Friday, July 05, 2013

Union push to pay young workers adult wages will kill off jobs, small businesses warn

JOB opportunities for thousands of young workers will dry up if unions are successful in a controversial claim to pay them adult wages.  Small businesses warned yesterday they would no longer employ and train teenage staff if they were forced to pay adult rates to workers as young as 18.

The jobs threat will hit young people in some of Sydney's most disadvantaged suburbs - such as Claymore and Airds - where youth unemployment is as high as 41 per cent.

Unions have launched a campaign including TV commercials to extend full adult pay rates to teenage workers.

The powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association has started a retail industry test case in the Fair Work Commission in a bid to increase the weekly pay packet of 20-year-old retail worker from $615 to $683.

If successful, the union has promised to move to extend the full adult rate to both 18 and 19-year-olds covered by the general retail award.

About 120,000 people employed in the retail sector may be affected.

Chief executive officer of the NSW Business Chamber Stephen Cartwright accused the union of making it harder for young people to get their first job: "There are parts of NSW and Australia that have more than 30 per cent youth unemployment and the union's solution to this challenge is to price more teenagers out of the job market.

"Youth wages exist for a good reason - to provide that first important point of entry into the workforce and the development of basic employment skills that will be carried through a person's career.

"The unions should be working with business to reduce the barriers to employing young Australians, not making it harder."

Small business sector unhappy with govt

The Australian Retailers Association said attempts to abolish junior pay rates would affect job opportunities for "thousands" of young workers.

"Retailers in service industries will ask why they should bother training young people," executive director Russell Zimmerman said.

"They will take on new staff members who are mature."

SDA national secretary Joe de Bruyn has warned that, if the wage case is won, unions will then seek a similar increase for young people covered by other awards such as in the fast food industry.


Refugee claims reopen as Labor admits mistakes

IMMIGRATION officials have begun assessing asylum-seekers' refugee claims for the first time since processing was suspended almost 12 months ago, a move that created a backlog of more than 22,000 cases.

As Kevin Rudd prepared to fly to Jakarta today for talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that will cover trade and asylum-seekers, Immigration Minister Tony Burke yesterday admitted Labor had been too slow to act on people-smuggling as it took hold in 2009, and distanced the government from Julia Gillard's Malaysia Solution.

In an interview with The Australian yesterday, Mr Burke said asylum-seeker processing resumed on Monday and he flagged changes to the no-advantage test, a cornerstone of Labor's policy that requires boat arrivals to wait for at least as long as those seeking refugee status through official UN channels.

The Prime Minister last night joined his new Immigration Minister in admitting his government got things wrong in 2009 when it failed to stop the burgeoning people-smuggling trade.

Mr Rudd said Labor's softening of the Howard-era policies a year earlier, which most agree spurred the revival of the smuggling trade, was consistent with an election promise Labor made in opposition.

But that promise had been offered at a time when the international refugee situation was more benign.

"If we've made a mistake, let me just say this, it was in perhaps not being quick enough to respond to the new change in external circumstances, with an outflow from Sri Lanka from a civil war in 2009-10," Mr Rudd told the ABC's 7.30.

Mr Burke was more blunt, saying Labor "didn't get the policy right" in 2009. "At that point, we needed to change our policy settings to match and anticipate the changed international situation and we didn't," he said. "And that is where I believe the error was made."

Mr Burke played down suggestions the Malaysian people swap agreement, which was negotiated during Ms Gillard's prime ministership, might play a role in Labor's future asylum policy.

"Malaysia, for when it was announced, would have worked for the problem that we had in front of us then," Mr Burke said.

"The problem that we have as a result of it being blocked by the Liberal Party teaming up with the Greens, we have a situation now where the problem is much worse."

Mr Burke warned the opposition was making the same mistake Labor had made in 2009 by assuming that policies of the past were suited to the problems of the present. "The suggestion from Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison that you can simply photocopy the 2001 policy setting and they'll work for the modern world is just plain wrong and absurd," he said.

The remarks by the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister are clear signs Labor is looking to fight back on the asylum-seeker issue, which has dragged down Labor's vote across the country, particularly in western Sydney, where Mr Burke holds his seat.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa last night made clear the Yudhoyono administration would not accept proposals for any Indonesia-focused "solution" to Australia's asylum-seekers problem at tomorrow's summit with Mr Rudd.

