Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A self-serving union crook

Labourers earning $2,000 a WEEK are not being paid "a liveable wage"???

IT WAS a $20 note and it came with the admonition from my father "not to spend it all in the pub". I was on strike at the time and down to my last few dollars. It was the last of the big newspaper strikes in an era when workers of all sorts went "out on the grass" in support of their claims for better wages and conditions.

I was on strike at the time and down to my last few dollars. It was the last of the big newspaper strikes in an era when workers of all sorts went "out on the grass" in support of their claims for better wages and conditions.

It was a time of great bitterness between workers and management and if you peer deeply enough into the hearts of those journalists who went through it, you might see the scar tissue still.

It was all a long time ago but I was reminded of the $20 note by Paul Howes, secretary of the Australian Workers Union, when he launched an extraordinary attack on the mining company Rio Tinto last week.

Howes, speaking at the union's national conference, announced he was declaring war on Rio Tinto and accused chief executive Tom Albanese of "sucking out the blood, sweat and tears of blue-collar workers". Monkeys, he said, would do a better job of running the company than its present management.

"I have got a message for Rio Tinto," he said. "You don't own this Government; you don't own this country any more. Your workforce has the right to be represented. You cannot hide behind the law. You cannot hide behind the lawyers.

"You cannot hide behind your slimy, grubby mates in the Coalition because we're coming after you. We are going to take Rio Tinto on, and we are going to make sure that they pay a liveable wage to the workers who make the wealth that these shiny arses sitting in the boardroom in London enjoy."

Howes wasn't wearing a sweat-stained blue singlet, shirts and work boots at the time. A suit is his preferred garb and he spends a lot of time sitting on his backside in an office, but his fiery rhetoric was calculated to illuminate a poster of an honest worker prostrate beneath the shiny jackboot of an overseas mining executive.

Howes was playing to the gallery, his eye-bulging theatrics designed to reassure his band of brothers that he was taking the fight to the enemy, those evil capitalists who ripped babies from the breasts of working-class mothers and sold them into child slavery.

It was an appalling performance and one that must have left many a union member, and I am one, squirming with embarrassment.

That Treasurer Wayne Swan should praise Howes as payback to him for helping organise the numbers in the move against former prime minister Kevin Rudd speaks volumes for his character.

The organised labour movement has come a long way since the days of class warfare for which Howes would have us believe he pines.

The days of workers downing tools, or computer keyboards, and walking off the job are gone. While Howes was ranting from atop his soapbox, labourers working for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara region were earning $2000 a week plus employer superannuation contributions. Truck drivers with no mining experience were getting $120,000 a year and train drivers $200,000.

Most work seven days on and seven days off and get free meals and accommodation, while only about 15 per cent of them think highly enough of Howes and his ilk to bother to join a union.

In Howes' world, however, they labour in William Blake's dark, satanic mills.

Rio Tinto made $14 billion last year, so you would have to concede that if Howes is right and monkeys could do better, for a bunch of idiots they're not doing a bad job.

You could also argue that the company, and others like it, should contribute more than they do to the nation's treasury.

They would be if Rudd and Swan hadn't comprehensively stuffed up the introduction of the mining tax, ambushing and enraging the industry by hatching the plan in secret and then declaring it was non-negotiable.

The miners fought back, the Government started to lose the PR battle, Rudd was sacked, Swan and Julia Gillard went to water and we now have, to borrow one of Howes' favoured anatomical references, a half-arsed tax.

That's a political failure and not one that can be laid at the feet of the miners, no matter how much Howes may shake his fist in the general direction of the Pilbara and shriek that he is "coming after" the mining companies.

In the 1970s, if a union representative walked into a newspaper newsroom and declared we were on strike, you got up and walked out the door. To do otherwise would see you labelled as a scab, the lowest form of life.

If one was to do so now, people would raise their heads for a moment to see who the crazy person was and then resume working.

People want to work hard and earn a better life. They are not interested in manning the barricades and burning the boss in effigy.

Howes' theatrics and his doomed attempt to fan the cold ashes of class warfare in this country are self-serving, designed to boost his profile and perhaps help propel him along the road to a nice, safe Labor Party seat in federal Parliament.

Once ensconced, he can put his feet up on the desk and as he tots up his perks and entitlements, sing the words to that popular "working class" song, the more memorable lines of which go: "The working class can kiss my arse, I've got the foreman's job at last."


NSW elections: Beware hard Leftists in Green clothing

It is true that there has been a move to the Greens in inner-city areas of the capital cities. But this has not spread to the suburbs, regional centres or rural areas. The latest Herald/Nielsen poll indicated that NSW voters who are proposing to junk Labor are moving straight across to Barry O'Farrell and the Coalition, by-passing the Greens. .

Interviewed this month on Meet the Press, O'Farrell was asked whether the NSW Liberals would give their preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens, as the Victorian Liberal Party did successfully in last November's state election. The Opposition Leader made the point that, unlike Victoria, NSW has an optional preference voting system and that it is not necessary for political parties to advise supporters about how to allocate preferences.

O'Farrell added that the Liberals in NSW "haven't preferenced the Greens in the past" and he could not "imagine us doing it in the future". He also advised that the Liberal Party's state director, Mark Neeham, "will make the decision [on preferences] in due course".

In the four years he has been Opposition Leader, O'Farrell has been very successful in unifying the Liberal Party and in cementing a viable coalition with the National Party. Both are real achievements. Also, during this time O'Farrell has obtained a significant grasp of detail over all areas of administration. However, he has yet to establish his standing as a conviction politician. This may occur if, as seems very likely, O'Farrell is elected premier on March 26. .

In the meantime, O'Farrell and his colleagues would be well advised to take a stance on the Greens. For starters, there would be some political benefit in acknowledging that some of Labor's candidates are preferable to the Greens. Then there is the fact that O'Farrell is closer to the Premier, Kristina Keneally, on a range of economic, foreign and social policy issues than he is to the Greens.

It is widely recognised that the Greens' best chances of winning seats in the Legislative Assembly turn on the electorates of Marrickville and Balmain - now held by high-profile Keneally government ministers Carmel Tebbutt and Verity Firth respectively. The mayor of Marrickville, Fiona Byrne, is standing against Tebbutt and the mayor of Leichhardt, Jamie Parker, is contesting Balmain for the Greens.

Any Liberal voter would be crazy not to preference Labor ahead of the Greens in Marrickville and Balmain. There are Greens who are primarily environmentalists - like Senator Bob Brown and Senator Christine Milne. And then there are hard-left Greens - like Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon, who graduated from the Communist Party to the Greens. Byrne and Parker are close to the hard-left Greens camp.

As mayor of Marrickville, Byrne has led the charge to sign up ratepayers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. This global movement, driven by the left, aims to boycott all goods made in Israel and prohibit all sporting, academic, government or cultural exchanges. The campaign does not distinguish between Israel's pre- and post-1967 borders and is aimed at Jewish and Arab Israelis alike.

Byrne and her Greens comrades seem unaware that Israel and increasingly Iraq are the only two democracies in the Middle East and that Arabs who are citizens of Israel have more democratic rights than Arabs domiciled in Arab nations. They also seem unaware that, historically, the left in Australia has supported Israel - as documented in Daniel Mandel's H V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel and Philip Mendes's article in the November 2009 issue of Labour History.

The Liberal Party, like Labor, has always supported the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. It is the Greens, not Labor, who challenge Israel, question the Australian-American alliance and are soft on counterterrorism legislation. Moreover, the Greens are well to the left of Labor on economic and social issues.

It makes sense for Liberals in inner-city Sydney to give their preferences to Tebbutt ahead of Byrne and to Firth ahead of Parker.


Greenie disaster for Australian electricity users

The Gillard government's renewable energy scheme will saddle consumers with more than $1 billion in extra electricity costs this year, and uncertainty created by its failure to implement a carbon pricing regime is forcing power bills higher than they would otherwise be.

Research to be released today by the Australian Industry Group finds that a "well-designed" carbon price would ease some of the pressure on energy prices, which are forecast to rise over the next decade.

However, a carbon price of $26 a tonne is still estimated to increase electricity costs for households by 17.6 per cent in 2012-13, taking an annual bill for a Sydney home to $2000 from $1700.

But the report warns that a failure to implement a well-designed climate change policy could entrench higher power prices.

"Without decisions in this area over the next couple of years, damaging uncertainty is likely to lead to sub-optimal investments that leave both prices and emissions higher than they need be - with serious and uncompensated impacts on trade-exposed firms," the report says.

The research attacks the government's renewable energy scheme - particularly subsidies for household solar photovoltaics panels - as not offering value for money in terms of either emissions abatement or support for innovation.

The report comes as the government's multi-party climate change committee is locked in negotiations over the shape of a carbon pricing scheme, with the government preferring a fixed carbon price beginning from July 1 next year with an emissions trading scheme beginning three or four years later.

But the Greens and the government are on a collision course over compensation for energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries. Julia Gillard argues that she will not throw out the "good work" on compensation in her predecessor Kevin Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the Greens have declared the levels negotiated in that regime unacceptable.

The AIGroup research concludes that a decision on carbon pricing could reduce the reliance on the government's "high-cost" renewable energy target scheme - which aims to source 20 per cent of the nation's power from renewable sources by 2020 - and break an "investment drought" in new electricity generation.

