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Misha Schubert and Stephanie Peatling
May 20, 2012

Many Labor MPs believe the $245 weekly unemployment benefit payment is too low.Many Labor MPs believe the $245 weekly unemployment benefit payment is too low. Photo: Virginia Star

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard faces a growing push from Labor MPs to raise the dole, with warnings it is so low that people are being forced into poverty and even turning to crime.

A quarter of the Labor backbench have told The Sunday Age in the past week that $245 a week is too little to live on – a stance backed by conservative economic commentators and business groups.

”Anyone can end up on welfare given changed circumstances and bad luck, and the Labor Party should always have in its eye that people who fall on hard times can live with some dignity and respect,” New South Wales senator Doug Cameron said.

Northern Territory senator Trish Crossin even called for a welfare summit, like last year’s tax summit, to examine the entire system of payments and allowances.

Victorian Labor MP Darren Cheeseman said the dole – which is $133 a week less than the age pension and $344 a week below the minimum wage – was so low people couldn’t afford to get to job interviews or present well at them. Increasingly, they were people who had worked for decades before losing a job.

”And when you get into pockets of poverty … what I am being presented with is people saying they think their neighbours have turned to crime to make ends meet and they wouldn’t normally do that,” he said.

Tasmanian Dick Adams said it was ”really hard to manage” on so little money. ”If you’re on it for 12 months, that’d be pretty difficult,” he said.

Laurie Ferguson from NSW said when even people who had jobs were complaining about the rising cost of living, ”just imagine how hard it is for people on the dole”.

Labor said in the budget two weeks ago that it would push 100,000 single mothers off parenting payments and onto the dole once their youngest child turned eight. Such families will be $120 a fortnight worse off. That move has stirred anew the debate on the dole.

The push includes many from the Labor Left, but some right-wing MPs concede they are also concerned. Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said her community was telling her the dole was too low, and she would convey that to ministers. One figure on the Right who did not want to be named said it was ”vexing” that Labor had joined the orthodoxy of ”stigmatising” people on the dole.

Yet other MPs on the Right such as Joel Fitzgibbon, Nick Champion and Chris Hayes did not back a rise, saying the best form of welfare was a job. ”People aren’t knocking down the door saying Newstart is too low,” Mr Hayes said.

Some senior government figures privately concede the dole is too low but say a rise cannot be afforded.

Over the past six months, an unlikely chorus of conservative political figures and economists has emerged to declare the dole inadequate. They include conservative economists Judith Sloan and Ian Harper, and Liberal stalwart Hugh Morgan.

Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott told The Sunday Age there was a ”crude view that somehow if you make payments really inadequate that’s an incentive to get back into work. Well, $50 a week is hardly going to change someone’s views about work incentives.

”People have lost their confidence and their health. They don’t have money to get to interviews; they don’t have clothes,” she said.

Welfare groups have long been pushing for a $50 a week boost to Newstart, which has not had a real increase – one above inflation – since 1994.

MPs concerned about the changes plan to raise the issue again on Tuesday in Labor caucus.

”If you’ve got senior business people saying it’s not sufficient, that makes it clear something’s got to be done,” Illawarra-based MP Stephen Jones said.

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May 19, 2012Opinion

Shaun Carney opinion.
Digital image: Judy GreenDigital image: Judy Green

THE nation’s union leaders paid tribute to Bill Kelty at a dinner on Wednesday night. Paul Keating, Kelty’s political partner through the ’80s and early ’90s, was there to honour his friend. He characterised the former ACTU secretary, a truly enigmatic figure, as one of the nation’s greatest ever unionists.

Kelty was secretary from 1983 until 2000, a period that spanned the life of the Hawke and Keating governments and the first four years of the Howard era. As a public figure, Kelty was a foundation member of the less-is-more school. His media appearances and speeches were few and far between. As a consequence, when he spoke in public, it often had an impact.

Not much has changed. He showed this week that he still has the capacity to issue a powerful message. Essentially, on Wednesday night, he told the Gillard government, the Labor Party and the unions to wake up to themselves, to stand up and fight and to take responsibility for their failures.

