Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke has warned that Australian workers may lose their penalty rates by the end of January 2022 – not via targeted cuts, but through knock-on effects previously outlined in Attorney-General Christian Porter’s industrial relations reform bills.
In contrast to the planned penalty rate cuts the Turnbull and Morrison governments executed in a three-year interval from 2017 to 2019, workers may see their wages drop markedly across four major summer-based public holidays if the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) results in being revamped upon passage of Porter’s proposed legislation of two bills on industrial relations reforms.
Successful passage of Porter’s legislation, crafted and presented in federal Parliament’s final sitting week of 2020 last month when representatives between union leaders and the business lobby failed to previously come to an agreement on areas of reform, could even see the BOOT halted for any length of time.
“Australian workers could lose between $840 and $1170 from their pay packets next summer holidays if Scott Morrison gets his way and public holiday penalty rates are scrapped,” Burke said on Thursday.
The BOOT – according to the Fair Work Commission – in considering labour and remuneration terms which may be more or less beneficial overall to employees in an individual agreement versus that of a Modern Award for a particular industry, views an overall assessment being made as to whether employees would be better off under the agreement than under the relevant award.
Instead, under Porter’s scheme of industrial relations reform measures, the BOOT could be suspended in particular situations as deemed practical by the FWC, thereby leading to workers’ wages potentially being lost during the summer holidays.
“The Government recognises the BOOT’s importance as a key safeguard for workers,” Porter said last month in promoting his reform bills.
“Given that many industries are still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic, it also makes good sense for the FWC to be able to consider agreements that don’t meet the BOOT if there is genuine agreement between all parties, and where doing so would be in the public interest,” he added.
In a retaliatory blow aimed against Porter’s bills, Burke has taken the difference between the base and public holiday pay rates of typical award workers who work standard eight-hour days across Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Australia Day – four public holidays over a month’s span.
Moreover, Burke has compiled a list of figures taken from the government’s own fair pay calculator to arrive at his conclusions.
“Millions of workers across the economy are vulnerable to attack under Mr Morrison’s nasty industrial relations changes,” said Burke.
And by Burke’s figures, no one industry will be immune to the changes, provided that the reform bills are approved.
“From cleaners to miners, aged care workers to waiters, checkout operators to nurses – all could take a massive pay cut if Mr Morrison is successful in suspending the Better Off Overall Test,” he said.
The list of which workers in each industry could stand to lose the greatest amounts of their wages per December and January public holiday:
In aged care – $270
Banking, finance, or insurance (Level 3) – $293
Cleaners (Level 2) – $263
Junior fast food worker – $227
Retail – $220
Underground miners – $287
Hair salon attendants and/or beauticians – $272
Registered nurses (Level 5) – $223
Hospitality (Level 2) – $210
Restaurant waiters – $215
Burke also added that in the other 48 or so weeks of the year, suspension or bypassing the BOOT could potentially see workers losing their weekend, early morning and late-night shift penalty rates as well as those for public holidays.
“If you abolish something called the Better Off Overall Test, guess what will happen: workers will be worse off,” said Burke.
Porter claims that, in a summary of his authored reforms, a re-establishment of enterprise bargaining via a 21-day approval deadline will drive wage growth and gains in productivity, even at the expense of the BOOT on a case-by-case basis.
And if it runs side-by-side with other areas of the proposed legislation, particularly, a simplification of awards in what Porter has specified as the retail and hospitality sectors, it may have the reverse effect.
The union movement remains understandably livid over the possibility of penalty rates being collateral damage in any applications of industrial relations reform.
“When WorkChoices was introduced, employers rushed out to cut wages — the same will happen if this law passes,” Sally McManus, the national secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), said last month in response to Porter’s industrial relations reform bills.
“We believe this is the wrong thing for the country.
“We should be protecting working people at this time in order to grow the economy; you can’t go about hurting working people — that’s exactly the opposite to what you should be doing,” McManus added.
Burke also pointed out that the intentional cuts to penalty rates failed to create a single job, despite government promises to the contrary when the proposals were first floated.
“But now they want us to believe that cutting more penalty rates, cutting overtime, cutting shift loading, cutting allowances will create jobs?” Burke said.
Burke feels that Porter’s industrial relations bills should be doomed to fail – and the Morrison government is lacking priorities to growing the national economy out of recession.
“Pay cuts are bad for workers and bad for the economy. For Australia to recover from the recession we need people with the money and confidence to spend,” said Burke.
“The government says the economy is doing well enough that businesses no longer need JobKeeper. But then they say the economy is doing so badly they need to cut the pay of workers.
In the federal Parliament’s final sitting week of 2020, Attorney-General Christian Porter has been unveiling the industrial relations reform “Omnibus Bill” via a piece-by-piece treatment – and Australia’s union movement has remained step-by-step in pace with a battle over the proposed legislative-based reforms.
