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Tag Archives: 457 Visas

Jobs and growth…but for who?

The Abbott government says they are all about jobs and growth, but for who?

In 2012, unions were outraged by a decision to allow Gina Rinehart to import more than 1,700 foreign workers on 457 visas for her latest project in Western Australia.

Paul Howes said “This is a big win for Gina Rinehart, it’s a big win for Clive Palmer, it’s a big win for Twiggy Forrest and it’s a massive kick in the guts, a massive kick in the guts to those 130,000 workers in the manufacturing industry who have lost their jobs since 2008.”

A number of companies in construction, mining and IT hired many more foreign workers than they had applied for. The straw that broke the camel’s back was one company allegedly bringing in 800 workers under the 457 visa in an 18 month period when they were only granted approval for 100 visas over three years.

In 2013, the Labor government tightened the regulations to prevent employers from hiring more workers then they originally advertised to the market.

Tony Abbott’s government have made adjustments to the 457 Visa regulation, allowing employers to again hire an unlimited amount of foreign workers with a temporary working visa.

In April this year, the Federal Government was asked to investigate claims that 457 work visas are being abused at Gina Rinehart’s $10 billion Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said there were up to 200 Korean white collar 457 visa workers employed by contractor Samsung C&T on the project doing low-level clerical work for Roy Hill’s main construction contractor.

“The allegation is that they’ve been brought in to do certain types of work and then they are being allocated other types of work in breach of their visa conditions.”

Aside from being asked to do work outside their visa conditions, the CFMEU alleged many of the staff were working more than 84 hours a week and being paid as little as $16 an hour.

In March, Gina Rinehart’s mining group, Hancock Prospecting signed off on a $US7.2 billion debt package for her highly anticipated Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

In return for the US government loan, Hancock Prospecting will purchase American mining and rail equipment from Caterpillar, General Electric and Atlas Copco. The Export-Import Bank says their involvement will “support” 3400 US jobs

Since we own the resources, and we have to give approval to any mining venture, why do we not make it a condition of approval that you must use Australian equipment, Australian steel, and Australian workers?

Threats that projects will not go ahead under these circumstances indicate they were not profitable in the first place and, if we are importing equipment and the profit is all going offshore and the employment to lowly paid foreigners, then all we are left with is the environmental damage, railways linking mines to ports paid for with our royalties, and the demise of manufacturing and tourism.

Under the new Free Trade Agreement, Chinese companies will be able to bring skilled workers to Australia to plug labour shortages on big infrastructure projects.

The deal says Chinese-owned companies will be able to ­”negotiate similarly to Australian ­business, increased labour flexibilities for specific projects”.

The arrangements will apply to projects valued above $150 million under the deal negotiated between the two countries. Projects will involve the employment of foreign workers on 457 work visas.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said the effect on Australian jobs would be “disastrous” if the agreement allowed “Chinese contractors on Australian projects to nominate Chinese workers for visas without having to advertise for jobs locally”.

Maritime Union of Australia Western Australian branch secretary Christy Cain hit out at the visa concession and described the measure as “an absolute disgrace”.

“These (mineral) resources are ours and those of the Australians paying taxes for all their lives that are now ­seeing workshops closing and car manufacturing dying,” Mr Cain said.

“I don’t blame the Chinese, they are saying you want us to invest in Australia then we will bring our own labour over. But it’s ludicrous. What is happening to our Australian values?”

According to a report by the Australian Farm Institute, the value of Australian agricultural exports to China grew by an average 12 per cent a year in the 14 years to 2012. Not bad, except that Chinese imports of agricultural products increased by an annual 16 per cent during the same period. In terms of share of the Chinese market, that means Australia fell from 11 per cent to 6 per cent.

The AFI report says that Australia’s share of US agricultural imports has fallen since the FTA between the two countries came into force in 2005, despite reductions in tariffs. The two countries that achieved the fastest growth in agricultural exports to China over the 14 years to 2012 were the US and Brazil and neither has a free trade agreement with China.

Two Chinese investment groups have established a $3 billion fund to invest in Australian agriculture, as Australia edges closer to securing a free trade deal with China.

The fund, known as the Beijing Australia Agricultural Resource Cooperative Development Fund, is a joint partnership between state-owned Beijing Agricultural Investment Fund and the Shenzen-based Yuhu group.

It will focus on supplying produce back to China, especially infant milk formula, beef, lamb and seafood.

John Lee, a China expert at Sydney University, points out that Chinese policy is to be a net exporter of meat products, rice and wheat by 2025.

That explains why the FTA with Australia contains no concessions for rice and wheat and perhaps also why there is an important, though largely overlooked, qualification to the reduction in tariffs on beef imports. As our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade puts it, “China has retained the right to apply a discretionary safeguard on beef … if imports exceed a set annual ‘safeguard’ trigger volume.”

The safeguard trigger starts at 170,000 tonnes a year, which is only 10 per cent above Australian exports of 153,000 tonnes of beef to China last year, although there is a so far unspecified provision for the trigger to grow. For exports above this level, the tariff will be reapplied. The department adds, not so reassuringly, that there is a process to “consider” removal of the safeguard.

So it appears the FTA with China has resulted in Chinese investors buying our mines and farms, employing Chinese workers, and then sending the produce back to China at reduced rates. This produce could well fill the 10% trigger for beef leaving Australian farmers’ produce still attracting tariffs.

And when it comes to our huge spending on defence materiel it’s a similar story.

DMO spends up to $10 billion-a-year of taxpayer funds managing more than 200 defence projects ranging from warships to bullets. About 40 per cent of the outlays are absorbed by administration costs.