Mr Natalegawa underlined Jakarta's rejection of suggestions surfacing in Canberra this week that Mr Rudd might pursue options such as an Indonesian processing centre for asylum-seekers.

"Historically, various options have been put forward by Australia," he said after a briefing with President Yudhoyono on the agenda for the Bogor summit.

"There is the so-called Pacific Solution, Malaysia Solution, Timor Leste Solution and so on, but we are consistent that resolution of this problem cannot be carried by one country."

Indonesia would continue to press for an integrated approach to irregular immigration that engaged all countries: origin, transit and destination.

As part of Labor's renewed push on the issue, Mr Rudd yesterday wrote to Mr Abbott offering the Opposition Leader a series of high-level, confidential briefings with intelligence agencies on the subject of people-smuggling.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr has been leading the charge on behalf of the government, saying asylum-seeker boats are increasingly stocked with economic migrants rorting the refugee system.

Critics have said the government's claims are speculative as it cannot claim any real insight into who is arriving or why, as claims have not been processed.

Mr Burke said as Immigration Minister he was the ultimate decision-maker in refugee applications, meaning he was constrained in what he could say on the subject. But he had "absolutely no doubt" some were trying to game the system.

"The points that (Bob Carr) has raised match what's been said to me during briefings in terms of some of the key examples of people attempting to rort the system," Mr Burke said.

He flagged changes to the no-advantage test, saying he expected to offer a clearer definition of the principles behind it.

The test has been criticised as too vague, with critics pointing out that wait-times for Australian permanent residency visas vary from region to region, making its practical application difficult.


Australia's first Muslim frontbencher abused for taking oath on Koran

This is putting a religion of hate on the same plane as Christianity

The Prime Minister's new parliamentary secretary, Ed Husic, has been subjected to a torrent of abuse online for being sworn in to his position with a Koran.

Mr Husic became Australia's first Muslim frontbencher on Monday when he was appointed to Kevin Rudd's new-look ministry as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister and parliamentary secretary for broadband.

"This is a wonderful day for multiculturalism, and everything it stands for in our country," Governor-General Quentin Bryce told Mr Husic during the swearing-in ceremony in Canberra on Monday.

However, after receiving dozens of messages of congratulations on his Facebook page, the comments quickly turned to disgust and outrage that he had chosen to be sworn in on the Muslim holy book.

One user, Anna Dean, claimed his decision to be sworn in on the Koran undermined "our culture and country and constitution in this way".

Another user, Carrie Forrest, accused him of disregarding Australia's constitution and pushing for sharia.

Mr Husic played down the abuse on Tuesday afternoon by saying that people were entitled in a democracy to question his choice to be sworn in using a Koran and the public should not necessarily jump "because of harsh words out of dark corners".

"[People] may have questions and they may have concerns and people are right to raise that," he said. "But I also think you’ll have, from time to time, people of the extremes. There are people that are definitely extreme ... and they will always try to seek ways in which to divide people. The important thing is [that] mainstream Australia wants everyone to work together."

He said he had been "heartened" by the huge number of congratulatory messages.

Mr Husic has previously said that he is a moderate Muslim who does not involve himself heavily with most of the religious customs and behaviours of the faith.

Asked about his religion in 2010, he told the ABC: "If someone asks me, 'Are you Muslim?' I say yes. And then if someone says, 'Well do you pray and go to a mosque and do all the other things that are associated with the faith?' I say no.

"I often get told that I describe myself as non-practising when in actual fact I don't go round saying that. Like I just say 'I'm Muslim.' "

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said people should respect Mr Husic’s choice. "I respect his choice," he told reporters in Melbourne. "I think the Australian people should as well."

President of the Anti-Discrimination Board and chairman of the NSW Community Relations Commission Stepan Kerkyasharian said it was "a sad day for any society" when someone is abused because of their religion.

He said Mr Husic could act as a valuable bridge between the Muslim community and would put Australia at an advantage in the international community.

"It should be an interesting and positive milestone that someone of migrant heritage has come to Australia and has now, through our democratic process, reached a position of leadership," he said.

Mr Husic, 43, the son of Bosnian Muslim migrants, became the first Muslim to be elected to Parliament when he won his western Sydney seat of Chifley in the 2010 election with 51.58 per cent of votes, almost double that of his next competitor.

In 2010, he was sworn into Federal Parliament alongside members from several religions. Kooyong member Josh Frydenberg and Melbourne Ports member Michael Danby were sworn in on the Jewish bible.

Lawyer and community rights advocate Mariam Veiszadeh said there was too often an assumption that being a good Australian citizen and a good Muslim were "mutually exclusive concepts".

"You can be a devout Jew and a good Australian parliamentarian who serves your country just as equally as you can be a practising Muslim and a good Australian citizen and politician," she said.

"It is ignorant for people to conflate irrelevant issues and it stems from the Muslim bashing that has been going on in this country for a decade."


Coalition delivers blow to local government referendum's 'Yes' campaign

Bipartisan support for the local government referendum appears to have collapsed with Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne advising the Australia Local Government Association to call on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to "pull" the upcoming vote.

This came after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the referendum had been mishandled by the government, and encouraged voters to tick "No" if they had concerns about it.

Constitutional expert Professor George Williams has previously noted the referendum will only succeed if there is strong support from the Coalition.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday that Labor had ignored the advice of the committee that explored the issue, and had failed to properly consult state governments.  "This thing has been done badly and undemocratically," he said.

Mr Abbott said what while there was a case for recognition of local government in the constitution, he had "enormous reservations about the way the government has done this". "And I say to the Australian people, if you don't understand it, don't vote for it."

In Adelaide Mr Pyne - who is not the Coalition's spokesman on the matter - said the government had not laid the groundwork for the referendum to pass.

Mr Pyne said Labor had instead created the referendum as a "distraction" from its troubles.  "My advice to the Australian Local Government Association is they should ask the Prime Minister to pull the referendum because I believe it will be defeated under the current circumstances and if it is defeated a third time, no government will want to return to it again," he said.

Mr Pyne added that people were confused about what was happening in Canberra, "let alone being asked to pass a change on the constitution".

The Coalition's spokesman on local government, Barnaby Joyce, told Sky News shortly after Mr Pyne made his comments that it was for the Local Government Association to "determine where the best chances lie" for the referendum.

While Senator Joyce has agreed to campaign for a "Yes" vote, he said its chances of success were being "clouded by complete chaos".

The referendum will ask voters whether or not they agree to the financial recognition of local government in the constitution, amending section 96, which deals with financial assistance to the states.

This would guarantee the federal government's ability to directly fund local government projects such as the Roads to Recovery program, as well as services such as childcare, sporting fields, swimming pools and libraries.

In May, former prime minister Julia Gillard announced the referendum would held in conjuction with the federal election on September 14.

It could still be held with a September 14 poll, or later. But now that the election date is due to change, there are question marks over the referendum.

A Morgan Poll conducted over the weekend of June 21-23 showed 47 per cent support for the "yes" case. A referendum needs a majority of voters in Australia and a majority of electors in four states to pass.

On Tuesday, Local Government Minister Catherine King said the government's position had not changed and that Labor would continue to support the referendum.

"It appears that the opposition has not been honest with the Australian people and is now playing politics with local communities, jeopardising the financial certainty that they need for essential community services," Ms King said.

"Today’s comments from Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne fly in the face of their on-the-record support for a referendum in the Parliament only a few weeks ago".

Greens leader Christine Milne said it was "disgraceful" that Mr Abbott was destroying support for the referendum but called on the public to "rise above" it.

"The Australian public should rise above Tony’s Abbott’s wrecking ball and support the recognition of local government in our Constitution,” Senator Milne said, adding that the Greens would campaign for a "Yes" vote.

"It’s disgraceful that Tony Abbott is destroying support for the local government referendum but it was obvious in the Parliament that the Coalition was going to do this."

The Coalition has previously registered reservations about the referendum.

When the Senate voted on it last month, seven Coalition MPs crossed the floor to vote against the bill and about a dozen others abstained.

Last month, the government also revealed that the campaign against recognising local government in the constitution would receive one twentieth of the public funding allocated to the "Yes" case - a move that also angered some within the Coalition ranks.

The "No" case will receive $500,000 while the "Yes" case will get $10 million, which Anthony Albanese argued was allocated based on the level of support in the Parliament.

In May, the referendum bill passed the lower house, 134 votes to 2.

Australia does not have a strong history of supporting referendums. Similar attempts to recognise local government in 1974 and 1988 were not successful and only eight referendums out of 44 have been successful since 1906.

The Local Government Association has been contacted for comment.


No comments: