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A dodgy bastard’s budget of lies.

“Rather than justice for all, we are evolving into a system of justice for those who can afford it. We have banks that are not only too big to fail, but too big to be held accountable.”

Joseph E. Stiglitz


“Pay your staff, you dodgy bastard,” a nineteen year old Sydney FC fan bellows from the stand last Sunday night at the A-League Sydney Grand Final. He’s calling out 36 year old celebrity chef, George Calombaris, whose restaurant group underpaid by $2.6 million 162 of his 430 workers over six years, an oversight which has put Calombaris off-side with the Fair Work Ombudsman, the odd hospitality industry employee, if not an entire nation.

“Pay your staff …” resonates in a week of Fairfax sackings and news of widespread exploitation, underpayment or wage slavery in a range of workplaces and locations including our homes. Despite unpaid internships, the abolition of Sunday penalty rates, cash in hand underpayment, casualisation, the rise in part time work and the use of “contractors” most of us prefer that workers be paid what they are due. Even if we have a problem paying women.

It’s a national trait. Australians will speak up for justice, however, much it may suit government to invoke our law-abiding compliance as it goes about dog-whistling our supremacists with their demands that all migrants be assimilated into “multicultural” submission. To the government’s dismay, our values have a way of finding their own voice, just as its own actions, in its “full astern” budget this week, betray a colossal, cynical pragmatism.

The Coalition is up to its own dodgy bastardry. Its big-spending, high taxing budget, “rests on principles of fairness, security and opportunity” says Morrison who will say or do anything. It’s only about its own survival; a frantic attempt to arrest the PM’s diabolical unpopularity and to cut and run from its 2014 Abbott budget fiasco.

It’s an amazing backflip. The debt and deficit disaster? Never happened. The Malcolm Roberts-esque mantra that “we do not have a revenue problem”, maintained for three years, is suddenly dropped, along with Neoliberalism.

The expenditure problem has overnight become a virtue, provided it is “good debt” ie debt the government likes.

Now the government proposes to raise taxes from middle income earners in the form of a 2.5 % Medicare levy and it will get banks to pay a new tax although, once again it will persist with the fiction that this is a levy.

Proving he has not lost his sense of irony, the Treasurer keeps a straight face as he claims Medicare is guaranteed. At least Peter Costello could smirk as he told us his new charter of budget honesty would banish all mendacity.

Above all, ScoMo screams, “this is an honest budget”. Unlike the last one?

It’s an honest budget all right, apart- that is – from the dishonest bits such as the Medicare guarantee. The process sounds OK. Any funds remaining from the increased Medicare levy – after paying for the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) – (already funded by Labor) will be paid into a Medicare Guarantee Fund –

“Proceeds from the Medicare levy will be paid into the fund. An additional contribution from income tax revenue will also be paid into the Medicare Guarantee Fund to make up the difference.” Provided it passes the senate.

It’s OK- provided the government does not fund the costs of public hospitals. The costs of Medicare are re-defined solely as a combination of expenditure from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) but minus the commonwealth’s contribution to public hospitals.

Although Morrison claims greater transparency over Medicare funding, transparency is just another dodgy buzz-word. It will, as The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett points out, be much harder to follow Medicare funding.

At the heart of the Morrison magic pudding is the wild assumption that wages will increase. On ABC Insiders Sunday he talks up wage growth to 3%. There are similarly unrealistic expectations placed upon commodity prices.

Surely it would have been more prudent just to have postponed the business tax cuts, handouts which in Thursday’s Question Time, after some embarrassing fumbling, he admits will be $65.4 billion over ten years.

But no. After years of pretending that we battled economic headwinds, suddenly the world economy is on the up. Good times are just around the corner – unless you are unemployed or indigent. The war on the poor continues.

Continued is the demonising of our unemployed as unworthy; dole bludgers, druggies and a burden on society. There will be drug tests, a failed US policy, and extra tests to check that you are single and a beaut three strikes and you’re out tolerance of slip ups in honouring your Centrelink obligations. Robo-debt could be put on to that.

It’s another echo of yet another failed US tough on crime policy and a clear sign that the government is posturing.

The all-new-tough-on-bludgers-crackdown will tackle what government claims are “around 40,000 people(who) appear to be wilfully and systematically gaming the welfare system with no intention of working”. Assuming, of course, that work is available – although work could be redefined on a very part-time basis. Technically, to keep unemployment statistics off the scale, you are employed on one hour’s paid employment per week.

The dole bludger bashing is a divisive, dishonest stunt. Morrison claims it will save $632m over 5 years. As Greg Jericho patiently points out in The Guardian, however, it’s less than 0.1% of total welfare expenditure.

Budget 2017 seeks to punish those out of work. It’s somehow their fault. It caricatures the jobless as too drunk or stoned to turn up to a job interview. It substitutes puritanical political posturing, a justification of denial and withholding for any genuine attempt to share resources fairly according to need. It also punishes by neglect.

It neglects women. There is not one budget measure to address gender inequality; to promote equal pay. The environment doesn’t get a look in either. Nor does climate change. These matters are clearly all dealt with.

Work, on the other hand, is fetishised, idealised as inherently ennobling in a cruel parody of the harsh and often demeaning realities of the 2017 workplace where exploitation and expendability are defended as “flexibility”. Again the government reveals itself to be totally disconnected from the realities of the modern workplace.

Work is increasingly rare, unfair and insecure. Penny Vickers, a Brisbane night-fill worker, has just won a nine-month legal battle against a dodgy 2011 Enterprise Bargaining Agreement which saw her pay drop by $30 per week below the award wage. Abandoned by her union, amazingly, heroically, she successfully battles alone.

Fairfax, which blew the whistle on the injustice, is in her corner- yet to The Australian, to stand up for your rights is defiance, even if it delights in the case because it says the Fair Work Act 2009, a replacement for Howard’s Work Choices 2005 is a Labor Law and because it senses endless opportunities for union-bashing.

Forced to represent herself in the Fair Work Commission, Ms Vickers has taken on the power of Coles and the silks of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) a monster union, some 200,000 strong nationally.

Her win is a rare yet significant victory as workers battle to extract themselves from deals which the right-wing SDA has concluded with a range of major companies including Coles and Woolworths. The conservative SDA sets out to offer maximum industrial co-operation and minimal disruption to employers. Is it a fake union?

This EBA affects 77,000 workers yet under Section 193 of The Fair Work Act, if one worker can prove that he or she is not better off overall than under the award, the FWC cannot approve it. The FWC estimates that 56% of workers could be affected. Wages withheld amount to $77 million.

Across other workplaces, there could be $300 million in underpaid wages every year. Yet it’s never just about the money.

“Pay your staff … ” has a larrikin edge; an echo of the spirit of the fight for fair pay and conditions between the owners and the workers of the Shearers’ strike of 1891, a harshly suppressed yet nation-changing insurrection which, today, thanks to dodgy bastard John Howard would be classed as “an illegal industrial action”.

Nation-building irreverence, independence or wilful insubordination are unlikely, however, to feature in any Coalition government citizenship test. Increasingly, as Fairfax workers discover, again, to their cost, this week, the spirit of the age is not agility and innovation but rather servile docility and subservience to dodgy paymasters with corporate loyalties which put profits before people.

The madly accelerating gap between capital and labour that threatens our entire society is thrown into stark relief. 115 full-time workers lose their jobs while executives get a pay rise for their part in reducing costs.

Richard Ackland quotes business writer Michael West’s claim this week that four top executives at Fairfax “were secretly gifted $6.7 million in share options in a transaction which the company failed to disclose in its annual report. The sneaky pay deal involved half of a $13.4 million options package awarded by the board.”

$13 million would help journalists’ salaries or even defer the planned reduction of payments for contributions.

Yet it’s my way or the highway in an increasingly autocratic and pro-government Fairfax management culture. Mike Seccombe reminds us Paddy Manning was summarily dismissed in 2013 for criticising the “rubbishy” sponsored corporate editorial material and “PR-driven churnalism” increasingly evident in The Financial Review.

Former Liberal Party staffer James Chessell was appointed to run federal politics, business and world coverage in February, an event which a striking worker tells Seccombe is extraordinary.

Workplace agreements are built on the premise that master knows best not that old Aussie egalitarian nonsense that Jack’s as good as his master. The new breed of Fairfax master, moreover is a creature of the investor class. And for the investor the firms’ once great papers are now valued solely in terms of their profitability.

Reporters investigations and all the rest of their craft are now merely ways to drag traffic to Domain, Fairfax’s money-making real estate site. TPG offers to buy the business as it did with Myer in 2006.

The offer is rejected but is likely to resurface. As Ian Verrender warns, a successful bid will usher in a similar pattern of asset-stripping that has left Myer a shell of its former self. Relisted on the stock exchange and floated to investors at $4.10 in 2009, the company has declined in value ever since is now worth $1 per share

But Fairfax reporters stopped work, in part, to call attention to a matter of national security far graver than any trumped up terror threat. Our once robust national press is about to collapse. A pillar of democracy is in danger.

“It’s not just us. The Australian could have the plug pulled at any moment. The News Corp tabloids are struggling. The Guardian’s in a perilous financial position. It’s a looming national crisis.”

For Peter Dutton, however, it’s a real bonus. The Immigration Minister has yet to account for his utter refusal to produce any evidence for his outrageous slur that asylum-seekers on Manus Island were fired upon in retaliation for some unspecified sexual abuse. Nothing but good can come of the loss of Fairfax, in his opinion.

Speaking on Sydney’s (Fairfax-owned) 2GB on Thursday, in his regular sledging session, he puts the boot in.

“I thought the productivity of Fairfax went up last week with the strike. I don’t think lives were affected one way or another,” he sneers. “I think people realise you can live without reading Fairfax newspapers. I think it’s a better way to lead your life – that would be my advice.”

Being held to account is something which does not sit well with Mr Dutton. Nor does it suit our banking oligopoly which are being asked to pay a new tax, a notion they claim which was foist upon them with no consultation. Consultation in this context means a chance to give the government its instructions. There will be hell to pay.

Already, Ian Narev, CEO of The Commonwealth bank who was paid 12.3 million last year, has told the Treasurer that the bank will have to pass on the new tax. Morrison is not budging – not at this stage anyway. He must know that our banks are the most profitable in the world. Their profits in 2016 were a staggering 3% of our total GDP.

Nor is ScoMo in any way discombobulated by the threat. The government will still get the money. In an interesting but equally predictable twist, the banksters are following the same script as the miners who successfully forced a backdown seven years ago for the Rudd Labor government. Bernard Keane says they are recycling the same lies.

The rest of the scenario is quite different. Back in Rudd’s day there was Tony Abbott to lead an opposition in a litany of lies about how the proposed super profits tax would ruin the miners and the entire country. And some Australians actually liked mining companies, apart from those who held shares in them.

Both these factors do not apply to the Big Four banks of our nation who contrive amongst themselves to run a ludicrously profitable monopoly – in between running governments and Prime Ministers. The banks, do, it is true have a Fairfax paper, The Financial Review on side and there has been the predictable bugling from Simon Breheny at the IPA, while for Paul Kelly at The Australian, politics is knocked off course by the populist drumbeat.

Putting to one side how many of these commentators may own bank shares, which despite the banks’ propaganda number a swag of institutional and foreign investors as opposed to the mainly Mum and Dad investor ploy – expect to hear more of how the process has been at fault and how investors will be driven elsewhere. There will be a lot of bumf about our need for a strong an profitable banking sector rather than four profiteering banks.

Expect to hear how the banks saved us from the GFC and not a word about how the Rudd government successfully protected the banks. Expect to hear less about the reality. How the government is collecting $6 billion over four from our big four banks while contracting to deliver them $7 billion in company tax cuts over a decade.

What is needed, however, is some cheeky teenager in the stands to shout:

“Pay your dues you dodgy bastards.”

16 comments

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  1. Zathras

    It’s a rich rich for Calombaris to plead ignorance and blame “administrative errors” for the underpayment of his staff when he’s been actively railing against the same penalty rates for years – http://www.smh.com.au/national/masterchef-slams-fair-work-pay-rates-20120109-1pri2.html

    He knew what his staff are entitled to be paid but was finally caught out and Morrison will eventually be caught out the same way.

    I think the “pay your staff” slogan will spread much further than Calombaris’ business before it’s over.

  2. Halfbreeder

    shame employees cant also get a share of the extra benefits dodgy employers accrue with the money they with hold from them. i mean mr dodgy probably bought his share of the aust rights to MC or bought property that has increased in value with the $2.6 mill he with held while the employees have been denied a similar opportunity or may have actually lost private assetts. just another example of how fckd the legal system is.

  3. Andreas Bimba

    Since Fairfax and the ABC have been complicit in spreading the lies about how good balanced federal government budgets or surpluses are and scaremongering about our national debt as well as promoting all the free trade agreements, austerity, the forced closure of manufacturing, negative gearing, privatisations and all the other ‘benefits’ of neo-liberalism for the past few decades, their final complete transition to propaganda arms of the IPA, Murdoch and the Kleptocracy may hardly be noticed.

    The mass media should be ignored, the news can be found on the internet but unfortunately for our democracy, most won’t bother to seek it out.