In fact, Sally McManus, the national secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), has applied the blowtorch to the government – in the hottest of acetylene fashions, yet in her characteristic calm, measured delivery – in claiming that all of the hard work of the previous five months of industrial relations reform negotiations has been undone.
“These proposals were never raised during months of discussions with employers and the government,” McManus said on Tuesday, one day before Porter read two bills which would comprise the Morrison government’s measures of reform.
“The union movement will fight these proposals which will leave working people worse off.
“This was not the spirit of the talks with employers and the government, this is not about us all being in this together,” added McManus.
When the nation’s union and business leaders convened in June in Sydney and Canberra to commence bilateral negotiations on industrial relations reforms, both McManus and Porter – as well as many of the assembled representatives from both factions – agreed that if no accords were met, then the government would be drafting and introducing their own versions of reform measures.
That agreement had implied that the government’s measures would be geared in the form of a compromise between the interests among the two sides.
Instead, based on the early leaks over last weekend of the bills’ elements and highlights, they would be heavily favouring the business and employer groups’ lobbying efforts.
Break up merged unions within the currently-legislated five-year interval in which mergers must remain intact;
Allow employers to cut wages and conditions to their workers, even to the point of allowing awards to dip below the safety net of minimum awards;
Reduce rights of casual workers, and can even demote part- and full-time workers to a status of casuals, in order to revoke leave entitlements;
Enable casual workers to become permanent part- or full-time employees tied to a single employer – however, if that option is not offered, workers have no recourse to challenge or enforce it;
Place the “better off overall test” on the back burner for workers for an interval up to two years, despite what Porter claims to be a boost to the process of enterprise bargaining;
Remove the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) requirement that workers currently possess a right upon starting a job that their agreements must be explained to them within a seven-day interval;
Enact anti-wage theft legislation, but with penalties which the ACTU sees as weaker than that in some states, such as in Victoria;
And avoid assessments of penalties to employers for reducing or restricting rights to casual workers, while those workers would lose the right to due process to appeals
As a result, McManus can only feel a sense of empathy for the nation’s workforce, casuals and otherwise, especially happening a little over a fortnight before Christmas, at the end of what has been a challenging year for everyone.
“Working people, essential workers, have already sacrificed so much during this pandemic, these proposed laws will punish them,” said McManus.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus says the government’s industrial relations changes – finally released after being drip-fed all week – are the worst since Work Choices pic.twitter.com/aYBLVnxuw4
The details of the bills come on the heels of a report released by Griffith University, where industrial relations research professor David Peetz wrote one conclusion that a majority of leave-deprived casuals also are not likely to receive casual loadings and other entitlements.
In citing this report, the ACTU puts it in the perspective not merely in regard to the industrial relations reform bills which were pending at the time, but to the lack of rights and entitlements which casual workers possess – rights and entitlements which are now hanging in the balance.
“The majority of casual workers are working the same hours every week, but with none of the entitlements that permanent workers can rely upon. They are being ripped off. The proposal from the Morrison government will not only entrench this, it will take rights off casual workers,” said McManus.
“On top of the lower pay and reduced rights, casuals also contend with the constant stress of having no job security,” added McManus.
Meanwhile, Porter – who also doubles in the Morrison government as its minister for industrial relations – refuted the ACTU’s claim that one in four workers will be worse off for wages under these bills.
“It is quite absurd,” Porter told Sky News on Wednesday morning.
“This isn’t about pay cuts for people, this is about more jobs, more hours, more ability to move from casual to permanent employment,” he added.
Porter also said that as daunting as the proposals in the bills are, no verdicts were expected this week.
In fact, debates marked with as much passion as facts and the ideologies of modern politics may cause the fates of these bills to last well into 2021, a reality which is not lost on Porter.
“It should also be said that the introduction of the [bills] today is by no means the end of the consultation process, with a Senate committee likely to examine the legislation in detail over the coming months,” Porter said on Wednesday.
“This is an opportunity for further submissions to be made by all sides of the debate and the government will be willing to consider any sensible amendments that pass the simple test of being good for job growth.
“The danger is that if those inside and outside the Parliament revert to their traditional ideological corners, these critical reforms could be delayed or even blocked, leaving business without crucial supports and workers without an opportunity to get back into jobs,” added Porter.
Responding to revelations surrounding of an increase of workers killed in workplace-related accidents last year, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for a national set of legislation aimed at punishing those who fail to keep their workplaces safe to acceptable standards.
An ACTU delegation of union officials and family members who have lost loved ones at their worksites spoke out in front of the Federal Senate Courtyard in Canberra on Thursday, and highlighted the fact that 183 workers were killed on Australian worksites and places of business in 2019, an increase of 37 deaths viewed as unavoidable by them as well as WorkSafe compared to 2018.
That rise marked the first of its kind in year-to-year statistics since 2007, said the ACTU.
Moreover, the ACTU sought to remind everyone that these aren’t just statistics – these are actual people who lost their lives at work due to accidents, and how their families, friends and loved ones have been impacted by such losses of life.
“Everyone should feel safe at work. No worker is expendable. Everyone has a right to go home to their families at the end of every day,” said Liam O’Brien, the ACTU’s assistant secretary.
Elsewhere, in Victoria alone, the state’s WorkSafe organisation reported on November 20 that with the electrocution death of a 29-year-old country farm hand in Gerang Gerung, located near Dimboola in the state’s central regions between Horsham and Warracknabeal, approximately 340 kilometres northwest of Melbourne, the state’s 2020 workplace-related fatalities toll has risen to 61, a rise of two from 2019 to date.
The state’s increase rate in workplace-related fatalities over the previous 365 days had been as high as five, when in late October, a 71-year-old worker at a northern Geelong folding bed manufacturing factory got his clothes tangled in machinery.
“I can’t begin to imagine the pain felt by the families who have lost a loved one at work. I don’t want any families to suffer that type of trauma,” said Jill Hennessey, the state’s Attorney-General, when Spring Street passed a workplace manslaughter law last year.
“We promised we’d make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence and that’s exactly what we’ve done – because there is nothing more important than every worker coming home safe every day,” added Hennessey, who was the minister for workplace safety for the Andrews Labor government at the time of the law’s passage that she was responsible for.
ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien, calling for action from the Morrison government on workplace deaths (Photo from the ACTU)
Under this legislation, in the state of Victoria, workplace manslaughter is deemed a criminal offence, with employers who negligently cause a workplace death are due to face fines of up to $16.5 million and individuals potentially facing up to 20 years in jail.
Similar laws are also being introduced in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory – and O’Brien and the ACTU have called for the Morrison government to step up and introduce similar legislation nationally.
“We hope that politicians on all sides will understand the importance of committing to tougher workplace health and safety laws – especially when hearing that there has been an increase of fatalities since 2018,” he said.
“The Morrison government must take action to ensure that no matter where a worker is killed their family can expect these deaths to be thoroughly investigated and employers are held to account,” added O’Brien.
Victoria Trades Hall has worked together with WorkSafe Victoria to ensure that if a worksite death does occur, that actions such as the offering of counselling, leave, and bereavement are available to all co-workers, affected family members and friends.
“Dealing with grief takes time. It is a normal response to death, trauma and loss. People need support at different times and in different ways. What happens in a workplace following a death can be a very important part of the process,” Luke Hilakari, VTH secretary, wrote in a guide to enable businesses’ occupational health and safety representatives deal with such incidents in a case-by-case basis.
Currently, the biggest industry increases in workplace fatalities have occurred in the construction industry, followed by public administration and safety, and then agriculture. As of 2018, each of these industries had suffered a rate of fatalities at a higher rate than their respective prior five-year averages.
Sally McManus, the ACTU’s secretary, disclosed on Thursday that in the recently-concluded industrial relations reform negotiations, that proposed changes to the Greenfields laws under the Fair Work Act that would have enhanced workers’ protections on site were voted down by some business groups, which McManus identified as the mining and resource lobby.
“These construction projects rely on FIFO workforces, who both live and work on site. They have been plagued with problems related to mental health, with a high number of suicides,” said McManus.
“If there is no means for workers on these sites to address problems as they arise, and they are denied the right all other workers have to renegotiate their working conditions, they must as a minimum have access to the Fair Work Commission to resolve issues so we do not see an intensification of the pre-exiting issues.
“Unfortunately, the mining and resource employers rejected this reasonable and sensible offer and pushed for agreements being doubled in length, expanding the scope so even construction sites in cities are covered and locking workers out of any fair means to resolving issues as they arise,” McManus added.
Lowering the numbers of workplace fatalities should involve issues surrounding fairness, as well as that as compassion towards enhancing policies around OH&S issues, according to O’Brien.
“You cannot hear the harrowing stories of these loved ones left behind and not want to commit to stronger laws protecting Australians in their workplaces,” he said.
“Every year hundreds die in workplaces and their families deserve justice,” added O’Brien.
While the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) waits alongside the country’s working classes with baited breath on the Morrison government’s resolution bill on industrial relations reforms, it has called upon the federal government to cut the rates of insecure workers in half within the next ten years.
Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary, in an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, outlined in detail the reasons for these demands and goals, and how they can be achieved.
“Many employer groups and some in government have actually refused to acknowledge the facts of the widespread nature of work insecurity and the ways in which it disadvantages people,” McManus told the NPC’s lunchtime assembly in her speech.
“And there are others that even argue that more insecure work is good.
“As a country we cannot hide from it anymore. This is an issue our generation can and must fix,” McManus added.