Australia is considering buying 10 state-of-the-art Soryu class submarines from Japan, at a reported price of more than $20 billion.

Former senior Japanese military personnel, Mr Yamauchi and Mr Ogawa, both told the ABC that an Australian budget of $20 billion would mean that all the construction would have to happen in Japan.

And they said any attempts to do any of the work in Adelaide would double the price.

Mr Ogawa said if construction happened in Japan it would be bad for Australian jobs, but good for the Japanese economy.

“If the issue of military secrets can be resolved then Japanese business will be happy it will bring jobs and growth,” he said.

And then there is the $24 billion that Australia had allocated to buy and deploy a fleet of 72 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.

Critics, including Federal Liberal MP and former analyst with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Dr Dennis Jenson, claim that politicians have been manipulated by an elaborate and at times misleading sales pitch by the world’s largest military corporation, Lockheed Martin.

In April Tony Abbott said “Australian business has already won some $1.5 billion worth of work associated with this aircraft. Up to $7.5 billion worth of additional work is there potentially.”

The reality is Australian industries are only contracted for around $370 million work, with Lockheed Martin assurances but no guarantees of more to come. Current contracts are only for 12 months.

Dr Jenson said “The warning I’d give is: don’t bank on the work that you’re being told you’re going to get. You will get it while Lockheed Martin is still pushing very hard for signatures on the dotted line, but once all those signatures are there, don’t bet on winning any future contracts.”

Dr Jenson raised questions about problems posed by the F-35’s heavy weight and the threat that it will be no match for possible adversaries with a high-ranking Lockheed Martin delegation before a joint parliamentary inquiry in Canberra. Lockheed Martin’s response: “We cannot answer that question, just as we cannot answer the threat question, because we get into classified areas very, very quickly.”

RAAF head flight test engineer, Peter Goon, warned “The aircraft is not coming within a bull’s roar of its – some of its operational specifications. The designs are riddled with single points of failure. And many of the critical elements of design have been painted into what we engineers call “coffin corner”.”

“Coffin corner” is the concern that the F-35 couldn’t compete against these cheaper, lighter and more agile Russian and Chinese stealth fighter jets, which are expected to be sold widely around the world.

The US Air Force Combat Command, meantime, has expressed its own reservations. It has warned the US must continue to maintain its older, more agile and far more effective fleet of F-22 jet fighters to back up the F-35s or they’ll be rendered irrelevant. So should Australia instead try to buy the proven F-22? Well, according to the Defence Minister, Australia did ask, but the Americans insisted there was no choice, but to take the troubled F-35 or nothing.

DAVID JOHNSTON: “They’ve said, “No, you can’t have the F-22; that is for the United States Air Force. But you can certainly participate in our program with the Joint Strike Fighter.” We do not have anywhere else to go.”

Is it just me….or are we being screwed here?

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The fair go is going . . . going . . . gone

In 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt said that he knew of no other free country where “what is produced by the community is more fairly and evenly distributed among the community” than it was in Australia.

The pillars of egalitarianism in Australia were high wages, high home ownership and low unemployment.

A decent minimum wage is a sign of a civilised society. Australia was a world pacesetter in establishing a living wage at the beginning of last century, and it has always been one of the hallmarks of the fair and egalitarian society we have had since that we support a relatively high minimum wage. It is what distinguishes Australia from much of the rest of the world.

A decent minimum wage is one of the bulwarks that prevents Australia developing a large underclass of working poor, which now so dominates the United States. And it is credited as helping to sustain our economy during the slowdown caused by the Global Financial Crisis, when other nations with a lower minimum wage sunk into recession.

Despite this, the Commission of Audit suggested that the way minimum wages are set through an annual review overseen by the Fair Work Commission should be scrapped.

Instead, it is proposing a “minimum wage benchmark”, which would fix minimum wages well below what they are now at 44% of average weekly earnings. If implemented tomorrow, it would mean slashing the minimum wage by almost $140 a week.

We also have Maurice Newman, head of Abbott’s Business Advisory Council, saying “While any discussion in Australia about industrial relations evokes screams of outrage and spectres of WorkChoices, we cannot hide the fact that Australian wage rates are very high by international standards and that our system is dogged by rigidities.”

The figures tell a different story. While big business continues to rake in record profits, wage rises have been so low over the past year that most workers have gone backwards.

The latest wage price index from the Bureau of Statistics shows an average increase of 2.6 per cent in the year to June, well below the inflation rate of 3 per cent – this at a time when productivity is at an all time high.

Not only is the minimum wage under attack, penalty rates are also in the firing line.

On Tuesday, Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs said it was unfair that small businesses had to pay double on Sundays and triple on New Year’s Eve, and it was on the government’s radar.

“We cannot go on in a society where we are charging people on a day which is a normal operating day, double what you would on any other,” Mr Briggs told a small business audience.

Mr Briggs said high labour costs had made businesses “uncompetitive” and hurt youth employment. “This is an area we must reform,” he said.

“But it will only be an area reformed if society is willing to have the debate. And [business] can help lead the debate.”

ACTU boss Ged Kearney said dropping penalty rates will not increase jobs or help small business but damage the economy by lowering the amount of money people spend in stores and restaurants.

“You cut $200 a week out of someone’s pay . . . and small business will be the first to suffer,” she said.

Education is a large factor in employment prospects yet we are reducing funding to secondary schools and increasing the cost of tertiary education. Vocational education courses are being cut as is funding to groups who facilitated the transition from education to employment for vulnerable young people.

Despite rising unemployment, the Coalition plans to expand the 457 visa program, remove existing controls on employers, abolish any training obligations and open the program up to more semi-skilled workers.

