Sunday, May 30, 2021

Ambulance Employees' Association (SA): "Ambos won't be silenced!"

 Written by: Nick G. on 31 May 2021

South Australian ambulance officers have had a “first round” win in their battle for safe staffing levels and increased funding from the state government.

South Australian ambulance officers have had a “first round” win in their battle for safe staffing levels and increased funding from the state government.

After months of campaigning during which ambulances were chalked with anti-government messages, and a joint stop-work, rally and march with the state’s firefighters, members of the Ambulance Employee’s Association (SA) voted by 91% to accept a government offer which would see an extra 74 paramedics trained and employed.
This follows record levels of ramping at regional and city hospitals.
State secretary of the AEA, Phil Palmer said yesterday that “the Union Executive does not for one minute discount the concerns of those who voted no”.

“Their concern is that 74 new ambos are nowhere near enough to resolve all the chronic shortages in every corner of SA Ambulance.” 
Palmer said union members at a general meeting last week had “unanimously demanded that the Government commit to continue hiring more ambos until safe levels have been reached”.
During the bargaining period, the government had demanded that ambos take their messages off the sides of the ambulances.  They refused.

Now the government is again demanding that they be removed.
“It is part of employees’ ordinary duties to clean and maintain SA Ambulance Service vehicles and stations,” said Ambulance Service CEO David Place in a written message today.
“Effective immediately, employees are directed to:
not chalk messages on, or otherwise deface, SA Ambulance Service vehicles and stations;
remove chalk messages and graffiti from SA Ambulance Service stations as a matter of priority; and
remove chalk messages and graffiti from SA Ambulance Service vehicles before they are driven.”
Palmer dismissed the directive as an attempt to silence his members and said union members would continue to chalk ambulances to “highlight the failings of this Government”.
Indeed, defiance in the face of reactionary authority is a good thing, and South Australians will continue to stand by the AEA’s members.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Barngarla people request help to fight Kimba nuclear waste dump


Written by: Nick G. on 29 May 2021

The Barngarla People are the Traditional Custodians over much of the Eyre Peninsula, including the proposed site for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) at Kimba in South Australia.

We have previously pointed out how, despite being Native Title Holders, they were denied the right to vote in the official ballot on the proposal for the dump, used to test community support.  

The Government is now trying to remove their rights to judicial review and remove independent scrutiny from this matter. Schedule 1 of the proposed National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment Bill 2020 would prevent judicial review of any Ministerial decision to locate the NRWMF on their traditional land. 

The SA government has also tried to frustrate the opposition by keeping documents and information on the Kimba dump from the public. Senator Rex Patrick made a Freedom of Information application last August asking for access to correspondence between the SA and Federal Government relating to the establishment of the dump.  He received four documents with significant redaction on one of them. When he challenged the redaction, the SA Energy and Mining Minister threatened him with legal costs. But on May 18 a Supreme Court Justice overturned the decision rejecting the Minister’s arguments and found that the document he wished to keep secret was not exempt under FOI.

Although the Kimba community is divided over the issue, the Barngarla are part of an opposition to the dump that includes Kimba residents and local farmers. The farming community have their own organisation, “No Radioactive Waste on Agricultural Land in Kimba or SA”, which had its AGM at the Kimba Golf Club on March 13.

One of the reasons for division amongst Kimba residents has been the amount of federal money spread around the community as an inducement in the form of paved footpaths, cement gutters and improvements to community facilities like the swimming pool and playgrounds.  More than $4 million was made available as part of the consultation process.  To try and shore up its supporters, the government has made another $2 million available through its recent Budget.

That, and delays in getting the Kimba bill through the Senate, suggest to some activists that the government wants to delay the Senate vote until after the next federal election in the hope that it may then have the numbers.  In any case, after repeated delays the next sitting of the Senate is Tuesday June 16, and at this stage the Coalition does not have the numbers to get it through.

The Barngarla People have released an appeal for funding, saying that they “do not support the building of an NRWMF at Kimba and deserve to have our voice heard by the Federal Government.

Help Us Protect Country:

We need your support to continue fighting to protect this land and the local community. 

Donations will contribute towards lobbying for appropriate legislation, advocating, and any future challenge against a government decision to establish an NRWMF at Kimba.

