The unions:

Andrew Dettmer writes: Re. “Unions discover democracy. Shock” (yesterday, item 9). While Howard, Hockey et al fulminate against the “clever”, “tricky”, [insert negative euphemism here] union campaign against WorkChoices (the legislation which dare not speak its name), I do wonder what they and their staffers — and the journalists who are now breathlessly reporting this as news — have been doing the last 2 years? My union, and most others, has been campaigning vigorously against WorkChoices since it was first mooted by Howard after his surprise win in both houses in 2004. Unlike Howard, who made no mention of WorkChoices in that election, the trade union movement has made no secret of its determination to campaign against WorkChoices and the Howard Government. A review of many unions’ websites over the last two years would reveal exactly the details of the unions’ campaigns which are now being breathlessly touted as “dirty tricks”. What’s dirty about telling our members how bad WorkChoices is? What’s tricky about criticising Howard, Hockey and all the rest in public forums — to most of which representatives of the Howard Government are invited, but 9 times out of 10 refuse to come? What is underhand or clever about campaigning amongst our members for a change of government? This is yet again an example of the Howard Government’s contempt for anybody who stands in their way. I would suggest readers look at last week’s newspapers and refer to the federally funded ads for collective bargaining for small business. Did anybody spot the irony of a Federal Government which wants to remove collective bargaining rights for workers, but wants to give it to small business? I live in hope that the mainstream media will call this bluff, and am grateful to Christian Kerr — no friend of the trade union movement, to be sure — for pointing out the hypocrisy of the Howard attacks. But, of course, we’ll all go home to see the TV news reports showing Howard attacking the trade unions, and the Murdoch press doing likewise, and again Howard and Hockey (and Abbott and Costello and …) will not be held to account. Forget about the trade union movement’s criticisms if you like — after all, we only represent 2 million Australians — Howard and his ilk are destroying any reasoned public debate in Australia, and using smear, innuendo and (in some cases) out and out lying to do so. And this is yet another example. “Who do you trust?” indeed.

Philip Carman writes: I would have thought it obvious that if about 28% of Australians say they understand WorkChoices and 20% believe it is harmful, then the vast majority (about 70%) of those who do understand it don’t like it. That is a startling statistic – as is the fact that 72% don’t understand it! The right to collective bargaining is being torn up and thrown away, but few seem to understand the ramifications … And what of the thousands of adverts recently placed by the Howard Government in local and national press to promote … guess what??? Collective bargaining for and between businesses!!! (But not for or between employees and employers – that would somehow be harmful to the economy.) Surely this bald-faced hypocrisy is deserving of some comment in Crikey and other media – or is it considered rude to bite the hand that feeds you??? As Crikey is fiercely independent (and apparently persona non grata) with the Government, perhaps one of your political writers might have something brave to say about Howard on one hand attempting to reduce or even outlaw (if only…) collective bargaining for workers, while encouraging such an evil practice by small and large business owners? Goose and gander analogies spring to mind; or perhaps Howard and Costello think every small business owner is a goose? Am I the only one who sees this as being the biggest election issue this year, simply because it brings into focus the reasons why everyone needs to have access to collective bargaining – if they wish to? It needn’t be compulsory! And it won’t hurt the economy. What it will do is provide choice.

Jennie Bremner writes: Would Christian Kerr get a reality check on trade unions and stop parroting Howard’s propaganda — this is what journalists are supposed to do after all. I am a union official representing scientists and psychologists amongst other tertiary qualified people, 75% of whom are women. I am also female and tertiary-qualified. We are therefore definitely not “bruvvers”, nor are we “Neanderthal knuckleheads”. We rarely look like “bikies or bouncers” very few of whom are women. We do not have “no ticket, no start” as compulsory membership of trade unions has been outlawed by the federal Workplace Relations Act for the last 11 years! We are, however, passionately opposed to WorkChoices which denies working people the right to collectively bargain, in breach of ILO conventions to which Australia is a signatory. Catch up, Christian, the world has moved on since the 1950s!

Marilyn Shepherd writes: What bollocks Christian writes sometimes. The best sight I have seen in years is the hypocrites called “medja bosses” forming a union so they can bash the Government about freedom of information, which the Media and Arts Alliance chimed in with boasting on their website that they have 10,000 journalists as members. Then many of the union journalists spend all their time trashing the unions of miners, electrical trades unions and so on. Now the Liberal, Labor, Democrats and Greens are all political parties and if you want to stand for Parliament for any of them the cry is “no membership, no start”. Every plumber, doctor, nurse, lawyer, electrician, builder, driver, teacher and so on in Australia have to be registered or are faced with “no ticket, no start” — gee, are all the registration boards thugs and bullies, Christian? I worked for the UTLC 20 years ago after being illegally sacked by a pollie and I can assure you the pollie was the biggest bully I had ever worked for in my life. Now, stop with the union bullies and thugs and ponder the bullies and thugs in the Business Council of Australia who represent the 100 top corporations and even have this strange thing called “Employers First”, who are driving wages down and profits up while destroying work safety.