McManus was also an integral participant in the industrial relations reform negotiations – after forming what was seen as an unlikely alliance in March with federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, who doubles in the Morrison government’s cabinet as its industrial relations minister as well – and she admitted that the government’s solutions to the impasses that resulted in that five-month process earlier in the year are on the way.
“We are told that the government’s IR omnibus bill is imminent,” McManus said, while Porter admitted that the terms of that bill may be coming as early as next week.
Those talks, which McManus has said that the unions and the government entered in a spirit of good faith and thereby has described as “challenging”, do provide a bit of context about how the ACTU can reach their goals towards drastically reducing numbers of insecure workers.
“Two things have happened to unions during this pandemic. Firstly, nearly every union has grown in membership, despite job losses, as workers looked to their union and the union movement for protection and support,” said McManus.
“Secondly, the union movement has had its national role returned to where it should always have been – as a widely accepted part of Australia’s civil society, and a trusted social partner for governments and businesses.
“This consultation and cooperation must not only belong to the pandemic – it must become business as usual again in Australia as it makes us better as a country,” added McManus.
In a sharp, marked contrast to the “Change The Rules” campaign which was run for two years leading up to the 2019 federal election, where it was predicated upon winning upper and lower house seats to affect the government’s balance of power as a more likely pathway towards influencing new industrial relations legislation, the mindset now exists to work with the government in power in good faith negotiations, regardless of whoever is in government.
“Governments and employers may not always like, or agree with what we have to say, but decision making is improved when our capacity, as well as workers experience and perspective are at the table,” said McManus.
“If we are good enough to be relied upon during a crisis, if we are trustworthy enough to have in the room facing a pandemic, if unions were needed to get us through the toughest of times – surely the voice of working people has a place at the table in an ongoing way,” she added.
McManus says that a spirit of “leave no one behind” – which she opened her NPC speech with, citing Australians’ commitment to collectivism as the nucleus behind a social contract – will serve as an essential element to achieve goals around insecure work.
According to the McKell Institute, the statistics around insecure work reflect one in four workers classified as casual workers and as many as four million workers being either casual, part-time, or under-employed, or even as many as 2.1 million workers holding more than one casual job at any time or even throughout the year in an effort to make ends meet.
The ACTU said earlier this year about the state of insecure work:
Employers use casual and other insecure work arrangements to cover entire work functions. For many employers, it’s now a business model. Our work laws have made it more and more difficult to protect permanent work. The result is an emerging class of workers without jobs they can count on. They have no sick leave, no holidays, no job security, little bargaining power and severely reduced capacity to get home loans. Casualisation and insecure work have led to Australia having more inequality now than at any time on record.
“We would rather be working with employers and government on the big issues that help to grow our economy and strengthen the safety net – lifting all Australians up by driving down unemployment levels, by saving and creating jobs, improving wages, making work from home a shared opportunity for employers and employees, increasing workforce participation through free childcare, supporting dignified retirement incomes for workers, and planning for good high skilled jobs in Australian manufacturing.
“A genuine national economic reconstruction plan,” said McManus, regarding the general terms of the scheme which the ACTU is likely to forge to counter the ongoing trends and qualities around insecure work.
However, for as helpful as it could potentially be, the white elephant in the room may also very well surround the government’s bill on industrial relations reform.
It may be a threat to the ACTU’s goals, but they likewise welcome it as a first step forward.
“We are concerned that the industrial relations omnibus legislation, will indeed seek to take rights off workers, that it will punish the very people who have already sacrificed so much,” said McManus.
“Any taking away of rights, any attempt to weaken workers protections is a weakening of our social contract and will be resisted by the union movement,” she added.
Is “One Million Dollar Woman” Liberal Party “gun” fund-raiser, Gladys Liu, a catspaw of the Chinese Communist Party’s 2005 huaren canzheng, a policy of “ethnic Chinese participation in politics overseas” which has seen Beijing support ethnic Chinese politicians in gaining office in Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Australia?
Or is Ms Liu just another reactionary, evangelical, Coalition homophobe to whom LGBT issues, Safe Schools and marriage equality are “ridiculous rubbish”; a former fifteen-year Victorian Liberal apparatchik, who leads the Liberals’ ruse to legalise discrimination under the pretext of “protecting” an already constitutionally protected religious freedom?
In 2016, Liu attracted national attention, if not notoriety, with her social media campaign against Safe Schools, an anti-bullying programme designed to ensure schools are safe places for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, and are free of discrimination. It was her way of getting attention.
Safe Schools originates from school communities, parents and teachers who identify a need for greater support for LGBTI students – students at higher risks of bullying and suicide, and to ensure that schools create safe and inclusive environments. It’s been the subject of much disinformation and misrepresentation from our reactionaries, such as Cory Bernardi or George Christensen who proclaim themselves conservatives. But to campaign against it is damning.