Donations can be made to ‘Barngarla: Help Us Have a Say Pty Ltd’ via this link:

Militarising Space: the strengthening of a regional hub for US-led operations

 Written by: (Contributed) on 28 May 2021

Canberra has begun moves to upgrade existing military communications systems with the JP 9102 Australian Defence Satellite Communications System (ADSCS) in preparation for escalating diplomatic hostilities with China and the future likelihood of real-war scenarios.

While part of larger US-led regional facilities, the planned JP 9102 ADSCS system is primarily Australia-based; revealing the significance of Australia as a strategic hub for 'US interests' and their military and security provision across the wider Indo-Pacific region.

The JP 9102 ADSCS is intended fully operational by 2027-28, at approximately the same time China replaces the US as the largest economy in the world, creating further US-led diplomatic tensions.

In late May the Australian Defence Department officially announced moves to upgrade military communications facilities with the introduction of the JP 9102 ADSCS system. (1)

Tenders for the massive $7 billion electronic system were issued two years ago, with the intention of out-sourcing the program into the Australian military-industrial complex. (2)

The JP 9102 ADSCS system is intended to provide the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) with a secure, sovereign satellite system 'capable of providing command and control communications over a wide area of the earth's surface, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and encompassing South-east Asia'. (3) It was, furthermore, noted that the system was a 'critical enabler for the future operational capacity of defence', leaving little to ambiguity, with a 'focus on supporting operations within the Indo-Pacific region'. (4)

The announcement was carefully timed to follow what was referred to as a 'bilateral force posture review working group' meeting earlier the same month; agenda items included discussion about 'a wide range of contingencies'. (5) A US official diplomatic statement issued following the meeting revealed the Pentagon were considering 'pre-positioning US weapons in Australia … which … offered strategic advantages'. (6)

The JP 9102 ADSCS would appear part of the same package.

What is particularly significant about the new JP 9102 ADSCS system is that it is intended to initially supplement existing systems and then replace them when fully operational although no specific details of the transition have been made available. (7)
Existing military communications facilities in Australia have tended to reside under larger, more comprehensive US-led facilities such as those at Pine Gap, where the arc has a radius stretching from hubs on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Guam in Micronesia. Both hubs, in recent years, have also been upgraded for military operations.

There is every reason to conclude the JP 9102 ADSCS, when fully operational, will continue to operate in such a manner, under US-led tutelage and existing military command structures.

Information available about the JP 9102 ADSCS system has revealed proto-type work to support the ADF existing UHF SATCOM ground facilities operating from both Perth and Canberra. (8) References to the ADF's 'nation-wide' satellite facilities are supported by the arc from both cities swinging through most military facilities in the northern part of Australia, already used for US-led military exercises and planned forward actions into the wider Indo-Pacific region. (9)

The JP 9201 ADSCS system would appear to be part of US-led regional foreign policy to strengthen Australia as a strategic regional hub with upgraded defence and security facilities.

A recent diplomatic statement from acting US ambassador Mike Goldman, likewise, would support the view the Pentagon has every intention of developing Australia as a more important hub for 'US interests' as counterparts in Guam were regarded as within range of China's missiles. (10) Military bases in the northern parts of Australia, are clearly being developed for specific use as logistics facilities and operational hubs for US-led military planning.

The planning has already included moves to upgrade existing facilities at RAAF Base Tindal with the creation of underground bunkers for weapons magazines and munitions conveyor systems together with extension of the landing strips to 3.3 kms for potential use with US B-52 bomber planes together with numerous other examples. (11)

References, furthermore, to joint US-Australia-PNG planning for an upgrade to the Lombrum base on Manus Island, reveal even more about the US-led military planning strategy. The arc from Perth and Canberra to military bases in northern Australia also swings from the bases to Lombrum, revealing transmission and reception range, leaving little doubt the proposed upgrade will place PNG in the front-line of military activities by Australia.

With China slowly edging toward becoming the biggest economy in the world and its diplomacy having considerable influence in the Indo-Pacific, Australia is being drawn ever closer to potential real-war scenarios on behalf of the US as diplomatic tensions continue to escalate.

