Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thinly veiled antisemitism is resurgent in Australia too

As many Western leftists abandoned Israel following its post-1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Sinai and the Golan Heights, instead embracing the then novel Palestinian cause, Grass remained pro-Israel. Some four decades later, few would describe Nobel-prize-winning author Grass, 83, in the same terms.
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Grass' controversial recent poem What Must Be Said, published in the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, severed any friendship that existed between himself and the Jewish state. Grass alleged that a nuclear-armed Israel "threatens the already fragile world peace" and railed against the inability of Germans to take Israel to task for fear of being labelled anti-Semitic. Nine stanzas of poetry sparked a global outcry.

It is self-evident that a former Waffen SS (Nazi military unit) member should exercise extreme caution when commenting upon the actions of the nation-state he unwittingly brought into existence. Still, the decision of Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai to declare Grass persona non grata scarcely requires condemnation. Censoring writers is the antithesis of liberal democracy, however repugnant their views may be.

Much of the debate over Grass' poem has centred on the equation of democratic Israel with the Iranian theocracy and his trivialisation of the existential threat posed by regime in Tehran (whose leader has threatened to "wipe" Israel from the map). Yet, perhaps the most repugnant element of Grass' poem was his Freudian suggestion that Israel was contemplating an attack in order to "annihilate the Iranian people".

At best, Grass is guilty of attention-seeking opportunism. At worst, his attack constitutes classical anti-Semitism in two respects.

First, it rehashes allegations of mendacious Jewish behaviour and conspiratorial, censorious control of governments and the media.

Second, Grass's casting of Israel as the likely next perpetrator of genocide implies that Jews are collectively possessed of evil intentions.

The Grass scandal is hardly some isolated phenomenon. Rather it points to a far deeper intellectual and moral malaise on the political left, although as British journalist Nick Cohen pointed out in a penetrating recent essay for Standpoint magazine, what has been described as the new anti-Semitism from the far left and militant Islamic groups was in fact "extraordinarily consistent" during the previous century.

Anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism has stolen a march in the early 21st century, albeit shorn of overt racism. Instead, the world's oldest hate manifests itself politically via the bizarre demand that Israel, alone among the world's nations, must cease to exist in favour of a bi-national Palestine. For academic Philip Mendes, such fundamentalist discourse demonises "all Israeli Jews and all Jewish supporters of Israel as the political enemy".

Most depressing of all for this committed two-state supporter is the thundering silence of the Western left. As Ari Shavit, a columnist for the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz, writes: Grass's poem "doesn't contain Goebbels-like propaganda" yet the "words said by Grass and the words not said against Grass prove that the gangrene of delegitimisation is gradually spreading and devouring us".

Australia, too, has not been immune to such developments. Witness the ugly Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions rallies staged outside the Israeli-owned chocolate shop Max Brenner throughout last year, where protesters literally chanted blood-libels ("There's blood in your hot chocolate"). Yet the response of leading left intellectuals, who ought to know better, was to uncritically defend the protesters.

Those protests were the handiwork of Students for Palestine, a front group of the far-left Socialist Alternative group, itself routinely accused of anti-Semitism. It was no coincidence that the same folks recently planned to protest outside the Adass Israel Synagogue on Sabbath. Amazingly, the demonstration was cancelled not out of any concern about anti-Semitism but because "anti-Zionist Jews" were allegedly among the congregants.

This is a new twist on an old far-left strategy whereby the views of a tiny minority of radical anti-Zionist Jews are ostentatiously paraded. Not only is Israel routinely libelled, but anti-Semitism is written off as a disingenuous tactic of Zionist polemicists. Thus, Michael Brull, writing on ABC online's The Drum, described self-confessed jihadist Mohammed Merah, who last month murdered four French Jews, as not anti-Semitic but a "secular" killer.

