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“We need to change the rules in this country”: Doug Cameron

Doug Cameron knows how to command an audience. The ingredients are all there: hugely popular (and undoubtedly Labor’s most likeable senator), that fabulous Scottish accent, the passion in his voice, and the fire in his belly.

Speaking at the North East Border Trades and Labour Council he had found another captivated audience. And all the ingredients were there.

Doug Cameron is among the last of a rare breed as far as politicians go. His working-class background sets him aside from the modern-day politician who was likely to have attended an elite school and graduated from university with a law degree, or something equally ‘prestigious.’

Unlike most of today’s politicians, he knows what it’s like to do it tough, and he knows that working-class Australians are now also doing it tough. That’s why he fights for them. Relentlessly. Tirelessly.

And Doug Cameron has dedicated his time in parliament – emulating his union background – for that one cause: “Looking after working people.”

This was the theme of his talk, and it was echoed throughout.

Here is what Doug Cameron had to say on a range of important issues:

Unions and the Working Class

“My job was to look after workers and see the good decent rate of pay and make sure they had safe working conditions.

Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? Wage stagnation. Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? You get exploitation. Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? You get workers maimed and killed on the job. If there’s any basic reasons why you need a strong union movement, it’s decent wages, decent conditions, and the right to go to work and come home safely.

We do need to change the rules in this country.

I know that workers need strong unions … to advance the interests of workers and their families.

I never thought I would see the day that the Arbitration Commission would end up taking penalty rates away from working-class people in this country. You’ve got the Liberals doing the boss’s bidding in the Senate and you get all these speeches that workers need to be more flexible. Bosses don’t need to be flexible. What a terrible word, ‘flexibility’. Workers have got to be more flexible, but bosses don’t. All they want is to put more and more money in their back pocket at the expense of working people. So this flexibility is all one-way at the moment, and that’s why it’s important that Parliament actually makes the changes that allow working people to rebuild the union movement in this country. We need the union movement out there lifting the standard of living in this country, because no-one else will do it.

[Some politicians] reach out to working-class people using fear and racism as their weapons to divide the working-class. And we need to organise against that. We need to educate against that. And we need to start controlling those outcomes … because we don’t want to go down the path of Donald Trump in this country, where workers get screwed every day when they go to work.

We need to make sure we get good people in the Senate – and in the House of Reps – that stand up for working-class people and make sure that the first and final position they take is the support of the working-class in this country.

A senior Labor politician once said to me, ‘Doug, you’re a politician now, not a unionist.’ I said, ‘I will always be a unionist. Because I wouldn’t be in Parliament if it wasn’t for my union. I wouldn’t be in Parliament if it wasn’t for unionists like Sally McManus, and I hope that I have paid back the support that I got’.”

Climate Change

His dislike for one of the biggest threats to the environment – coal – could not be hidden:

“There is no long-term future for coal.

There is no long-term position where we can continue to pollute the atmosphere because everyone here will either have kids in the future or have grandkids and what we have to do is leave an environment at least similar to what we’ve enjoyed in our life because it’s unfair not the look after the environment and give kids of the future a decent life.

I say this as someone who brought my family up off the back of steaming coal.”

Free Trade Agreement

“I have never once voted for a free trade agreement. I have argued for fair trade… not free trade. Because what we get now is certainly not about free trade, and certainly not about fair trade. It’s about giving big business more and more power, and giving American companies intellectual rights over the rights of companies in this country. It’s given the right for overseas companies to attack our wages and conditions. I just think that is wrong. I opposed the free trade agreement in the Caucus, I then moved a resolution that we bring it back to the Caucus to resubmit it, and I was done over twice. I am now bound by that Caucus decision, but that doesn’t mean to say that the Labor Party member can’t get out and point out the problems with these free trade agreements. And it’s good to see that Bill Shorten has been out saying that when we win government – and I think we will win government next election – we won’t be signing any agreements.”

A Shorten Government

“There are a range of issues that we need to deal with. We need a decent education system and a decent health system. We need workers to be able to buy or rent houses at a rate that isn’t putting them into poverty. We need to make sure that big business don’t get $80 billion in tax cuts. Because when you hear people talking about small government, small government means less tax for the rich, and less services for the working class. That’s the bottom line. And never let any of the Coalition tell you that they are better economic managers than Labor. Labor brought this country through the global recession which left workers around the world in poverty. We built 150,000 jobs during that period by investing in infrastructure.

