Monday, September 04, 2023

Labour hire laws delayed, small business exempt

Small business will be carved out of Labor’s “ same job, same pay” laws and the controversial reforms will be delayed by 12 months as the Albanese government seeks to mitigate employer opposition and win over Senate crossbench ­support for its industrial relations shake-up.

As Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke introduces the Closing Loopholes bill in federal parliament on Monday, the government has also offered an olive branch to mining companies by revealing a new test to prevent specialist contractors being inadvertently caught up in the laws.

Mr Burke said the small business sector would not only be ­exempt from the new labour hire laws but be granted concessions across other key elements of the bill, including wage theft, and casual conversion. It would also not have to provide paid time for union delegate training.

Mr Burke said new payment obligations under the labour hire changes would not take effect until November next year.

Citing Department of Employment and Workplace Relations data that showed only 67,000 workers would be affected, the minister insisted the changes would have a negligible economic impact.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus told The Australian the union movement was opposed to the small-business exemptions, and highlighted how the overall changes were modest and should have gone further.

Minerals Council chief executive Tania Constable said the ­labour-hire changes would be a “dagger to the heart of investment in this country”, resulting in higher costs across the economy.

The government wants to close a labour-hire loophole where an employer and employees have agreed in an enterprise agreement to a particular rate of pay for particular work, but then the employer brings in different workers through labour hire to undercut that rate of pay.

Employees, unions and hosts will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order that labour hire employees be paid at least the wages in a host’s enterprise agreement.

As revealed by The Australian in June, the commission will consider a range of factors including existing pay arrangements and whether the arrangement is for the provision of services rather than the supply of labour.

The commission must not make an order if it is not fair and reasonable in the circumstances, including where an arrangement relates to the provision of specialist or expert services.

It will need to be satisfied the host’s enterprise agreement would apply to the labour hire worker if they were directly employed.

A default three-month exemption period will apply to avoid having an impact on labour-hire arrangements for surge work and temporary replacements. “There will always be a place for labour hire when it comes to surge work, short-term arrangements and specialist staff,” Mr Burke said.

“This legislation does nothing to change that. These changes will affect a small number of workers but, for the workers this affects, closing this loophole will be life-changing.”

The government will continue to face a barrage of opposition from employer groups when it ­introduces the bill, which includes a maximum possible penalty of 10 years imprisonment for wage theft.

The bill proposes maximum fines of up to $7.8m – or three times the amount that was underpaid if that amount exceeds the maximum fine. This will be the first time the level of penalty can be proportionate to the extent of the underpayment.

Mr Burke said the government would allow four weeks of debate in the House of Representatives before the bill was sent to the Senate where it would be subject to an inquiry. It is unlikely to be passed until November or December.

As revealed by The Australian in July, the bill will enshrine rights for union delegates and enhance the ability of unions to enter workplaces without the required 24 hours’ notice where they believe there is a risk of workers being underpaid.

Mr Burke said union officials would not be able to get access to the pay records of non-union members.

“I’ve seen the fear campaign that we were going to change those rules; we’re not changing them at all, not at all,” Mr Burke said on the ABC’s Insiders.

“That section remains exactly as it already is.

“There’s also been a fear campaign about something about residential premises. There’s a ban on right of entry being used for home businesses and residential premises. That remains completely unchanged as well.”


Documentary on trans ‘regret’ stirs heated debate

Debate over a TV documentary advertised as being the “most controversial” of the year has raged online amid accusations its portrayal of trans rights issues is “misinformation”.

The 7 News Spotlight special De-Transitioning aired on Sunday night following days of heated debate over claims on the program children were being told to “change” genders.

Earlier advertisements, which stirred debate on social media, presented testimonials from children purporting to have undergone gender affirming surgeries only to later “regret” it.

While many commentators backed the documentary as being “brave” for its portrayal of a contentious issues, others said the program posed significant harm to young trans people.

“Awful contribution to the discourse,” Twitter user Catherine Michelle said. “Why not discuss boob job regret? It’s higher than transition regret. “It’s controversial because you amplify people with an agenda.”

Lawyer and former “captain’s pick” of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison Katherine Deves supported the program online. “Families and children misled, lied to and let down in the worst way,” Ms Deves said. “Since when was lying to children about their sex and selling irreversible medical interventions the right side of history?”