In his 2012 IPA Address, Abbott said that ‘under a Coalition government, 457 visas won’t be just a component but a mainstay of our immigration program.’

More than 60 per cent of the 3323 457 visas granted since November last year and subject to labour market testing went to foreign nationals already in Australia.

In skill level 3 occupations, which are mostly trades, 45 per cent of all 457 visa granted were in occupations not on the national shortage list.

In a move that is becoming increasingly common, ministerial advisers encouraged federal officials to “massage” their economic forecasts to match Tony Abbott’s vow to create one million jobs over the next five years amid concern the original estimates would fall short of his target.

Asking department experts to adjust their figures, the advisers to Employment Minister Eric Abetz sought to add 160,000 jobs to the projections brought out in March.

The Abbott government came up with its pledge to create 1 million jobs in five years solely on the employment growth rate achieved under the former Howard government. No modelling or detailed calculations were done to reach the figure of 1 million jobs.

Tony Abbott’s office took the employment growth rate of about 2.2 per cent year-on-year under the Howard government and used it to extrapolate its own job-creation target.

”Abbott’s office assumed they could achieve the same outcome,” a Coalition insider said. ”There was no detailed modelling or serious work done to justify the 1 million job target. They looked at the Howard record and said, ‘We can match it’.”

Treasury forecast in MYEFO that employment would grow three-quarters of 1 per cent this financial year and 1.5 per cent in each of the next three years. A Parliamentary Library analysis commissioned by Labor found that this was likely to leave the Coalition at least 200,000 jobs short of its five-year pledge.

That view was broadly backed by a range of economists who said it would be very difficult for the Coalition to create 1 million jobs in five years, with the mining boom ending and with deep cuts in the federal budget.

The uncertainty about the renewable energy target has also seen us miss out on billions in investment in this growing industry while the government’s decision to no longer support manufacturing has contributed to us losing our car industry along with many other closures.

Along with wages and employment, affordable housing is a crucial factor in an egalitarian society.

A national snapshot of rental affordability in Australia prepared by Anglicare Australia has found there are minuscule and in some cases, zero, levels of affordable housing for people on low incomes, with welfare advocates saying some people will be forced to go without food to afford their accommodation.

Despite this growing crisis, the Coalition discontinued the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) in the budget. The NRAS is a partnership between the federal government and the states and territories to invest in affordable rental housing which began in 2008. It seeks to address the shortage of affordable rental housing by offering financial incentives to persons or entities such as the business sector and community organisations to build and rent dwellings to low and moderate income households at a rate that is at least 20 per cent below the market value rent.

Domestic Violence NSW said “It’s particularly frustrating that a successful program that increased the availability of affordable rental housing has been targeted, while very expensive tax concessions like negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions remain in place.”

So with an active push to reduce wages, no plan to create jobs amidst rising unemployment, movement away from federal action on affordable housing while encouraging investors to drive up housing prices, one wonders what Mr Holt would have to say about Abbott’s Australia.

 

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Let’s not forget the poor miners . . .

I'm sure they'll also rejoice to see the end of the mining tax (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

I’m sure they’ll also rejoice to see the end of the mining tax (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

The high-fiving over the repeal of the carbon tax made me despair at the ignorance of our government – a battle lost but the war continues.

The Abbott government is preparing to axe the mining tax as its repeal bill passed the lower house for a second time on Thursday, with the government limiting debate to under two hours.

The coalition says the mining tax has failed to do its job, raising only $340 million since its introduction. Parliamentary secretary to the minister for finance Michael McCormack also said the tax undermined confidence in Australia as an investment destination and its reputation as resource supplier, which raises the obvious question asked by Chris Bowen, “If it doesn’t raise enough money, then how does it damage the mining industry?”

The total revenue in 2012 for BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Woodside Petroleum, Newcrest and Xstrata was A$167.23 billion. Add to that the revenues of the self-defined “small” miners. Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting alone made a $1.2 billion net profit in 2012. It is projected that in the next decade they will make at least another $600 billion

State governments will hand over $17.6 billion in mining subsidies over the next four years. The federal government will contribute $4.5 billion a year. That’s $36 billion over the next four years given to companies who are making superprofits from mining our limited resources. That would pay for a real NBN, or high speed rail, or all the programs that have been slashed by the Coalition and then some.

We are told we must encourage investment by mining companies because they underpin our economy. And yet the facts do not bear this out.

Take Glencore for example, our third largest mining company, who, according to an article in the SMH, paid no tax on the $15 billion profit they made over the last three years. To achieve this they employed aggressive tax avoidance measures, borrowing money at 9% and then relending it in interest free loans. Their profits largely go offshore to foreign shareholders.

”The truth is that Glencore Coal Investments Australia’s operations in Australia are, because of the Group’s business model, branch operations of the Swiss-domiciled parent entity, which uses the now dormant legal shell of an Australian body corporate in an attempt to hide the reality of its branch business in Australia.”

The company disputes this, saying it has paid approximately $3.4 billion in taxes and royalties in Australia over the last three years. Even if this is true, it’s a damn fine return for selling something you don’t own. I wonder how much it has received in subsidies during that time.

Mining companies are also unreliable employers. They quickly sack employees, often on the basis of what the resource market is doing, because profit is paramount.

In March the Australian reported:

“Glencore’s Ravensworth underground operation will be the first coal mine suspended by the Switzerland-based resources titan due to the sharp slide in prices for the fuel, although this follows hundreds of job cuts over the past year as the company looked to bolster the profitability of its sites.”