Israel is hardly a perfect nation but the interventions of Grass et al are passing strange. Over the past 15 months, an estimated 13,000 Syrians have perished as a result of President Bashar Al-Assad's brutal crackdown. This is roughly the same number of casualties produced by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since the onset of the 1948 war. Yet Grass's poetic stylings avoid altogether the continuing Syrian bloodbath. What must be said indeed.


Hockey blasts attitude of 'entitlement'

SHADOW treasurer Joe Hockey has condemned systems of "universal entitlement" in Western democracies, contrasting this attitude with the concept of "filial piety" thriving across Asia where people get what they work for and families look after their own.

Speaking in London, Mr Hockey said that by Western standards the highly constrained public safety net in Hong Kong and other Asian places might seem brutal "but it works and it is financially sustainable".

"Contrast this with what we find in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. All of them have enormous entitlement systems spanning education, health, income support, retirement benefits, unemployment benefits."

Government revenues fell far short of meeting the cost and the difference had to be made up by borrowing.

While he was less critical of Australia, saying that over the years there had been some key decisions to reduce spending, Mr Hockey said it still had "a lot of spending by government which many voters see as their entitlement".

Pressed on the ABC’s Lateline about whether the Coalition would look at the whole range of entitlements, Mr Hockey said: "Yes.’"

Australia needed to be "ever vigilant" and to compare itself with its neighbours. Australia had moved a long way but this "doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move further’".

In his speech, he said countries with a lower level of entitlement were free to allow business and individuals to be successful. "It reduces taxation, meaning individuals spend less of their time working for the state, and more of their time working for themselves and their family."

Both sides of the Western political spectrum were to blame for the entitlement mentality. "Perhaps the  real problem is the exuberant excesses of politicians."

But now, he said, "the age of unlimited and unfunded entitlement to government services and income support is over ... We are now in an era where leaders are much more wary about credit risk."


A strange affair

There seems to be a lot unsaid below

The ACT Government has agreed to return most of a $400,000 payment from Queensland Health that has sparked a misconduct inquiry in the sunshine state.

But the Territory will not return about $130,000 of the payment that has already been spent on projects related to the National Mental Health Plan.

This week, the Queensland Government revealed two senior health bureaucrats had been suspended on full pay while allegations were referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

It has been reported that the allegations related to an unauthorised $400,000 payment to the ACT Government.

The ACT Health Directorate said the money was accepted in good faith from Queensland Health for the national mental health secretariat, which is maintained by the ACT Government.

In response to questions from The Canberra Times, a Health Directorate spokesman said last night the ACT had agreed to return funds to Queensland that had not already been spent on mental health projects.

“The ACT Health Directorate set up a special purpose account to ensure all funds within the account were transparently accounted for, and to keep these funds separate from ACT Government funded activities,’’ the spokesman said.

“If a jurisdiction provides funding for national mental health activity and the projected activities for which the funds were allocated has not proceeded, the funds are regarded as still belonging to that jurisdiction and are dealt with as that jurisdiction requires.’’

The ACT hosts the secretariat for the National Mental Health Standing Committee, which is overseeing the implementation of the fourth National Mental Health Plan.

Money that had already been spent on the projects would not be refunded.

The spokesman said Queensland Health staff had contacted an ACT Health Directorate official earlier this year to discuss the funds.

 “The ACT Health Directorate official informed the Queensland Health officials that the funds were held in a special purpose account, the purpose for which they were provided and the status of that activity,’’ the spokesman said.

A review had been conducted into the actions of the ACT Government.

 “The ACT Government has undertaken an internal review to make sure ACT Government procedures have been followed,’’ the spokesman said.

The comments came after Queensland Health director-general Tony O'Connell revealed he had stood down “two senior Queensland Health officers” following allegations of official misconduct.

“I take these matters very seriously and have referred this issue to the Crime and Misconduct Commission for thorough investigation,” he said in the statement.

“The officers in question have been suspended on full pay pending the outcome of the investigations.”

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the two "very senior" officers worked in the Queensland Health corporate office.

The spokeswoman said the allegations were reported by a third party in a "public interest disclosure" but she was unaware of the person's identity.