It has already been noted by one former senior ADF figure now based in Canberra, that 'the prospect of a major war in the Indo-Pacific, is a terrifying but realistic possibility'. (12)

These developments place Australian people in a dangerous position:

                                         We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Blacktree's roots are in deep space, WA Defence, The Weekend Australian, 22-23 May 2021.
2.     Australian Tenders,  Australian Federal Government, Department of Defence, 18 April 2019; and, ibid.
3.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 22-23 May 2021.
4.     Defence starts JP 9102, EX 2., 17 July 2020.
5.     US eyes Top End military build-up to combat China threat,  Australian, 26 May 2021.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Defence starts JP 9102, op.cit., 17 July 2020.
8.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 22-23 May 2021.
9.     Ibid.
10.   US eyes Top End military build-up to combat China threat, op.cit., 26 May 2021.
11.   Ibid.
12.   National Security at risk without unity on threat preparation, Australian, 22 February 2021.

In-efficiency dividends: The anti-culture wars

 Written by: Humphrey McQueen on 28 May 2021

Libraries, galleries and museums have been subjected to two per cent budget cuts every year since 1987. One-off belt-tightening might direct staff towards core objectives. Year-upon-year cuts take us to the frog in the pot of water on a stove. Long before the water boils, the frog dies. 

That fate has befallen cultural institutions. Yet their doors remain open. Books are still read. Paintings and relics are viewed every day. 
Some of the means adopted to do so are adding to the impact of death by 1,000 cuts. Quality is sacrificed to quantity. 
A second affront is that institutions intended for the general public are sold out to corporates.
The havoc began in the heyday of Hawke-Keating irrationalism when the Department of Finance calculated that the National Gallery in Canberra should not hold prints and drawings because it could not display them all the time since they faded.
William Baumol, a winner of the fake 2003 Nobel Prize in self-styled Economic Science, explains why it is much harder to quantify productivity in the service sector than on a production line. Some requests for information take a couple of minutes to answer. Others might need a couple of hours – even days. Because the managers cannot standardize all the services, they shut them down. 
Two kinds of cuts depress the quality of service at the National Library of Australia. First, there is the loss of specialist staff in Rare Books, Pictorial and Manuscripts. Last year, the Asian Studies Reading Room closed which means that requests are no longer handled by staff who are linguistically and culturally competent in non-English holdings. 
Secondly, and despite the hoo-ha about STEM subjects, the NLA has cancelled its physical and on-line subscriptions to Nature and to all its derivative publications. 
(A freelance Communist in Russia has created a site to break through the pay-walls )
Closed to the public
‘National’ in the National Gallery of Victoria is not another piece of that State’s chauvinism. When its Gallery was founded in 1861, ‘National’ meant for the public, as distinct from private collections. Now the tax-funded institutions are being turned into bemusement centres for the big end of town. 
The State Library of Victoria closes for a few days during Fashion Week so that photographers can take shots on the marble staircase. Its managers rent out other parts of the building for weddings and wakes. How long before the Library applies for the Crown licence?
The Trustees 
Arts Patron and co-founder of Transfield Franco Belgiorno-Nettis confesses in his corporation’s official history that he and his ilk cover up their criminality and strong-arm tactics with ‘a veneer of civilisation.’ 
Ian Potter has his brand all over the visual arts in Melbourne. Potter should have gone to gaol for his stock-market manipulations during the collapse of the Cox Bros chain of stores in 1960-61, when he helped to swindle investors out of nearly $16m.  In place of stiff sentence, Potter got a knighthood.
Dick Pratt is another crook who used philanthropy to cover up his stealing from every Australian by the cartel pricing of cardboard products.
Elizabeth Murdoch could underwrite a concert venue because, although Rupert might be a swine, he is not such a shit that he would let his mother pay tax.
Kerry Stokes bought himself the Chair of the War Memorial with tax-deductible gifts paid for out of the profits he extracts from his wage-slaves.
He did the same to get his son in as head of the National Library Council in the vain hope that proximity to books might teach him to read. 
The recently retired Chair of the State Library of Victoria, John Wylie, earned his spot by donating and showing that he could attract other donors. Once installed, he took over the functions of a managing director. On his watch, we lost the Victoria Gallery, Manuscripts, Rare Books and Pictorial Rooms. The Library Board installed a money-making loss exhibition about Les Miserables. Mrs. Wylie was the French Consul.
The extensions to the Art Gallery of New South Wales that will flow down towards the harbour are not to exhibit more art painting but for spaces to rent out for corporate entertainment. In Culture Heist art versus money (2017), the long-term executive for Friends of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Judith White, captures the modus operandi for these takeovers across the country. 
At the ‘Public’ Library of NSW the forces of darkness suffered a partial check to their scheme to stick a restaurant on top of the Mitchell Library Reading Room. That ambition has been reduced to a roof-top bar for 120 people open till midnight. The Library’s management promotes this vandalism to ‘increase visitations to the library, stimulate the local economy and to maximise the potential of this unique, picturesque location.’ Note the management-speak of ‘visitations’ - not even visitors, let alone readers.
At the Library of South Australia, the Mortlock collection is no longer the pulsing mind of South Australian studies. Instead, the Mortlock Chamber shows how ‘books do decorate a banquet room’ with space to seat 200 for product launches. That barbarism resulted from the Library Board’s engagement of a ‘change agent.’  Gawdelpus!
A rank-and-file union- campaign saved the Fryer Library at University of Queensland. Staff fight to preserve the quality of service by keeping provisions for reference librarians and curators in their EBAs. The pressure is having an effect. The in-efficiency dividend is being reduced by a quarter. The rest has to go and thirty-four years of cutting repaid.
On the other side, management is anxious to shed specialists because they cost more than teenagers in t-shirts whose expertise is confined to pointing hopeful researchers towards computer terminals. 
What they forget 
The Australian War Memorial needs $500m. to display future wars. It’s long past the time to use its bloated funding to tell the truth about previous war crimes, starting from those against first peoples here and against our ‘Anzac mates,’ the Maori. It’s also high time to install a replica of one of the British concentration camps in which more than 30,000 women and children were murdered during the Boer War.
The SAS is not subject to efficiency dividends, or even to the loss of its unit citation. What could be the reason for that?


