I note in Australia’s recovery, we now need skilled migrants. Why? Because we stopped supporting TAFE and gave the money to dodgy private providers.
At the other end of the pile we need unskilled migrants to pick our fruit because the wages are so low that Australians do not want to work for them.
Where are young Australians in all this? Are our kids going to unis with no jobs at the end of their courses? In India excess doctors drive taxis. Marx said that the capitalists were more loyal to their class than their country. Are we for a fair go for all Australians of not? A living wage? Or are skilled migrants who settle more likely to vote Liberal?
When friends discuss why the world of politics seems to be going downhill, they mention that there seems to be no respect for knowledge any more. Because information is so available it is not valued. But this is not the key. The problem seems to stem from two sources;
Firstly the two wars last century were over markets and at Bretton Woods at the end of WW2 the key to preventing wars thought to be free markets, where there would be unrestricted trade and countries could rise on fall on their relative advantages, or harder work. The second item was the notion of neo-liberalism where the duty of a company was to make as much money as possible, with other objectives being looked after by someone else. But as free trade progressed like a monopoly game multinational companies became more powerful than governments, so there was no one to stop the accumulation of wealth and power. Power and wealth became the important items. If you had these, clearly you would know what to do.
A number of small stories often give insights into changing priorities. When I was at school and aged about 11 another boy, Geoff, went on a trip to the USA, a rare thing to do at that time. We eagerly asked him what it was like over there. He said, ‘Money just stands up and talks over there. If you have money and you say something everybody listens’. What he meant was that it was not because the rich person actually knew anything.
When I worked at Sydney Water, there were 17,000 employees and there was had a program to separate storm water and sewage in the pipes in the old part of Sydney, where they had all been the same. There were employment programs for the long-term unemployed, disabled people and even ex-prisoners. There were quality control units and a well-respected apprentice training school with about 220 people that produced plumbers, electricians and carpenters. The staff worked their way up the hierarchy so everyone knew their job and the tasks that they were supervising. In the early 1980s these was a major change. Sydney Water was reclassified as a State owned enterprise. It was to be ‘right sized’ which was the euphemism for downsized to about 3,000 people. All functions not immediately necessary were stopped. No pipe replacement programs, fix them when they burst. No apprentice training. No quality control- (has to be out-sourced). No printing. No computerised land mapping program (a world first, given to the Land Titles Office and later privatised) and the government was entitled to a ‘dividend’ from the enterprise which was about a billion dollars a year from all the salaries saved and work not done. There was a game of musical chairs which went on for about a decade with new management structures, each with fewer places in it, where people repeatedly applied for jobs that had slightly different titles but which amounted to what they had done before. But more than this there was incredible nepotism and people who knew about money or were politically favoured replaced those who knew about pipes and water. Deskilling was on a massive scale. Then there was a project to look at salary relativities, which seemed to come to the conclusion that the salary should relate to how many people you managed. Professionals were hard to fit into this framework, so it was opined that they should get less, but in order to get them at all, there had to be some consideration of what they were paid outside the organisation. As a professional I was also high enough up the hierarchy to get ‘management training’. It seemed that the key objective was to create a new culture in the organisation, and the main element in this was the destruction of the old culture, which was naturally assumed to be inferior to the new vision of the new management. Workshops were held to define our objectives and visions. The silly old guard had thought that it was to provide water and take away the pooh.
This seems to be what has happened throughout the entire public service. Lifetime employment has gone, and the gradual salary increments that made public servants content to work for less because they had lifetime security of employment and respect for the niche knowledge that they had developed.
Now the two overwhelming values are power and money. They are assumed to go together. Money buys political power, and political power gives control of large amounts of money. So part of this new values hierarchy is the assumption that other values are lesser. Public interest knowledge as stored in the public service, the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the research community are run down as the new breed of consultants rise. The consultants are chosen by their masters for their political or economic orientation and have to come up with solutions that fit with the views of their masters lest they not get their next job. It is an incestuous and nepotistic system where ideology and opinion have displaced long-term experience and expertise.