Hitting home: Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.Hitting home: Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty. Photo: Lee Besford

Kelty’s message carried heavy freight; few could doubt his Labor credentials. During the Hawke and Keating years, he gave two important speeches that bookended their time in office. In 1983, only weeks after the Hawke government was elected, his contribution to the national economic summit paved the way for business, the unions and all but one of the states to sign up for a common policy prescription to find a way out of a deep recession. Kelty had pledged that the unions would moderate and even stall their wage campaigns in the interest of reviving and transforming the economy. His appearance helped to set up the new Labor government for a period of considerable success.

The other significant speech came during the dying days of Labor’s 13 years in power, at a union rally at the Melbourne Town Hall in the 1996 election campaign. The Keating government was headed for defeat, and Labor and the unions knew it. Kelty addressed the prospect of a Howard government. He warned that if the Coalition wanted to wipe out industrial protections for workers in favour of individual contracts, a dispute the previous year at Weipa over private contracts would merely be ”the first sonata”. Looking across the stage at Keating, he said: ”If they want a fight, if they want a war, they’ll have the full symphony – all the pieces, all the clashes and all the music. I am not sure it will be the 1812 Overture, but I will tell you what, Paul, it will not be Mahler either.”

It took a while, but Kelty’s warning of a full-scale war eventually came to pass. The ACTU’s campaign against John Howard’s WorkChoices laws – exactly the type of legislation he had been talking about in 1996 – played a major role in ensuring the removal of the Coalition government in 2007.

What Kelty told the ACTU dinner this week was the sort of straight talk that has eluded the labour movement, and, in particular, the federal government, for far too long. When he was ACTU secretary, Kelty always saw Labor’s mission as being tougher to effect than the Coalition’s. For the ALP, being in office was inevitably hard graft, and it was to be expected that circumstances and enemies would conspire to frustrate it.

In his speech, Kelty harked back to the economic conditions facing the previous Labor government and noted how confidence in the ALP had been lost. ”Real pressures on living standards, high unemployment; but we never, ever lost a sense of hope and trust that governments and unions would see it out and there would be a better future. Today, we have better economic conditions, but that hope and that trust has retreated.”

He was utterly dismissive of the excuses now being trotted out by the Labor Party and many of its supporters for the federal government’s poor standing. ”I’ve got to be frank: it’s too easy to blame the media, too easier [sic] to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing what, after all, you would expect them to do, and that’s to beat you.

”In a sense, I think we make politics just simply too hard. The truth will normally do. This is a transition in the Australian economy that for many people will be very hard, but the truth is also this: that the very best people to manage that transition is a Labor Party, it is unions, it is managing in a Labor way.”

Lastly, Kelty deplored the defeatist mindset that has taken hold across the government and the unions. ”It is too easy to accept defeat, too easy to say the Labor Party will not win. [Keating] won when nobody said he would win. So whenever people say you’re put down or you’re going to get beaten or you’re going to get destroyed, the one thing you always should say is: ‘never without a fight’.”

This was a profound critique of the Gillard government’s political outlook, for several reasons. Only a day earlier, Julia Gillard, in her own address to the ACTU, had put the government’s unpopularity down to public anxiety in the wake of the global financial crisis, opposition scaremongering and the media. On the opposition, she said: ”I understand that Australians have been screamed at now by the opposition for more than a year. They’ve been told that they need to be very afraid, they’ve been screamed at relentlessly, and we all know a good fear campaign when we see one.”

On the media and its ”dramatic reporting” she said: ”… I do understand, as I’m sure you understand as well, the frustration that can come from the headlines in the daily newspapers where, when you look at those headlines, with all of their horror, the schlock and horror that modern media reporting runs to, that the achievements of this minority Parliament aren’t seen for what they are.”

Kelty repudiated Gillard’s assessment of her own political plight, although he stopped short of nominating the root cause of Labor’s malaise. But little effort is needed to work out where his analysis rests. If the Liberals, Nationals and media are not to blame, surely only the government itself is left.

