Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Greedy unionists and an impractical judge have destroyed Toyota manufacturing in Australia

The "conditions" insisted on by the unions were absurd

Toyota’s decision to halt local vehicle manufacturing in 2017 is a bigger body blow than Holden’s decision late last year to do the same.

Holden had more iconic significance – Toyota even boasts in its TV commercials that it is hip to be square – but it is Toyota that is Australia’s big vehicle exporter, and the company considered to have the best chance of surviving.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane argued on Monday that Australia absorbs hundreds of thousands of redundancies every year, but as he also acknowledged, this is a huge moment for Australia.

It’s a test of the economic model that leaves Australia open to import competition and trusts that innovation will, in time, not only replace jobs that import competition destroys, but create ones of the same or better economic and social quality.

Three vehicle makers - Ford, Holden and Toyota – have announced that they intend to quit Australia in less than a year. Australia will have no vehicle manufacturing industry from 2017 onwards, a situation that is almost unique in the OECD, and there’s plenty of candidates in the blame game.

Two of the vehicle-makers, Holden and Toyota, have announced their decisions since the election of the Abbott government, which campaigned promising to cut assistance to the vehicle industry.

Toyota’s decision also comes after it failed last December in an attempt to alter its enterprise agreement with employees, with the Federal Court supporting a union-backed argument that it could not ask its factory workers to vote on the changes.

Middle East exports

Toyota was considered to be Australia’s most commercially viable vehicle maker because its vehicle exports to markets including the Middle East gave it additional manufacturing volumes and economies of scale that could not be extracted from the relatively small Australian domestic market.

Some also thought that as the last vehicle-maker standing it would be the focus of government support. It may well have also seen local sales rise after its competitors departed in 2017, as ‘‘buy Australian’’ demand switched over.

Toyota has decided to go anyway.

The high Australian dollar had hurt it in export markets, it said, adding that it was also hurt by relatively high manufacturing costs and low economies of scale.

It has however gone ahead with the pullout, even though at the current level of about US89.3c, the $A is about US21c or 19 per cent below its August 2011 high.

Toyota has also taken the decision even though it has launched an appeal against the Federal Court decision stopping it from putting workplace changes to its workers that could have cut its production costs by about 15 per cent.

Profound problems

The implication is that the problems Toyota and the rest of the industry face in this country are profound.

The Industry Commission estimates that about $30 billion of assistance flowed to the vehicle makers between 1997 and 2012.

However, production of vehicles here is only still about 1 per cent of the overall global production total. Toyota produced just over 100,000 vehicles a year and experts have told the Commission that a production run of at least 200,000 vehicles a year is needed to be globally competitive.

The Federal, Victorian and the South Australian governments at least have some time to prepare for the evaporation of the industry in 2017.

Long-term, government needs to create the right conditions for new businesses to emerge. That is one of the Abbott government’s mantras, and Toyota’s decision will give its push for labour law reform momentum.

Governments also have to shelter the economy from the shock of the closures, however, and the exit of Mitsubishi’s from car making in Adelaide that began in 2004 is that re-training programmes are crucial. Most Mitsubishi workers found new jobs quickly – but they were most often lower paying ones.


Culture wars flare as Brandis rewrites the rights agenda

ATTORNEY-General George Brandis is out to remake human rights by reshaping the human rights bureaucracy and by reminding us of the origins of the concept in the enlightenment and in classical liberal philosophy.

He is constructing a philosophical argument to justify his political plans.  They have two prongs.

Brandis is out to lash the Left, to claim the mantle of the defenders of human rights for the Liberal Party - his own small-l liberals in particular, not the conservatives whose calls for burka bans and the likes can smack of populist authoritarianism.

Last week Brandis told this newspaper the members of the Human Rights Commission due to retire this year may not be replaced, floating a consolidation of the current eight positions: the President, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Children's Commissioner, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and the latest commissioner, "Freedom Commissioner" Tim Wilson.

Then, he indicated that this could be dealt with by the Coalition's commission of audit of government.

Now, Brandis has gone further in fleshing out his plans, telling Inquirer he is developing a package of proposals to be released in the first half of the year.

He is coy about the detail of what they may contain - but firm and forward on the thinking behind them.

"When was the last time in this country that there's been so much constructive debate about human rights than since the announcement of Tim Wilson," Brandis tells Inquirer.

"As Tim Wilson said last week, human rights are the basis of classical liberalism and this government means to remind people that the human rights they enjoy are because of the values of classic liberalism, a political philosophy that has always been resisted by those on the left."

Brandis foreshadows that the debate will "evolve and expand", a clear hint that his package will be designed to carry public opinion.

What is driving the moves?