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Kick IAI out of Australia!

 Written by: Nick G. on 27 May 2021

Less than a week after Israel was forced to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas following its vicious attacks on the people of the Gaza Strip, a leading Israeli military company has announced that it will open an office in Australia, and promote its wares at a weapons fair that is only a week away.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)

Provides surveillance technology for Israel's illegal wall that cuts deep into the occupied West Bank territory, expanding Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and resources.
Produces the armor for the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, largely used to demolish Palestinian homes and farms.
Produces technology for fighter jets and the Heron TP, Israel's biggest drone that includes strike capacity and was used repeatedly in the attacks on Gaza.
It is is Israel’s major aerospace and defense manufacturer.
According to an announcement released today on the Australia-Pacific Defence Reporter website, “IAI looks forward to participating in the Land Forces Exhibition 2021 (June 1-3, Queensland, Australia). During the Land Forces exhibition, IAI will present a variety of land solutions such as end-to-end and cutting-edge sensors for force protection. Furthermore, IAI will present awareness solutions including information gathering reconnaissance, surveillance, communication as well as a selection of loitering munitions capabilities.” 
A loitering munition (also known as a suicide drone or kamikaze drone) is a weapon system category in which the munition “loiters” around the target area for some time, searches for targets, and attacks once a target is located. The image above is of IAI’s Harop loitering munition.
AIA already has a partnership with Australian-based company BIS (formerly Brambles and now privately-owned by US private equity companies Carlyle and Varde) to produce equipment and systems for autonomous mining operations (that is, operations that don’t require workers). 
There is little time to organise against IAI or the arms fair, but Australian friends of Palestine must find ways to oppose IAI’s presence in Australia, and any cooperation between it and the Australian military. 


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Foreign Investment continues to pour into Australia


Written by: Duncan B. on 20 May 2021

Australia continues to be a popular destination for foreign investment thanks to its stable economy, low interest rates and handling of the pandemic.

The MinterEllison 2021 Foreign Bank Tracker reveals that in 2020 North American banks grew their investment in Australian assets by 26%, Asian banks by 12% and European banks by 7%.

Meanwhile, PSP Investments, the Canadian-based pension fund which is already the biggest investor in Australian land and water assets, has just spent over half a billion dollars for one of the country’s biggest farming portfolios. 

Australian Food and Fibre, a joint venture between PSP investments and the Robinson family of northern NSW, has acquired 100% of NSW cotton grower Auscott from its American owners. The deal includes 22,000 ha of developed irrigation land and more than 143,000 megalitres of water entitlements, five ginning plants capable of producing more than one million bales of cotton per year plus warehouses and a laboratory.

PSP Investments has over $180 billion worth of investments under its management. PSP recently told an Australian rural newspaper that it expects to double its investments in Australian agriculture over the next decade.

Statements such as this make the need for Australian Independence even more urgent! 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Australian-based Chinese company encounters opposition in PNG

 Written by: Nick G. on 21 May 2021

More than 40 clans along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea have joined forces to oppose an Australian-based company and its plans to open one of the world’s largest copper, silver and gold mines.

It is the latest development in an on-going dispute which has been raging for over a decade.

The company, headquartered in Brisbane, is PanAust.  In addition to its interests in PNG, it owns a 90 per cent interest in the Lao-registered company, Phu Bia Mining Limited (Phu Bia Mining, PBM). The Government of Laos owns the remaining 10 per cent.

It also owns a 90 per cent interest in Myanmar’s Wuntho Resources Company Limited (WRCL) and has established a joint venture with Myanmar Energy Resources Group International Company Limited, a Myanmar-based company which holds the remaining 10 per cent of WRCL.

In South America, it holds a 66 per cent interest in the Inca de Oro Copper-Gold Project through a Chilean incorporated joint venture, Inca de Oro S.A. (with Codelco). The Company also as a 100 per cent interest in the nearby Carmen copper-gold deposit.

Not bad, perhaps for a small Australian-based company. But who owns it, and what is it up to in PNG? 

Aussie-based, Chinese-owned

PanAust began its life as a small Australian-owned mining company.  It was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and its largest shareholders were originally nominee companies of some of the world’s largest banks. They included JP Morgan, HSBC, National and Citicorp. 

But then the Chinese started buying in. In 2011, the Guangdong Rising H.K. (Holding) Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Guangdong Rising Asset Management (GRAM) had 23.38% of the shares, becoming the largest shareholder. 

In 2015, GRAM offered $1.1 billion to buy out the remaining shareholders.  The Directors opposed the sale, but agreed when the Chinese raised stakes to $1.2 billion. Having become a wholly-owned private Chinese company, it was delisted from the ASX and there were no further trades in its shares.

Chinese-owned, Chinese-run

With its takeover completed, the new Chinese owners sacked the old Board of Directors and six of the seven are now Chinese. The two most influential are Dr Yang Qun, Executive Chairperson, and Mr Zheng Daling, Director and Chief Financial Officer. 

Since 2011, Dr Yang Qun has held the roles of Deputy General Manager and General Manager with Shenzhen Lingnan Nonfemet Company Limited (Nonfemet) overseeing corporate culture and human resources for the Company and its subsidiaries (including overseas entities). He has been active in dismantling socialist ownership, having been involved in mergers and acquisition processes for state-owned enterprises and state-owned listed companies in China.

Dr Yang is also a Non-Executive Director of Perilya Ltd, another Australian-based and formerly Australian-owned mining company. Perilya Limited is a foreign-owned public unlisted company, deriving revenue from the mining and exploration of base and precious metals. The company operates in Australia, Malaysia, Americas, Ireland, South Africa and Mauritius, and is administered from its head office in Perth. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dr Yang’s Shenzhen Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet Co Ltd.

Prior to joining PanAust, Mr Zheng Daling worked at Dr Yang’s Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet Co Ltd where he was involved in mergers, acquisitions, and the asset management of international mines. He also worked at the China Ping An Group where he was responsible for the acquisition of global-listed companies and commercial banks, and has also been responsible for corporate banking at the China Minsheng Bank.

Does a socialist society produce such avaricious finance capitalists? No, but then China is no longer socialist.

What is the story in PNG?

The scale of the proposed mine is enormous. If approved and built, it would be the largest in PNG’s history, and one of the largest in the world, covering 16,000 hectares. It is situated on the Frieda river, a tributary of the Sepik in the north of PNG, and is forecast to yield gold, silver and copper worth an estimated US$1.5bn a year for more than 30 years.

However, clans downstream of the Frieda, and particularly along the Sepik are concerned by forecasts of environmental damage and health risks, particularly given the propensity of tailings dams to leak with disastrous consequences. And the location of the proposed dam is a seismically active area, adding to fears about the dam being damaged by earthquake.

Determined to try and win a “social license” (community approval) for the mine’s go-ahead, PanAust has engaged in consultation with some local communities and has show-cased a so-called Frieda River Project Accord with leaders from seven nearby villages. However, this was compromised by reports of official (mainly police) intimidation of anti-mine activists, and by reports that some human rights defenders in the region had received death threats and been shot at by “unidentified individuals”.

Then there was a conflict with employees over unresolved pay disputes that led to a work stoppage or ‘sit down’. According to the company, “a small group of employees acted outside of the agreed Company grievance protocols and demanded PanAust address their concerns. The actions of these employees endangered other site colleagues, placed the Company’s property at risk, and forced the evacuation of the Project site. These interruptions also forced the suspension of all site activities, including community programs.”

Australians should be concerned that a company based in Australia, but owned by China, is out to exploit PNG’s resources.

We will soon publish a report on a similar pattern involving Australian and Australian-based mining companies operating in Africa.


Morrison – don’t cook us with gas!

 Written by: Nick G. on 20 May 2021

The federal government has been widely condemned for its decision to fund a $600 million new gas-fired power station in Kurri Kurri in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

The decision is bound to boost the number of school students planning to take to the streets on Friday for another Strike4Climate series of rallies.

Even many of the government’s own supporters are bemused by the decision, saying that it goes against the conservative philosophy of leaving such investments to the private sector, and not throwing government money at projects that cannot win private sector funds.

The Renew Energy website hit the nail on the head: “What’s clear now is that what was once marketed as a ‘free market’ ideology was mostly rhetorical cover for extremely mundane and ideologically devoid crony capitalism. The goal isn’t to avoid market interventions; it’s to erase any market interventions that don’t explicitly enrich the fossil fuel industry.”

The decision is not just bad in itself; it totally ignores the authoritative International Energy Agency view that no more fossil fuel projects should be approved.

Morrison touts it as a transition measure from coal, with its damaging CO2 emissions, but a transition means moving away from something, not prolonging the problem with yet another fossil fuel.

He has simply revealed himself and his government as the paid hirelings of the fossil fuel corporations that regularly top up the Coalition’s donations piggy-bank.

It has angered companies in the renewable resource sector who do not enjoy the support of this government. Shaun Scallan, head of products of Capricorn Power, said; “This proposal flies in the face of all logic, science, engineering, economics and community interests. It is an appalling misuse of taxpayer funds and stands as an example of naked corruption of politicians serving the vested interests of big business, yet again. This is an act of environmental, social and economic vandalism.”

Marija Petkovic, managing director of Energy Synapse, said: “It is bewildering that the federal government would choose to fund a very mature fossil fuel technology, like gas-fired generation, especially at a time when we should be working towards deep decarbonisation of the grid. The ill-thought-out interventionist approach of the federal government continues to create a huge and unnecessary risk for private investors in the sector. Ultimately, is it consumers who will pay for this.”

The IEA says that even if net zero commitments are achieved there will still be a temperature rise of 2.1C by the end of the century.

Morrison, with his background in advertising, is making sure that we’ll all be “cooking with gas”!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Morrison budget and their business cronies: their values and ours!

 Written by: (Contributed) on 19 May 2021

Almost hidden in the small print of the recent Morrison coalition government budget lies an extra allocation over the next four years for the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), a shadowy employer's organisation. The present Australian government, in addition, will also provide $10 million for reducing the costs of Award compliance for employers.

While the budget allocations were announced as designed to assist employers meeting their obligations, the opposite is a far more likely scenario.

It is unlikely to remove widespread wage theft: the penalising of workers at the hands of unscrupulous employers, which has become a standard business practice.

The allocation of an extra $8 million to the ROC in four annual allowances, was announced in the budget as a measure designed 'to ensure registered organisations acted responsibly, fairly and in compliance with their obligations under legislation … and … help employers meet their Award obligations'. (1) The ROC, for all intents and purposes, is used by governments as a trade union regulator. Widespread concern, however, has existed about wage-theft since revelations surfaced that under-payment for Australian workers amounted to an estimated $1.35 billion in 2019. (2)

Studies of wage-theft in the construction industries revealed the problem amounted to an annual $320 million, in healthcare $22 million, and retail $180 million. (3)

The matter has been made all the more obscene by the fact that many of those being deprived of correct wages and appropriate terms and conditions of employment remain in the category of the low-paid, existing on a national minimum wage of $19.84 per hour. While the full week of 38 hours amounts to $753.80, the move toward a part-time working week has enabled the business-classes to reduce terms and conditions correspondingly.

Behind the political spin of the Morrison coalition government line, however, the problem of wage-theft will not be dealt with by an extra allocation to the ROC. Established in 2017 with the primary function of ‘increasing financial transparency and accountability’, the government department is essentially an investigatory body possessing wide powers. (4)

Whether it is even suitable for dealing with wage-theft is open to dispute. 

While the extra budget financial allocation will be used to provide business software developers to integrate information about Awards, and terms and conditions of employment for the Australian workforce, the mechanisms used have been intentionally shrouded in bureaucratic secrecy and political chicanery. It is far more likely the budget allocation will be used to further erode terms and conditions of employment for millions of workers who already have difficulty challenging employers.  

While employers have continually cited complexity of Awards as the usual excuse for under-payment of wages and flouting terms and conditions of employment, trade-union members and shop stewards, often with a minimal education usually have no problem calculating their entitlements and informing their colleagues. It is, furthermore, important to note in usual legal circumstances, ignorance is regarded as no excuse for breaking laws, except, of course, when it comes to the Australian business-classes and their treatment of vulnerable workers.

The ROC budget allocation was also accompanied by a further $10 million government provision for reducing the Award compliance costs of employers; a bureaucratic system will be established to provide employers with information about obligations.

Recent political chicanery by the Morrison coalition government, however, has revealed how seriously they take unscrupulous exploitation of vulnerable workers by employers.

While the Morrison coalition government had previously promised to criminalise wage-theft, the sections of legislation were eventually withdrawn to appease their business-cronies, many of whom regard wage-theft as normal business practice, the natural outcome of race-to-the-bottom, cost-cutting mentalities. Present penalties for employers not conforming with Awards are clearly not a deterrent; in fact, many of those eventually identified have been shown to be serial offenders whose only punishment was a slap on the wrist.

The real reason for wage-theft lies in government and business attempts to undermine trade-unionism. The problem is further compounded by widespread casualisation which has seriously weakened workers’ ability to challenge employers, together with the development of business practices which include the re-introduction of master-and-servant type industrial relations. They have had their effect upon the trade-union movement. Casual workers are also vulnerable to instant dismissal with their only entitlement being four hours pay for arriving at their place of employment to start work, which amounts to a deterrent for joining a trade-union and standing up for their rights.

Current trends in Australia reveal how the business-classes have systematically undermined traditional Award wages and terms and conditions.

Full-time employment for the Australian national workforce has recently decreased to 8,874,200 while part-time work has increased to 4,203,400. (5)

When relating the figures to payment of wages, it is possible to establish why employers have pushed casualisation and part-time employment. An Australian full-time average weekly wage is calculated at $1,463, while part-time work is calculated at $577. (6)

A further breakdown of relevant statistics has shown a growth of individual workplace 'agreements'; those employed on Award-only conditions account for 21 per cent of the workforce, those on Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) total 37.9 per cent while individual arrangements have risen to 41.1 per cent. (7)

While the latter category is still covered by Award provision for wages and terms and conditions of employment, other factors come into play: systematic wage-theft is most likely in this category, as employers deliberately flout their responsibilities by allowing workers to have 'flexible' working arrangements. Part-time students and parents with child-care considerations are among the most vulnerable. Many of the so-called 'flexible' working arrangements also include outside-of-usual working hours provisions which have tended, historically, to be difficult to police by trade-unions and regulatory bodies.

A typical example of the problem is in the manufacturing industries with overtime terms and conditions and meal allowances. An employee working more than 1.5 hours overtime at the end of their usual shift is allowed a twenty-minute break before they begin their overtime. If they are asked to do so the same day, they are also allowed a $14.70 meal allowance for the inconvenience caused. (8)

Many employers flout such entitlements for members of their workforces and then benignly excuse their behaviour with comments such as 'why didn't you tell me?'.

An Award provision, furthermore, which is frequently eroded by employers takes place when they ask employees to begin their usual shift early; an afternoon shift worker whose usual starting time is 2 pm can be asked to start at 12 noon. Overtime, however, is strictly calculated from the end of a standard 7.6-hour shift. Technically, therefore, an employee starting two hours early is allowed a twenty-minute break at 8 pm, together with their usual meal breaks. It is comparatively rare for employers to honour these Award provisions. Workers, likewise, are often frightened to complain for fear of not being asked to work overtime again.

The failure of employers and their cronies in government departments to implement the appropriate competency standards to ensure the correct pay-grade for workers in relation to the skills and expertise they use in their workplaces, is yet, another example of wage-theft.

In conclusion, the recent Morrison coalition government budget allocation of $18 million to deal with employers not honouring legal obligations with Awards is highly unlikely to deal with the problem. It is far more likely to be a bean-feast for lawyers employed by government bureaucracies to create mechanisms and procedures favouring their own, at the expense of millions of Australian working people.

But then, such behaviour is strictly in keeping with their values; they have little respect for ordinary working people although they take great care to state otherwise.

1.     Unions watchdog get teeth sharpened, Australian, 12 May 2021.
2.     Labour puts wage theft, sex discrimination on IR agenda, Australian, 14 May 2021.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Australian Government website: Registered Organisations Commission.
5.     Australian Bureau of Statistics, March 2021.
6.     Australian Bureau of Statistics, January 2019.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Manufacturing Award, Sections: 32.11d, 30.3c.ii.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Great Barrier Reef Foundation funding remains a major scandal

Written by: Nick G. on 14 May 2021 

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has just released an enquiry into the implementation of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation Partnership.

The partnership was established by a grant of $443.3 million awarded through a non-competitive process. As we reported at the time, the grant was “a complete surprise” to the Foundation and rocked scientific and environmental circles, not least because the Foundation was a front for finance capitalists and fossil fuel corporations who wanted to minimise climate change activism by pushing the “science” of reef resilience. It remains the largest ever federal government grant to an NGO.

The ANAO audit reveals that the $443.3 million had a total value to the Foundation over the six years of the partnership estimated to be $822 million. That was based on interest earned by the grant funds and by the Foundation’s ability to leverage the grant funds to obtain in-kind contributions from delivery partners the foundation contracts with, and cash fundraising. 
As at 31 December 2020, the foundation had spent or committed $154.8 million, which includes $19.7 million on administration and fundraising. Given that we are approaching the half-way mark of the six-year funding partnership, it would appear that there has not been a great deal of urgency in committing funding to the six project areas, despite’s the reef’s deterioration as a result of global warming.
The ANAO report does not encompass any of the political issues associated with the grant or the purposes behind the Foundation’s “science” and activities. It basically whitewashes the administration of the grant while pointing to some problems that required fixing:
The design and early delivery of the Government’s partnership with the foundation has only been partially effective.
The department and the foundation did not ensure that bank deeds were always in place to protect the Australian Government’s interests for each of the term deposits.
When awarding grant funding, there has been insufficient use of open and competitive approaches for procurements. For grants awarded through non-competitive processes and for the majority of procurements (both competitive and non-competitive), it has been common for selection criteria to not be specified. In addition, written contracts have not always been put in place by the foundation.
The grant agreement does not define what constitutes partnership administration costs… The foundation has not consistently implemented arrangements to cap the administration costs of its subcontractors.
The approach to selecting investment advisers was not open or sufficiently competitive.
As at December 2020, 70 delivery partners had identified that they would make in-kind contributions totalling $53.1 million towards projects that, combined with others, were to receive Australian Government funding of $134.3 million (a contribution rate of 39 cents for each dollar granted). In total, 30 per cent of the promised in-kind contributions were not included in the grant agreements and contracts signed by the foundation meaning funding recipients were not obligated to deliver their promised contribution. In addition, for the small number of projects that have been completed and acquitted, it has been common for partner contributions to be less than promised, with 23 per cent of the expected in-kind contributions not reported as having been provided by the partner, with inconsistent follow-up action being taken by the foundation in respect to the shortfalls in contributions.
As interim fundraising targets have not been set, it is difficult to assess whether appropriate progress is being made towards the fundraising targets.
These shortcomings are not insignificant, especially given, as we have pointed out, that this is the largest ever grant from the government to an NGO.

Imagine if a union fell so short of compliance requirements. No doubt it would receive hostile and ongoing front-page treatment in Murdoch’s un-Australian.
The unsolicited grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation remains the scandal that it always was.
The funds should be recovered and provided for real action on climate change.