The Prime Minister’s course is clear: more of the same. And then more. No change. She will keep going, she will not be deterred. It’s 15 months since she confirmed that the government had committed to the Greens’ preferred policy of a carbon tax.

Since then, Labor’s collapse in every available opinion poll has been calamitous. In the 15 Nielsen/Age polls in that time, the Coalition’s biggest lead after preferences was 22 per cent and its average lead has been 12.6 per cent. Its smallest lead was 6 per cent in February this year, when speculation about Kevin Rudd returning to the Labor leadership was at its height.

Once Rudd was dispatched by the caucus at the end of February, the Coalition’s lead returned immediately to around its normal level of 14 per cent. Just to make it clear, that’s a 57-43 result – potentially one of the greatest wipeouts in federal political history.

What is the caucus going to do? At the ACTU congress, the Prime Minister’s message to the unions was to ignore the government’s rampant unpopularity in the community and to focus instead on the process. ”We have a plan for the country. We are getting on with the job. I am determined that we deliver that plan because it will make a difference for all Australians.” She then recommended that Labor and the unions ”stiffen our spine and we get on with the work that working Australians want us to do”.

There is no doubt about the Prime Minister’s determination and her personal resolve. But there is a point when toughness and resilience become stubbornness, all too often a demeaning, self-defeating quality. Kelty called on the labour movement to fight. Gillard called on Labor people to stay clam, and blame the media and Tony Abbott’s scare campaign.

Who will the caucus listen to?

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May 19, 2012

Failing in policy ... the Labor Party. Failing in policy … the Labor Party. Photo: AP

LABOR’S failure to establish a public consensus for its most controversial polices has been a significant factor in its decline, more so than the policies themselves, says one of the Liberal Party’s foremost policy experts.

Julian Leeser, the outgoing executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, said good policy would withstand the rapacious 24-hour news cycle so long as a case was made in advance and it was fought for with conviction.

However, he forecast that Tony Abbott, who has about 50 policies ready to go should an election be called, will leave it later than usual before releasing polices because they tend to sink without trace in today’s news cycle.

Mr Leeser has been at the Menzies Research Centre for six years, during which it has become central to Liberal Party policy development at both a sate and federal level.

Soon after Mr Abbott took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, he charged the centre with overseeing policy development.

Mr Leeser is leaving in July to take up a position at the Australian Catholic University and is not ruling out a political career. He narrowly missed preselection for the north shore seat of Bradfield after Brendan Nelson retired and has long been suggested as the successor to Philip Ruddock in Berowra.

In an interview with the Herald, Mr Leeser said one of Labor’s gravest mistakes in government had been the failure to establish a case for and then fight for its policies.

In part, this was due to continuing distractions caused by the hung parliament and leadership tensions.

”Take the Gonski review [into school funding] for instance. That came out and then you had the Rudd challenge,” he said.

He said the deeper problem began when Mr Rudd was leader.

”When John Howard would do a policy announcement, he’d spend the next few weeks driving around the country selling it and talking about it,” he said.

”This doesn’t happen now. They go from one policy announcement to another.

”It makes it difficult for a government to create a proper narrative.”

Mr Leeser said the most egregious example was the mining tax, a key recommendation from the Henry review into taxation commissioned by Mr Rudd.

”They sat on Henry for six months and then suddenly announced the mining tax. People just can’t digest that sort stuff,” he said.

”The process of reform is almost as important as the reform itself. You need to be able to bring the public with you and you need to show the public you’re prepared to take a few hits along the way but that you are on a certain and clear course.”

Mr Leeser said the Coalition had watched and learned and, if elected , would revert to the more traditional style of Mr Howard, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

”You define the problem, you explain what the problem has been. If you are going to use experts you think about the terms of reference that will take their views seriously.

”Then you spend a bit of political capital and you give people a chance to understand what’s going to come out of the reforms.”

Mr Leeser said he would like to see more Coalition policy that recognises the need to increase productivity to compensate for the downturn that will come with the ageing population.