In her orchestrated attack on Safe Schools, Liu aligns herself with ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and injustice and her PM, Scott Morrison. His children go to private school, he tells The Guardian Australia to avoid what he wilfully misrepresents as “skin-curling” sexuality discussions. But not all Glad’s agenda is reactionary. She’s progressive on foreign investment.
A whiz on WeChat, Liu’s 2016 social media campaign helped Julia Banks get elected only, in the end, to be bullied out of the Liberal Party. Liu’s pitch on Chinese social media is to claim Chinese Australians worry that future generations will be “destroyed” by “ridiculous rubbish” such as “concepts of same-sex, transgender, intergender, cross-gender”.
Liu continued her attack in an article in The Age Liu in 2016. Above all, subversive Safe Schools undermined conservative Chinese values and “we are concerned it will change society and the moral standard [of] the culture.”
WeChat also ran other fake news including the scare that immigration under Labor would rise to 320,000 in ten years; “surpassing the entire Chinese immigrant population.” Liu’s mentor, Morrison’s legacy as Immigration Minister, 2013-4, incidentally was a program of 190,000, a figure he bizarrely locked in by tying the size to budget calculations.
The nation plays Chinese whispers this week with the Liu debacle. We’re Glad all over. MSM is abuzz with scuttlebutt about the MP for the Victorian seat of Chisholm, a marginal seat where 23,000 residents were born in mainland China.
As Niki Savva says on ABC Insiders Sunday, we need to know more about her miracle fund-raising, which Sam Dastyari happily inflates to $3 million. Where does the money come from? How does she suddenly get her precocious skill in political organising? It was this skill which finally won her pre-selection after nine years of knock-backs and failure.
But Gladys is in good hands. Her senior adviser is the arch-conservative, Graham Watt, former Liberal MP for Burwood, who in eight years in state politics, is remembered as the only MP who refused to stand for Rosie Batty’s standing ovation when the Domestic Violence Campaigner and Australian of the Year, visited Victoria’s Parliament in 2015.
Watt is not in Canberra, Tuesday when all hell breaks loose, after Gladys strays into Andrew Bolt’s lair; his Sky Studio. As a Liberal, never did she expect to be held to account. And certainly not by Bolt. A similar perspective appears to have been behind her interpretation of AEC rules regarding polling booth signage.
A case before the High Court challenges Liu’s Chinese-language posters’ how-to-vote advice which effectively directed unwary voters to vote Liberal. Oliver Yates, the unsuccessful independent candidate for Kooyong, Hungarian Josh Frydenberg’s seat, has teamed up with a voter in Chisholm to have the election result ruled invalid. Yet the current crisis, capably boosted by MSM’s Sinophobia, is self-inflicted, like so much of ScoMo & Co’s political franchise.
The latest buzz stems from Ms Liu unplugged. Un-minded. In sensational disclaimers to an incredulous Andrew Bolt on Sky, Tuesday, Liu fails to recall her twelve-year membership of key agencies of China’s bid to influence local politics; organisations linked to the CCP’s United Front Work Department. Add in failing to disclose a $39,675 donation to the Victorian Liberals, three years ago. Liu’s s also three years late in declaring a second donation of $25,000.
Victorian Liberals quickly claim the $39,675 is not in fact a donation after all. “As these payments were for attending events, Ms Liu did not have an obligation to submit a return to the AEC,” the party says. That clears that up then.
The member for Chisholm evades questions critical of China’s foreign policy. Her name might well have been added to the organisations without her knowledge, she conjectures, a fanciful narrative she abandons next day.
The media pack is baying. The Victorian Liberal Party was warned, by “men in grey suits”, against pre-selecting Ms Liu, trumpets The Herald Sun, while The ABC reports this week, that in 2018, then PM Turnbull was advised by ASIO not to attend Ms Liu’s “meet and greet” function whose guest list contained “thirty names from the Chinese Community”.
Is ScoMo spooked? It’s just another day at the spin machine for our PM who opts for a ludicrous downplay – as he did recently with his presence at Nine’s fund-raiser – which Jennifer Duke and David Crowe report in The Sydney Morning Herald, a Nine newspaper, netted the Libs $700,000. All that happened was Nine gave a function and he was there.
It’s part of his government’s Trumpist gaslit-nation strategy. Fraser Anning uses it too. There were no fascists at a Blair Cottrell, Neil Erikson organised rally, he attended, despite images clearly showing protesters exchanging Nazi salutes.
“I think the problem here is Gladys Liu has given a clumsy interview,” Morrison says. “That is all that’s happened here.”
“Everyone has a bad day in the office and that was one,” Barnaby “bad-day” Joyce throws his own, huge, personal, authority into the mix on Patricia Karvelas’ RN drive. Nothing to see here. But how good is Mick-Mack’s melt-down!