Some years ago, as a NSW Democrat MP, I went to a YADS (Young Australian Democrats) conference in Canberra. The YADs were enthusiastic young people interested in politics, and some of them were lucky enough to work in Parliamentary offices. On the Saturday they hospitably asked me to come to a party that they were attending. I felt a bit old for the group, but they insisted. It turned out that the Party was at a Liberal staffer’s house. No one took much notice of the old guy in the corner sipping his beer, so I observed a group of very privileged young people telling stories of their exploits in the corridors of power. The striking part of the stories was the extent to which they were merely playing a chess game. They were the goodies, Labor were the baddies and the whole discussion was about winning. There was no policy content at all. The issue was whether we won or not. John Howard was Prime Minister and I was left with the overwhelming feeling that power was in the hands of those who had neither knowledge nor respect for the responsibility that they were carrying.
So I was interested to read this article by Jack Waterford, which traces the replacement of the public service by political staffers, ambitious non-experts with a lot of ideological baggage and little time for long-term expertise.
The replacement of respect for knowledge with respect only for power and money may be the reason for the decline in decision-making in our political and management systems, and may yet be the cause of the decline of Anglo civilisation.
Scott Morrison’s objective was to have a low risk strategy. He got the States to handle the COVID19 crisis, while he merely took the credit for its success. Then he wanted to have a successful vaccination programme, and go quickly to an election. He announced a lot of vaccine deals, waving a chequebook with our money to put us high in the world’s vaccine queue. (Tough luck poorer countries with much more cases).
But the deals were soft, the Qld vaccine had problems with false positives for the HIV/Aids test, and it seems the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is not quite as effective as the others, and had a few side effects. So his loudly-touted intervention has just made him look ineffective.
The problems in the health system with the overlapping Federal/State responsibilities and cost-shifting, and the starving of Medicare with subsidies to the private system have all been swept under the carpet in the crisis. But the government’s new dynamic, which is to ignore good advice and treat everything as a political problem, with Morrison giving advice on every subject from weather forecasts, to fires to vaccines is part of the replacement of knowledge by politics, which is a problem in many areas.
Here is an analysis of this fiasco by Steven Duckett, one of Australia’s leading health economists.
When I was in Parliament the then NSW Labor Government had an inquiry into WorkChoices, which was the Howard Federal government’s preferred industrial relations model. It was, as the Liberals said, an political inquiry designed to criticise what Howard was doing. (Historians will recall that it cost the Howard government s lot of votes).
But both Unions and Employers came and lobbied me, as did Labour Hire business owners. The Labour Hire companies said that they could get a better deal for the employees as they were negotiating on their behalf with employers and if they had special skills the employers would have to pay for these. I asked them how much commission they took on this as obviously employers would have to pay their commission as well as the subcontractor’s payment. They were very reluctant to be specific on this point as it was ‘variable’. But it did seem to me that the chief objective was to make the worker a private subcontractor rather than an employee and thus remove award pay rates, holidays, sick leave, workers compensation, and bargaining power. The Labor Hire company was often just a commission agent, though some employed the workers.
It seems that this model of getting rid of direct employees has evolved and is now standard in many industries. I have seen a woman accidentally stab herself in the forearm while boning chickens at 3.30 am on a 12 hour shift, a man shoot himself in the heart with a nail gun trying to assemble flat pack kitchens alone and RSI in a hotel worker so advanced that it has made no recovery in 3 years, after being expected to clean high-end hotel rooms, including making the bed, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom in 12 minutes each.
‘Subcontractors’ may have no awards, no unions, no OHS and no redress when people are ripped off. The lumbering ‘Fair Work Commission’, out of sight and out of touch seems to make very little difference to a Darwinian model.
Let us see if criminalising wage theft makes any difference. There are a lot of laws on the books that are never enforced.
Here is an article in the AIM, drawing attention to the political savvy and militancy of the Christian Right. They have been historically powerful with tax deductible status since the Middle Ages. In the 1960s they got State Aid (i.e.subsidies) to religious schools, and this has allowed them to take an ever greater percentage of the children, effectively entrenching an elite class.
The well-off have ‘choice’ and those who are residual do not, so rather than schools unifying a childhood experience they create two sets of parallel but different experiences in two different groups, and those in the privileged one will grow up with little concept of the other as they inherit the right to rule over it. The organised religions consciously going for temporal power will accentuate this, and the idea that you hide your religiosity until you have power is no less than deceitful.