I’ll ask this, “What was Tony Abbott’s economic policy?” He cut the education system, funding for health, the ABC and the SBS. Young unemployed people were told they could starve for six months, and family benefits were cut. That was his first economic strategy. Then when Malcolm Turnbull came in, what was his first economic policy? He increased the GST. Now who does that hurt most? It doesn’t hurt the rich … it hurts working class people. That policy lasted about a week, then his final policy was trickle-down economics: $80 billion of tax cuts to the big end of town, the multi-national corporations and the banks. That was his economic policy.

And look what they did to marriage equality. They did everything they possibly could to stop Australians who loved each other from ever getting the same rights as other Australians. It was an absolute disgrace.

We want a Shorten government … looking after health, looking after education, changing the rules on industrial relations, and looking after working-class people … to bring back the TAFE system in this country, to make sure that TAFE is the backbone of the vocational education system.

Labor has good policy on the environment, good policy on industrial relations, good policy on health, and good policy on education. We want to make this once again one of the great egalitarian countries in the world.”

For me personally, what came to mind most was Doug Cameron’s difference to the modern politician: he puts people first. He is the heart of what Labor stands for.

Doug Cameron has chosen to retire from politics at the next federal election. His rapport with the working classes will be sorely missed.


24 comments

  1. Jon Chesterson

    I wonder what what Doug Cameron’s position is on mandatory detention of refugees, families and children who have genuinely sought asylum. If he believes in an egalitarian society, civil rights, multiculturalism and fairness, I suspect he might well be appalled at what we have done, and which Labor have unwittingly and deliberately contributed. But for this, on all these other issues, he would undoubtedly have my vote if he were to remain in office. Perhaps his passion for universal democracy can be better imprinted on the Labor party and less on its compromise for popularity and votes, wherein lies true and trusted national leadership, if not statesmanship.

    Good article Michael, we do need this change, we need to bring back unions and fair play in the workplace and we need to bring back humanity, dignity and respect. We need responsible government and we certainly won’t get it from the Liberals who have shown themselves to be a treacherous, cruel and corrupt bounty.

  2. paul walter

    I’d reply more completely, but the underlying trends I find depressing and I’m having an off sort of night.

    Just at the moment i think the system is busted and no plausible alternatives come into view.

    I’ll just included some thing just read at the Guardian that dovetails into Michael Taylor’s.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/08/national-populism-immigration-financial-crisis-globalisation.

    Not wishing to be a grinch or fatalistic, just consider it relation to the smashing of a working left in Australia post industrialisation here as in most other places and what has been filling the vacuum.

    Offshore the working classes are scarcely in better condition or fitness for battle than western workers were a century or two ago and here there is not much left to resist senescent fascism, which seems to be the destination of late capitalism in western societies.

    Marx, by a curious twist is confirmed with a vengeance as to his predictions of consolidation of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands, because he could not have guessed at the technologies within a modern oligarchy that threaten soon to wipe out the very concept of humanity as we know it. That the bosses themselves are already also psychologically ruined seems to only intensify the deterioration. Just because they can;t see that their own demise is also tied up in the destruction of intellect and civilisation, does not lessen the chances for that destruction. On the contrary, like Gadarene swine they lead us headlong toward the precipice.

  3. Kyran

    At the risk of being offensive, he’s in the Kernot or Garrett mould. “It’s better to be inside the tent, pissing out, rather than outside the tent, pissing in.”

    “His working-class background sets him aside from the modern-day politician who was likely to have attended an elite school and graduated from university with a law degree, or something equally ‘prestigious’.”

    We currently have one of the most credentialed parliaments in Australian history, in terms of university degrees. If ever there was to be an indictment of university education, or the lack of merit in the education system, look no further.

    “We do need to change the rules in this country.”

    The banking royal commission is currently underway and is reported less and less frequently. If you use a plastic knife, or a replica hand gun, to hold up a convenience store for a miserable, miserly $100, you will go to jail. If you manage a corporation that will defraud their own customers of millions, or billions, or cleverly secrete millions, if not billions, from the ATO, you will likely get a bonus. We don’t need to change the rules. We need to apply them. Equally.

