaning of ‘adversarial politics’, so that we’re all on the same page, let’s use the following definitions: “Adversarial politics exists when the proposals put forward by government are routinely criticised by opposition parties. Any stance taken by government is automatically opposed, whatever its merits,” and “Adversarial politics takes place when one party (usually not in Government) takes the opposite (or at least a different) opinion to that of the other (usually the Government) even when they may personally agree with what the Government is trying to do.” It is a characteristic of the Westminster system, and if one can judge from its most flagrant manifestation, Question Time, most parliamentarians seem to revel in it. They enjoy the contest, which at times takes on gladiatorial proportions.

Because it provides a rich source of sensational copy, the media thrive on adversarial politics, and contribute powerfully to it through the press, TV and radio. Without it, life for journalists would be less lively and the preparation of material that might interest the public more demanding.

But to some who closely follow events in the political arena, it is a source of irritation because inherently it involves dishonesty and at times downright deceit. The main game seems to be winning or scoring political points even if that requires taking an opposing position that is inconsistent with previous positions or policy, and in the process demeaning or humiliating the other person or party. All observers of the political process applaud informed and vigorous debate that teases out the issues and ensures that sound decisions are made. But is an adversarial approach required to achieve this? Some might argue that it is; most would disagree.

The COVID-19 disaster

We are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. No one is certain about how to manage it; it is unique. Medical experts and epidemiologists have guided political decision making. A piece on TPS titled Listen to the experts showed how effective this strategy was.

Some of the rubbish served up to Daniel Andrews (Image from Twitter)

Victoria’s Premier, Dan Andrews has been at the forefront of this wildly spreading infection, giving stark updates and offering predictions and advice every day for the people of Victoria and beyond. He is exhausted. He, like everyone else, is operating in an environment in which no one knows what to do with certainty. He takes the advice of the medical experts. Nobody should doubt his sincerity, his earnestness, his integrity. He wants to do the right thing for the people of Victoria. Does anyone seriously doubt that?

Yet we have State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien out every day miserably bellyaching about what Andrews has said, done, or advised. He thinks he knows better. He is sure of his position despite working on the same data. His carping criticism is as irritating as his words: ‘bungling’, ‘inept’, ‘hopeless’, ‘dictator’, ‘Chairman Andrews’ or ‘Chairman Dan’. How depressing it must be for Andrews to have to endure such talk!

And it’s not just O’Brien. If you can stomach it, tune into Peta Credlin on Sky News, or Andrew Bolt on The Bolt Report where he brings on assorted right wing stooges who embellish his sarcasm. Or listen to so-called ‘Sky after Dark’ where you can hear Chris Kenny, Paul Murray and other luminaries ridicule Labor at every opportunity. Then read the assessment of it on The New Daily.

Question Time shenanigans

Because adversarial positions are more often taken by parties in opposition, many examples are seen in Question Time, where acerbic questions are aimed at the PM and his ministers. The Government too uses Question Time to score political points via ‘Dorothy Dixers’ where backbenchers read a question written elsewhere and designed to give the responder an opening to attack the Opposition.

It’s not just at Question Time that we see adversarial politics. It’s seen at press conferences, doorstops, and radio and TV interviews where journalists are at times downright aggressive and rude in interviewing politicians. While we all want probing interviewers, with the courage to challenge politicians, their stated policies and their utterances, why do journalists persist ad nauseam in asking questions that no prudent politician would or should answer?

Perhaps as a reaction to adversarial probing, there are two words that are seldom used by politicians: ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Some politicians manage to avoid ever using them, instead preferring “let me make this point”. Frustrated interviewers yearn for those blessed, unequivocal words, yet seldom hear them. Instead they so often get a long and convoluted response that doesn’t answer the question, and when it occasionally does, a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have saved everyone a lot of time and irritation.

Some interviewers on TV or at doorstops are devotees of the ‘will you guarantee’ or ‘will you rule out’ syndromes, hoping for a ‘Gotcha’ moment. Sometimes it’s justified, but at times it’s sheer harassment in an effort to get a scoop.

The language of adversarial politics

Language creates perceptions. In adversarial politics exaggerated language is used to embarrass, put down, demean or diminish. It is designed to give the user a ‘win’ or an advantage over the other. There are many examples: ‘Back-flip’ and its colourful variants, ‘back flip with double pike’, ‘back-down’, ‘about-face’, or the more benign ‘about turn’ or ‘U-turn’ are terms used to indicate a change of mind or a different approach. Politicians are entitled to change their minds in the face of new evidence, different thinking or changed circumstances; the opposite, sticking stubbornly to an outdated or untenable position, is foolish. So why not use terms such as ‘change of mind’ or ‘different approach’, or ‘new tactic’ or ‘changed attitude’ or ‘revised position’?

Columnists enjoy describing ideas, proposals or political structures with which they disagree as being in ‘tatters’, in ‘disarray’, even ‘a shambles’, or in ‘chaos’. These terms imply a disastrous turn of events, yet usually nothing catastrophic has occurred. Parliamentarians making submissions to cabinet are sometimes unsuccessful – the proposal is declined or deferred. The individual is then described by journalists as having been ‘rolled’ or ‘humiliated’, or has ‘rolled over’, and is therefore painted as a loser.