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May 18, 2012

THE Gillard government has failed to implement a decision of last year’s ALP national conference that offered hope for almost 50 refugees facing indefinite detention because ASIO has deemed them threats to national security.

The conference voted unanimously to require the National Security Legislation Monitor to propose how adverse security assessments of asylum seekers could be reviewed in a way that protected ASIO’s sources but ensured procedural fairness for asylum seekers.

But more than five months after the conference, the monitor, Sydney lawyer Bret Walker, SC, has not received any reference from the Prime Minister to provide such advice.

Front_353Ranjini faces a life in detention.

Confirmation of the inaction came as the Attorney-General announced that three Indonesian minors who had been jailed as adult people smugglers would be freed after a review gave their claims to be children “the benefit of the doubt”.

The failure to act on adverse ASIO decisions will anger party members and MPs who believe the government committed itself to act on the need for greater transparency of decisions and explore alternatives to indefinite detention.

It may also prompt fierce debate at this weekend’s Victorian ALP conference, which will consider motions calling for swift action to implement an appeals process.

The secretary of Labor for Refugees, Robin Rothfield, last night accused Attorney-General Nicola Roxon of showing contempt for her party’s platform.

Mr Rothfield said it appeared Ms Roxon had taken no action in response to changes in the platform or the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry that reported in March.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the most recent case of a negative assessment — in which a Sri Lankan mother was placed in indefinite detention with her two boys last week after marrying and settling as a refugee in Melbourne — demonstrated the urgent need for a review mechanism.

The woman’s first husband died in the Sri Lankan civil war. Her second husband maintains he sought the department’s approval before they married in April and she moved from Brisbane to Melbourne.

“The lack of appeal rights and merits review of these detention and adverse ASIO assessment decisions means genuine refugees, men, women and children, are caught in a legal black hole,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“They are effectively facing incarceration for the rest of their lives, simply for seeking protection as refugees in Australia. 

“The ASIO Act must be changed as per the recommendations in the recent parliamentary detention inquiry to allow a review of these ASIO assessments and the ability of individuals to know what accusations the government is making about them, so they have the ability to respond.”

Asked how the national conference decision was being implemented, a government spokesman said:  “Introducing a new appeal mechanism for adverse security assessments, which would operate over and above current mechanisms, raises complex legal questions.

“The government will continue to consider and methodically work its way through these complex issues before commenting further.”

Shadow immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the Coalition did not support a call for a review of ASIO assessments.

He said a Coalition government would not change the arrangements for people found to pose a security threat.

“By implementing our proven border protection policies we will be significantly reducing the instances of these cases presenting in the future — but we do not believe national security should be compromised on these issues,” he said.

Fremantle MP Melissa Parke, who moved the resolution at the national conference, said she remained confident that the government would act.

“I’ll be seeking advice from the Attorney-General on the issue,” she said.

On the topic of the three Indonesian juniors, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said they would be returned to Indonesia after their cases were reviewed.

“Minors don’t belong in adult jails, which is why the government committed to review these cases as quickly as possible,” Ms Roxon said.

“Further information has raised sufficient doubt that these three individuals may have been minors at the time of the offence, which warrants granting them early release on licence.”

The government agreed on May 2 to review the cases of 24 people convicted of people smuggling offences who claimed they were children at the time of their offences.

Since then, four more cases have been identified for review.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting a separate inquiry into the treatment of people suspected of people smuggling offences who claim to be children.

Ms Roxon said that thee others individuals convicted of people smuggling offences had completed their non-parole period and had been sent back to Indonesia.


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Michelle Grattan

May 18, 2012Opinion 

The Thomson/HSU affair has acted as a catharctic cleaning agent.The Thomson/HSU affair has acted as a cathartic cleaning agent.

On the bright side, debates on improving Parliament and unions have been spurred.

CRAIG Thomson and the HSU collectively are tagged the ”bad apple” in the barrel, as the union movement and the government try to distance themselves. All true, of course. But there’s another way of looking at them.