Former Australian Christian Lobby director and Family Frist party chairman Lyle Shelton claimed activists had pushed “gender fluidity”. “Hopefully this will finally cause our politicians to act against the indoctrination of children in schools,” he said. “And, against the (LBGTQ) child gender clinics.”

Gender affirming surgeries, according to the Australian government, range from breast and facial augmentation to voice modulation, and is available only to people 16 and over for “top” surgery and 18 and over for “bottom”.

Some surgeons will provide surgery to younger people in very specific situations, with potential patients needing to demonstrate in all cases the ability to make a fully informed decision and that any mental conditions are “well managed”.

A 2023 report by the Associated Press found that according to World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines, evidence of regret following gender transitions is “scant”, but said patients should be properly counselled.

The same report also quoted Dutch researchers as having found no evidence regret in transgender adults who had comprehensive psychological evaluations in childhood before undergone puberty blockers or hormone treatments.


More waste in chasing the Green dream

A new deal has been struck to keep the Victoria/Tasmania Marinus Link undersea power cable project – central to the "battery of the nation" dream – afloat.

In a joint announcement on Sunday, the federal and Tasmanian governments said they were "acting with a new deal to keep the critical Marinus Link project plugged in – driving economic growth and putting downwards pressure on prices across Tasmania and the national east coast grid".

The project, which was to deliver a connection via more than 300 kilometres of undersea and underground high voltage cable between Tasmania and Victoria's Latrobe Valley, was originally estimated to cost between $3.1 billion and $3.8 billion.

However, the financial burden of the project saw the Tasmanian government announce last month it wanted to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Today, in a joint statement the federal and Tasmanian governments said they had "worked closely to ensure the project continues" – with amendments made to the deal including:

The original vision of two cables downgraded to one, with "negotiations to continue on a second cable"

Tasmania's contribution towards construction drops by almost half, with the Commonwealth's share to increase and Victoria's to stay as originally negotiated

Tasmania to "have the option to sell its stake to the Commonwealth upon commissioning of the project"

Marinus Link is part of Tasmania's "battery of the nation" strategy and is also listed among the Australian Energy Market Operator's top five priority projects.

Tasmania has enough green hydro energy capacity to power the entire state and also has five wind farms, with several other wind projects under consideration.

However, some analysts have argued that as Victoria invested more in its own wind farms and battery storage, it made less business sense to fund an expensive multi-billion-dollar cable between the mainland and Tasmania.

Tasmania has long argued the largest benefits of the project go to the mainland and Tasmanians should not pay a disproportionate amount.

Today, both governments conceded Marinus Link was "competing in a global market with tight supply chains and is facing similar inflationary pressures to other major energy and infrastructure projects around the world".

Stage one of the project, the proponents say, would "deliver economic stimulus over $2 billion and over 2,400 jobs, with around 1,400 in Tasmania".

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said it was "a game-changing project for both Tasmania and the mainland and this updated agreement will not only deliver the benefits of Marinus Link, it will be cheaper to Tasmanians".

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff said it would mean "jobs, economic growth, energy security and lower power prices with Tasmania investing its fair share and no more".

The governments said they were "working towards a delivery time frame as close as possible to 2028, or earlier if possible".

In a statement, Marinus Link's chief executive Caroline Wykamp said today's announcement was "a signal of confidence for the project, which stood to deliver significant environmental, economic and social benefits".

"Marinus Link is more than an interconnector; it's an enabler," she said.

"This project will deliver more renewable generation development in Tasmania and the mainland, more energy security to both Tasmania and the mainland and more movement and access to lower-cost renewable energy sources, helping deliver lower energy costs in the long term."

Ex-Liberals question deal, condemn Father's Day timing
In a joint statement, Lara Alexander and John Tucker — former Liberals who quit the party in part over the Marinus deal — said the renegotiated deal "raises more questions than answers", saying the Tasmanians premier's "numbers simply do not stack up".

"The figures are not believable, the claim that Tasmania's maximum exposure would be $117 million dollars does not stack up with the federal minister's confirmation of that the cut down project will cost $3.3 billion dollars and the claim that Tasmania will be up for 17 per cent," the statement said.