    “We want a Shorten government … looking after health, looking after education, changing the rules on industrial relations, and looking after working-class people … to bring back the TAFE system in this country, to make sure that TAFE is the backbone of the vocational education system.”

    It should not require a Shorten government to look after health, or education, or anything else. These are fundamental, base, intrinsic principles. The past few years have been fairly dismal in terms of governance. If Mr Cameron and Mr Shorten really want to make a difference, let them propose how we can make education and health, maybe even the environment, unassailable from the next ATM government.
    To nick one of Mr Walter’s comments, “Just at the moment I think the system is busted and no plausible alternatives come into view.” Couldn’t agree more that the system is busted. But only recently have so many plausible alternatives not only come into view, but into play.
    By way of explanation, or apology, I’m not picking on Mr Cameron because he’s Scottish. I talk funny too. Thank you Mr Taylor and commenters. Take care

  4. Matters Not

    Re Cameron’s statement:

    I am now bound by that Caucus decision

    No doubt, there are those who will use that statement to advocate for a Parliament of Independents and do so with loud acclamation. Reference might be made to independents such as Ted Mack et al. It’s an argument with considerable merit because party discipline has a significant downside. Yet if one wants to look wider (across the seas) there are also considerable risks in this representative individualism, particularly in a capitalist society.

    Look to the United States where party discipline is almost non-existent with each and every Congress member ‘free’ to make decisions on almost every issue. Well that’s the theory. In reality, it translates to each and every member being up for sale to the highest bidder and given the legality of Super-Pacs that means corporate interests. Yes in the US, one gets the best government one can buy – literally.

    Can’t imagine Dougie being up for sale. And I can’t imagine anyone with an ounce of political insight, even making an offer.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Jon, I’ve only included a small part of Doug’s talk. I must point out that he was addressing a union group and was provided with an outline of what points they wanted addressed, and he stuck to that.

    He was fired-up (God I love it when he’s fired-up).

  6. Kerri

    I was commenting to my 86 year old mother recently, in relation to Liberal politicians, that it seems that they are all lining up for their shot at PM. The precise example I gave her was, “can you honestly imagine Doug Cameron has any ambitions to be PM?”
    Doug is a living treasure. A man whose life has been devoted to improving the lot of the working class. Not beholden to voters or sponsors, Doug seeks to make sure every person who goes to work comes home safe and healthy and with enough income to support themselves and their families. I am greatly saddened that Australia will be so much the poorer for the loss of Doug’s strident, logical and exemplary fairness in our parliament.
    I have often quoted an example of the difference between Doug Cameron and my local federal member (whom I have never, and will never, vote for). I once emailed Doug and Josh Frydenberg on separate issues.Doug’s office replied, (and yes I am well aware the reply was not from Doug himself but he is the one who sets the tone in his ministerial office, ) within 3 weeks.
    My enquiry had zero to do with Doug’s shadow portfolio and he is NOT my local federal representative. His office addressed my query SPECIFICALLY, and gave good explaination in reply.

    Josh replied after about 3 months. His reply was a “form” letter in that it covered the usual, “thanks for your email”, “we are doing our best”, “our policy is……. “yada, yada, yada.
    My query to Josh was specific to his portfolio. Josh is my local federal member.

    I don’t need to outline which of these high profile MP’s exhibits the greater professionalism and comprehension of service to the citizens of Australia. Nor do I need to outline the simple humanity of the better reply to my query.

    Doug is a gem and will be truly missed, not the least by yours truly.

  7. paul walter

    Now to follow the trail. First, Doug Cameron as an antipodean George Galloway?

    Doug is like us, he sees where it went wrong and is also clinging to deadwood in waves not far from where the ship went down.
    He IS bound by party discipline for good and bad reasons, as are the handful of other soft lefties left within the dried up husk that is modern Labor seemingly in retreat. We are hoping for the start to the trail Kyran alludes to, but knows is a tenuous link and a race against time against some truly stultifying forces within civilisation.

    But Kyran is right, we must not betray the old left and all the other good folk who fought earlier to get civilisation even to the imperfect condition under which it exists at this time. The trick is in not the forsaking of hope, but yes, I’ve underestimated the immensity and difficulty but also the magnificence of our task, for people like myself the trick lies within the mind and the spirit.

    Thanks friends, I was at a low ebb earlier as does happen, must remember not to cede to fatalism.

  8. Pilot

    Mr Taylor et al,
    I had the privilege of working with Doug at Liddell Power Station back in the early 80s and was amazed when I first heard him talk at the first stop work meeting I attended there. Workers weren’t only concerned about their hip pocket all the time, but also health & safety, plant condition and pollution.

    I went there after Unit 3 had spilled its guts for the 2nd time and those who had worked with contractors on the 1st repair were really pissed off with the shortcuts management had demanded during the initial repairs, procedures and demands outside those set-down by the contractors GEC, the people who built the bloody things. Management blamed workers and that was utter bullsh*t.

    Even though he didn’t agree with some of our demands he’d fight for us tirelessly. Several times he argued against our actions, but accepted our position regardless. The bloke’s a bloody hero, it will be Australia’s loss when he finishes his tenure.

    Doug took a pay cut and moved on to a permanent fulltime union delegate, our loss, workers win.

    I cannot speak highly enough of the fellow, he’s a champion, and it has been an honour to have worked with him and listened to him speak on any subject.

    Sadly I see no replacement for Doug when he finally calls it a day, his passion, his tenacity and his experiences will be lost. There will be a hole that cannot be filled when he goes, he truly is a working class hero in every sense of the word. Tell him that and he’d probably thump you (he most certainly isn’t a violent man).

  9. New England Cocky

    “Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? Wage stagnation. Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? You get exploitation. Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? You get workers maimed and killed on the job. If there’s any basic reasons why you need a strong union movement, it’s decent wages, decent conditions, and the right to go to work and come home safely.”

    “We want a Shorten government … looking after health, looking after education, changing the rules on industrial relations, and looking after working-class people … to bring back the TAFE system in this country, to make sure that TAFE is the backbone of the vocational education system.”

    Doug Cameron unionist for the voters of Australia. Thank you.

  10. helvityni

    Love the man, love the accent…

  11. Terence Mills

    A commentator the other day illustrated the tragedy of what has happened to our workplace conditions in recent years.

    He was having his mobile phone attended to at a phone-shop by a young girl with a heavy cold. He observed that she should be at home in bed recovering from her virus. ‘Fat chance of that’ she said, pointing out that she was a permanent casual with no paid sick leave or annual leave. She had rent to pay and other outgoings and with no paid sick leave a day off was not an option.

    Sally McManus is trying to address this problem in the workplace but it will take a lot to turn it around.

  12. Kaye Lee

    Terence,

    As an employer, I have found that a difficult issue. We complied with the advice to make all our staff permanent but they were not happy about it because it significantly reduced their hourly rate. $5.20/hour for the lowest paid per the award . That’s a lot. (We pay above award but it still cut their weekly take home pay significantly)

  13. Bob

    A big loss.

  14. Diannaart

    Excellent article Michael.

    Agree with Kyran;

    It should not require a Shorten government to look after health, or education, or anything else. These are fundamental, base, intrinsic principles. The past few years have been fairly dismal in terms of governance. If Mr Cameron and Mr Shorten really want to make a difference, let them propose how we can make education and health, maybe even the environment, unassailable from the next ATM government.”

    Compassion, humanity and equality of opportunity has taken a beating for decades now. Shorten has a mammoth task ahead of him.

    “Right now you have a situation where workers feel compelled to take any job that’s on offer, even if the hours are irregular and the security is non-existent,” Mr Stanford said.
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-07/full-time-job-rate-hits-new-low-as-casual-work-takes-over-report/9840064

    Delving into the not so distant past for music expression, may I present the inimitable Rage Against the Machine’s protest against police brutality, which applies equally well to the brutal attitude towards we, the people.

    https://youtu.be/2Hf-B9Tqkss

  15. Judith

    Australia’s strength and character was born of the union movement in the 19th century.
    In the 21st century we need the F in CFMMEU to stand for RE-Forestation not DE-Forestation.