Religious people behave no better than others. All this in Parliament House has been with a Christian cabinet in control of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the priggish piety that surrounds sex with guilt and makes adolescence that much more difficult has made no positive contribution. It is likely to obstruct the sex education that seems the best way to tackle the situation.
Edmund Burke said ‘The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. And Richard Dawkins said more recently that atheists have to become more militant. Amen to that.
Aged Care Reform Now is the name of a group that is working to try to get the Aged Care Royal Commission conclusions implemented. Like many inquiry reports, implementation is by no means certain.
John Howard’s Aged Care Act of 1997 allowed the sector to be ‘for profit’, and a poor system was made worse. At a webinar that I attended geriatrician, Joseph Ibrahim was of the opinion that when the dust settled, the government would do what the big for-profit companies wanted as they had a direct line to the government, and there was no serious organised advocacy as there had been for the gay lobby in the AIDs crisis or for disability. (The write up of that seminar is on this website- search Ibrahim).
Here is group trying to do advocacy. They will need all the help that they can get!
One of the more absurd ideas of neo-liberalism was to privatise ownership of all the water in the Murray-Darling and then rely on ‘the Market’ to allocate the water optimally. All that happened was that water was another commodity to be traded with its price more related to its possible future price than any physical or environmental constraint.
I learned a bit about this many years ago from my grandparents. One of my grandfathers was a retired metallurgist who would tell me about world trends in metal demands and buy shares accordingly. His wife, my grandmother, knew nothing about this but would buy shares based on what the market was doing and tell me separately about how she despaired of my grandfather’s share investments. After a few years, she was much richer than he from a much lower base. The moral was that the share price had little to do with reality.
Why anyone would think that turning water into a speculative commodity would optimise its use is beyond understanding. But that was what happened. Joh Bjelke-Peterson built Cubby dam on the Queensland border and used the water to irrigate cotton, so NSW was behind the 8 ball from the start. NSW cotton farmers used surface water and took water from aquifers with no supervision of their meters. Brokers with mobile phones bought and sold water entitlements, and famously recently a Singapore-based company sold a lot of water rights to a Canadian superannuation fund, who felt that growing almonds (which are heavy water users) would be a good thing to do. (SMH 3/12/19) Hey, the price of almonds is good at present and you cannot smell rotting fish from Canada.
The idea that if you fix the money, everything else will come right seems to permeate every aspect of our neo-liberal, managerial society. I think of it as a religion, that ‘the market knows best and will allocate optimally with the unseen hand’. It also seems that religious folk are more prone to believe this, happier to believe that an unseen force can magically fix things and that it morally worthy to suffer now for some future redemption.
But in politics, we do not even have to debate these things; there is another option, ‘kick the can down the road’. Having the CSIRO produce a report in 2008, ‘Water Availability in the Murray Darling Basin’, led to an inappropriate Murray-Darling Basin Authority report in 2009. The CSIRO’s scientific response in 2011 was ignored. There was a Royal Commission inquiry by Bret Walker which found that the Authority has shown ‘gross negligence’. So they had another ‘Summit’, just last month.
All this is not to mention that Angus Taylor spent $80 million in taxpayer money to buy back water rights from a company called Eastern Australian Agriculture registered in the Cayman Islands and run by an ex-rowing mate, with the deal signed off by Barnaby Joyce. (The Guardian 19/5/19)
It is a worry, when the senior counsel assisting Walker inquiry writes a book called ‘Dead in the Water’ and still comes back with an opinion piece like this.
‘Mutual Obligation’ is the new buzz word for unemployed people. If they are to get ‘welfare’ they have to be trying to get a job. An index of this is to make a lot of job applications, that surely must be the bane of every employer in the land, with an obligation of job seekers to apply for 20 jobs a month and about 8 job seekers for every vacancy.
‘Noblesse Oblige’ is a French term dating from when English royalty spoke French after the Norman conquest (of 1066) and refers to the benevolent, honourable behaviour considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank. The term is so quaint and medieval that is often used ironically. But these days with the growing gap between rich and poor, and the lack of sanction on poor behaviour by the empowered class, it may be that old fashioned ethics is all that remains to help poorer people. And they are in short supply.