Slogans and mantras

Slogans are part and parcel of the language of adversarial politics. ‘Stunts’, ‘gimmicks’, ‘symbolism’, ‘all style and no substance’, are frequently used. ‘Control freak’ is another used by opponents. Yet what evidence is ever offered to support the ‘control freak’ mantra? It seems this phrase often refers to the clearing of written statements for distribution to the public through the leader’s office. Is that unreasonable, is it a serious restriction? Or is it a sensible approach to transmitting consistent messages to the public? Alternatives to ‘control freak’ could have been ‘having a finger on the pulse’, or ‘aware of everything that is going on’, or ‘directing traffic’, but they would not have had the desired affect that pejorative labelling achieves. Slogans and mantras are used because they work. Start a catchy slogan and soon many will be mindlessly repeating it. It doesn’t have to have much or even any substance, so long as it sounds believable.

Is adversarial politics damaging our democracy?

Those who despise adversarial politics find it to be contemptible, a damaging affliction on our political system. They resent the stifling impediments it places on governing, on governments carrying out what they promised the electorate they would do. They see it as focused on ‘winning’, on gaining a political advantage, rather than telling or establishing the truth, or contributing usefully to the discourse. It sets the teeth of the electorate on edge, which ‘turns off’ in despair. Voters would prefer politicians to be open and upfront, more focussed on the good of the nation, less willing to corrupt the usually-worthy principles that brought them into politics in the first place. At least our PM and Opposition leader are now cooperating well during the COVID-19 crisis.

What can we ordinary citizens do?

We might be able to bring about change if we, who pay our politicians’ wages via taxes, raise our voices against the use of exaggerated, depreciatory, derogatory and dishonest language by politicians, commentators and columnists. While the media might miss the theatre and the ‘newsworthy’ copy adversarial politics provides, the public would applaud a more measured approach, free from adversarial behaviour – so wasteful, so unproductive, so distasteful. We could write to our parliamentarians individually. Responders to this piece may have other suggestions. Sadly though, if history tells us anything, any change for the better is probably a vain hope.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
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Seagrass paves the way for a carbon-neutral Rottnest

Edith Cowan University Media Release

The stunning turquoise bays of Rottnest Island could be key to a carbon-neutral future for Perth’s favourite island getaway, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) and The University of Western Australia.

For the first time researchers have accurately measured the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the seagrass meadows that fringe the island.

About 810 tonnes of carbon dioxide are being absorbed annually by the seagrass meadows – around 22 per cent of Rottnest’s total annual carbon emissions.

Dr Oscar Serrano from ECU’s School of Science said the research lays the groundwork for a greener future at Perth’s favourite holiday spot.

“Quantifying the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by these ecosystems is an important first step to potentially offset the island’s carbon dioxide emissions through conservation and restoration of seagrass meadows,” he said.

“Carbon dioxide absorbed by marine ecosystems is known as ‘blue carbon’ and has huge potential to offset carbon emissions and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“Seagrass absorbs carbon dioxide up to 40 times faster than tropical rainforests and they have an amazing ability to store that carbon in their soils for thousands of years.”

Conservation for a cause

Camila Bedulli from the University of Western Australia co-authored the paper and said seagrass meadows also provided an important habitat for many species of fish, turtles and dugongs, as well as helping to prevent coastal erosion.

“Seagrass meadows are fragile and can easily be damaged by storms, marine heatwaves associated with climate change or human development such as moorings and dredging,” she said.

“When that happens, the carbon dioxide stored in their soils is released back into the atmosphere.”

Dr Serrano said it was extremely important seagrass meadows around Rottnest Island, and elsewhere in Australia, were protected and any damage restored.

“By protecting and restoring these important ecosystems, we’re helping to preserve our precious marine environments,” he said.

Marine heatwave had a devastating impact on marine life and seagrass (Image from abc.net.au – photo supplied by Joan Costa)

A green attraction

ECU tourism expert Associate Professor Sean Kim said a ‘clean green’ image would be a positive marketing tool for Rottnest Island, especially for international tourists.

“Rottnest Island has huge potential to become a pristine tourist destination compared to the many island destinations that have been adversely affected by from large-scale tourism development,” he said.

The research was published in Frontiers in Marine Science and can be accessed at the journal’s webpage.

Background: The role of blue carbon

  • Australia is home to around 10 per cent of the world’s blue carbon ecosystems.
  • In Australia it’s estimated there is four times more carbon sequestered in soil beneath marine ecosystems over a given area than in terrestrial environments.
  • Coastal vegetated ecosystems account for 50 per cent of carbon dioxide sequestered by the oceans, despite covering just 0.2 per cent of its total area.
  • Restoring just 10 per cent of blue carbon ecosystems lost in Australia since European settlement could generate more than $US 11 million per year in carbon credits.
  • Conserving blue carbon ecosystems under threat could be worth $US 22-31 million per year in carbon credits

 

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KPMG’s blunder an obstacle in industrial relations reform talks

By William Olson  

As both the union movement and the business lobby continue to maintain their poker faces in the ongoing industrial relations reforms discussions in Sydney and Canberra, KPMG – one of the major players in the business lobby – has risked the integrity of the negotiations after a document of theirs was leaked this week.

The Guardian reported in its online editions on Friday that KPMG, after having been invited by both the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) to partake in the negotiations, were excluded from two end-of-week discussions with immediate effect after their document detailing proposed wide-ranging changes to the industrial relations landscape.

And those proposals being discussed by five key focus groups – two groups of which KPMG are partaking in – are still considered to be works in progress, to be determined between now and the panels’ adjournment in September.

KPMG, for the purpose of the layperson, is a professional services firm with global reach, and deep expertise in audit and assurance, tax and advisory, and management and risk consulting. An examination of their corporate values also details words such as “integrity”, “excellence”, and “courage”.

“Integrity” sits right at the very top of their list of corporate values. And with great objectivity, somehow the open disclosure of details of ongoing discussions in a summit’s culture where both major combatants are – for reasons of great protection to themselves – keeping the news and progress of the ongoing negotiations close to their vests, “integrity” might not be the best word to describe what they have done.