"Today's announcement from the premier reveals nothing of the cost blowouts which the government has admitted would have sent the state broke if it pursued the deal it signed last October. It conveniently leaves out how much we have already spent on this project.

"It also does NOT address the impact of these massive energy projects on Tasmania's power bills with the exception of an unsubstantiated claim by the premier that it will deliver savings.


Students who are illiterate, innumerate, and scared: be disappointed, but not surprised

Why would anyone be surprised at the latest NAPLAN results? Yes, they are disappointing, but the amount of hand-wringing expressed through media demonstrates either naivety or ignorance.

Many of us have been explaining the reasons behind our struggling schools for a long time. This makes it all the more frustrating to hear the media’s tiresome excuses. Here are a few ways to translate common phrases thrown around in media reports as excuses for why so many of our students are not doing well, remembering that, as CS Lewis quipped, the best lie is the one closest to the truth:

We need to get back to basics: Of course, this is right, yes? It might be, if teachers knew what it meant. Many do not. Today I heard a commentator say, ‘Yes, we have to get back to basics with young students – they must learn how to learn.’ Learn how to learn? What incoherency… It reflects the ‘21st Century education’ philosophy that says if we know how to think, we do not have to learn sequential core content. But that is not true. We must have our students instructed in the underlying information upon which they can build. An expert is someone who knows more than others and then they have a basis for thinking critically. Too often our teachers are not taught this.

Our teachers are not trained enough: I remember visiting a school in the village hill districts of Costa Rica. They had their first year of graduating students leave the school, half of whom were from an economically poor village and yet obtained full scholarships to American colleges. Further, at least half their teachers had no tertiary teacher training. Who were they? They were American college graduates who came to live in that village and teach their college subject to these school students as an extended ‘gap year’. Why did this work? These young teachers demonstrated outstanding relational commitment to the students around them, and through that relationship, developed a fruitful teaching and learning environment. What would our teacher unions do with a program like this in Australia?

We must focus on anxiety crises: The environment is boiling, the colonials are oppressive, and we must develop our own identity based on our fleeting feelings… This sort of thinking has replaced any certainty about what individual character is about in our schools. Character used to be based on understanding that we, as humans, are made to live in certain ways. This gave us a common mind on which common sense was based. Now we have dysphoric minds that chase therapeutised illusions of reality. That is the relational context of the current Australian classroom.

Teachers must manage classrooms better: As one young teacher said to me, the best way to do this is to redirect students and use better words. Because character has disappeared, and identity personality tests have taken over, teachers are timid in implementing consequences for bad behaviour. Oh, and I just used two politically incorrect words – ‘consequences’ and ‘bad’. What might happen if teachers actually spoke of punishment for wilful misbehaviour?

Our teachers are not paid enough: the history of investment in education in Australia clearly demonstrates that spending more money the same way does not make a difference. As in all aspects of life, it is what we do with what we have that makes a difference. But like so many of our federal government ministers, bigger government is given as the answer to the problems created by big government.

Our teachers are not paid well because of independent schools: Last time I checked, the NSW independent schools saved the NSW government the same amount as the price of the NSW Police department. The pleas to close down the schools that parents are actually choosing over state schools is driven by the unspoken belief that the government should have more influence than the family.

Trust us to fix it: Again, nothing will change in schools while government policy does not support families as families. Why do we think the best way to live as a society is by the government paying people to care for us, cradle to the grave? I am old enough to remember when I could at least claim something for supporting the rest of my family, while we chose to have only one of us working for pay. Why is it assumed that a child is only ‘ready’ for school if he or she has gone to a pre-school? Why are families discouraged to look after those in need in the family by the push to have everyone in the paid workforce?

Reviewers like Kevin Donnelly have summarised all this by highlighting that we are not instructing our students enough on essential knowledge anymore, and we have ignored our Judeo-Christian heritage. Douglas Murray’s recent article spoke to the heart of our cultural malaise when he asked, ‘Are we pleased to be in this country compared to others, or not?’ The anthropologist might ask it this way: ‘Should all non-Indigenous Australians simply sail away so that the original locals can continue with their pre-medieval designer tribalism?’

It is good that we are disappointed by reports that reveal learning difficulties for our students. But acting surprised by this news is to deny the dynamics of the false reality being constructed by people who call themselves progressive, but are in fact are taking us to hugely regressive places.




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