Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

A fair go election
ACTU secretary Sally McManus is taking the fight to the Coalition

Image of Sally McManus


We may be 14 months out, we may be less, but the fight for the next federal election began in earnest today with an all-out battle cry from ACTU secretary Sally McManus to restore the fair go for Australian workers. Her call was answered by warnings from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that a Shorten-led government would be the most left-wing, militant union-dominated government seen in this country “for generations”.

There’s your election battleground: rising inequality, front and centre. In some ways it is a pity the quietly enraged union boss is not Labor leader, because McManus v Turnbull would be a rare fight to watch, and would better personify the “class war” that will dominate whenever the election is held. Turnbull has a rhetorical line of attack against Shorten – selling out workers in dud union deals while cosying up to billionaires – which he would have to forgo against McManus. Turnbull would be inclined to go for the jugular, but would fret over perceptions he was bullying, and could find himself caught betwixt and between.

A jarring live-cross for anyone watching McManus’s National Press Club speech on ABC News brought home the contrast between the two of them. After hearing from a deliberately unpolished McManus on how “the billionaire class is not going to limit its greed, it needs limits imposed”, we cut suddenly to a Turnbull press conference in Port Macquarie, where an immaculately dressed prime minister was mid-sentence: “… he’s going after multimillionaires”. Undoubtedly, those words would have been preceded by a misleading explanation of how Labor’s policy to abolish cash refunds for unused franking credits was not hitting the rich at all, as Shorten claimed, but the fact remains it is hard to hear Turnbull utter the words “multimillionaire” without thinking, like you! When a reporter asked about McManus’s speech, Turnbull let rip on how she “doesn’t believe in obeying the law”, even the industrial laws, i.e. the Fair Work Act, which were brought in by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

It is abundantly clear, and was underlined today by the workplace minister (and another multimillionaire), Craig Laundy, that the Turnbull government will give no quarter to the union movement push to change the industrial laws. Pre-empting the McManus speech, Laundy said the ACTU’s #ChangeTheRules campaign was “based on lies”. For example, both he and the PM argue, the rate of casualisation in the workforce has not changed in 20 years. McManus, in her speech today, accused the government of being out of touch. And, in comments pitched sidelong to the journalists in the room struggling in a disrupted media industry, pointed out that while the freelancer or those struggling for hours or underpaid in the gig economy may not be them right now, “in the back of your mind [you know] it could be”. McManus told the press club today that she had yet to meet with Laundy – apparently they have been trying to get together for some time – but that they should sit down in a fortnight. That will be a short meeting.

McManus’s speech was hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck inspiring: watch it in full. There were only two words missing: “and Labor”. As in:

Working people built the fair go. Australian unions won pay rises and jobs with rights, and the rules that made sure wealth was shared. This meant that each generation since World War Two had a higher standard of living than the one before it. But successive Coalition [“AND LABOR”] governments have tried to dismantle this idea and the society we built. And years of Coalition [“AND LABOR”] governments adopting the policies of unmitigated – oppressive – neoliberalism, pursuing failed trickle-down economics, have pushed us down a dangerous path – towards a different society – towards the heartache endured by the millions of working poor in the United States.

The truth is that the neoliberal, trickle-down philosophy – privatisation, deregulation, free trade, ever-lower taxes and the shift to enterprise bargaining – has been a matter of bipartisan agreement for more than 30 years, and union membership has fallen under both Labor and Liberal governments. Only in the wake of the financial crisis and post-Rudd – the union-wary, fiscally conservative Labor leader who many in the party suspected was “not one of us” – has that bipartisanship begun to fracture. Former editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, wrote after the 2016 election that it was the first to embody a genuine philosophical difference between the major parties, on the core issue of the economy, since Keating v Hewson in 1993. That philosophical difference was lost in the noise of what outwardly seemed to be an election about nothing, ABCC v Mediscare. With the ACTU campaigning full-strength from now until voting day, in the manner of the campaign against WorkChoices that helped tip the 2007 federal election to Labor, the philosophical difference will be in much sharper relief next time around.


since this morning

The Age reports that a damning Ombudsman’s investigation has found that 21 Labor MPs signed off on payments worth nearly $400,000 from taxpayers that went towards political campaigning to win the 2014 Victorian state election for the Andrews government.

Billionaire James Packer has quit the board of Crown Resorts, citing mental health issues, The Australian reports [$]. Aaron Patrick writes in The AFR [$] that “the most scrutinised, psychoanalysed, sucked-up to and criticised billionaire in Australia is staging the corporate equivalent of an intervention – on himself”.

in case you missed it

A 10-year-old refugee boy who has made repeated attempts to kill himself while held on Nauru has been ordered moved to Australia for acute psychological care. The judge said the boy would be at imminent risk of dying if left in the regional processing centre.

Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute has found only 26 per cent of domestic students entering undergraduate courses in 2016 were admitted on the basis of their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score [$], down from 31 per cent in 2014.

The Guardian reports that Labor would move to disallow new marine park management plans proposed by the Turnbull government, branding the change the “largest removal of marine area from conservation, ever, from any government in the world”.

The Australian offshoot of Cambridge Analytica deregistered its business name on Monday night, amid worldwide reporting of revelations the UK-based company had unauthorised access to millions of Facebook profiles harvested through users of an app and the friends of their users.

by Tim Flannery
Stories of extinction
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by Shannon Burns
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Craig Sherborne’s satire could be an ingenious portrait of deluded conceit

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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