Think Drano, an agent that deals with clogged drains. (A quick search of the web indicates that such a product can also be used in constructing explosive devices, which would make the comparison even more apt.)

For all its dreadful negatives, the Thomson/HSU affair has already had some positive spin-off – it is acting as a cathartic cleaning agent, starting or spurring along debates about how to get more integrity in the union movement and Parliament.

In its wake, the Gillard government has announced it will legislate to increase accountability and transparency in unions and penalties for bad behaviour; the ACTU has set up an independent panel to advise on standards; proposals for toughening the electoral law on disclosure of donations are to be examined; talk about an MPs’ code of conduct has been revived; and the Greens are pushing their initiative for a federal anti-corruption body.

Legislation for better accountability within industrial organisations hopefully will become a reality. Government, unions and employers will discuss the plan at the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council on Friday of next week. Whatever is produced will probably be criticised by the opposition as not tough enough, but given that Tony Abbott was out of the blocks first with proposals, the Coalition would be hypocritical not to support even a milder version.

ACTU leaders reacted to the HSU scandal earlier and more strongly than the government, including by suspending the union. When they are seeking money from hard-pressed union members for a fighting fund in the run-up to the election, they know it is vital to demonstrate that HSU-type corruption will not be tolerated. The panel approved at this week’s ACTU congress will be headed by retired judge Rod Madgwick, and recommend how to improve transparency and accountability and deal with conflicts of interest and complaints.

The HSU affair has also opened up questions about electoral expenditure. In a review of the Fair Work Australia report, the Australian Electoral Commission – which found no legal breach by Thomson – has proposed amendments to the disclosure law including tougher penalties. The government has sent its recommendations to the parliamentary committee on electoral matters.

A better disclosure law is absolutely a good thing; the issues of a code of conduct for MPs and an anti-corruption commission are more complicated. Crossbenchers signing up after the election to support the government called for a code of conduct. The House of Representatives privileges committee produced a draft last year; a Senate inquiry is under way.

In the House inquiry, neither side of politics showed much enthusiasm for really prosecuting the draft code produced. Country independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott have revived talk of the code as one way of getting them through the Thomson affair.

It should be remembered that there are already checks in the system, including a register for MPs’ interests, and the privileges committee to deal with breaches of its requirements as well as other issues. Alleged misuses of MPs’ entitlements are handled by the Finance Department and can become a police matter (Speaker Peter Slipper is subject to the latter).

Even if there had been a code operating it would not have applied to the core of the Thomson affair – the events happened before he was an MP. The only aspect covered would be his late compliance with the register of interests’ requirements.

Windsor has also floated the idea that the present limited grounds for disqualification from sitting in Parliament (bankruptcy, conviction of a crime that carries at least 12 months’ jail) should be widened to include being found to have committed a serious breach of civil law. This might sound logical but in practice it would be difficult to define ”serious”.

The Greens’ idea for a National Integrity Commissioner is much more ambitious than a code of conduct. Christine Milne says the office would be ”charged with overseeing public officials and Commonwealth agencies”, including investigating corruption allegations against MPs, staff and bureaucrats; the body would also advise MPs who were ”trying to do the right thing”.

John Uhr, director of the Centre for the Study of Australian Politics at the Australian National University, warns of twin dangers in the talk about codes and commissions – on one hand, of raising expectations too high; on the other, of scaring politicians off change. Uhr thinks a code accompanied by an independent adviser/investigator operating within the parliamentary system would be useful. But the ”big cop” Green idea goes too far, he says, towards sparking fears of Parliament becoming hostage to an outside body.

Amid discussion of these various measures, a couple of points should be stressed. First, there is a need to try to raise public trust in MPs and the Parliament. The Thomson affair, coming in the context of the hung Parliament, has done disproportionate damage to the institution.

Equally, the public should remember that at its heart is not a general low standard of behaviour by MPs but something much simpler – a devastating finding about one MP (and, of course, his former industrial colleagues).

Thomson will be remembered for having dragged down the reputation of the union movement and the Parliament. Yet out of all the bad, some good can come.