Followed by this in the Courier Mail last month:

“SWISS mining giant Glencore will shut its Newlands underground coal mine in central Queensland with the loss of 50 jobs next month, but eventually 196 jobs when production ceases next year.

Last year about 450 workers were axed from Newlands and Oaky Creek as the company restructured.”

Over the past two years, coal producers have slashed 12,000 jobs—more than 1,500 destroyed in the Hunter Valley and 8,000 in Queensland—with impunity.

Glencore’s Peter Freyberg claimed that the industry “isn’t as competitive as it should be,” and warned that “productivity, industrial relations and regulatory settings were factors impacting the industry’s competitiveness.”

The mining companies want the ability to hire and fire at will and “flexibility” to make instantaneous changes to work practices, such as shift rosters and the use of contract labour, to meet shifting production demands.

In February, the Abbott government quietly reopened a visa loophole that will allow employers to hire an unlimited number of foreign workers under a temporary working visa, in a move that unions say will bring back widespread rorting of the system.

Before the loophole was closed in 2013 by the Labor government, companies in the mining, construction and IT industries were knowingly hiring hundreds more foreign workers than they had applied for.

In one example, an employer was granted approval for 100 visas over three years, but in 18 months he had brought in 800 workers under the 457 visa.

In the Coalition’s bid to remove all ”red tape” from the 457 skilled migrant visa, employers will not be penalised or scrutinised if they hire more foreign staff than they applied for.

Before the cap was introduced in 2013, the number of 457 visas was quickly rising. In the financial year 2009/10 there were 67,980 visas granted. By 2012/13 there were 126,350 visas granted, statistics from the Department of Immigration show.

The Coalition has put together a panel to review 457 visas. In typical fashion, they have changed the rules before the panel has done its review though, considering the panel members, its recommendations will probably be in line with whatever the business sector wants. There are four members on the panel: John Azarias, from Deloitte Australia; Professor Peter McDonald, of the Australian National University; Katie Malyon, from Ernst & Young; and Jenny Lambert, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

FIFO work arrangements, meant for special circumstances such as geographical isolation, are now increasingly becoming the order of the day.

Gone are the days when companies invested in social infrastructure such as housing, schools and hospitals to make mining towns liveable. These days more than 100,000 workers spend up to 5 weeks at a time away from their families. FIFO workers report high levels of stress and there is a high level of turnover; one out of three FIFO workers will not last more than a year on the job. And for those who do find themselves living in mining towns, the pressure on local transport, housing and hospitals is creating significant social problems.

Following their A$22 million scaremongering TV ad campaign, the revamped Mining Resources Rent Tax (MRRT) now only applies to 22.5 per cent of the mining magnates’ profits, after a questionable “extraction allowance”. And that 22.5 per cent only applies only on coal and iron ore and only on companies that make over $50m in profit.

The Greens asked the PBO to calculate how much could be raised from increasing the tax rate to 40 per cent, plugging loopholes and including all minerals that make super profits, such as gold.

The office said these measures would raise $26.2 billion in the years to 2016/17.

PEFO anticipated $4.4 billion in revenue would be collected from the watered down mining tax over the forward estimates. MYEFO cut that to $3.4 billion. The Coalition intend to give up this revenue at the expense of the following spending commitments:

  1. Abolishing the low income superannuation contribution, with an estimated saving of $3.8 billion. This policy required the Commonwealth Government pay up to $500 a year to the superannuation accounts of certain low income earners.

  2. Unwinding the instant asset write-off for small business with a $5,000 threshold, saving $2.3 billion. This policy allowed small businesses to write off depreciating assets costing less than $6,500, and the first $5,000 was offset against the mining tax.

  3. Slowing the superannuation guarantee increase so it remains fixed at 9.25 per cent until 2016–17 before increasing incrementally to reach 12 per cent by 2021–22. Estimated saving $1.6 billion.

  4. Discontinuing the company loss carry-back, a benefit for small businesses, saving $950 million.

  5. Dismantling the accelerated depreciation for motor vehicles, saving $450 million.

  6. Ending geothermal exploration treatment, saving $10 million.

  7. Scrapping the Income Support Bonus, which includes payments to the children of veterans and is a lump-sum supplementary payment made twice a year to people on certain income support payment. Estimated saving $1.1 billion.

  8. Abolishing the Schoolkids Bonus, a lump-sum payment to parents of school-aged children twice a year. It is the largest single savings measure in the repeal bill, estimated at over $5.2 billion, even though the Schoolkids Bonus was not from the mining tax, but an alternative payment which replaced the previous Education Tax refund.

Why we are encouraging people to come and dig up our finite resources with foreign workers to send the profits overseas, subsidising them to do so, eliminating environmental safeguards and workplace conditions, and then repealing a small tax on their superprofits, is absolutely beyond me. And as can be seen by the above list, it is largely middle and low income earners and small businesses who will pay for this largesse shown to the mining companies who rape our nation to fill their shareholders’ purses.

Life according to the Coalition.

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My kids are ok, yours can go beg.

When I hear Joe Hockey say, with trembling lip, that he refuses to saddle his children with the nation’s debt, my hypocrisy radar maxes out.

For starters, Joe Hockey’s children will never have to struggle. His wife is a very wealthy woman and they have substantial investments.

Secondly, this talk of our children being saddled with our debt is an obvious advertising strategy that the Coalition has adopted. Whenever children are mentioned we get protective so it is a deliberate attempt to play on the heartstrings of families.

The trouble is that this statement bears no scrutiny.

If we are really concerned about our children we would be taking urgent action on climate change. Putting that off for our kids to have to deal with sometime in the future is criminal neglect.