Trustworthy politicians:

Barrie O’Shea writes: Re. “Who do you trust? Not you, Prime Minister” (yesterday, item 1). Much attention was given to PK’s comments on Rudd’s staff last week. Far less attention has been paid to his more important comments on the lack of policy in the 11 years of the Howard Government. The changes made under Labor combined with the buoyant world economy have given Howard a dream run. As a small business proprietor, Howard and Costello’s major changes, the GST and WorkChoices, have meant higher overheads and greater complications in employing staff. In 30 years in business, unfair dismissal issues have never been a problem. As we are in an industry that has to provide credit, the GST has meant an increased overdraft to pay the GST on money not received. There has been an increase in the cash economy. Our interest rates are higher than all of our major trading partners, whereas under Keating they were in line or lower. (Check the RBA web site). My concern is that with a track record like this, can I trust Howard or Costello to be able to handle the huge issues of climate change, foreign debt and an aging population? Nothing that I have seen over the past 11 years gives me any comfort.

A galaxy of meaningless polls:

Terry Mills writes: Re. “Galaxy’s light dims” (yesterday, item 7). The polling, be it Galaxy, Newspoll or whoever, is of passing interest but this far out from an election tells us very little about the resonance of party policies, calibre of the contenders or committed voting intentions. As we are now some four months out from a federal election, what the average punter (like me) really needs –excruciating as it may be — are televised debates with hard-hitting questions putting the participants on the spot with a strong and impartial convenor; perhaps we could start with Julia Gillard and Joe Hockey, followed by Wayne Swan and Peter Costello and then, of course, John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

Real estate:

Robert Larocca writes: Re. “Combating underquoting real estate agents” (yesterday, item 16). Adam, there is no current legal requirement for the vendor to declare their reserve.

Ray Quigley writes: Just who is the “victim”? In all this hoo-ha, why does the “seller” never get a mention? Surely they want to help generate enough “traffic” through their property to maximise bidders’ interest. Buyers who don’t do some minimal research, go to a few auctions of “houses with similar characteristics”, to calibrate their expectations (hopes), are doing themselves a disservice.

The storm in the Hunter:

Peter Marer writes: Re. “Storm in the Hunter: Part 1” (yesterday, item 18). As sure as night follows day – the next cycle of news will be the insurance implications of the weekend weather and floods. Flood Insurance is an optional extra in most home and contents and business insurance – that is to say it’s not automatically included. So how many people/businesses are going to be shocked when they find they have no cover? So then the bashing of the insurers will start and a debate on “what is a flood” – is it water overflowing from a natural watercourse or water falling out of the sky and running off.

Chris Harrison writes: Re. “The ABC is so important, advertisers will just love it” (yesterday, item 22). Margaret Simons comments on the local Newcastle ABC’s commendable effort in keeping the community well informed during the storm in Newcastle will remind ACT residents what a valiant effort Canberra’s local 666 ABC station staff did during the 2003 fire storm which threatened much of the Territory. Like Newcastle, 666 announcers worked around the clock, many doing up to 12 or more hour shifts with enormous personal sacrifices. They weren’t rostered on. They just turned up to the studio and kept up a continuous stream of news, advice and warnings which came in from local journalists, emergency bodies and listeners. Perhaps the ABC board and the Federal Government just don’t know exactly how much listeners appreciate the ABC’s role when they keep slashing it’s budget while accusing the program-makers and announcers of left-wing bias. Such public spirit seems to be spreading throughout the local ABC stations.

Clive Hamilton:

Deborah Hart writes: Re. “The day The Oz went psycho” (yesterday, item 3). I had an interesting discussion about Scorcher, with an energy expert, Dr Richard J Koerner, whose own work on the Australian coal industry is published in leading international journals such as Pergamon’s Resources Policy. According to Dr Koerner, Clive Hamilton’s description of the mining industry’s shenanigans is “spot on”. It seems that Hamilton could also have explored how Australian mining companies have allegedly sold Australians short of millions of dollars in royalties (the ground they mine is Crown land) by competing with one another in negotiations with the Japanese (whose company representatives negotiate as a single buyer). Unlike the Australians, mining companies from other parts of the world such as Canada and the US, present a unified front in negotiations with the Japanese in order to avoid being done over. Also, it seems coal deals (particularly thermal) are made at reduced prices in order to secure more favourable iron-ore contracts. Again, this is lost revenue for the public purse. In other words, not only are they are decimating our environment, they are doing it at discount rates. What is disturbing though, is the long history of vicious attacks and sustained efforts to undermine the institutions and individuals who have worked tirelessly to protect our environment; our most precious public asset. And, The Australian has been the leader of the pack. Clive Hamilton, thank you for writing an excellent and very important book setting the record straight. And Crikey, thanks for enabling an open discussion — Australia is still a democracy, sort of, “officially” that is, right?