Michelle Grattan is political editor.

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Daniel Flitton and Tim Lester

May 18, 2012

  • How Gillard-Rudd drama affected talks with China

Plans with Beijing stalled amid leadership crisis, rejected asylum seekers getting back on boats and WA mining royalties to go to future fund, Tim Lester reports.

THE Labor leadership feud stalled for more than a year the creation of an annual summit to strengthen Australia’s brittle relationship with China.

Broad agreement was struck during Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to China in April 2011 that would see key ministers from both countries, including the leaders, meet each year to manage ties between Canberra and Beijing.

But progress on the talks was stymied – not because of Chinese concern over Australia’s close alliance with the United States but because Ms Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan could not agree on a format.

Illustration: Ron TandbergIllustration: Ron Tandberg

Mr Swan would not tolerate an arrangement under which Mr Rudd was leading discussions, similar to the role US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plays in the US-China talks on which the talks in question are modelled.

A compromise to run two separate meetings – one on economic issues and another on strategic issues – was proposed but never finalised.

With the logjam now cleared after the political bloodletting in February that followed Mr Rudd’s shock resignation as foreign minister, the talks with China are now back on.

New Foreign Minister Bob Carr confirmed to The Age that a strategic ”architecture” for more regular meetings was discussed this week during his trip to north Asia.

”I think a more formal, regular, structured dialogue would have some benefits,” Senator Carr said. He said Foreign Affairs Department chief Dennis Richardson would go to Beijing shortly to settle details.

Sources familiar with the agreement said the departure of Mr Rudd had allowed the talks with China to be put back on the agenda.

Such a forum for regular contact would have given Australia another chance to explain to China the decision to base 2500 US marines for six months each year in the Northern Territory –

a move China has made clear in recent days it sees as a concern.

Mr Rudd described himself as a ”brutal realist on China” and in 2009 warned Mrs Clinton to be prepared to use force against China ”if everything goes wrong”.

After Mr Rudd’s resignation, Mr Swan lashed the former Labor leader for too long putting his own self-interest ahead of the broader labour movement and ”the country as a whole”.

The tensions between Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and Mr Swan over the China talks predate Senator Carr’s entry to Parliament and were not apparent at the time he spoke to The Age from Tokyo.

He said relations with China were comfortable and flagged the prospect the seven-year negotiations with Beijing over a free trade deal could be finalised by the end of this year.

”I’m not setting a deadline here, but it would be a very happy celebration around about the time of the 40th anniversary of Australian diplomatic relations with China in December this year. That would be a happy thing,” he said.

Senator Carr said the challenge was whether the agreement would go beyond commodities and agriculture and be comprehensive, with Australian businesses wanting access for investment and services.

Concern over the deployment of US marines to Australia had been raised by two ministers and a People’s Liberation Army general during his visit to Beijing, he said.

”They registered the fact that there was closer defence co-operation between us and the United States and they’re entitled to do that. I’ve got no objection to that at all.

”I see it as confirmation of the comfortable relationship we have with the Chinese, a friend and great economic partner, that they can say something like that, and it gives me an opportunity to explain why it is that the American treaty relationship is part of Australia’s DNA,” he said.

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May 17, 2012 – 11:09AM

Bill ShortenBill Shorten says the Labor government’s accomplishments should not be downplayed. Photo: Glenn Hunt

WORKPLACE Relations Minister and former union chief Bill Shorten has made a rousing speech to the ACTU Congress in Sydney, telling them unions were more relevant and important than ever.

But he has warned union chiefs at the conference that the Coalition is “energised and aggressive”, and “believe they are just a whisker away from running Australia”.

And he struck out at those he said were trying to “smear” the entire union movement over the Health Services Union affair.

Mr Shorten said unions should not listen to conservative commentators who were now regularly saying that the only way to make Australian workplaces more competitive was by cutting wages and conditions.

“Conservatives sell … this myth that our workers can’t compete … unless we slavishly imitate the [work practices] of Third World nations,” Mr Shorten said.