  16. Wun Farlung

    I had the pleasure of seeing Doug address a Union Rally and it was one of the few occassions that all assembled were quiet and attentive.
    Doug at his best. A patient man finally corners the CONservative lap dog.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS5m9jX55ek

  17. Stephen Tardrew

    Great article Michael Love it. Been a Doug fan for decades and was hoping he would change houses and become party leader. Puts all the others to shame. A real workers and union man is just what we need right now. He is smart articulate and has the perfect personality for leadership. Sad loss he will be.

  18. Michael Taylor

    His charm struck me as well, but I credit the Scot in him for that. They are the best people in the world in my humble opinion.

    I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him, unfortunately. I did, however, get a chance to tell him I had a “broon Heilin’ coo” (brown Highland Cow). He laughed. He asked me if I was Scottish, to which I replied “I dinna ken” (I don’t know), but added that if I shook my family tree I wouldn’t be surprised if a Scotsman fell out. That brought a smile.

    Haaark, he was a braw bloke.

  19. Andreas

    Just consider this: This gem of a political representative has been working away in the Senate for years, while the ALP Front Line Architects were blabbering their b****it year in & out.
    Us ordinary people have been looking for someone like that to latch on to, while they – like dressed donkeys – continue to rub shoulders with the other side. Despicable…

  20. Andreas Bimba

    I also think Senator Doug Cameron is one of the best politicians Australia has ever had and will be deeply missed when he soon retires. I also can’t see any equivalent replacements.

    Over my lifetime Austalia’s GDP may have increased a lot but most of this is based on bull shit speculation in real estate and shares and exploitation of the common man and woman so that most of the financial gains have gone to the richest 1%.

    Our once significant manufacturing sector has been destroyed, wages have stagnated, job security and conditions have deteriorated substantially especially for the working class, housing has become unnaffordable for most due to speculation, our superannuation system scam charges fees of $32 billion p.a. for fund managers THAT PROVIDE NOTHING OF VALUE, hatred of asylum seekers and minorities has increased and bigotry is commonplace. Australia is abandoning the previous relative egalitarianism and has become a corporate oligarchy with a two tier class structure for the rest. A small rentier class gains in wealth whilst the majority stagnates or becomes poorer. Higher education which once was free is now expensive and standards have declined as revenue and profit become the main goal of educational institutions. Infrastructure has been grossly underfunded and has not kept pace with population increase. Our natural environment has deteriorated badly in all respects. Our farmers generally struggle with low commodity prices, increasing input costs and an erratic and deteriorating climate. Never before has our political class been so obviously under the control of the mining, finance, gambling and real estate speculation corporate oligarchy.

    The neoliberal agenda of free trade, globalisation, privatisation, financialisation, deregulation, corporate greed, tax evasion, government austerity and deteriorating government provided services, stagnant wages and worker exploitation has failed us.

    We owe the old lefties who retained their integrity like Doug Cameron a great deal for fighting all facets of neoliberalism so hard over their entire careers as they were nearly always right but few were listening, even within the Labor Party.

    It is well beyond time to repair our democracy, to address our environmental challenges, to unwind the destructive neoliberal era and to optimally utilise the fiscal capacity of our federal government for the benefit of all Australians.

  21. Andreas Bimba

    Michael I think you may need to restrict your endorsement of Scots to the working class as don’t forget Rupert and many other Scottish oligarchs of the past. 😉

    A few dodgy Scottish American bankers and a Scot that designed Britains initial colonisation and exploitation of India also comes to mind.

  22. Michael Taylor

    There is a cracked egg in most cartons, Andreas. I hate the Murdoch’s, but I don’t hate the Scots because of him.

    Same for the wrongs of the past here in Australia. I respect Aboriginal culture, but I have none for the Native Police.

  23. New England Cocky

    @Andreas: “The neoliberal agenda of free trade, globalisation, privatisation, financialisation, deregulation, corporate greed, tax evasion, government austerity and deteriorating government provided services, stagnant wages and worker exploitation has failed us.”

    When the Australian people come to this correct conclusion then we may see change ….. but with the union movement broken it will take some time, unfortunately, because there has been an infiltration of ALP ranks by self-serving individuals, especially in the NSW branch, who have sold out collective principles to make themselves very very rich at public expense.

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