Saturday, October 27, 2007

Normal Service Will Resume...

I’m not on the air at present as I am recuperating from some minor surgery. I hope to be back at the microphone in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here’s something to think about.

It’s always a mad time during an election campaign. The carousel of endlessly elevating hysteria known as election advertising can be relied upon to reach ridiculous levels of hyperbole, and thus provide more entertainment than Sex & The City. If election advertising was to be held to the same standards of truthfulness that are applied to ordinary everyday commercial advertising then there wouldn’t be one campaign director amongst them who would escape serious jail time. The coalition’s union bashing fear campaign is nothing short of an assault with a blunt instrument.

The sanctimonious tone in which judgement upon all unions and unionists is handed down would be in any other context offensive. Here we see a gallery of Labor Party frontbenchers lined up like mugshots, with almost three quarters of them identified as unionists. Fair enough. The Labor Party is supposed to be the political wing of the union movement. It’s like saying most teachers at a Catholic school are usually Catholic. Derr. Then to drive the point home with the subtlety of a bloodstained axe those identified as unionists are stamped with the slogan “Anti-Business”. From the morally superior ground of the hard core right wing the two are assumed to be interchangeable, and together an indictment of a person’s character as being only slightly removed from Satan worshipping child abusers. It’s a campaign that rivals McCarthyism for both its paranoia and its stupidity. The sad thing is that they do it because it works. Some people actually believe that anything related to a union must be, by definition, undesirable.

Joe Hockey has proudly proclaimed that this is a fear campaign. He says it is a fear campaign rooted in fact, but of course it is important to recognize the difference between the facts and the opinions that people have about those facts. It is a fact that lightning bolts do sometimes kill people. But it is an opinion that all storms are evil and we’d all be safer if it never rained at all. If I campaigned to have all rain made illegal because thunderstorms are dangerous, that would be a fear campaign, but a fear campaign that I could claim was rooted in fact. That’s the level of logic we are currently being dealt in this election campaign.

To blithely label every unionist as “anti-business” completely dismisses all common sense. Yes there have been any number of “colourful characters” in the unions over the years who have at times been fond of business bashing. Where are they now? Have those characters ever actually advanced the cause of unions and their members? Natural selection has seen those dinosaurs gradually edged out of existence because those who genuinely support a union movement know and understand that such behaviour is unsustainable. By the same token, there have been many monsters of business who have raided, plundered and pillaged, leaving only bankrupted investors and retrenched workers somehow trying to piece together broken lives. But a handful of corporate cowboys doesn’t prove that all business people are greedy, unscrupulous thugs sucking the lifeblood out of their workers, their shareholders, and their customers.

How can unionists be anti-business? If there are no businesses, then there are no jobs. If there are no jobs there are no workers. If there are no workers, then there are no union members. If there are no union members, well then, who’s going to pay those union dues to cover the salaries of union officials? And yet people actually believe this nonsense. Of course the shoe fits on the other foot too. If there is no business there can be no jobs, but at the same time, if there are no workers there can be no business. Did I hear somebody say “skills shortage”? The reason we have these problems is because of a lack of forward planning and investment in the future inspired by bottom-line thinking. It’s that same thinking which marginalizes the value of ordinary everyday people and their place in the community. But that’s a topic for a whole other discussion.

By Joe Hockey’s logic, it would be perfectly legitimate for the Labor Party to launch a counter campaign with mugshots of the Coalition frontbench lined up on the screen. Given the contention that the introduction of Work Choices has undermined workers’ rights it could be concluded that those ministers are anti-workers’ rights. Now let’s not get confused between facts and opinions again. It is a fact that the Work Choices package removed unfair dismissal rights. It removed the No Disadvantage Test. It reduced the number of guaranteed conditions in awards. It reduced access to collective bargaining. Those are facts. Whether or not those are good or bad things is a matter of opinion. But if you are of the position that those things are bad for workers then it is entirely reasonable to denounce those Ministers who supported them. So, in our hypothetical Labor Party advertisement, every minister in the gallery could have stamped across his or her face the slogan “Anti-Worker”. Or even better, “Anti-Family”.

That makes just as much sense as Joe Hockey’s ludicrous propaganda campaign. Probably more.

So what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment, that’s why this blog is here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crumbs from the table...

For the first time that I can recall a politician has made an election promise to give pensioners a better deal. The Prime Minister has unveiled a $4 Billion package increasing the utilities allowance for age pensioners, carers, and disability support pensioners from just over $100 up to $500. That’s a significant increase in anybody’s book. Even more importantly, the Prime Minister has also promised to introduce a new cost-of-living index to apply to the twice yearly indexation of pensions. This recognizes the fact that the CPI measure of inflation does not accurately reflect increases in day to day living costs. While the package falls short of truly lifting pensioners out of poverty, it is at least a recognition that not everybody is sharing the benefits of Australia’s much vaunted prosperity. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction. Ultimately however, the only way to elevate pensioners out of the poverty trap is to increase the pension. Instead of one quarter of male average total earnings, it should be at least one third. And longer term, if compulsory superannuation is allowed to perform as it was originally intended, fewer people will need to be on the full pension anyway. Wouldn’t that be the best option?

So, is the Prime Minister’s offer to the pensioners enough to pick up the grey power vote? Or is it too little, too late? Leave your comment here…

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is respect out of fashion?

This is not exactly headline news, but it strikes me as being worthy of comment. For two days in a row, Prime Minister John Howard has been accosted by total strangers and verbally abused. On Monday, as the Prime Minister took his morning walk around Lake Burleigh Griffin, a man shouted at him, “You’re a disgrace John!” Then on Tuesday in Adelaide another middle aged man took it upon himself to tell Mr. Howard that he is a “bloody arsehole”. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I find this sort of behaviour completely unacceptable. If our children did it they would be sent to the naughty corner! If it was your father or your grandfather out walking and this was dome to him, you’d want the culprit put in his place wouldn’t you? No matter how strongly you might disagree with John Howard’s politics, there is no call for this kind of nonsense. Abusive behaviour always says far more about those who are dishing it out than it does about those who are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. So, is this sort of thing acceptable now? Is this the way good people behave? Maybe I’m just getting old, but why should we have to put up with it? If you don’t like John Howard’s policies you can send him a message where it counts… at the ballot box!

So, how do you feel? Is the Prime Minister entitled to a bit more courtesy, or am I completely out of touch?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Is DOCS failing us all?

There is never going to be an acceptable or adequate explanation for why Dean Shillingsworth is dead. Despite the fact that the Department of Community Services had been contacted over concerns for his wellbeing, there was no adequate to prevent his death. Now there is never going to be a perfect system, and there may always be some cases that are not caught in time. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions about the procedures and competencies at the Department of Community Services. If there are any calls for help that are going unanswered, then the system is failing all of us. And while many people have very strong feelings about how the mother should be dealt with, that is not the answer either. The angry crowd that called for her to be drowned in the lake represents the feelings of many in the community. But those feelings are misguided. There has been no evidence yet put before a court, no conviction or acquittal yet recorded. It achieves nothing to indulge mob mentality. What might achieve something is a thorough review of the question of why the Department of Community Services is apparently unable to respond effectively to the 240 000 calls for help it receives each year.

What do you think? Is the Department of Community Services to blame for not intervening?