Look over there: Deputy PM, vacuous Michael McCormack, stages a meltdown in question time, Wednesday, in case Liu sabotages ScoMo & Co’s smooth roll-out of Labor-bashing bastardry and wedging. Attacks on Labor fill its policy vacuum. It also presses on with Ensuring Integrity, another zombie bill. ACTU’s Sally McManus says it’s some of the most draconian anti-union legislation in the world. ScoMo & Co’s war on workers must proceed until every union is crushed.
The nation is suffering the economic consequences of Coalition governments’ – and some of Labor’s – long-term strategy of de-unionisation. Labor may claim to represent working class interests. But in office, both federally and at the state level, it has consistently implemented neoliberal, anti-working class policies over the last three decades.
Take a bow, John Setka. Setka is a gift in ScoMo & Co’s demonisation of organised labour and their attack on Labor’s credibility and Albo’s authority. Yet it’s not about Setka. Our average unionist is a thirty-nine-year-old female nurse.
Wages remain frozen at 2013 levels, according to ABS data published in April. Workers and their families are suffering while others prosper. Our top 20 per cent of households’ average net worth is over 93 times that of the lowest 20 per cent – some $3.2 million compared to just $35,200.
Yet workers are never valorised by this government the way it makes saints of farmers and small business owners, both groups prominent in recent wage theft cases.
“I don’t know why you’re yelling. The Member for Hunter. It’s time you came to the table and just behaved yourself occasionally,” Mick-Mack yells at shadow agriculture minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. “There are country people doing it tough. You won’t ever stop yelling out. You should behave yourself. You are a disgrace. You know you are!”
Yet what Fitzgibbon has to say encapsulates the Coalition crisis and its dire need to seek diversion in the Gladys Liu soap opera and the up and coming return of the living dead drug tests for welfare cheats and useless, cashless credit cards.
“We’ve had the drought coordinator, the drought envoy, the drought task force, the drought summit. Now we have a drought minister … (but) what hope does the Australian community have when their drought minister denies the connection between our activity and what is happening in our natural environment and with our climate?”
So much to evade; so little time. ScoMo & Co have economised on parliamentary sittings to save face.
Peak stupidity is reached when the Nationals’ leader Mick-Mack claims new dams would improve things for farmers. It’s a response to a typically tedious “Dorothy Dixer” which elicits the climate change denier’s default evasion.
“That is Australia – a land of droughts and flooding rains,” the Deputy PM says. Profound. Literary. Urbane. Or so he believes.
Fitzgibbon interjects to ask what the government is doing to help country people. ScoMo doesn’t blink. But things go bad for the PM when Andrew Bolt gives him an earful in his Thursday morning sermon from Sky’s moral high ground.
Morrison is forced to pause his crusade to wedge Labor by legislation or “wedgislation” as Albanese wittily puts it, abusing parliament with a series of bull-shit bills such as reviving yet another trial of the cashless debit card, the war on vegan terror, which would outlaw on-farm protests by animal liberationists, drug-testing dole bludgers and the populists’ perennial -mandatory sentencing of child sex offenders – all designed solely to give Labor an atomic wedgie.
No chance of ScoMo & Co tackling real issues; our “existential environmental crisis” or our incipient economic downturn. New Matilda’s Ben Eltham notes, “if the climate is heating the economy is cooling; the jobless are obviously to blame.”
Digging deep into his shallow but well-exercised desperate tactical response lobe, Trumpista ScoMo chooses to impugn Labor’s motives in holding Gladys Liu to account. ScoMo’s dud political judgement rivals that of his predecessor.
Morrison denies the allegations. Calls Labor racists. His mentor, Trump, whose latest claim to victimhood, is to claim his fake orange tan, is due to low-energy lightbulbs- deployed by Greens’ traitors everywhere, would be proud of him.
ScoMo! There’s flies in the buttermilk. What will you do? Liu, Liu, skip to Ms Liu. Skip to Ms Liu my darling.
ScoMo barely has time to take visiting Fijian PM pal Frank Bainimarama, another big fan of guided democracy, for a happy-clap and a singalong at Horizon. Horizon, which, oddly, shares its name with an Imperial Tobacco cigarette brand.
Horizon must be rapt when a PM deploys his prosperity gospel church; his religiosity, as a multipurpose political tool. But no sign so far of rapture from fellow evangelical Bainimarama. In fact, Frank seems to be inwardly seething.
Climate change advocate Frank’s no fan of Australia’s coal baron government. He sees our PM’s Pacific Island Forum refusal to agree to phase out coal-fired power as “insulting and condescending.” Yet a puff piece from the ABC’s Michael Walsh, helps us all to forgot human rights’ abuse in Fiji. Frank is a noble reformer who is restoring Fiji to democracy.
Big Frank’s glad to get out of Suva after being captured on camera assaulting Opposition leader Pio Tikoduadua in what is loosely known as the Fijian parliament’s car park; breaking Pio’s spectacles. Incredibly, local police make no inquiries. Pio, on the other hand, gets suspended from parliament for bad-mouthing his Prime Minister. ScoMo is inspired.