The government is smarting at this week's announcement by the commission's president, Gillian Triggs, that she will conduct an inquiry into the state of asylum-seeker children in detention. The last of these was held during the Howard years.

A clearly angry Brandis tells Inquirer that the Howard government had released children from detention and was "well on the way to solving the problem" of asylum-seekers now.

The number of children in detention in the Howard years peaked at 842 in September 2001. It reached a high of almost 2000 last July, two months before the federal election.

It is now estimated that there are about 1028 children in asylum detention in Australia and Nauru.

"The only government that didn't suffer a Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention is the government that created the problem," he says.

But the inquiry is only a mosquito bite. There are far deeper-reaching forces at work; forces that explain the mixture of politics and philosophy Brandis is putting forward.

If the government chooses to condense the commission, it can immediately point to events under the Rudd and Gillard governments.

The last full-time Human Rights Commissioner was appointed by the Howard government in 2005. After 2009, the position was occupied part-time by the then president, Catherine Branston, until the term ended.

When Wilson formally steps into the role in 10 days' time, the position will have sat vacant since August 2012, a total of nearly 20 months.

Brandis can argue that Labor neglected broad-based concepts of human rights in favour of identity politics - and this is the launching point for the philosophical attack on both the opposition and the commission and the philosophical justification for changes he aims to make.

In section 5.2 of the Human Rights Commission's December 2012 submission to the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee's inquiry into the draft of the Gillard government's controversial - and ultimately scrapped - Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, the commission stated: "The commission welcomes the continuation in the bill, consistent with the commission's recommendations, of the existing specialist commissioner positions. The commission does not oppose the removal of the Human Rights Commissioner position."

This is the clincher for the government and critics of the commission such as the Institute of Public Affairs.

They see this as proof the commission cares little for the rights of individuals but is a $25 million-plus a year taxpayer-funded tool for proponents of identity politics to advance left-leaning causes through allegations of discrimination.

Triggs tells Inquirer: "The commission did not oppose the removal of the human rights commissioner position simply because it had been performed by the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission - both by my predecessor, Catherine Branson QC, and myself. In relation to these two positions, the commission had in recent years adopted the view that there was congruence in the Australian Human Rights Commission president taking on the role of human rights commissioner.

"From a purely resourcing perspective, we had found that the president's role could effectively accommodate the functions of this position as well. Additionally, the same act of parliament, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986, provided for the creation of both positions, whereas, at the time, the creation of the other individual commissioner positions were each either provided for or relied upon by separate individual acts."

Triggs warns a consolidation of commissioners would stretch both time and resources. "It would mean that the commissioner who would now have to take on a second commissioner role would be stretched over two, or more, positions," she says. "In their current single-commissioner areas, commissioners work hard over often very long hours. To have to perform more than one commissioner role will necessarily mean they can achieve less in each area and risks one area becoming subsidiary to the other. We know these tensions exist because the commissioner positions have been consolidated in the past."

She says her staff are already acting at "absolute capacity", adding "while we will endeavour to do as much as we possibly can with the resources we are given, less funding means less resources, which means we simply will not be able to do as much work or address as many areas as we would like." Triggs continues: "Each year the number of complaints we receive continues to increase. We fear a reduction in funding would also adversely impact on our ability to deliver this service as well as we currently do."

Hugh de Krester, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, warns: "Any review must be genuinely focused on strengthening the commission and must be on the basis there will be no weakening of its mandate, independence and resources."

But a former commissioner, Sev Ozdowski, says there is room to consolidate positions.

He points out that he held the roles of both human rights commissioner and disability discrimination commissioner during his term at the commission last decade, while his colleague Pru Goward carried out the roles of both age and sex discrimination commissioner.

He also adds that the children's commissioner has little to do, saying most issues in that area are matters for the states.

"You don't need to have a huge number of commissioners," he says.

Ozdowski is concerned that anti-discrimination issues trump human rights matters at the commission and says he believes Brandis "really needs to put human rights on the national agenda".

"What is has happened over the years is all the equity issues and inquiries into anti-discrimination issues became the sole focus of the commission and civil liberties were totally neglected," he said.

"Partly it's a problem of the legislation. We don't have a bill of rights in Australia and if you look at the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it's only appended to the Commission Act, but there is no implementing legislation."

These are matters Senate deputy leader Brandis has thought long and hard about. The right moves could reshape the human rights bureaucracy and our concepts of human rights.

Success would be a huge victory in the culture war.

And the honours would go not just to the Liberal Party, but the conquering general himself: Brandis.


Unions' scams about to get hammered

Paul Sheehan

The hammer will come down on Monday. With each passing week, with every denial of every policy mandate, with every blocked vote by Labor and the Greens, the federal government has responded by simply widening the scope of what cannot be blocked: a royal commission into slush funds that Labor and the Greens have been acquiescent about for years.

Every week since the federal election, Labor or various unions have given the government another nail with which to hammer the old scams that have gone unchallenged, the ''training'' funds, the ''charities'', the industry funds, the protection payments, the hiring agreements, all designed to be off the union's balance sheets and beyond scrutiny.

It could have been so much simpler had Opposition Leader Bill Shorten not deployed scorched-earth tactics since becoming leader of the Labor Party.

What started out as a specific undertaking by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on November 29, 2012 - that, if in government, he would appoint a judicial inquiry into how the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association was used to buy a property at 1/85 Kerr Street, Fitzroy - has instead grown into a wide-ranging royal commission.

The only question the government wanted answered was how an AWU official came to own that Fitzroy property with no record of this in the AWU accounts.

Then came the politics of ''no''. No mandate. No compromise. No reform. No countenancing the compromise suggested last week by Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, the job Shorten held before going into Parliament.

Instead, Shorten has helped goad the government into a royal commission into improper financial transactions that can range across the entire union movement. As recently as last week, the terms of the proposed inquiry were narrower than what will be announced this week.

Having rejected legislation to re-establish the Australian building and construction commission, despite an outbreak of lawlessness since it was dismantled by the Labor government, and having rejected legislation to set up the registered organisations commission, designed to prevent the sort of abuse revealed by the Craig Thomson scandal, Shorten and the Labor Party and the unions can now deal instead with a formidable former high court judge, Dyson Heydon, QC.

Heydon will be empowered to investigate any transactions made off the books by any union, he will have the power to compel witnesses to testify and the power to recommend criminal prosecutions.

The object of the Heydon royal commission will be to examine ''irregular transactions'', which means it can cast a net wide enough to capture bribes, pilfering, secret election funds and protection rackets.

It is now implausible that there is not some systemic corruption within sections of the union movement given the antics of the Construction Forestry Mining and Engineering Union, the Health Services Union, the Transport Workers Union and, of course, the Australian Workers Union. Among others.

Shorten has said a royal commission will be a witch-hunt, a waste of money and that corruption should be investigated by the police. But, by his own actions, he has made this royal commission deeper and wider.

On Sunday, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Ged Kearney chimed in at a media conference: ''This is nothing but a witch-hunt designed to weaken unions, to stop unions standing up for decent wages so that Australians can maintain a decent standard of living.''

The problem is that some union officials have been looking for more than a decent standard of living by dubious means by way of their unions. Craig Thomson has been exposed. Michael Williamson has been disgraced. The CFMEU is in reputational meltdown.

Apart from more rorts within the CFMEU being exposed on Monday, and others exposed recently involving labour supply contracts at the Barangaroo site in Sydney, and a rolling series of similar controversies elsewhere, consider the Drug and Alcohol Foundation set up by the CFMEU's construction division. In 2012, The Financial Review reported that the board of the foundation resigned after about $1 million was diverted from the charity to the union.

Or consider the Industry 2020 fund set up by the AWU in 2008. Former prime minister Julia Gillard was a guest speaker at its inaugural fund-raiser at Flemington racecourse, which generated about $120,000 in profit. ASIC records show that Industry 2020 was a registered company under the sole directorship of an AWU official. The company is now under voluntary external administration.

Then there are the ''training'' funds, which have been especially problematic. One such fund was set up by the NSW branch of the TWU, with a board that did not meet, which published no accounts and engaged in activities that were confidential. Whistleblowers within the union have claimed it existed to siphon funds coerced from employers.

That is a conventional racket, but the TWU has used unconventional funding. Before the 2007 federal election, a company called Global Media was set up, with an office in the marginal seat of Lindsay. Its only known client was the TWU. It is believed it did not file a declaration with the Australian Electoral Commission even though it engaged in election-related spending.

The list goes on and on. It has been going on for years, as the 2001 Cole royal commission revealed. Another hammering commences soon, only this time its scope will be much greater.


Left ready to repeat its mistakes by marching to the same old drum

THE Left love a protest - at least when they are not in power - and they are getting their placards out of their toolsheds as we speak.

When the Labor-Greens alliance was in government, protests were frowned upon.

For all the fuss, the infamous "ditch the witch" and "convoy of no consequence" protests against the carbon tax in 2011 were, well, inconsequential.

Sure, they were howled down by politicians and the love media but, really, they were relatively small gatherings in peaceful, if angry, protest against the broken promise - they gained notoriety because of placards with nasty and sexist denunciations of Julia Gillard.