Teachers? What about social workers?:

Adele Markwell writes: Re. “What’s a teacher worth? Pay and politics” (Tuesday, item 4). I fully agree with your article on teacher wages BUT have you ever thought of having a look at the wages of welfare and social workers. We must be the lowest-paid, tertiary-qualified workers on earth. I have worked in the field after qualifying as a welfare worker for over 11 years and don’t earn $40,000 per year. There are those who work in the government sector who do earn good wages, but those of us who choose to work for not for profit community-based organisations certainly do not. When you look at the stress factor and that we are generally working to assist the most vulnerable people in the community, we are not being compensated for the work we do. I also work as a disability advocate and the wage is no better in that position. That agency has not had a funding increase in the 13 years that it has been in existence. We spend our working lives fighting for better conditions for the people we work with but don’t seem to fight for working conditions for ourselves. If we went on strike it wouldn’t bring down a financial institution or prevent a manufacturer from receiving parts but human beings would most definitely be adversely affected so we don’t do it.

The way life works:

Allen Kavanagh writes: Re. “How the police organise crime” (Tuesday, item 3). Interesting to see Phil Dickie say US research shows “police consistently and disproportionately take out the least competent, least organised and least well-connected criminals …”. Has it ever been any other way? Do we really have to look overseas to work that out? In this country, we have not very well thought- out commentaries parroting “zero tolerance” and demanding police address the “broken window” syndrome. While, if you are on the Reserve Bank Board or are on the board of a public company like Telstra, or if you have happened to have travelled overseas with the Australian Wheat Board, “broken windows” in these categories worth millions, are too difficult for the average “plod” to prosecute. So, this level of “tolerance” is apparently okay. But you bet, they will get you for “turning right against the lights” every time. It’s the way life works.

Four Corners:

Peter Finnegan writes: The mainstream media are completely ignoring the alarming findings of Four Corners about Habib’s torture in Egypt, and the absolute certainty by the US officials engaged in the rendering process that our Australian Government and Australian Federal Police were both aware of, and acquiesced, with the evil treatment handed out to one of our citizens. The PM should be very closely questioned, in Parliament, so there can be no weasel words about who knew what and when, because, according to the documentation produced on the program, they DID know all about it, and consequently broke both domestic and international law.


Anthony Leith writes: Re. “Coles: so inept it can’t even sell itself” (yesterday, item 27). They’re so inept at running supermarkets in general so, of course, they’re going to be useless selling the company. I used to like visiting my local Coles in the Sutherland Shire, but they never have the things that you want when you go there to buy. This is even in non-peak times like before the Saturday morning onslaught starts at around 9am at my local store. The fruit and veg usually looks like it’s been sitting there for at least 3 days, with midgies flying everywhere. They seldom have any decent meat and when they do it’s so over priced for the quality. Then there are the simple things like not having tins of boot polish or a decent arrangement of razor blades or the particular brand of sanitary products that the wife wants. Don’t get me started about the cluttered aisles or the shelf-stockers working when the store is busy. I’ve left my trolley in disgust at Coles and gone across to the Woolworths three streets over where I know they’ll have the selection I want. I’m sure I’m not the only one like this which explains Coles’ poor sales figures. A decent supply chain can go along way! I’ve also stopped buying fruit/veg and meat from supermarkets in general.


CRIKEY: Re. Meanjin. Contrary to what Crikey published yesterday, the maximum print run for recent issues has been 2,200. The usual print run is 1800, though this is sometimes increased when an issue is predicted to be more popular. Most of the sales are to subscribers. When “someone close to the action suggested that 800 is nearer the mark”, they are referring only to bookstore sales. Pre-sales to bookstores for sale at the recommended retail price now number between 750 and 850 copies per issue, but this figure does not include the copies sold to subscribers and individual sales direct from the office. The comment in the report that the Meanjin board’s vote to affilliate with MUP ‘might in fact have been unanimous’ was wrong. The Board was split four/three in favour of the move.


Yesterday’s typos: (House pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 8: “If Labor does manage to gain nine percentage points in Queensland it would win … eight seats”. No, nine: he’s left off Herbert (6.2%). Item 9: “Just try measuring up ‘No ticket, no start’ against the principals of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and its provisions for freedom of assembly.” That’s “principles”, not “principals”, and I can’t imagine what freedom of assembly’s got to do with it; I think he means “freedom of association”. Item 14: “And if one dusts of Victorian Law Reports of the 1980s …”. Should be “dusts off”. And in the next sentence there’s a surplus “who”. Item 15: “The Government yesterday rejected the Australian Democrats’ attempt to the tax-free threshold of $6000 to inflation from 1 July.” To make sense of that, insert “index” after “attempt to”. Item 21: “… denouncing a movement as irrelevant and meaninglessness”. Just “meaningless” would be fine.

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Peter Fray

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