Mr Shorten also passionately sold the achievements of the Labor Government over the last five years, saying they had made accomplishments that should not be downplayed.

These included the National Broadband Network – “Why should our businesses and workers have to drive on 60km/h roads when the rest of the world has the equivalent of 100km/h roads?” – and the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

He said the establishment of “safe rates” for truck drivers had made roads safer and improved conditions in transport.

And the equal pay case that the government had backed had ensured “women do not receive inferior wages because of their gender” had been a crucial endeavour.

“The labour movement – when we choose to lead, not follow – then we have our finest accomplishments ahead of us,” he said.

He flagged the enormous battle Labor faced to again be politically competitive with the Coalition, who were in the ascendancy.

“We have an energised and aggressive Opposition that believe they are just a whisker away from running Australia.

And they only have two policies – tax, whatever that is – and industrial relations,” Mr Shorten said.

And he implored around 1000 delegates at the conference that they must not accept that the HSU was part of a wider problem within the union movement.

“That the activities of one or two branches in one or two unions is somehow consistent with the standards of all unions and all union represenatives” was wrong, he said.

It was crucial that unions remained at the forefront of change in Australia, Mr Shorten said, to fight for good jobs.

“Asia will keep rising and the development of three billion members of the middle class in Asia is an opportunity and not a threat,” he said.

And he warned that nowhere near had been done in corporate Australia to ensure that women were well enough represented on boards.

He said that, while 57 out of every 100 woman now worked, it was a disgrace that only one in 10 board directors on major public companies were women.

“If a labour movement can generate a Prime Minister and an ACTU president then I think the ASX can do better than 10 directors out of every 100 directors,” he said.

The HSU scandal could not be seen as part of a wider malaise within unions, he said.

ASIC had recently seen a jump in the number of people engaging in insider trading, Mr Shorten said.

“I do not accept that everyone working in the markets is a crook, even when [bad things] happen,” he said.

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A good initiaive, but there will be tears before bedtime whatever happens. Both of the major parties have been bullied and manipulated through their pre-selection processes. The ALP, especially in NSW, has been shaped by the complex deals often focussed on the preselection process. Craig Thomson’s sorry story is just a small part of a much larger saga of elaborate, inter-generational factional deals and patronage arrangements, all focussed on preselections. The Libs also have struggled with preselections. Peter Slipper’s continued preselection in the Liberal National Party had much to do with his support for one faction in other Qld preselections…Kroger vs Costello last week was partly brought on by a failed preselection campaign…

Published 9:25 AM, 14 May 2012 Last update 9:25 AM, 14 May 2012


In a bid to reconnect with the community, NSW Labor will trial a US-style primary to determine its candidate for Lord Mayor of Sydney.

The party says all residents in the City of Sydney as well as ALP members will have a say in who represents Labor at the forthcoming council election.

NSW Labor General Secretary Sam Dastyari says the initiative is part of a long-term plan to reconnect the party with the community. 

“We know Labor has to change and to do so, we need to engage more directly with the community,” Mr Dastyari said.

“By allowing residents in the City of Sydney area to vote in who we select to run for Lord Mayor, we open ourselves up to a rigorous and merit-based process.

“Having a serious contest of ideas can only be a good thing for the Labor Party.”

City of Sydney residents will be able to vote online for their preferred candidate from Monday at

Residents can also vote at locations around the city or through a postal ballot.

So, the Federal ALP is clearly committing itself to a path that history (but not today’s voters) will approve of.


Labor rejects Kristina Keneally’s call to soften carbon tax


Dump carbon tax, Keneally tells PM

Kristina Keneally says PM Julia Gillard should dump the carbon tax in an effort to fix Labor’s woes.

Sky News2 May 2012

Kristina Keneally

Former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally says Labor must soften the carbon tax if it’s to have any chance of winning the next election. Picture: Nicholas Welsh Source: Herald Sun

LABOR is adamant it won’t back away from its electorally-toxic carbon tax following calls from former NSW premier Kristina Keneally for the measure to be softened.