Especially when these actions may jeopardise the progress and process of negotiations not just for their business lobby colleagues, but the to-and-fro discussions from both sides altogether.

The working classes, hoping to come away with better rights and conditions after all negotiations are said and done, likely wouldn’t lose much sleep – or might even be rejoicing – over a setback from the business lobby during these negotiations. However, what does this mean for the current point in time of the negotiations, and also in the context of what may be yet to come?

An understanding of the contents of the document in question – ironically entitled, “Working Together For Reform” – may be required, now that the proverbial horse has bolted from the barn. It details the following:

  • the wrinkles of working from home and JobKeeper in the context of award simplification;
  • the extending of greater powers to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to alter employees’ shifts and schedules, whereas this has been the domain of employers, managers and supervisors in the past;
  • generally speaking, using the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses as a means to alter or “vary” workers’ awards, as one application to “simplify” them;
  • giving the FWC the power to “vary” workers’ awards, under the circumstances of the pandemic;
  • instituting an “Employee Share Schemes” structure, similar to a U.S.-based industrial relations model, purported to “better align interests of employees and employers,” in order to bring about greater productivity;
  • with regard to enterprise agreements, putting a greater and more literal emphasis on the Better Off Overall Test in the means of collective bargaining against awards;
  • and the altering of Greenfields agreements to cover the life of a project, as opposed to the first six months of a given project.

The business lobby, as detailed in KPMG’s document, would seek to amend the Fair Work Act of 2009 in order to install the above aims.

It is also important to ascertain that Scott Gartrell, KPMG’s workplace relations advisory partner as well as being their main representative in these negotiations, had been scheduled to speak on a panel for Friday, but was dropped as of Thursday evening.

In the aftermath of the leaking of the document, Gartrell had told The Guardian that his organisation’s engagement with the other working groups was “subject to confidentiality.” By this time, the concept of confidentiality exists, at least for the time being, as being irrelevant.

The negotiations, with or without the reinstatement of Gartrell or even the involvement of KPMG, will continue. And they will continue through to the September deadline. But as KPMG has inadvertently tipped the hand held by the business groups’ lobby, an argument can be made that the process of fair, objective negotiating has been compromised.

Whether the ACTU and the union groups in attendance can take advantage of this twist of fate remains to be seen. According to ACTU president Michele O’Neil, a yardstick of success would consist of meeting its goals of no worker being worse off as a result of any proposals as a minimum expectation and that better job security would constitute a victory for the union movement.

Nonetheless, any momentum would have to belong to the ACTU in these industrial relations reform negotiations at this point.

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ACTU fires warnings over state of superannuation

By William Olson  

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have put the Morrison government and its economic experts on notice over the current state of the nation’s superannuation scheme, with a basic message: leave the system alone.

Stemming from the government’s announcement of the early withdrawal option for superannuation that was brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic, and arguably made somewhat viable by the nation’s recession which followed, over 2.9 million Australians have taken out an aggregate total of the government’s initial $28 billion estimation on the scheme, thereby causing them to revise its expectations to $42 billion and extending the scheme until the end of the year.

While ACTU officials harbor particular warnings over the impact of a scheme which has gone awry, even government ministers – led by none other than treasurer Josh Frydenberg – are perplexed by the revising of the scheme’s initial plans.

“We know that almost 60 per cent of those accessing their super early have used it or plan to use it to meet essential day-to-day expenses, including paying down debts, with another 36 per cent adding the money to their savings,” Frydenberg said on Thursday, in clarifying the revisions.

“Opponents [of the scheme] are basically saying to 2.6 million Australians that ‘we don’t trust you to make your own financial decisions with your own money’,” Frydenberg added.

But according to the ACTU, that trust is occurring the other way around.

If Frydenberg was referring to the nation’s union movement as opposing continued use of the superannuation early release scheme, the ACTU possesses good reasons to oppose it – or even illustrating workers’ lack of trust in the LNP government with their own money.

The warnings issued by the ACTU have come in the form of many salvos fired in the wake to the extension of the scheme. Not only is the union movement allied with the superannuation industry dead set against the concept of any form or extension of early release of funds, the ACTU has also voiced its opposition to a reported cutting of the superannuation guarantee from its current proposal of 12 per cent.

“This Government can’t be trusted with workers’ retirement savings, tens of billions have been ripped out through its disastrous early access scheme. The size and scale of the early release of superannuation shows that now more than ever, all workers need 12 cents on every dollar earned to ensure a dignified retirement,” said Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant secretary.

“The early access scheme will push huge numbers of workers into poverty when they retire. This will be the legacy of the Morrison Government.

“The Government should immediately rule out cutting the legislated increase of the Superannuation Guarantee to 12 per cent and focus on improving the superannuation balances and retirement incomes of women and Indigenous workers,” added Connolly.

Another red flag raised by the ACTU concerns the consequences of what has already happened as a result of the superannuation early release scheme, and they have revealed some very telling uncomfortable truths in the way of statistics to illustrate this.

  • The basic fact: over 2.9 million workers have partaken in the scheme, the vast majority of whom have taken out the maximum allowable of $10,000.00 in either of the two financial year windows.
  • Over 500,000 applicants, with some cross-section to the above, have emptied out their superannuation accounts in order to pay their bills.
  • As far as leading demographics go, women have been taking out a greater proportion of their superannuation balance than men have been doing 21 per cent to 17 per cent for men, and approximately one in three applicants to the Australian Tax Office are aged 30 or younger.
  • The average payment given has been $7,719 since the early release scheme began.
  • For the 2019-20 financial year window, the average amount taken out has been $7,407.
  • For the current 2020-21 financial year window, the average amount taken out has been $8,619.
  • And something about “sloppy seconds”: Of the 2.9 million overall applications received by the Australian Tax Office (ATO), one million of them are repeat applications from one “financial year” window to the next. (On trend, one in three are coming back for more money.)