Bronte’s brontosaurus, (thunder lizard) the small-headed, whip-tailed, political dinosaur, Morrison goes in low. Our nation’s top grub, owes his own 2009 pre-selection, solely to a smear campaign. In 2009, The Daily Telegraph published four stories about the successfully pre-selected Liberal candidate for Cook, Michael Towke which defamed him, destroyed his political career, caused untold stress to his family and led to his dis-endorsement and ScoMo’s free walk.
”These stories sent my mother to hospital. They demonised me. I wanted to confront them in court,” Towke explains.
ScoMo’s smear’s a silencing tactic; the very tactic used by The Chinese Embassy, notes Charles Sturt’s Clive Hamilton.
Critics of the Hong Kong-born MP are guilty of filthy racist slurs, ScoMo howls. It’s an outrage. Morrison follows his parliamentary gutter politics – (“disgusting”, Mark Dreyfus dubs them), with Standing Up for All Chinese Australians, a video he releases on Chinese social media, WeChat, now a Coalition propaganda, go-to. It’s a sequel to his April love-in, when after years of failed attempts, but vast increases in donations, Liu was finally pre-selected for Chisholm in Victoria.
“How good is Gladys Liu? Gladys Liu is a force of nature.” ScoMo crowed in April at her pre-selection. And he’s right. And she may have a right to be a bigot provided she doesn’t harm children who need safe schools. Or if she stays away from promulgating lurid lies and fantasies on social media which impede the voters’ right to make up their own mind.
But it’s fair to ask who her political mates are. Her connections. What are her links to United Front Work Department’s Guangdong provincial branch of the China Overseas Exchange Association, an overseas propaganda and influence outfit headed by high-ranking party officials? Documents show that Liu has been a council member of this outfit.
Liu also confirms she was honorary president of the United Chinese Commerce Association of Australia. All done and dusted? Not yet. There’s a torrent of abuse from what is mysteriously called the other side of politics. Bolt’s side.
Bolt goes nuts. “The way that the Prime Minister played that race card five times this morning, well I can only say the Chinese regime should be sending him a thank you card,” he says in his opening harangue on Thursday. Classy irony.
“Prime Minister why was it racist to question Gladys Liu’s connections to China but it wasn’t racist to call Sam Dastyari ‘Shanghai Sam’?” asks a Ten Reporter. Liar from the Shire, ScoMo denies using the phrase but social media lights up with evidence to the contrary. Hansard also records Morrison stooping to racist taunting of Dastyari on several occasions.
So who is being racist? “Questioning by Labor and the crossbench members of Parliament on this is legitimate and reasonable,” Australia’s former Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, tells The Sydney Morning Herald; Nine Newspaper’s Peter Hartcher. Hartcher dismisses suggestions ASIO warned his paper’s Liberal Party pals ScoMo or Fizza Turnbull. So neither PM or their departments could join the guest list warning dots? We are in trouble.
In trouble also are Chinese communities, here and in other nations. Already under-represented in parliaments, they must now suffer being represented by MPs of dubious loyalty, observes Clive Hamilton.
And how fares our democracy where pre-selection is determined, at least in the Liberal Party, by how much money you can raise? Your ability to chat up rich-listers – and not by the calibre of your thinking, your humanity, or dare it be said, your capacity to contribute honest, constructive, socially cohesive ideas to policy or your demonstration of good faith.
A bit of concern for the planet doesn’t go astray either. Does our nation really needs another climate change sceptic?
The Liu case is far from closed. Word is that Gladys will be minded by the PMC – reduced to another bot from head office. The well-oiled, back-biting, faction-riven fossils in the Victorian Liberal Party will fall over themselves to help.
Micro-managed, scripted, she will win more time to be a WeChat warrior. But there are still few wild cards to be played. Her bully-PM has the diplomatic skills of a demented warthog and a hide to match. No patience for high maintenance.
If, on the other hand, it turns out that Gladys is of no further use to the United Front Work Department they may cut her loose. Beat ScoMo to it. Recall her. Some irregularity with her residency. Before even Morrison’s office works out that she’s more a political liability than an asset. A conga-line of suitable replacements will already be putting itself forward.
Or the High Court may be pleased to find her election invalid. But don’t hold your breath.
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I don’t know about you, but I have not felt like this in a long time! Sally McManus is a real life hero. Sally is a bringer of hope.
It Cuts Deep
Equality and fairness cut very deep for me. I was one of six children and my father was on the disability pension. I was raised in housing commission in a regional town, in Queensland. One thing my Father used to say to me is, “On the pension, you can’t improve. This is it. There is no more money than what they give you.’ I understood life was different for us.