AIGroup chief executive Heather Ridout said the government's renewable schemes were splurging on the most expensive renewables instead of the cheapest and warned that the nation could "get stuck with the equivalent of a Rolls when a hatchback would do". The report - based on a survey of more than 150 companies - warns that consumers would be forced to pay $1.12bn in 2011 just to cover the cost of household-level renewable systems, particularly rooftop solar photovoltaic panels.

The government's scheme for small-scale generators such as household solar panels was "not offering value for money in terms either of emissions abatement or support for innovation", the report warns. If the same funds were invested in big wind farms, four times as much renewable energy could be produced each year. Investing the money in large-scale solar plants would produce twice as much energy, the report finds.

On top of this, the future costs of the government's scheme to encourage commercial-scale renewables would be "substantially higher" than forecast if a price was not eventually put on carbon.

The government last December moved to wind back subsidies to households installing solar schemes as it sought to lower pressure on electricity prices. The move followed a decision early last year to reform how renewable energy certificates were issued to deal with a glut caused by a flood of solar panel installations.

Under the new scheme, renewable energy certificates generated from solar panels and solar hotwater schemes were separated into a discrete market from those generated by large-scale enterprises, such as wind farms, in a bid to drive up the price of RECs to encourage investment in large-scale renewables.

And last month, in a bid to deal with the glut, the renewable energy regulator increased the number of certificates that power retailers had to buy - a move that would lift electricity prices by an estimated $5 a household each year.

The AIGroup research finds that while renewable-related costs have been "higher than necessary", they are only a "relatively small" driver of price rises because other factors are so significant. These include the need to fund tens of billions of dollars worth of investments in network infrastructure, as well as likely rising coal prices, and escalating labour and materials costs that would make new electricity supplies more expensive.

The AIGroup report urges the government to address climate policy and carbon pricing, and to use the introduction of a national policy to "trim the thicket" of inefficient green programs that are "adding somewhat to energy prices for insufficient benefit".

It also says that the government's energy white paper - which was promised in 2008, but delayed after Mr Rudd shelved his ETS last March - should be completed as soon as possible.

Ms Ridout said there was "no end in sight" to rising electricity and gas prices over the next decade. "Australian industry is already grappling with the challenges of a strong dollar and an economy nearing capacity." She said it was crucial a carbon price was well-designed because a badly-designed carbon price "will put even more pressure on energy costs" .

She stressed her group was anxious to work with the government to ensure its carbon policy protected the ability of manufacturers to compete with offshore rivals. While a well-designed climate change policy would "soften the blow" of a carbon price, it "would be a big hit on business".

As well as the findings on renewables schemes, the report warns that bankers are baulking at supporting coal-fired power stations because of the uncertainty around carbon policy. The problem with this is that there could eventually be a rush of open-cycle gas turbine generators rather than more cost-efficient baseload combined-cycle gas plants.

According to the survey, most companies were expecting electricity price rises of between 11 and 20 per cent over the next two years.


Camouflage uniforms (!) for prisoners

IF QUEENSLAND'S highest-security prisoners escape from custody, they could be difficult to recapture for one reason - their uniforms. Queensland Corrective Services has "camouflaged" 5470 of the state's 5631 inmates since issuing new-look green, khaki and denim uniforms last year.

The uniforms were designed by Brisbane TAFE students as part of a competition which provided $1000 prizemoney to three students.

While prisoners around the world are forced to dress distinctly to hinder their escape, Queensland prisoners could blend into their mostly rural surrounds. US prisoners wear orange or yellow jumpsuits and violent offenders wear red and white striped uniforms, while escape-risk inmates in the UK wear bright-coloured boiler suits.

But Queensland prisoners had the choice of a two-tone green T-shirt, singlet or jumper with shorts, tracksuit or cargo pants, which were made by prisoners at Lotus Glen, Townsville, Woodford and Brisbane Women's Correctional Centres. This colour scheme more closely resembles what armed forces wear to help them avoid detection in battle.

Opposition corrections spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said the gaffe was symbolic of the problems within corrective services. Mr Bleijie said escaped inmates would blend into the bushland surrounding most jails and would also be indistinguishable from non-prisoners in crowded spaces.

"Having just completed a comprehensive induction to Queensland prisons I was shocked to see first-hand the camo-like prison-issue uniforms," he said. "Many an eyebrow was raised when I mentioned the issue with prison staff and it was clear frontline prison officers had no input into the design. "You should be able to distinguish between an average `Joe Blow' walking down the street and a prisoner."

Corrective Services Minister Neil Roberts said the uniform would not be changed. "The words `Correctional Centre Issue' are clearly marked on the new uniforms in upper-case, white lettering, which is also slightly reflective," he said. [And those not in the know could well assume that the lettering describes STAFF!]

Mr Roberts said that some prisoners wore bright orange uniforms within workshops at high-security jails. "There has not been an escape from a high-security prison in Queensland since the Nationals were last in power in 1998," he said.


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