  4. Henry Rodrigues

    ‘Pay your staff, you dodgy bastards’ will be the slogan echoing in voters minds as they slowly proceed to the next elections. It is a great way to get rid of this nasty mob of crooks. Starting with the tax evader Turdball, and his innumerate treasurer and the jackbooted knob head Dutto. Every thing they do and say, is to befuddle the people, not to enlighten them. All their plans and calculations are to make the people worse off and their patrons and wellwishers, better off, Yet they all strut around like godfearing do gooders assuming the rest of us are bludgers and neer do wells. Never has any government, apart from that led by that rodent Howard, been so thoroughly despised and reviled.

    So how many bad polls is that now, Mr Turdball ??? Time for you and lovely Lucy to start packing your bags, taking down the pictures from the walls and calling in the removalists. You won’t be missed,you dodgy bastard.

  5. Johno

    Maybe march in march will go from a drip to a trickle in 2018.

  6. Orejano Chucaro

    I agree with the comments of the author but unfortunately the silence of the masses prove that we are a minority and until I do not see massive protests I would not change my mind.
    The attitude is “things are hard but she be right mate, I am not prepared to give up my life style for the cause of others”

  7. stephengb2014

    I think it time to call those that underpay the wages of their employees, their real name,

    When an emplpyer underpays by accident (yes it is possible but not excusable) they must be made to pay their employees in full, and pay whatever sanction the Fairwork legislation imposes, for their lack of due dilligence. After that the matter is rectified and can be forgotten.

    But when an employer underpays deliberately to cheat their employees we cannot pretend that the employer is realy a good guy who made a mistake, and can be treated similarly to the accidental underpayment.

    These people are ‘thieves’, they are taking or with holding compensation that rightfully belongs to someone else, there is no other way to describe this except as ‘stealing’

    When anyone including employers delliberately steal from another, they are still commiting a criminal offence (never mind the offence under the Fairwork Act)

    So lets call a thief a thief, when the case is proven under Fairwork lets have them prosected under the Crimes Act.

    Better still all cases of underpayment must investigated under the crimes act and if found deliberate the cuprits should be charged under the Cromes Act as well ax the Fairwork Act.

    Thieves are thieves

  8. Rezblah

    If the banks are too big to fail then they are too much of a risk and should be broken up instead of having all of our eggs in one basket

  9. Freethinker

    In today’s media we can see 2 different opinions about the polls results, one in the Guardian that does not look to good for the government and the other in The Age that say the contrary.
    In both there is a 6 points difference between the Coalition and the ALP.
    Interesting way to analyse the polls……..
    One thing for sure is that Malcolm still more popular than Bill.
    Who of the two leaders will be out before the next election is the question.

  10. stillthinking1

    I had no idea that Labor had funded the disability pension, has it? If so where is the money?

  11. David Tyler

    In the AFR April last year Jenny Macklin points to 2013 budget documents, the last Labor Party budget, which list a number of savings measures that would ensure the NDIS was funded until 2023-24.

    These included reforms to retirement incomes (worth $6 billion from 2013-14 to 2022-23), private health insurance reforms (worth $6.5 billion), other savings including changes to tobacco excise and fringe benefits worth over $20 billion, as well as the 0.5 percentage-point increase in the Medicare levy.

    Worth a look if you are interested in correcting the Coalition’s campaign of disinformation.

  12. Sam

    Was “Pay your staff, you dodgy bastard.” essentially all that young fella said?

    I heard it constantly reported as “19 year old shouts abuse at George Calombaris, Calombaris shoves 19 year old in response.”

    It is hardly abuse if all you are doing is sharing a few home truths.

  13. Matters Not

    It seems that there’s good debt and then there’s bad debt. Further, when it comes to polls, there’s ‘good’ meanings that ought to be given and ‘bad’ meanings that shouldn’t. Thus we have Mr Turnbull, in response to the latest set of polls, urging (good meanings):

    senators to listen to public opinion

    Yes – senators should listen to ‘public opinion’. Sort of. While also urging not to give ‘bad’ meanings to exactly the same polls. Mr Turnbull said:

    What that means is that the budget has got a big tick of approval

    Same poll(s), same facts yet different meanings to be given. Two bob each way? Hilarious!

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/turnbull-urges-senators-listen-to-polls/news-story/c41ebe0a2b198d18d43e4cf081bc3693

  14. helvityni

    Turnbull took the polls very seriously when Abbott was the PM; now they somehow don’t seem to be so important.

    I wonder why. Look confident , smile a lot and all will be fine, so says Lucy…the comforter..

  15. Matters Not

    Look confident , smile a lot and all will be fine so says Lucy…the comforter..

    Do you have a link for that? Or are you … ?

    Not that I disagree with the overall ‘meaning’ you give.

  16. Florence nee Fedup

    Neoliberalism/IPA agenda is only on hold.

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