From the moment I could read, I took a keen interest in politics. I would sit at the table and trawl through the Australian and Courier Mail, turning the pages (which were almost as big as the table). Amongst the political stories, I searched for hope.
I would stare intently at photos of Malcolm Fraser and Joh Bjelke Petersen. Through the eyes of a child, they did not even have kind faces. They looked important but uncaring.
Day after day, there were never any stories about hope for kids like me, or for mums and dads like mine. Did they not see us? Did they not know we were here?
A New World of Fairness
One day, I was sitting cross legged in the middle of the lounge room floor (like you do as an eleven-year-old). A man appeared on the television and he was talking about fairness.
The feeling I had inside was overwhelming. I felt very, very emotional. Finally, in the world of huge newspapers and two television channels, here was one of those important men on the television, but I liked him. He was so much different.
I do not remember his exact words, (I am sure there will be a speech somewhere), but this man said that he would fight to make sure everyone was equal. He would make things fair.
I knew he understood us, without even knowing us. He saw us.
I turned around to Dad and said, “Who is that man?”
“That man is Bob Hawke. He was head of the ACTU. He’s a very smart man and by God Ish, he knows what he is doing. Bob Hawke is going to be our Prime Minister one day.”
In the world of six o’clock news and huge newspapers, I finally existed.
I drew his words in.
Finally, I had hope.
I felt hope.
Starved of Hope
As I have travelled through life since Bob Hawke, I have not felt that same moment of overwhelming hope. Of being seen.
My first real understanding of the opposite of Bob Hawke was John Howard and Work Choices. My first real protest was fighting against Individual Contracts imposed on University workers.
The Howard Era for me was an era of oppression. Of really pushing the working class to the floor. Of making sure if something went wrong, it was too bad. Suck it up losers! A world thrust upon us where we could not speak up and find justice if wronged. We just had to ‘cop whatever employers decided to give us.’ Even the sack.
It didn’t matter if you were loyal, or really good at your job and worked hard, the threat of the sack loomed dark over everyone’s heads and you could tell others felt it every day too. They were dark times.
I will never ever forget Work Choices. Ever.
The night Kevin Rudd won office, I was deliriously happy. To cut a long story short, I was still sitting on the footpath at six in the morning.
Although Rudd knocked down the bad guy. I never had that same feeling of hope. No emotions stirred within me. I was not looking up to a man fighting for fairness. The same with Gillard.
Tony Abbott destroyed my soul. Enough said. I don’t need to explain.
Malcolm Turnbull has the personality and empathy of a cardboard box. One thing you pick up on when you grow up poor is fake people. His fakeness – his insincerity demoralises me on a daily basis, because every single day, I think of today’s kids that are kids like I was. He never will understand the world these kids live in.
I was starved of hope again. The desire to feel hope again was strong.
Fast forward to 2017. The biggest news was Sally McManus was the first female secretary of the ACTU. I had waited all day for her interview on ABC 7.30 Report.
Leigh Sales, a journalist known for interrupting Labor politicians was the interviewer. I felt trepidation. What games would be played? Was the aim to tear down another woman? Did Sales have trick questions up her sleeve? Would Sales cut Sally off to leave misinterpretations hanging in the air?
I watched intently as Sally answered the questions. A calm, clear, steely resolve. An explicit air of knowing her stuff. Of intelligence, higher thought and compassion. A voice of fairness.
Traits I search for in women to admire were before me in abundance. I was stoked!
The emotions that welled inside me, took me back to my childhood sitting on the floor. Here I was sitting, in the lounge room again, watching ABC again and hearing words about the ACTU and fairness again. But this time, it was a woman. How good is this, Right?
Then the words boomed out of the screen….
“It is okay for workers to break unjust laws.”
I drew her words in.
Finally, I had hope.
I felt hope.
I Just Want a Sally McManus T-Shirt
Ever since this day, I have watched intently and Sally McManus is everywhere. Fighting the good fight. Travelling all over Australia. Standing with workers. Speaking words of hope. Fighting for workers. Standing in Solidarity with the unemployed. Fighting for all of us. Knocking down walls. Smashing the insidious thought that has permeated our culture since Howard, that “Workers will get what they are given.”
Telling us to stand together to not back down. A consistent strong unwavering message of hope and fairness, every, single day. Every, single day.
My desire to feel hope is finally fed.
An iteration of Howard and Work Choices will never ever rise again under Sally’s watch.
And that makes me feel bloody good. For me and for kids today who were like kids like me. I feel good for the workers. For the jobless. For everyone doing it tough.
I no longer search for hope. No longer do I desire to be fed. I wake up every day and eat hope for breakfast.
Sally sees us. We exist. She is present.
Sally McManus IS a real life hero.
I echo my Father telling me about Bob Hawke, the man from the ACTU but now about Sally McManus, the woman from the ACTU:
“Sally McManus will be our Prime Minister one day.”