We would also be striving to make our society an even better one than the one we inherited. We grew up with free education and universal health care. We should not be going backwards in these most crucial areas. Will our contribution to our children’s future be to say sorry, you may not enjoy the benefits that we did?

We fought for workplace entitlements like minimum wages and penalty rates. Are we to say to our kids that your labour is worth less?

We have told our young people that they must “earn or learn”. I am sure that every kid, and every family, would prefer that situation, but all I see is another three word slogan. There is no plan for jobs. Rather than increasing apprenticeships, they are closing trade training centres and increasing 457 visas. They are making university education unaffordable – their justification being that no-one has to pay up front. So apparently it is alright to saddle our children with huge personal debt, just as long as Tony and Joe can say look, no deficit.

With no old school tie network of daddy’s friends to give you a job, it can be very hard for young people with no experience to enter the workforce. The soul destroying exercise of applying for countless jobs and being rejected every time can be heartbreaking. Is it any wonder that some just give up looking or turn to substance abuse as their sense of self worth takes a hammering?

What is to become of these kids as we cut off any support to them for 6 months of the year? Why are we abandoning them when they are just starting out on life’s road and need our help most?

We have evolved into a nation where someone’s worth is measured by their wealth, where there are no excuses tolerated. If you aren’t wealthy you just aren’t trying. What chance do our kids have to enter this merry-go-round?

A national snapshot of rental affordability in Australia has found there are minuscule and in some cases, zero, levels of affordable housing for people on low incomes, with welfare advocates saying some people will be forced to go without food to afford their accommodation.

The report, prepared by Anglicare Australia, found single Australians on government payments are “seriously disadvantaged” in the housing market, with less than 1 per cent of properties examined deemed suitable.

Single people with no children living on the minimum wage were slightly better off, with 4 per cent of listed properties found suitable, according to the study.

The study defined a “suitable” rental as one that took up less than 30 per cent of the household’s income.

It also found that couples with two children on the minimum wage had access to 12 per cent of properties surveyed, while just 1.4 per cent of properties were suitable for couples with two children on Newstart.

On the snapshot day, just 3.6 per cent of properties were found suitable for age pensioners.

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the lack of affordable housing damaged the lives of millions of ordinary Australians.

“Limited supply does more than just drive up the price of housing. It forces those on lower incomes to spend more on rent than they can afford; compels them to forgo food and other necessities and drives them further away from social and economic participation.”

A coalition of peak housing bodies – including Homelessness Australia and the Community Housing Federation of Australia called on Kevin Andrews to make affordable housing a priority. His response was that it is a state issue, and the federal government was “encouraging and supporting” states to streamline their planning and development processes, and review taxes and charges levied at home construction and purchases.

In other words, he couldn’t give a damn that his government’s negative gearing policy has made it impossible for many young people to enter the housing market.

A quarter of Australian properties are being bought for investment rather than to live in.

Over the last four years the number of investment property loans in Australia has grown by 37% compared to an increase of only 4% in the number of owner occupied loans, new data from Roy Morgan Research shows.

The growth in investment property loans over the last four years has come predominantly from the 35 to 64 age groups which account for 78% of the increase.

The study, which surveyed 45,455 Australians, showed while the proportion of over-50’s with an owner-occupied home loan has increased, the proportion of under-35’s with owner-occupied home loans decreased.

Roy Morgan communications director Norman Morris believes government policy is having an impact on loan types.

“Younger Australians may continue to find it difficult to enter the property market either for investment or owner-occupied because for both types they are competing with more cashed-up older property buyers.”

There are currently 105,237 people in Australia who are homeless. That means that on any given night, 1 in 200 people in Australia have nowhere to sleep. While Malcolm Turnbull joins the CEO sleepout in his comfortable warm swag, his government cut $44 million from funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. This money was to be spent on capital works building shelters for homeless people and providing affordable housing for women and children.

There has been an upsurge of photos of Coalition MPs with charity groups with politicians exhorting us to donate more. Someone needs to remind this government that the money they are spending is ours and I would much prefer to be looking after the vulnerable in our society and around the world than subsidising corporate greed and supporting armaments manufacturers.

 

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Let’s fix this mess

In 2012–13 a total of 50 444 people lodged applications for asylum under the offshore component of the Humanitarian Programme. The Labor government increased the intake to 20,000 and granted a total of 20 019 visas, of which 12 515 visas were granted under the offshore component and 7504 visas were granted under the onshore component.

Even though there are estimated to be over 40 million refugees worldwide, when the Coalition formed government they reduced the humanitarian intake to 13,750.

As at 31 October 2013 there were 22,873 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat (including 1,811 children) who had been permitted to live in the community on Bridging Visas while waiting for their claims for protection to be processed.

The Coalition government* has now decided that anyone who arrived after 13 August 2012 will not be allowed to work so these people are now in limbo, facing uncertainty and financial distress.

[*Correction: As pointed out by Marilyn, this policy was introduced by Labor under Julia Gillard as part of their “No advantage” policy. Both major parties are complicit in this infamy.]

As at 31 October 2013 there were:

6,401 people in immigration detention facilities, and 3,290 people in community detention in Australia. This included 1,045 children in immigration detention facilities and 1,770 children in community detention.

Location: 4,072 people detained on the mainland (+ 3,290 in community detention) and 2,329 people detained on Christmas Island.

Length of detention in immigration detention facilities:

•2,432 people has been in detention for 0-3 months

•2,812 people had been in detention for 3-6 months

•864 people had been in detention for 6-12 months

•170 people had been in detention for 12-18 months

•23 people had been in detention for 18 months to 2 years

•100 people had been in detention for over 2 years.

