Friday, February 07, 2014

Dose of realism from leading unionist

What he proposes is basically Fascism but any hint of co-operation with the government is a good starting point

Tony Abbott must feel pretty lucky. He wins a leadership ballot at the end of 2009 in which he initially had no intention of even nominating, and just over a term later is Prime Minister.

Australia promptly wins the Ashes in a 5-0 clean sweep. Then, having ducked serious industrial relations reform for fear of sparking a difficult war with the unions post-WorkChoices, the nation's most powerful union leader offers to help him do just that.

The national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, Paul Howes, even goes as far as to validate employer complaints, admitting unions demonised WorkChoices for their own propaganda purposes and abused their workplace leverage to achieve unsustainable wages growth in some sectors.

It follows Howes' previous endorsement of the Abbott government's policy of applying criminal penalties to union officials found guilty of malfeasance. Howes' idea of an industrial relations ''grand compact'' remains vague, and has already attracted its share of sceptics, but it could be a political and economic game-changer.

It potentially offers the chance of fundamental reform in an area normally characterised by such entrenched adversarialism that progress is contentious and gains have tended to be temporary.

As he said in his National Press Club address on Wednesday, as a union official since 1998, he had worked under eight ''significantly different'' industrial relations laws.

This is what Howes calls the ''industrial relations see-saw'', in which the ascendant side imposes its will on the other until such time as the power relation shifts.

Clearly, the last election marked one of those shifts and Howes, who is as astute a reader of the political landscape as there is within the union movement, has read the situation. His solution revives memories of the prices-and-incomes accord achieved under Bob Hawke's Labor government in the 1980s. That is both its strength as an idea and its weakness.

The accord required unions to surrender their industrial power to demand above-the-odds wage rises, in exchange for moderate wage outcomes and improvements in the social wage in areas such as Medicare, employer superannuation, and so on.

It paved the way for growth after significant restructuring of the economy through such things as financial deregulation, dismantling of trade barriers and privatisation.

But it was a different time.

Like Howes, government and employers are also reading the mood. Their assessment is that Howes is proposing a return to the corporatism of the accord, where big unions, big employers and the government set the outcomes in order to deal unions back into the game.

And their response is to say this is not the workplace relations system in Australia any more.

Still, with Bill Shorten characterising everything the government is proposing as anti-worker union-bashing, the olive branch being extended by Shorten's successor at the AWU must feel like manna from heaven.


Conservative State government to mothball gas-fired power station

Amid Greenie heartburn

The low-emission, gas-fired Swanbank E power station west of Brisbane will close for three years because it has become more lucrative to sell the gas than to burn it and sell electricity.

The station’s owner, [Qld.] state government-owned Stanwell Power Corporation, will instead re-start the coal-fired Tarong power station to meet electricity demands.

It is cheaper to produce electricity from coal than from gas, however coal produces almost twice the greenhouse emissions of gas.

Stanwell says that will mean 25 jobs will go from Swanbank E, while the Electrical Trades Union’s Peter Simpson argues 33 of the 40 staff at Swanbank E will lose their jobs.

The jobs will not be recovered at Tarong, which lost 130 jobs when their two coal-fired units were closed down in late 2012.

Stanwell is the largest electricity generator in the state, providing 45 per cent of Queensland’s electricity.

Swanbank E near Ipswich - described as one of the most efficient and advanced gas-fired power stations in Austalia - will be closed for three years from October 1.

Staff will be offered voluntary redundancies or positions at one of Stanwell’s 10 power plants.

Swanbank E produces 385 megawatts of electricity from gas from Roma.

The plant produces 50 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than an average coal-fired plant and uses only one quarter of the water, its website says.

Instead, Stanwell will bring back the coal-fired units at Tarong over two years, which together produce 350 megawatts of electricity.

Stanwell will bring back Tarong’s unit 4 power plant ‘‘later in 2014’’ and its unit 2 power plant in mid-2015, Stanwell Corporation chief executive Richard Van Breda said.

‘‘The exact timing for the return to service of both units depends on market conditions and portfolio requirements, which Stanwell will continue to review,’’ Mr Van Breda said.

Queensland has a massive oversupply of electricity generation capacity.

At 4pm on Wednesday, the demand for electricity in Queensland was 3055 megawatts.

Queensland’s electricity generation capacity is around 14,000 megawatts, although it varies with weather conditions.

As one example, on the very hot January 4th 2014, the capacity was 8280 megawatts.

A Stanwell spokesman said their decision was all about revenue.

‘‘We can generate more revenue by selling the gas than we can if we were to take the gas and burn it for electricity generation,’’ the spokesman said.

Stanwell bought gas entitlements into the future from the major gas companies for Swanbank E power station for three years.

‘‘If we were to take that gas, then burn it for electricity - in the current market where we have a huge oversupply in Queensland at the moment - well we’d make more just selling the gas.’’

Stanwell, despite being a government-owned utility, operates under an independent board.

The Queensland Government is considering selling Stanwell after the next election.


Aunty's too big for her own good

THE ABC's bias wouldn't be so serious if the ABC wasn't this dangerously big - bigger than is legal for any other media organisation.

Attention Tony Jones, Fran Kelly, Paul Barry, Virginia Trioli, Phillip Adams, Robyn Williams and the ABC's other Leftist hosts.

Imagine if every single one of the main ABC current affairs shows were hosted not by the likes of you, as they now are.