And all of this leads to an extended level of inequality to one particular group. As the ACTU keeps pointing out that an average of 13 applicants exist nationally for every available job, the impact on the nation’s young people becomes magnified.

According to Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president, factoring in a terrible jobs market with low wages growth which has been in poor shape for years, and combining those with statistics pointing towards younger unemployed workers raiding their superannuation accounts, inequality towards that demographic becomes worse and worse.

“We know what’s needed is for the Government to lead and urgently intervene in the jobs market, otherwise young people will suffer the effects of this recession their entire working lives,” said O’Neil.

O’Neil also points towards a jobs-based economic recovery blueprint recently unveiled by the ACTU, and insists that the Morrison government would be wise to consider it, especially to inspire the employment hopes for the nation’s younger workers.

“Australian unions have put forward a jobs-led economic recovery plan to help steer the country through the next stages of this crisis and provide a lasting legacy in the society and economy.

“Young people need support from Government. They need the Government to step up and invest in their future,” she said.

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Aged care workers to get paid pandemic leave – will others follow?

By William Olson  

On Monday evening, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) extended paid pandemic leave to workers in the aged care sector, in an attempt to help quell the spread of COVID-19 virus cases. This financial incentive would encourage those workers tied to the healthcare industry to stay home should they show even the smallest symptoms of coronavirus, and not suffer should they miss work.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has hailed the FWC’s move as a step in the right direction, especially given that the aged care sector’s workers have been characterised as a group of casual workers employed in multiple jobs, and thereby more apt to pass on their symptoms to their co-workers – or worse, to the elderly patients they are required to look after, or to their families.

While the topic of the recent trends in COVID-19 cases have centered around the aged care sector and three related factors – the privatisation of the sector in recent years, the resulting trends of ever-growing casualisation within the sector, and the impact of the findings of the interim Royal Commission report into aged care – the extending of paid pandemic leave by the FWC to the sector is potentially the bigger story with a greater outcome to the nation’s workforce.

In fact, the ACTU would prefer to see the benefits of paid pandemic leave extended to workers across all industries of the Australian workforce.

“The problem of workers having no leave goes beyond the aged care sector,” said Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary.

“We welcome this decision but it still does not remove the trap door for casual workers with irregular hours, or workers in other industries,” she added.

McManus also points out the added benefits of the scheme advocated by the ACTU, benefits which bear greater rewards than just mere financial ones, focusing on public and mental health areas.

“Paid pandemic leave is a crucial public health measure that provides a circuit breaker to stem the rate of transmission by allowing those with symptoms to stay home without losing income,” she said.

While the trend towards privatising the aged care sector within the healthcare system industry as a whole has existed as an agenda item by the LNP since the Howard years, the actual finished moves to make it happen have happened within the last few years. And with that, has come greater actualisation rates within the sector – to the tune of a shocking 70 per cent compared to a 40-per cent rate of “private, for-profit” residential aged care facilities – and the findings of an interim Royal Commission into the sector which have found, in general terms, “fails to meet the needs of its older, vulnerable, citizens.”

And with all of that, while the full Royal Commission findings into the aged care sector have been delayed until July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FWC still deserves full marks of praise for launching the ACTU’s paid pandemic leave plan into action.

But it still does not remove the sting of what has been said in the past about industries where casuals dominate the numbers of the workforce.

Back in March, Attorney-General Christian Porter, who doubles as the Morrison government’s minister for industrial relations, opined that casual workers should be prepared for emergencies due to illness due to the extra casual loadings they receive “in lieu of entitlements” normally received by full- and part-time workers.

But to be fair to Porter, he did a quick about-face the following morning to clarify that while not every worker, particularly casuals, would be prepared for time off due to illness, the potential existed for “a much larger… number of people in all categories of employment” would need economic support for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the guilt of being at the forefront of a global pandemic changed his mind.

Truth is, casual workers remain as a marginalized segment of the workforce, and that perception has only become magnified during the pandemic.

The ACTU, via the aims of its pleas for paid pandemic leave, has set the modest goal to look after all workers displaced by COVID-19 cases if and when they should fall ill. And among them, casual workers most of all, by virtue of the very nature of the culture of their workforce – working for multiple employers within the same industry, such as what has been exploited in the aged care sector, just to make rent, pay their bills, buy groceries, and just to make ends meet in general.

“We need paid pandemic leave for all working people. No one should face a financial penalty or risk losing their job so that they can isolate or get tested. This needs to happen immediately,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said earlier in the organisation’s campaign.

But at the end of the day, McManus is aware that only a bipartisan action can bring paid pandemic leave available and to workers across all industries. And she is imploring for the Morrison government to make it happen.

“Only the federal government can step up and deliver paid pandemic leave to protect all workers,” she said.

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Ten lessons for activism

By Robert Wood  

The West Australian publication Semaphore recently put forward the question ‘how do we build a sustainable practice of activism’? This was some months ago, but it is a question that has stayed with me. After all, sustainability and activism remain, no matter what happens on the day to day. I wrote this in response, thinking of my primary identity as an artist who works with text, and thinking of a long involvement with politics. The simplest thing, and perhaps the most important, is that any action is better than non-action when it comes to activism and you have to do what is right for you at the level of form and content. Do something small and do it for a cause that fits with you as a person. If you cannot finish the rest of this article, take that lesson onboard.

A personal history of politics

My grandparents on both sides were active in their youth for a number of causes. My father’s father was a baker and partook in labour strikes during the 1920s in Scotland before he came to Australia. My mother’s parents were involved in decolonisation during Indian Independence in the 1940s before they migrated to Singapore. That legacy informs my own practice, but perhaps just as importantly they were bedrock upon which my parents could build. My father was an economics speechwriter for Bob Hawke and has always been an ALP loyalist while my mother is an ambivalent supporter of the Greens and a past national president of Amnesty. An uncle on my father’s side is a Vietnam veteran with a disability who became a State and Federal minister in Labor governments, and, an uncle on my mother’s side was Lee Kwan Yew’s bodyguard during Singaporean decolonisation. Another one is still involved with Extinction Rebellion and was recently arrested in non-violent direct action. My mother’s sisters work against the removal of Indigenous children, for refugee linguistic rights, and other social justice causes; another aunt is known as the ‘Mother of Civil Society’ for her role in second wave feminism in Singapore. I have always been surrounded by politically involved people just like lots of others.

My own turn to activism happened in an independent way when I lived in Philadelphia during graduate studies. I would pack parcels for prisoners with Books Through Bars and Decarcerate PA; cook vegan meals for the homeless with Food Not Bombs; and helped start a campus group called Penn Against War. With them, we organised one thousand students to bus to Washington DC for a million person march protesting American involvement in Iraq. We put on a lot of agitprop theatre. When I returned home, I was part of a grassroots group in Margaret River. This was the Witchcliffe Progress Association (WPA) and we advocated for sustainability in our neighbourhood. One day on a protest walk, we had a gun pulled on us by an irate property owner who threatened to shoot the president’s dog. Afterwards, I worked for United Voice as a union organiser in aged care. I would go around to nursing homes and be harassed by management while trying to help new members change their industrial rights. This was up in Perth, and when I moved to Melbourne, I volunteered every Monday for several months for a refugee led support group, Tamil Feasts. We would cook curries with asylum seeker chefs to raise awareness and funding for people on temporary visas. I cut a lot of onions with them. My activism has often been mundane repetitive tasks precisely because I am on the lowest rung of the ladder.

Now, I am the Chair of PEN Perth, which defends responsible freedom of expression. For the most part it means I have written articles in progressive journals like Counterpunch, The AIMN, and Independent Australia. And, helping to put on events, speak at protests, and write letters. We have hosted talks with Peter Greste, who was in jail in Egypt; with Geoff Gallop, our former premier; and have one planned with First Nations author and activist Anita Heiss. I have spoken at rallies put on by the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance, and, I send about five to ten letters a week. This is on a range of issues like imprisoned writers overseas, linguistic rights of incarcerated Indigenous people, media ownership, data and privacy, and how to help citizens live free from hate speech. I also make a monthly donation of $10 each to RTR FM, Trillion Trees, Asylum Seeker Resources Centre, IndigenousX, Extinction Rebellion, and Australian Poetry. It beats paying that cash to Netflix, and, is a good spread that reflects my politics.

Taken together, this is around twenty years of activity that has been done on a volunteer basis outside of political parties. I have handed out how to vote cards, phone banked (including for Obama in his primary campaign in Pennsylvania), sat in on branch meetings and pre-selections (for ALP and the Greens), and scrutineered in a federal election. But for the most part, my engagement with the state has been secondary to creating an ethics that is critically aware and creative as well. Twenty years, or my whole adult life, probably constitutes a sustained level of involvement. And it has not come at the cost of my artistic practice and work-life balance. If anything, it informs and helps it, even if I am not invested in the discursive constructs of relation, socially aware, or leftist aesthetics.

What I have learnt

Create A Practice

Research first – read, ask questions, listen, look in yourself for your values, come up with what you think is an ideology in the world. For me, the best way to do this has been to look at what is around me. You might like the label Marxist or the brand liberal, but what are the daily actions you take where you are already situated that make sense as a politics? This is not to suggest pragmatism is the only way. It is to say that we can make sense of our ethical subjectivity and civic responsibility as a philosophy when we change our basis of evidence. Look to the sources you find important and that will lead you to a politics and the type of action you can take.

Get into good habits – don’t be simply reactive but proactive, don’t wait to be enraged, there are always problems there. Choose an issue that has been forgotten. It will turn out someone is already working on it and your help will be invaluable. This approach is about finding things the media is not attuned to, and is where politicians have the wrong idea about what needs fixing. For example, I am very passionate about overturning parens patriae which is analogous to terra nullius for people including those in public asylums, prisons, foster children and others. It is the principle that sanctions state violence to individuals at the level of the body itself. That is something not many people care about and no politician has ever addressed it in the context of contemporary Australia. That simply gives me more work to do.

Make Community

Do it with other people – find a group that you like; no matter what issue that grabs your interest, there are other people out there. Activism works well when you have someone to talk to. Not only about the issue but about tactics and when you are in the holding cell. When I was at the WPA, I learnt most of all from Todd Giles and Ken Collins. They were calm, wise, older committee members who helped me understand the local concerns of Witchcliffe. I am always thankful for their community and support more than anything else.

Have a target – conversely, once you have found your people, put pressure on specific politicians. Choose a nemesis and harass them. This means accepting that activism often comes with conflict, which may be the historic nature of our democracy. At present, I write about Indigenous incarceration to Joan Jardine in the Attorney General’s department in Canberra, and about Australian prisoners of conscience overseas to Andrew Todd in DFAT. Both of them are senior bureaucrats who have real structural power and respond to criticism. Find your enemy and challenge them.

Be Intersectional

Let it influence your life – let it come into your practice, make space for it in other parts of your life. For example, this is where being an artist matters for how to do politics. Make exhibitions with protest signs like Cool Change has hosted in the past. Turn to your ideology for a way to answer questions of aesthetics, let it influence what you hold onto from your creative outlet when you enter into arguments, think once more of the special role creativity plays in civic duty more generally.

Don’t always take it with you – switch off from politics, let go of the small stuff, don’t take it home. Sometimes micro-aggressions are simply small annoyances that one does not need to focus on. You can let it go at the Christmas Table, which is to say, choose your moment and when to stop being an activist also.

Image from news.virginia.edu

Get Results

Be prepared for the losses – along the way, you will have setbacks. Laws you are fighting might not get overturned, a refugee might get sent ‘home’, there might be another death in custody, a sacred site will be destroyed, or no one will show up to a rally. This is when your faith in activism will be tested, and that includes on every election night.

Embrace the wins – they do not come often and it is always important to be a person who looks for a lost cause most of all. I fondly remember the day when two Reuters reporters were released from prison in Myanmar – Wa Lone and Kway Soe Oo. I had written letters for them to ambassadors and ministers. It was a day of freedom for them after they were locked up for reporting on Rohingya massacres against the government’s wishes. The wins do not happen often, which is why you have to enjoy them.

Plan for Time

Think long-term plan and think longer than a media cycle, longer than an electoral cycle, longer than your own life. For me, this is where I believe in First Nations religious freedom; nature first not later; a home for the stateless so they can heal. They are long term projects and one can choose to be optimistic about the future, to make a go of it, which helps with the day to day action that is the foundation for politics in the world as it stands.

Start again – listen last, make space for others, be open to critique. And do it all again from top to bottom. Activism and politics is always changing and we should too. It is important to be open to difference and to keep going most of all.

* * * * *

Politics is a field of practical action but all the lessons above are useful for making art. To call it practical is not to say politics is not theoretical or conceptual or that one should not think deeply about one’s values. But, it is also a place that rewards clarity and results. Those are things to question, and yet, when it comes to what you can do as a citizen with some privilege it is important to use your voice to articulate a vision based on justice, healing, solidarity, freedom, and non-violence. The arts can be useful to politics, can inform one’s own practice and draw on your expertise. It helps me get out of my head and engage with the vulnerable with a sense of deep respect. Surely, now more than ever, the world needs more of that. The world needs more artists willing to make themselves activists where we live.

Robert Wood’s writing has been published in numerous literary and academic journals. He has interned for Overland, edited for Peril and Cordite, been a columnist for Cultural Weekly. At present he works for The Centre for Stories.

 

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Sooty unveils RortKeeper

By Grumpy Geezer  

Sooty Morrison’s $8.1 billion RortSeeker program of shovelling public money to enclaves of Lib privilege and marginal electorates bought the Tories a two seat majority in the 2019 election – a net gain of one seat. That’s $8,000,000,000+ for a single seat increase. That’s the self-trumpeted “superior economic management” of the born-to-rule touts in action. They can’t even do grift cost effectively.

But for the Tories it was other people’s money well spent.

Blatant lies, FUD, fraudulent election posters, the excrement from Murdoch’s propaganda apparatus, an appeal to greed and self-interest and an $80M nod & wink distraction campaign from the flabulous accused fraudster Clive Palmer all helped of course. But in the game of mates that is Tory government the success of RortSeeker in the federal election has seen it morph into RortKeeper in office.

Sooty’s disappointment at his failure to win the Eden-Monaro by-election was palpable. After weeks of shoving his candidate aside to mug to the cameras he reverted to his where’s the wally routine and went AWOL. He had marketed himself as the product but the electorate didn’t buy it, even though Eden-Monaro was bribed with twice as much funding as the average seat under SportsRorts. Clearly the rorts program would require re-modelling given that the voters cannot be trusted.

You can’t prise traditional venal practices from a dead Tory’s fingers – what’s different now is that a pandemic and a bushfire-charred environment provide new opportunities for the monetisation of other peoples’ misfortune. The crisis also conveniently provides cover for and distraction from their odious and incompetent behaviour and so RortKeeper was rolled out.

Few sentient beings were surprised when it was revealed that Stu Robert’s latest fuck-up in a series of fuck-ups(1) the COVIDSafe e.placebo cost circa $68M without tracing a single case of infection. Snafu Stu is the type of guy who could wear a sombrero the wrong way round so of course this one man tech-wreck is the Tories’ preferred I.T. geek. If Stuie can’t break it, it’s unbreakable.

The rorts dimension to this incompetence is found, as always, if you follow the money. The CEO of the development company DELV is the spouse of a Liberal Party candidate. Purely coincidentally no doubt, his company hosted government grants enthusiast Angus Fingers Taylor MP at business events(2). Fingers’ talent for accessing tax payers’ funds to subsidise the entrepreneurial endeavours of chums and family is the stuff of legend(3).

Another Hayekian champion of free markets who nevertheless is ever eager to indulge in tax-payer funded largesse to support his own enterprises is the billionaire cockroach king and hacker of dead children’s phones Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch the undead and Keith Richards are the only two people guaranteed to survive a nuclear war but pending such a possibility Sooty wants to secure his own tithe-enabled availability for the rapture by keeping the old monster on side. A $10M top up to a previous $40M donation to Newscorpse, friendly tax treatment and the dismemberment of the ABC is a small price to pay to faciliate Sooty’s 1st class boarding pass to the last flight to heavenly reward. (Jen and the girls will be down the back.)

The COVIDSafe farce and the protection money to Murdoch are but two examples of the early roll-out of RortKeeper.

How are lurk merchant extraordinaire Fingers Taylor and his old #Watergate mate Barking Barmy Joyce faring in the updated model? These two grifters could sniff out a dollar in the skat of a Werribee duck.

Hot out of the blocks Fingers has appointed one of his former advisers and a prominent critic of renewable and carbon policies to the board of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. And $4M to Shine Energy for a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station despite them having no energy sector experience and having never completed a project. Good job, well done Angus!

Angus’s stuntman partner in grime, the Evel Knievel of provincial politics Barking Barmy Joyce vacated his front seat on the gravy train after he fell into the gland canyon of one of his staffers. Barmy was compensated with a $600,000 gig to send unread text messages from the front bar of country pubs.

Now that he has been able to settle his VB tab, organ donor Barmy will no doubt be pondering further opportunities to fund his designated drivers and Playboy subscriptions while plotting the demise of his bête noire and boss, the Wagga Wagga chook magnet Mickey Mac McCormack.

While Fingers and Barmy are free-styling our PM and his flustered Treasurer are focusing on retro-fitting their neo-con ideology into their forced framework of capitalist socialism. Morrison’s SkidMarx manifesto is a work-in-progress but a key feature will be RortKeeper as evidenced by the shelving of requirements for the banks to change their criminal behaviours.

We may all be up to our collective armpits in ordure but there is something deeply satisfying in watching Bubble and Squeak at the podium, blustering in red-faced embarrassment at being forced to adopt and sell a Keynesian response to an economic crisis. It worked after WW2, it worked during the GFC but it’s anathema to the Tories’ discredited dogma of punitive austerity and look-after-the-wealthy trickle-down voodoo.

Morrison’s discomfort at having to sell the biggest deficit in our history after decades of snakeoil about surpluses, the Lib’s denigration of government stimulus spending and their failed experiment in time travel (“we’ve brought the budget back to surplus next year”) may finally wipe that repulsive smirk from Sooty’s pie hole. But the smarmy yahoo’s boondoggles, rorts and normalising of blatant corruption will continue so I suspect not. Plus he’s got the rapture to fall back on.

References

(1) COVIDSafe, RoboDebt, MyGov non-existant DDos attack, $38,000 home internet bill

(2) Coronavirus: Government’s COVIDSafe app could have cost ‘tens of millions’ for zero tracing results – Nine News.

(3) The adventures of Angus Taylor – Michael West Media

Close to the wind: the trials of Liberal Money-Man Stuart Robert – Michael West Media

The Angus Taylor story: from the Liberals’ golden boy to a man on the edge – The Guardian

 

This article was originally published on the Grumpy Geezer.

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Shadow ministers slam priorities in Fox Sports “handout”

By William Olson  

Opposition communications ministers have called out the Morrison government’s continued hypocrisy in its funding of its broadcast interests – granting $10 million of public to Fox Sports, weeks after revelations of continued cutting millions of dollars in funding to the ABC.

While $41 million of funding was recently found to be cut to the ABC in late June by the Morrison government in a move that may also result in as many as 250 jobs shed by the national broadcaster, the funnelling of money to Fox Sports is also not the first of its kind.

In 2017, amid the absence of a paper trail that would have otherwise outlined the motives of such a move, the Turnbull government under the guardianship of then-communications minister Mitch Fifield extended a $30 million grant to Fox Sports – presumably to increase airtime for events and programming for women’s, niche, and under-represented sports on the Foxtel block of channels over a four-year interval, as outlined in the 2017 federal budget.

Fifield, at the time, said the grant was merely part of a “broader media reform package”.

However, South Australian senator Sarah Hanson-Young – reasonably aghast at the ongoing cost of cuts to the ABC totalling $783 million since 2013 – assails the brazen appearance of the grant to Fox Sports.

“Another day, another public hand-out to the Morrison Government’s [Rupert] Murdoch mates,” said Hanson-Young, the Greens’ holder of the communications portfolio.

“Giving tens of millions to Fox Sports while cutting funding to the ABC really is the height of arrogance,” she added.

 

Paul Fletcher, the Morrison government’s minister for communications, has defended the extending of the grant, citing that Foxtel’s block of Fox Sports channels – between the presence of women’s professional sporting leagues such as the WNBL, WBBL, Super Netball, AFLW, NRLW, and the W-League, all of which currently operating under existing broadcasting deals – has provided a platform for a doubling of women’s sport coverage in programming hours since 2016.

“With six dedicated sports channels and a wide range of sports news, Fox Sports has a strong commitment to broadcasting sports and events that may not otherwise receive television coverage,” Fletcher said on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, Hanson-Young feels that the government grant money can be better spent on enhancing the public broadcaster, and went as far as suggesting that women’s sporting leagues should be on national free-to-air broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS, and not on any of the Fox Sports channels.

“This funding program for Murdoch’s Fox Sports says everything about the priorities of the Morrison Government. The Morrison Government is handing out millions of dollars of taxpayer money to a private, corporate broadcaster while slashing funding at the public broadcaster,” Hanson-Young exclaimed.

“Any support for the broadcast of women’s sport should be going to the public broadcasters which fans can watch for no further cost.

“The ABC has suffered from repeated budget cuts under the Coalition Government, some $783 million since 2014, and is now cutting jobs and news services to stay afloat. If there is money to go around for broadcasting, it should go to the ABC and SBS.

“The PM needs to reverse the funding cuts to the ABC. He can easily find the first $10 million by taking it back from Murdoch and putting it where it will be the most benefit to broadcasting and promoting women’s sport and where fans can actually watch it without forking out more money,” Hanson-Young said.