Due to Kevin Rudd’s “PNG solution”, anyone who arrived by boat after 19 July 2013 was transported to offshore detention camps. There are more than 1,700 asylum seekers being held in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island with capacity for many more.

Since they reopened in 2012, only one application has been processed on Nauru and none from Manus Island.

In December 2013 the Coalition announced the removal of the 4000 Migration Programme places allocated to Illegal Maritime Arrival sponsored Family.

They also announced that they would not be renewing the Salvation Army’s contract to provide “emotional support, humanitarian assistance and general education and recreation programs” to asylum seekers in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island beyond February. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the Government has been forced to make contract changes, because of the way the system was being administered by the former Labor government.

Several eyewitness accounts of the recent riots on Manus Island suggest they happened because the government refused to listen to questions from refugee representatives about their future and the conditions at the camp. Instead they inflamed the situation by telling them “You’re never getting out of this camp, it’s indefinite detention”. The deadly clashes on Manus Island allegedly flared after asylum seekers realised the Australian government had been ‘lying to them’ about plans to resettle them, and some asylum seekers decided to protest.

‘G4S were aware of tensions on compounds and intelligence reports indicated potential unrest for the period 16-18 Feb. DIBP [Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection ] were advised NOT to hold briefing and meeting with compound representatives [allegedly to advise them that they would not be resettled]. Despite several protests from centre managers on the day, the decision to hold said meeting was dictated from Canberra and was the catalyst for the violence.’

Reza Berati came to us seeking safe haven. He was murdered while under our care. Scores of his fellow asylum seekers have been grievously wounded, others have committed suicide, others are driven to self-harm, all under our care.

We have been told we must stop the boats to save people’s lives. One thousand deaths at sea is certainly a tragedy. The greater tragedy is that we ignore this cry for help and punish the people who are desperate enough to risk their lives seeking our protection.

I don’t presume to be the suppository of all wisdom but you have to admit guys, what you are doing is not working. Stopping the boats and locking people up does not help one single refugee but it costs us a fortune, threatens our relationship with our neighbours, and draws international condemnation.

When you remove hope you remove life so, in order to save the lives of the over 30,000 asylum seekers who are currently under our protection, I would like to offer the following observations and suggestions.

Department of Immigration figures project that in the year ending 31 March 2014, 63,700 people arrived in Australia with working holiday visas. A further 48,300 arrived on 457 visas. These are not citizens of our country and do not aspire to be. They are here to earn a buck and then go home.

Why can’t we give some of these 112,000 temporary visas to asylum seekers who have passed health and security checks while they are awaiting processing? Instead of paying for them to be incarcerated or on below-poverty welfare payments, why not let them work and pay taxes? Even if the jobs are not ideal, they have to be better than being locked up with nothing to do and no chance to become a productive member of our society. Children should be in school, not locked up on a Pacific Island wondering why their mother can’t stop crying, and if they will live in a tent forever.

We do not have to increase total immigration to do this. We could give all the asylum seekers temporary working visas and still have over 80,000 available. More should also be done to see if Australian citizens could fill these jobs even if they are temporary in nature.

Instead of making our unemployed, disabled and single parents work in our Green Army, offer that work to asylum seekers or working holiday makers, and give our unemployed the opportunity to apply for the jobs in hospitality, agriculture and services that backpackers often fill.

Instead of importing labour on 457 visas, see if asylum seekers and our unemployed have the necessary skills to fill the positions. Train people where there are skills shortages. Only issue 457 visas where we truly cannot find anyone with the necessary skills.

In the last year we issued 101,300 permanent visas but only 16,500 of these were on humanitarian grounds and this number is predicted to fall to 11,000.

Increase the humanitarian intake from 13,750 to at least 30,000. Send representatives to all transit countries to start taking applications and begin processing them. They must give applicants a realistic time frame for processing and resettlement options.

Increase foreign aid and participate in condemning, and sanctions against, human rights abuses around the world.

Let’s fix this mess.

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The march of neo-liberalism

image What is the Abbott Government doing wrong? Many could argue long and hard over that question, but in this guest article Andreas Bimba points to their strong neo-liberalism as one of their main failings.

In December 2012 Toyota announced the opening of its new engine plant at Toyota Australia’s centralised manufacturing operations in Altona, a western suburb of Melbourne. This was a little more than a year ago. Although times were tough then with a historically high Australian dollar, a fragmented market, almost no trade protection and only moderate government co-investment (to partially compensate for relatively high Australian wages), Toyota must still have seen a future for the Australian automotive manufacturing industry.

These external negative factors have not really changed from one year ago. If anything, the Australian dollar has fallen so conditions should in reality be better.

What is different is the attitude of the current Federal Government, with their hardened attitude of the government’s primary economic advisory body, the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission recently recommended that all government support for the Australian automotive industry cease by 2020. This is effectively a decision that declared an Australian automotive manufacturing industry is not welcome past 2020 and that the government’s key advisers want the industry to, simply, close down.

The Abbott Government has politically moved to the right much more than any previous national government. Philosophically they could be described as neo-liberals who promote small government, minimal government intervention in the economy, free trade, globalisation and free flow of capital to the most profitable sectors of the economy. This philosophy currently has wide support in the community, especially from people who work hard, face a high cost of living and resent governments taxing them excessively and wasting that money on unnecessary social services or corporate welfare.

As the inevitable consequences of this ‘dry’ economic philosophy become better known, public support will fall and in fact it is already unlikely the LNP Coalition will win the next federal election in late 2016, even with most of the Australian commercial media being heavily biased towards them.