It was the union that forced Toyota to take the actions that it did

WONDERING why Toyota had to go about their recent sackings by tapping unsuspecting victims on the shoulder before ejecting them from the workplace? It's because their workplace agreement leaves them little option.

The Altona Agreement, made with the union in 2011, provides for redundancy packages of up to 84 weeks' pay, plus unused leave entitlements, for workers who "propose themselves" to management for "voluntary redundancy". For the average long-serving employee this amount could be between $150,000 and $250,000.

Workers who don't put themselves forward voluntarily, remain in a pool of staff that can be forcibly made redundant. However, these people receive a larger "compulsory redundancy" package. The exact amount of this package is unable to be disclosed because the company, at the time of job cuts, is bound by its agreement to negotiate the amount with the union.

Clearly, employees are incentivised to wait, let the union negotiate a better redundancy deal and then see if they get made redundant by force. While most employees are not keen to be put out of work, it is fair to say that there would be some people hoping for that tap on the shoulder. After all, the beefed up package is probably almost two years' pay.

As for the presence of security guards, the Health and Safety legislation pretty much makes it impossible for the company not to take every precaution and mitigate every possible risk. Even AMWU state vehicle division secretary Paul Difelice told ABC radio "I don't know how people are going to take it when they're told they're no longer required".

An employee may be upset that they either did - or didn't - get a redundancy package. There is a risk that someone could say something awful, perhaps abuse another employee, or even resort to violence. All liability for bullying or assault claims through Work Cover lies with the company.

Staff who don't feel they were chosen fairly for redundancy can challenge the decision by putting in an unfair dismissal claim.

Should a Fair Work Commissioner agree with their claim, reinstatement or compensation of up to 6 months' pay will be payable to the employee, who is allowed to retain the original redundancy money on top of their dismissal compensation.

If the employee also believes the redundancy occurred as a result of some form of bias or discrimination, a third claim, called adverse action, can be made through the Federal Court. A win in this jurisdiction, which has a reverse onus of proof on the employer, has no cap on the amount of monetary compensation that can be awarded to employees. This means a Toyota staff member can triple dip on the system and receive - and retain - three separate lots of monetary compensation for the loss of their job.

Criticism is levelled at "the way" the job cuts were done by the company. But putting a person out of a job is a lot like breaking up with someone; possible to do nicely but impossible to do painlessly.

Toyota may have liked to deliver the bad news in a more sensitive fashion, but given the constraints of the agreement, the negotiations with the union and our workplace laws, was probably unable to.

If we look to the reasons why the Toyota job cuts have to be made in the first place, we should look past the company's official reasons. Toyota recently revealed that absenteeism was a terrible problem and was as high as 30 per cent, particularly around long weekends. On those numbers, with the squeeze of the high dollar and other pressures, is it surprising management has reached the conclusion that production can still proceed with a 10 per cent reduction in the workforce?

Examination of the Toyota workplace agreement reveals it is a generous and tolerant employer. The wages are very good, and employees have protections that are extremely charitable beyond community standards. Clearly the company believes in sharing the proceeds of profit with the staff. However, now the external environment is harsh and the agreement doesn't allow it to make changes internally to respond to these conditions.

Any cost-based change to employee entitlements that could be proposed by the company would have to be voted on by employees - probably at the direction of the union - and then passed by Fair Work Australia, who mostly disallow agreements unless workers are "better off overall".

When times are tough, and companies are locked in to legally binding agreements, it can be easier to put staff out of work than to ask everyone to take a freeze or cut in wages. Sometimes barriers we erect to protect us contribute to our demise. There is no doubt that employees made redundant from Toyota will experience grief and loss. As will the staff left who have to work without their mates alongside them.

But the only way to have true job security is to work well for a healthy and sustainable company. Income certainty for employees is delivered by a profitable balance sheet. While legislative protections are required, sometimes the legislative environment can become unbalanced.

When it becomes all too hard - and expensive - to keep people employed, companies have no option but to shed jobs.


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