If there were mutual obligation, a government would be obliged to give its citizens a decent life. In the 1950 and 1960s it was considered a government responsibility to get everyone a job and governments fell if the unemployment rate was over 1%. In the 1980s when I worked at Sydney Water, it ran employment programmes for ex-prisoners, people who had been unemployed for more than 3 months, and people with disability. The employment was for a 6 month term, and my job was to check that applicants were physically able to do the job. There was a programme to separate sewage and rainwater in inner city areas and a pipe replacement programme. Both of these programmes were simply canned. The Apprentice School, which had about 180 apprentices including plumbers, electricians and carpenters was closed. Sydney Water’s staff went from 17,000 to less than 3,000, and all the wages saved were simply turned into ‘dividends’ from the State Owned Enterprise’. A tax in short. Contractors were used, and mains repaired when they burst. The government had out-sourced the work and outsourced the responsibility for employment. The latter was less obvious.
The Global market place that was created in 1944 to lessen the chance of wars allowed countries that produced things cheaper due to cheaper labour costs to prosper, and multinational corporations moved their factories. The Americans call it ‘off-shoring’. But our governments have acted as if none of this exists. An abstract entity, ‘The Economy’ is now responsible for job creation and unemployed people are responsible for getting them. The government has outsourced job seeking to private corporations, and as we know, their duty is to make as much money for their shareholders as possible. So if it is better to churn many people through short-term jobs to get a commission every time someone starts, hey that is the way to go. So it is about how the rules are written. If the old CES (Commonwealth Employment Service) clerks could find someone a job they did. No one complained that they did not try to place people, and there was no incentive for them to do anything other than to try to place people in the best way possible.
I work with the Workers Compensation insurer, iCare, whose remit seems to be to minimise the cost of claims by saving on both claims managers and payments to injured people, and they are still paid a bonus if the ‘customer’ (i.e. patient) gets back to work, so there is pressure to force them back. The CTP insurers are always in a total conflict of interest position. They get the premiums and every dollar they avoid paying out goes to their bottom lines. The idea that a private market will fix things is complete nonsense.
Now we have revelations of gaming the system in the privatised job placement agencies. The whole dismantling of the public system relies on the assumption that people will not work without incentive payments and private is always better than public. I was in the public sector for many years as a salaried doctor and then in Sydney Water. My experience was that the public sector did its job quite well and thought about better ways to act, undistracted by incentive schemes that would distort resource and time allocation. The Dept. of Public Works built most of this state; Sydney Water built Warragamba Dam.
Privatised rorting is now a major industry draining resources from CTP insurance, Aged Care, the NDIS and now job search. This is not to mention over-priced private monopolies in toll roads, transport, land titles office or oligopolies gaming electricity supplies.
Will there ever be a government that rebuilds the public sector to put an end to this? Will Labor just roll over as Liberal Lite as they did to get an extra $3.50 on ‘JobSeeker’?
But the key issue is that everyone has the right to decent life, and if the government cannot provide jobs, it should provide income support. Noblesse Oblige. As one of my more insightful friends said, ‘There is no shortage of work. Everyone I know can think of things that need doing. It is not a shortage of work, it is an unwillingness to pay’.
Watch this video re the privatised employment agencies.
As a child our family moved to Port Kembla, and we lived on Hill 60, just above the rocks where a lot of people have drowned recently.
I went to Port Kembla Infant’s School, which was overcrowded but interesting. Half the kids there came from the migrant hostel in the old WW2 army camp where ‘displaced Persons’ (as WW2 refugee families were called) lived. These kids arrived in kindergarten without a word of English. This was taken as normal by the teachers, who just plugged on. The kids from the hostel were called ‘Hostels’, but it was a descriptor rather than a pejorative. By the time we got to 2nd class in our 4th year (Kindergarten, Transition, 1st Class, 2nd Class) there was no difference between Aussie borns and Hostels. There were 46 in my 2nd class and girls filled the top 6 places. There was minimal racism in kids leaving this school.