The neo-liberal philosophy is, however, an overly simplistic and failed economic philosophy. No one, not even China or India follow this philosophy, nor does the United States even though its business leaders often claim to be free traders but the world is well aware of the local, state and national government support US industry receives.

In a country like Australia with a relatively high living standard, the concept of total free trade will inevitable mean a race to the bottom. Firstly, most of the manufacturing industry will disappear, but it will not stop there and eventually much of the service sector will also be transferred to lower cost foreign providers. The internet provides easy trade for information based industries such as accountancy, education, engineering, architecture, IT support and so on. Even work that must be performed in Australia such as construction, food harvesting, plant operators and maintenance services are now often performed by non-resident workers allowed into the country with temporary visas such as the 457 visa.

The only sectors of the Australian economy likely to prosper in such an environment are the bulk minerals/resources industry and the bulk agricultural commodity export industry. Neither of these sectors employ many Australians. The inevitable end result of neo-liberalism is unemployment for most, and fabulous wealth for a few. The classic third world banana republic.

When Toyota closes down its Australian manufacturing operations, this means about 90 per cent of the components and other supporting businesses will go as well. Probably about 40,000 direct jobs, mostly in Victoria and South Australia, as well as some in New South Wales and Queensland. An estimated three times that number will go in the wider economy as the economic demand for goods and services of those auto manufacturing businesses and their employees will subside substantially. Probably as many as 160,000 jobs will go.

As the manufacturing industry will continue to contract under neo-liberalism the service sector of the economy will also shrink and unemployment is going to be much more than it otherwise would have been. If, however, the Abbott Government is frustrated at every step of the way, the level of economic destruction may be lessened.

With China switching to renewable and nuclear power and also transforming its economy across the board to an advanced sustainable economy, it is inevitable that the demand and price for mineral resources will fall substantially. Australia will suffer badly in such a downturn with such a narrowly focused economy.

The global atmospheric CO2 limit that has been set to avoid catastrophic climate change will inevitably lead to a collapse of the coal industry and possibly much of the gas industry in the short to medium term. This is another factor our current government fails to acknowledge. Much of the associated unserviceable loans will fall onto the major Australian banks, the government, and the Australian taxpayer.

The alternative economic approach to neo-liberalism of balanced trade protection which allows a larger and more equitable mixed economy with a healthy manufacturing, service and resource export economy is essential for Australia’s future prosperity. This approach provides a ‘level playing field’ for Australian businesses but does not remove national or international competition.

So with a Labor Government likely to be returned in late 2016 that is most likely to support a balanced trade protection philosophy, why did Toyota announce the closure of its Australian manufacturing operations for late 2017? Will Toyota change its mind about closure of its Australian manufacturing operations after the expected Labor victory in late 2016? I and a few million other Australians certainly hope so.

 

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Why Rupert hates unions and Gina loves 457 visas

Image from theconversation.com

Image from theconversation.com

While attempting to clean up my computer, I came across an essay that my daughter wrote earlier this year. I would like to share an excerpt from it.

Marxists see the conflict between the bourgeoisie (those that own the means of production) and the proletariat (those who sell their labour) as crucial to the maintenance of capitalism. Its function is to create an obedient, docile, uncritical workforce who will work to support the upper-class’s lifestyle and the economy. Keeping wages low, or debt pressure high, means workers will be less likely to complain or make demands. As workers struggle to provide their families with all the temptations that a capitalist society offers, they become far less likely to risk their employment, and less able to improve their situation. Even in the unlikely event that an opportunity for advancement should arise, it would often mean abandoning family and friends in order to pursue it. These factors, along with a tendency to marry within one’s own circle, combine to make movement between social classes difficult.

The current political debate surrounding the power of unions, work choices, and the importation of workers on 457 visas, could be regarded as an attempt to disempower employees thus maintaining a compliant workforce. It is difficult for an individual to risk complaining about wages or working conditions, so removing the collective voice and protection of unions means people are unlikely to make waves if, by so doing, they risk unemployment or deportation.

The process of industrialisation in the 19th century led to major changes in family life. Many things that had formerly been produced at home were now produced more cheaply in factories and families eventually became units of shared income and consumption rather than production, private and separate from the public world of business and politics. Men’s place of work was removed from the home and women’s and children’s unpaid domestic labour kept wages low allowing companies to increase profits. Women were increasingly isolated from society and children learned to obey.

Max Horkheimer regarded the family as an essential part of the social order in that it adapted every individual to conformity to authority. He argued that if men are the sole breadwinners, this ‘makes wife, sons and daughters “his”, puts their lives in large measure into his hands, and forces them to submit to his order and guidance’. Marx felt the same way stating that “Marriage is…incontestably a form of private property”. The economic dependence of the family on the father made men more conservative about radical social change which might undermine their ability to provide for their families, while the development of obedience to the authority of one’s own father was a preparation for obedience to the authority of the state and one’s employer.

During the 1960s and 70s the Western world saw a rapid period of social change in which the traditional understanding of the family began to be questioned. Feminist writers such as Christine Delphy, argued that in a capitalist society there are two modes of production: an industrial mode which is the site of capitalist exploitation; and the domestic mode which is the site of patriarchal exploitation. Marxist writers such as Juliet Mitchell examined the exploitation of workers under capitalism, pointing out that women, as they slowly entered the workforce, were doubly exploited through lower wages and unpaid labour at home. Contemporary Marxist writing argues that the family structure socialises children ‘into capitalist ideology’, which ‘prepares them to accept their place in the class structure, provides an emotionally supportive retreat for the alienated worker and so dissipates the frustration of the workplace, and impedes working class solidarity by privatising the household and generating financial commitments which discourage militant activity’ .

The role of the nuclear family in providing, perpetuating and indoctrinating a docile workforce is summarised by the following quotes. Meighan suggests that “For men, the denial of opportunities for excellence under capitalism leads…to a search for power and self-esteem in the sexual arena” Ainsley goes on to explain that “When wives play their traditional roles as takers of shit they often absorb their husband’s legitimate anger and frustration in a way which poses no challenge to the system”, and Cooper states that “The child is, in fact, primarily taught not how to survive in society, but how to submit to it”.

Changes in society have blurred these stereotypical roles. Many more women now are entering the workforce and are far less likely to marry for economic security. The availability of quality education and the explosion of information provided by the internet have made people more informed and less willing to blindly accept what they are told, and for some, it has also provided the opportunity to move from the social class into which they were born. The traditional structure of the nuclear family is also changing with much more diversity in family groups due to such factors as divorce, same sex couples, extended families, and many women choosing not to have children.

There have been other criticisms of the materialist perspective in that its focus was too limited to economic aspects, neglecting the value of and support provided in a loving intimate union, instead concentrating on the oppressive and controlling aspects of families and relationships. It tends to portray people as capitalist dupes without freedom of thought assessing them purely from a labour perspective.

While many of the bourgeoisie would still prefer, and in fact depend on, a malleable, uncomplaining workforce, family power structures are becoming less a factor in achieving this. However, our seemingly endless desire to consume and update means that economic pressures still play a large role. Even with, in many cases, both parents working, employment security usually takes precedence over job satisfaction or working conditions. Children are better informed and largely better educated and therefore have more opportunity to achieve economic independence and possibly change their social class but the rising cost of tertiary education, possible reductions in funding, and competition from overseas students limits the number who can attempt this. The burden is perhaps better shared but the outcome is in most cases the same – be happy with your lot.

Engel’s spoke of the evolution of the family as being both a catalyst for and result of the growth of capitalism. As mankind’s standard of living has improved, our desire to accumulate possessions and wealth to pass on to our families has only increased, as has our willingness to go into debt to satisfy it. Power and control is still exerted by those that own the means of production and they readily use this power to manipulate public opinion. Concentration of the media in the hands of a few like-minded individuals has led to misinformation campaigns that have amazingly ignited the workers to fight for the rights of the rich to get richer at their own expense. Family dynamics may have changed but the willingness of the proletariat to support the bourgeoisie seems alive and well.

 

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Pauline Hanson and friends

I’ve never paid any attention to anything Pauline Hanson says, but I’m starting to pay some attention to what people say about her. It was the article on news.com today titled “Please explain Julia Gillard” by Tory Maguire that directed me on this new ‘thought trail’. The article is reproduced in full below, to save the more intelligent among us from having to click on a link that leads to news.com:

See what happens when you drop your politics to the lowest common denominator.

Julia Gillard’s botched attempt at populism this week with her jobs-for-Aussies-first pledge brought Pauline Hanson back out of the woodwork, firstly to claim vindication, and now to muse on a return to politics.

When Hanson muses on something, such as fleeing Australia for ever to live in the UK, it doesn’t always pan out, so her promise (threat) to return to public life should be taken with a grain of salt.

But such is her political logic, this week Hanson has both praised Gillard for finally seeing the light on foreign workers, and now insisted she will run again because of the lack of “representation” of Australians in public life.

Gillard is fighting fires on every conceivable front. Her 457 visa pronouncements this week were a blatant attempt to appeal to the cliched idea of “the western Sydney voter”.

It’s unlikely to have much political upside, but the downside for Gillard is with Hanson on her side she loses ground in all directions.

What an apt Christian name: Tory. It clearly doubles as a political expression. Pauline Hanson unofficially endorses a Labor policy therefore Julia Gillard is guilty of dropping politics to the lowest common denominator. Hanson is ugly therefore Gillard is ugly.

Shortly before Hanson announced her unofficial support for the Prime Minister, the 457 visa issue was put fairly and squarely under the media spotlight. The article “Coalition takes aim at Gillard staffer on 457 visa is an example”. It is not a news.com site, so feel free to visit it. Talk on 457 visas was the new ‘national debate’ and of course, the Prime Minister was being slammed. Then yesterday, this:

Julia Gillard received support today on one of her other policies, the 457 visas.

One Nation founder Pauline Hanson is backing the Prime Minister’s push to fill jobs vacancies with Australians before turning to foreign workers.

I believe this was staged.

The LNP might be pleased that Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor has had to spend the last 24 hours distancing the ALP from Hanson while the Murdoch media attempt to portray them as buddies.

Mr O’Connor said he found most of Ms Hanson’s views reprehensible.

“She’s irrelevant to the public debate,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

“She, of course, only came into the public spotlight because she was a Liberal candidate.”

I smell a rat. A rat called Tony Abbott. Consider this:

Pauline Hanson is backing Tony Abbott, the man who helped kill off her political career, over Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Ms Hanson, the other famous female redhead of Australian politics, said she’d put her grudges to the side and support the Opposition leader’s tilt for the top job.

“I won’t be voting for Julia Gillard PM.

“Australian people are sick and tired of the illegals coming here and being looked after when we can’t look after our own.”

Ms Hanson said she supported Mr Abbott for prime minister despite their history as foes.

Ms Hanson said she was not Mr Abbott’s best friend but he was a better alternative prime minister.

“Tony Abbott came after me, he was responsible for the slush fund against me,” Ms Hanson said.

“But you know what, I’ll back Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party.

“I’m the type of person who will not hold a grudge for the sake of holding a grudge.

Does anybody else small the same rat?

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