Imagine them all hosted instead by me and fellow conservatives Janet Albrechtsen, Gerard Henderson, Tim Blair, Miranda Devine, Piers Akerman, Tom Switzer and Rowan Dean.

Imagine Four Corners no longer hosted by a former staffer of Gough Whitlam but of John Howard. Insiders no more hosted by a former staffer of Bob Hawke but of Tony Abbott.

Imagine the result: an ABC that no longer crusaded on boat people, same-sex marriage and global warming, but on free speech, climate scepticism and free markets.

Get it now? Realise how unfair it would be to have the taxpayer-funded ABC completely in the hands of one political caste?

See how dangerous, too, for this one political caste to control such a state-run behemoth, running multiple radio and TV networks in every city, as well as an online newspaper, all bought with $1.2 billion a year of taxpayers' money.

But all this week, the ABC's staff have been in denial, even about their own bias. Most ludicrous was Q & A Leftist host Tony Jones getting his carefully stacked panel - four fellow Leftists, two conservatives - to debate whether the ABC really was unbalanced.

But most telling were the excuses ABC hosts made for the ABC hyping claims by asylum seekers that the Navy deliberately tortured them by forcing their hands on hot engines. Only on Wednesday - days after all but one of the boat people retracted their claims - did ABC boss Mark Scott grudgingly admit its reporting should have been "more precise" - but even then ABC hosts insisted such lack of precision was just a mistake, not evidence of bias.

Indeed, Insiders host Barrie Cassidy earlier defended the ABC's reporting of the "torture" claims: "It's not for the ABC to be sceptical or make a judgment in this sense."

Really? If it's not the ABC's job to be sceptical even of wild claims against the boat policies of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, why was the ABC super-sceptical of factual claims against prime minister Julia Gillard?

The ABC refused to report even that police investigating the AWU scandal had raided Gillard's former law offices under a warrant naming her.

When listeners asked why, it sniffed: "Reporting that the prime minister of the nation is under police investigation is an enormously significant call to make. It cannot be made on supposition, on rumour, or on hearsay."

Likewise, the ABC ran dead on Climategate - leaked emails showing climate scientists colluded to massage data and silence sceptics of the ABC's global warming faith.

ABC host Jon Faine, a warmist, declared he "wouldn't spend time on it" on air because it was not "actually of any significance" and the scandal "suits the conspiracy theorists beautifully".

Being slow to report claims that don't suit you and fast to report ones that do is actually called bias, guys.

In a private media outlet - whether Fairfax or Murdoch papers - such bias is no crime. Their money; their free speech. But the ABC is different and not just because it is financed by all taxpayers under a charter obliging it to reflect our diversity.

IT is also different because it has grown so huge.

We actually have laws to stop commercial media companies from being as big as the ABC is now because we think such power in one set of hands is too dangerous.

Trouble is, those laws do not apply to the ABC. No commercial media company is allowed to control television licences that let them reach 75 per cent of Australians, but the ABC reaches 98 per cent.

No commercial company may control more than two radio stations in the same place, but the ABC controls five in all our big cities.

No commercial company may have a radio and a television station in the same place. The ABC does.

No commercial television station may also own a newspaper in the same area. The ABC does, having an online news site and the online The Drum, modern newspapers in the digital age.

So why is the ABC allowed a reach and influence we've agreed is too dangerous to allow anyone else?

Why, when it is so partisan, do we tolerate such an abuse of that massive power?


Joe Hockey gives government much-needed direction

Joe Hockey is supplying something the Abbott government has been lacking — a purpose.

In its first months the government had trouble graduating from opposition to a ruling footing. It campaigned for office on the promise to get rid of Labor; once there, it struggled to find any other purpose or agenda. Hockey is providing both.

The purpose is to impose the virtues of the Protestant ethic of work, thrift and self reliance. The irony is that it's being done by a Palestinian-Armenian Australian Catholic. "The age of entitlement is over," Hockey said on Monday. "The age of personal responsibility has begun."

He'd talked about the perniciousness of the age of entitlement while in opposition. It was interesting in a hypothetical kind of way. But Hockey is turning it into reality.

Already we see the Treasurer leading the government in resolute decisions. The end to Holden's taxpayer-funded death throes was an act of political bravery. The decision last week to deny SPC Ardmona a government handout showed this was not merely a matter of money. The fruit canner was asking for $25 million, less than previous governments have given to renovate footy fields in marginal electorates. This was a decision about a principle and precedent.

Hockey was unmoved that the firm, owned by Coca-Cola Amatil, was the dominant employer in a marginal electorate: "This is not the proper use of taxpayers' money," Hockey told ABC radio.

On Monday the Treasurer confronted the demands of farmers. Hockey rebuffed the public campaigning of his cabinet colleague, Barnaby Joyce, to give farmers help with restructuring their bank debts: "They should speak to the people that they owe the money to as a starting point."

Hockey has so far stood firm against major employers, their unions, agriculture and his own colleagues as guardian of the public purse and spokesman for private virtue. And he has prevailed. Of course, it's the traditional role for the treasurer to be the hard man. Some never manage to achieve it. Wayne Swan, for instance.

But Hockey can only succeed with the acquiescence of his Prime Minister. So far, Tony Abbott has been fully supportive. Hockey's big test, his first budget, lies ahead. His credentials will be defined by it. So will Abbott's government.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I think Howes is prepping the ground for his future Prime Ministerial aspirations. He's just rehashing old ideas, to try and sound statesmanlike. I've no doubt that he's got something in his closet, like Rudd and Gillard before him, that makes him manageable.