Finance Minister Penny Wong today rejected the former Labor leader’s push for the carbon tax to be dramatically wound back, saying Australians would realise in time it was necessary for the country’s future.

“Look the carbon price has passed the parliament,” Senator Wong told ABC Radio.

“I think in the years to come people will see how important it is to the long term health and competiveness of the Australian economy.”

Ms Keneally last night said Julia Gillard should dump the carbon tax or significantly unwind it in an effort to fix Labor’s electoral woes.

Ms Keneally tweeted today: “If you want to keep a carbon price, find a way to sell it better, or make it easier on Australians, so a re-elected Labor Govt can carry on.”


Ms Keneally, who led NSW Labor to defeat in 2010, said Ms Gillard needed a “game changer” if her government was to have any chance at the next election.

“She really has to deal with the question of what she’s going to do about this carbon tax,” Ms Keneally told Sky News.

“I think she needs to think seriously about whether she can revoke it or in fact whether she can lessen the impact … dial it back somehow.”

This would be an act of contrition to show Ms Gillard was listening to the people, Ms Keneally said.

On Monday Climate Change Minister Greg Combet brushed off suggestions the government would ease the impact of its carbon tax in next week’s budget.

Labor’s carbon tax is due to commence on July 1 with an initial starting price of $23 a tonne. It will move to a floating price emissions trading scheme from 2015.

Lenore Taylor, April 24, 2012

Frustrated ... Jennifer Westacott questions the lack of coherent policies.Frustrated … Jennifer Westacott questions the lack of coherent policies.

BUSINESS believes the political system is failing the country and is frustrated with the divisive political debate and short-sighted agendas of all parties, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, said yesterday.

”We are having this divisive, issue-by-issue conversation but we are seeing no coherent plan for long-term economic growth … In fact we are seeing many issues that once had fundamental bipartisan agreement now being argued and contested,” Ms Westacott told the Herald.

She said she was worried the Greens ”did not start from the premise that economic growth was a good thing” and the party’s new leader, Christine Milne, was ”seeking to divide the business community” by saying she would talk only to ”progressive” businesses.

Speaking as the claims against the Speaker, Peter Slipper – who has stood down – increased the uncertainty regarding the minority government, Ms Westacott said the political malaise that was endangering Australia’s long record of economic growth extended to the major parties.

She criticised the Labor Party for referring to business as ”big polluters” and its questioning of the right of business personalities to have a say in the national debate.

She also attacked the Gillard government for shutting down any conversation about the detail of carbon pricing or reform of industrial relations, and the Coalition for providing no policy details and at times appearing to question policy issues that had once been bipartisan, such as the desirability of foreign investment.

”The divisive issue-by-issue conversation of minority government leaves us with no coherent economic plan, and certainly no plan that starts from the premise that economic growth is a good thing not a bad thing … It’s a bit-by-bit conversation and it is leaving business frustrated and disappointed,” Ms Westacott said.

”The day-by-day story at the moment is always about division, and the unfolding story on each new issue and each new crisis means we haven’t got any longer-term focus.

”We built our current living standards on a shared understanding between unions, government and business that we need strong competitive industries, but now when we raise threats to those industries people say we have no right to even talk about them … If we question the details of the carbon price then suddenly we are climate deniers … If we say we want to look at the industrial relations system then instantly we are supposed to want to go back to Work Choices.

”As for the Coalition, it has given us no detail, and when [shadow treasurer] Joe Hockey makes a speech about welfare and ending the age of entitlement, which was spot on from our point of view, he is criticised for it and the discussion is shut down,” she said.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, told ABC television last night he was ”not planning to cut benefits … but government has to live within its means”.

He said Mr Hockey was referring to the need to avoid higher social benefits available in Europe. ”We certainly don’t support means tests the government is putting on in breach of pre-election commitments,” he said.

Ms Westacott said the government’s plans for skills and training and the reforms to environmental approvals agreed at last week’s Council of Australian Governments meeting had been positive, and she praised the Coalition for proposing a commission of audit into government expenditure should it win the next election.

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