Friday, June 13, 2008

What’s Fair About The Fair Pay Commission?

The secretary of the ACTU Jeff Lawrence has called upon the Fair Pay Commission to hand down a wage rise in line with the increases already given to statutory officials and judges, including the Commission’s own Chairman Ian Harper. That figure is 4.3 per cent, which is a smidge above inflation and a bee’s wing less than the Union claim for $26 on the minimum wage. It is also well below the 6 per cent wages growth which has been seen in the public service. By contrast, the Australian Chamber Of Commerce and Industry has called for a wage rise of $10.25, which is 2 per cent of the minimum wage.

The Australian people have been told repeatedly of the dangers of inflation and the need to fight it by pushing up interest rates at the same time as restraining wages growth. It’s for the good of the economy and for our own long term benefit, we are told. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it any easier to fill up the tank or buy the groceries.

The fact of the matter is that any increase less than inflation is a de facto pay cut at a time when people on minimum incomes are already struggling. It is no comfort to them to hear that the best way to fight inflation is to reduce their spending power. More than that, it is insulting to hear it from people who are paid six figure salaries, and who are happily pocketing increases well above inflation.

All the politicians, public servants, statutory officials and business leaders who are telling Australians to take an effective pay cut are making their pronouncements from within the ivory tower of privilege. Ordinary working families are entitled to ask a very simple question. If all these highly paid experts think it is so important to impose restraints on the economy, why will they not start with themselves and lead by example.

Don’t be misled by the Orwellian name of the Fair Pay Commission. There is no guarantee that the final decision will actually be fair.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Taxpayers To Fund Cars That Were Going To Be Built Anyway

It’s ironic and possibly even embarrassing to learn that the Toyota company was planning to build hybrid cars in Australia anyway, even before the Federal Government decided to give them any money. Nonetheless, the company will benefit to the tune of $35 million from the Federal Government’s Green Car Innovation Fund, along with a further $35 million from the Victorian state government. This will help to ensure that Australian workers keep their jobs, and expand the capabilities of Australian manufacturing. But if
Toyota was going to build the car anyway, is the taxpayer getting any value from the investment or is it a waste of funds?

Having made the investment in Toyota’s program, does this mean that other car manufacturers might be able to expect a similar investment if they also decide to build hybrid or other alternative energy cars in Australia? The Toyota plan involves using the existing hybrid drive system from the Prius in the mass produced Camry. Will this funding give Toyota an unfair advantage in selling vehicles using its existing hybrid technology as opposed to other manufacturers developing newer and more efficient technologies?

The opposition claims that this announcement is nothing more than an attempt to look as if it is addressing both environmental and petrol price issues, while doing nothing more than wasting money on existing technology in a product that would have been produced here anyway. In addition to that, if I was one of the Holden Engine Company employees in Melbourne about to lose my job I would be asking why some of that money isn’t being invested in assisting Holden to produce new engine technology and protecting Australian jobs that under threat right now.

Of course, the Green Car Innovation fund totals $500 million dollars and it remains to be seen how and where the rest of it will be invested as it becomes available. Australia’s automotive industry has already survived massive challenges, but the greatest challenge, that of new engine technology, is still ahead of us. If the government is going to meet that challenge then simply investing in existing technology is not going to be enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

He Said, She Said.

Regardless of what really happened at the Iguana club in Gosford, the reputations of both John Della Bosca and his wife Belinda Neal have taken a hit. The allegations against them are not nearly as grave as the hysteria of the media coverage would suggest, but are those allegations grounds for sacking the Minister, as the opposition has demanded?

If it had been anybody else in dispute with the management it would not be on the front pages of the papers. If a customer believes that he has been unfairly or rudely treated by employees at a venue it would be normal to voice that opinion and perhaps complain to management. In some cases, staff might attempt to appease a dissatisfied customer in the interests of good public relations. In other circumstances staff might become defensive and respond in a less civil manner. It really can become a tawdry “he said, she said” mess very quickly.

In such circumstances, who is to say which party was the first to become rude? Of course, that’s not really the essential question anyway. The question is, given the dispute, how was it handled by the various parties? It may well be that the staff at this venue might have dealt with the matter in a much more diplomatic manner. Or it may be that the minister and his wife could have handled matters more discreetly. What it boils down to is a matter of manners, and how we are all expected to behave in our various stations in life. In this case it appears that nobody was particularly pleasant.

What will rankle most Australian’s however is the idea that Belinda Neal might have been trying to demand special treatment by throwing her political weight around. Australians don’t like big-noters demanding “Don’t you know who I am?” But to cap it off, the allegation that threats were made in relation to the licence of the premises, if true, is simply not acceptable.

The dispute with staff at the Iguana club is not really in itself grounds for sacking the minister, but the manner in which it was handled has amplified the incident and is an embarrassment for all concerned.