There was no anti-discrimination legislation or bureaucracy in the 1950s but all the parents had jobs in the steelworks or associated industries and the Housing Commission was building suburbs full of affordable housing as fast as it could. If you had a go, you got a go. The ABC Radio had an awkward segment before the news called ‘Learn English with us’ where some somewhat stilted practical speech exercises lasted about 2 minutes. I used to wonder how the new migrants all tuned in for this little segment if they could not understand the rest. But the intention was there.
In 1966 there was a movement demanding ‘State Aid for Church Schools’ on the basis that they had paid their tax, and now they had left the state system they were paying twice. The government wanted to win the election, and this was seen as critical for the Catholic vote. The Democratic Labor Party, which had split from the ALP were the champions of this and still represented a significant threat to the ALP as they preferenced the Libs. State Aid came in.
Some time later there was a lot of emphasis on ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at TAFE, which were held during school hours. Their target was migrant women and their objective was to encourage English speaking to allow the women both to meet each other and to participate in society more easily. John Howard defunded the programme; ‘user pays’ was the new paradigm.
I now live in Sydney in a relatively central affluent suburb. Each morning 8 private school buses start near my door ferrying students to 8 private schools. No public transport needed- the school takes care of it all. Others students in private school uniforms catch subsidised public transport to the schools of their parents’ choice. But the cost of ‘choice’ is ‘residualisation’. Schools where there are a lot of ethnic students suffer from ‘white flight’, and so have concentrated social disadvantage and a lack of native role models. One school I visited in Western Sydney had had a stabbing in the playground about 25 years ago. The school photos in the foyer had no white face for the last 20 years. That was as far back as the photos went.
When we wonder if the Cabinet have any idea how the poorer folk live, my opinion is that they do not. These social dynamics have now been going for long enough that it is possible to be old enough to be in Cabinet and have no idea how the other half live. Some think that people without jobs have ‘wasted their opportunities’ or have alcohol or gambling problems. Add a little self-ri ghteous religion, ‘the poor are always with us’, a touch of arrogance and a peer group that thinks the same, and you have policies that are increasingly dismantling the fair go and equity that should be at the heart of our culture. It may be that you cannot make all people equal, but you can give all children equality of opportunity, and all adults enough to live on. We have to change direction and do just that.
Here, at the risk of being repetitive, is an article on Christian Porter.
There are two quarantine stories extant, one short-term, one long-term:
The Sun Herald front page story is ‘State Debt Collectors eye hotel millions’. It is about how 5264 invoices covering 7214 travellers who stayed at quarantine hotels have not paid and thus have to be chased for the money. The fact that they had to stay at these very expensive hotels for 2 weeks to be allowed to come home seems irrelevant. The fact that they may have had to stay in hotels for 9 months overseas in lockdown situations, had to come home on very expensive flights and may have no money and no job is also not mentioned. What might have been thought of as repatriating citizens caught in a situation that was not of their making is now a routine debt like a speeding fine, to be chased by the NSW government’s privately contracted debt collectors.
Meanwhile down in Victoria in today’s Age there is talk of building a quarantine hotel at Avalon Airport. Avalon airport was ex-RAAF and is about 3 hours from Melbourne (as I discovered to my cost when taking a Jetstar fight to Melbourne without looking where it landed). It is now owned by Linfox Transport group, and the Wagner Corporation of Townsville was keen to build the quarantine facility. When asked by an interviewer what accommodation would cost, Mr Wagner replied that this was ‘commercial in confidence’. There was none of this nonsense about giving arriving travellers a ‘fair go’; presumably such assurances are not necessary to get the contracts these days.
The colonial-era Manly Quarantine Station, which was saved from developers some years ago and remains in the dangerous situation of being a historic site in NSW used to have 3 levels of accommodation, for the rich, middle class and poor. At least the financial reality was recognised then.
Presumably backpackers who needed to come home would be happy to stay in backpacker accommodation, whereas some business folk really cannot manage less than the Ritz. But the government ought to make provision for Australians who want to come home and returning travellers needing to be quarantined should have the right to return without having to pay whatever a privatised accommodation facility chooses to charge them, without the government’s contribution being to unleash the debt collectors.