Meanwhile, Labor front-bencher Michelle Rowland, the ALP’s shadow minister for communications, while assailing the government in restricting viewership of women’s sport to pay-TV platforms, hit a direct link between the aggregate total of $40 million to Fox Sports for what is now a six-year interval and the “sport rorts” scandal on the government’s watch stemming from last year’s federal election.

“The Morrison Government left women and girls ‘changing in cars or out the back of the sheds’. Now, they’re keeping taxpayer-funded women’s sports coverage behind a pay wall,” Rowland said.

“Australia’s sportswomen deserve better. Young girls can’t be what they can’t see.

“At a time when Australia is in recession, many households are facing unemployment and money is tight, $10 million would go a long way to supporting sports coverage to which all Australians can see for free,” added Rowland.

But like Hanson-Young, Rowland maintained that the Morrison government – a body that claims to be empowering women’s sport leagues and participation on Fox Sports – has its end-game priorities misplaced.

“Despite spending more than $250 million pre-election on community sports infrastructure, the Morrison Government failed to fund hundreds of worthy women’s sports projects because it prioritised marginal seats over merit.

“Today’s announcement just proves this government will always put political gain before real support for women and girls in sport,” Rowland said.

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Progressives fear welfare cuts may deepen poverty lines

By William Olson  

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has come out with a two-minded approach to the Morrison government’s announcement to upcoming changes to the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes: grateful that they will still be around, but wary that the cuts could place millions of Australians in danger of being in threat of greater poverty during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, in fronting the Canberra press corps on Tuesday, announced that the two programs would be incurring respective $300-per-fortnight reductions from the end of September.

Additionally, in the case of the revised JobKeeper, it will now be a case of being a two-tiered system with payments based on the number of hours an employee within a business had averaged prior to the start of the pandemic – thereby placing employees in the lower category liable to lose more welfare entitlements compared to those on the current JobKeeper award.

And to help confuse the situation further on JobKeeper, there will be two windows of payments before the Commonwealth government reviews it again in March 2021.

From late September until December 31, the two tiers will consist of one which pays workers $1200 per fortnight, minus tax, and $750 per fortnight, minus tax, on the other tier for those employees working fewer than 20 hours per week.

Then from January 1 until the March review, the two tiers reduce themselves to paying a company’s workers $1000 per fortnight, minus tax, with the exception of those working 20 hours per week or less, who will receive $650 per fortnight pre-tax.

As for JobSeeker, the base rate – otherwise known as the old NewStart entitlement – remains at $565.70 per fortnight for single recipients without dependants, not counting entitlements such as rent assistance or the energy supplement, while the coronavirus supplement which created the JobSeeker scheme has been cut from $550 per fortnight to $250 per fortnight.

Therefore, the maximum pre-entitlement amount a JobSeeker recipient could receive from Centrelink will be $815.70 per fortnight from October, whereas the current amount sits at $1,115.70 per fortnight.

The window on that new payment expires as of December 31, after which time it will come back up for government review.

The ACTU had harboured fears over the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes being completely dashed after their September 27 expiry dates, but Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary, has held firm on the belief that the government’s cuts have been too severe when the nation’s workers and unemployed need as much help as they can get in the middle of the pandemic-influenced recession.

“This announcement has delayed the economic catastrophe that would have resulted from pushing these programs off the cliff during the pandemic, but we need far-reaching government investment to create a path out of recession and to create the jobs we will need to rebuild the economy,” McManus said.

The actions of the government on cutting JobKeeper and JobSeeker, when weighed against the growth aims of McManus and the ACTU – confirmed the day before in a wide-ranging jobs-based skeletal program designed to reinvigorate the economy – have drawn concerns from other organisations as well.

GetUp!, a progressive community action and advocacy group seen by some as a political lobbying organisation, outlined the impact of what the changes of JobSeeker would have on the nation’s unemployed and under-employed workers.

On their social media outlets immediately following the media conference, GetUp! broke down what the changes mean for the underclasses.

“The poverty line is around $457 per week for a single adult.

“The new rate of JobSeeker [is] $405 per week.

“During this pandemic recession, we need to be protecting people forced out of their jobs, not putting them in poverty,” GetUp!, through its national managing director Paul Oosting, said on its Twitter timeline.

Morrison and Frydenberg did announce that the JobSeeker threshold of earnings while on the entitlement – that is, money that one may earn before other earnings are taken dollar-for-dollar off the remainder of the payment – has been increased to $300.

However, GetUp! and Oosting view that as being of little other benefit for its recipients.

“The government is going to force 1.7 million people below the poverty line, and force them into pointless job searches while there are 13 job-seekers for every job available.

“The new $300 income threshold will be no relief to millions for whom there is no work,” they tweeted.

And beyond any further statistical analysis, GetUp! and Oosting point to the real human cost of the cuts to JobSeeker – and to some extent, JobKeeper as well.

“The JobKeeper focus in this presser distracts from the fact that unemployment is getting worse, and the government is throwing people who lose their jobs under a bus.

“The economic data is saying that the stimulus is woefully inadequate to support a fast recovery,” they tweeted.

 

Moreover, the return of Centrelink’s old NewStart wrinkles such as the mutual obligation agreement and the income test for any new JobSeeker claims strikes McManus as putting poverty-level individuals in a series of compromising positions.

“The union movement has been campaigning for continuing the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs, the gaps also need to be closed so everyone who has been badly affected by the pandemic is supported,” McManus said, while seeing the obstacles the jobless and under-employed face.

And those obstacles are more mental and emotional than they are physical, upon those people.

“The increase of the income-free threshold to $300 for JobSeeker is welcome but the reintroduction of mutual obligations is a worrying return to the punitive approach to welfare payments which we hoped the Morrison Government had left behind,” she said.

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