If you are looking for an ugly protest in modern politics, you can't go past the broken glass and blood in Parliament House's main foyer when rioting unionists and other protesters stormed the building in 1996, just six months after the election of the Howard government. The established order - 13 years of federal Labor government - had been turned on its head and the Left was voicing dissent.

Although delivered through the ballot box, the Coalition's landslide was seen as a travesty and the bitterness overflowed in violence.

About 60 police and protesters were injured, 50 were arrested and a handful of protesters were charged and convicted. John Howard was left standing in a ransacked gift shop, trudging over the high moral ground.

Planned for weeks by the ACTU, the "Cavalcade to Canberra" objected to industrial relations changes, but grew into a catch-all protest encompassing environmental, indigenous and welfare gripes.

Importantly, the union leadership disowned the violence (although union organisers were among those convicted). No doubt, the fact that the ACTU lost control of the situation damaged reputations and weakened its political standing.

In hindsight, the riot can be seen as a vengeful tilt at the windmill of reality; it was ugly and it presaged a decade where the hardest elements of the Left were never able to accept the legitimacy or success of the Coalition government.

Counter-intuitively, when you consider the barbarity of that event, the Left went on to argue that the government was brutish and adept at appealing to barbarians in our midst.

From paint bombs and car eggings to burned effigies and death threats, Howard absorbed much hate over almost a dozen years.

The bitterness and resentment was reflected in the colourful invective of political opponents and much of the commentariat, whose distaste for Howard tended to morph into disdain for the mainstream Australians who elected him. This was the physical and superficial side of a deeper problem.

The Left, generally, and Labor, specifically, saw the Coalition's ascendancy as an affront.

The electorate had either got it wrong or the people were a bunch of rednecks, all too easily manipulated by evil appeals to their darker angels - so-called dog whistles.

This imperceptive, patronising and delusional view was widespread and, of course, self-defeating. While it didn't do much for the nation - fuelling divisions and injecting unnecessary friction into the political process - it did most harm to the Left.

Because, instead of examining their principles and policy mix, Labor (and the Greens) busied themselves attacking Howard, entrenching their positions (especially on border protection) and, effectively, denigrating the voters who supported the strong border-protection regime, abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, budget cuts or whichever policies were in the frame.

That we must learn from defeat is one of those truisms that is almost too much of a cliche to mention. Yet as this political year unfolds it is one Labor and the broader Left need to consider before they repeat the mistakes of the Howard years.

Self-examination is not always easy, but as Henry Miller wrote, in an illuminating paradox, "the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest".

All the signs are there - from the so-called government change-deniers - that the crushing electoral defeat of the Labor-Greens alliance is being contested rather than accepted, resented rather than digested.

Bill Shorten, as I mentioned last week, has locked Labor on the wrong side of crucial arguments; the carbon tax, border protection and union corruption.

And whether it is the ABC over-egging allegations against the navy, premature calls that the Indonesian relationship is on the rocks or the rush to blame Joe Hockey's comments for Holden's departure, many in the media have been keen to see the Coalition fail on their terms.

Some Abbott government failings are already apparent - such as mistaken commitments to expensive and centralist national education and disability programs, and silly excursions into government-funded marriage guidance - but these are not the touchstone issues Labor and the Greens want to contest.

The policies they want to fail - border protection, Indonesian relations and indigenous affairs - are where Abbott is performing strongest.

Yet, undeterred, the protests are gathering steam.

A substantial online campaign is underway to promote a "March in March" movement that has all the hallmarks of the 1996 "Cavalcade on Canberra".

The big difference - understandable given what happened last time - is that the union movement is staying well clear of it.

With 27,000 "Likes" on Facebook, it promises to stage marches in all capitals as well as country towns.

Borrowed from US protests of the same name, "March in March" claims to be an informal collection of "non-partisan citizens", which is strange given they are united by a partisanship against Abbott.

A link from their page offers more details about their issues via the private blog of Sally McManus, NSW branch secretary of the Australian Services Union.

However, she told this column she "has no idea" why the group links to her and says neither she or her union have any involvement or knowledge of the campaign.

On Facebook, "March in March" promises "three days of peaceful assemblies, non-partisan citizens' marches and rallies at federal parliament and around Australia to protest against government decisions that are against the common good of our nation".

It kicks off on Saturday the 15th (the Ides of March and the day of the South Australian and Tasmanian state elections) and culminates with the Canberra protest on the Monday.

To most Australians it might seem a premature, if not bizarre, event given how little has changed - beyond the stopping of boats - since last September.

But apparently many Australians are "deeply concerned with the way our country is being governed".

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular is on that weekend; serious progressives might be better off taking a soothing flight over Capital Hill and contemplating their own policy prescriptions.


No comments: