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Digressions on IR laws and our freedoms

Two stories today make you wonder about the direction of our Australian government. The first relates to the changes to the industrial laws that the Greens finally were able to push through the Senate last night and the second relates to the threat of mass censorship using lists that are seemingly highly flawed.

Digression 1: Industrial Relations improvement

I use the descriptor improvement cautiously. In fact the following changes forced through by the Greens addresses an important issue but there are still many similar acts of perniciousness in the current proposed IR legislation that will unfortunately be enacted.

One of the worst examples of poor legislation was the Workplace Relations Act 1996 which the previous federal regime enacted as part of its campaign to rid Australia of trade unions and push down wages and working conditions of workers. Successive amendments were made and culminated in their “death sentence” Work Choices legislation.

One of the amendments to the legislation was the so-called Workplace Relations Amendment (Right of Entry) Bill 2004 which outlined the limitations on rights and times of entry and discussions with workers by unions at the workplace itself. So Section 280X – Limitation on rights – times of entry and discussions went like this:

1.71 Proposed section 280X provides that the permit holder is only allowed to enter under section 280W during working hours and may only hold discussions during the employees’ meal-time or other breaks.

Section 280Y – Limitation on rights – conscientious objection certificates

1.72 Proposed section 280Y provides that a permit holder is not authorised to enter premises if an employer:

– holds a conscientious objection certificate in force under section 180 of Schedule 1B to the WR Act which has been endorsed under subsection 280Y(2) of Part IXA, or section 285C of the repealed Part IX of the WR Act, indicating that the employer is a practicing member of a religious society or order whose beliefs preclude membership of any other body; and

– employs 20 or fewer employees at the premises, none of whom are union members.

This of-course is the fabled Exclusive Brethren clause. It allowed Exclusive Brethren businessmen the right to refuse unions entry to their workplaces even if the workers in that firm were in favour of having the union enter.

The illegal and fanatical sect had conned the previous federal regime (by funding and electoral advertising input) to exclude trade unions from businesses run by the sect’s members without any input from their staff. While the Government of the day denied that this was “the Exclusive Brethren clause”, the evidence was clear. Industrial records show that all the employers who claimed a “conscientious objection” exemption under the Act were members of the Exclusive Brethren. The rights are also embodied in NSW and SA legislation.

Evidently, around 33 workplaces (covering 4,000 workers) had gained an exemption under this vile piece of government law.

Greens senator Bob Brown has been the only one bringing this issue to the public attention. You can read about his early efforts in May 2006 when he tried to get the Senate to conduct an enquiry into the Exclusive Brethren.

To his credit he has now finally got the Senate to agree to ditch the clause.

While we expected the “conscientious objector” clause from the vile previous regime, the real worry is that the current Federal government were intent on keeping it in the new so-called (not!) Fair Work bill. What gives?

Anyway, at around 18.50 on March 18, 2009, the Australian Senate voted to remove the clause which granted the Exclusive Brethren religious an exclusion from parts of the Fair Work Bill because they objected to unions. The amendment was proposed by the leader of the Greens, Bob Brown.

For your interest, here is the voting pattern summary last night – 33 in favour of the amendment; 31 against. File this information away for the future. The WorkChoice Liberals/Nationals haven’t learned a thing from the last election.

33 Yes Votes 31 No Votes
Australian Greens

5 senators and 5 Yes votes

Australian Labor Party

32 senators and 26 Yes votes

Family First Party

1 senator and 1 Yes vote


1 senator and 1 Yes vote

Country Liberal Party

1 senator and 1 Yes vote

Liberal Party of Australia

32 senators and 25 No votes

The Nationals

4 senators and 4 No votes

Relately, the conservatives who I think we should call the WorkChoice Party from now on, tried to get an amendment to the definition of a small business which which would have denied tens of thousands of workers any of their current redundancy pay entitlements upon retrenchment.

Digression 2: Freedom of Choice

The second story relates to the ACMA Internet Censorship Blacklist which has been publicly leaked. This list seems to be quite generic and the reports from those who have analysed it in depth suggests that it is not very well targetted to child pornography, which was the alleged intent of the exercise.

I don’t support Internet censorship. I don’t support censorship per se. The main reason is that it provides the capacity for capricious governments to broaden out what they want to censor to suit their ideological (and political) aims. I also consider education to be the key in putting most of these sites out of business. Very few engaged people will be bothered to visit them. Further, the more child pornography sites that are active the easier it will be to catch the criminals who build and use them.

Why doesn’t the Federal government devote its energies to introducing a Job Guarantee and addressing real issues and also improving our public education systems to develop a sophisticated population capable of resisting this tawdry and sometimes dangerous capitalist intrusion into our world.

Digression 3: Where do you stand?

The following chart is my test score from Political Compass, which is a really engaging exercise. The following pictures give you some idea of what it is about but I suggest you go there for yourself.

The following chart (click to make it bigger) represents my test score from today (it takes 5 minutes). Maximum/Minimum scores range from +10 to -10 on both axis. So no neo-liberal am I! And a good diagonal difference from my current Prime Minister it seems.


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    This Post Has 7 Comments
    1. I scored in the same bottom corner section of the same quadrant as you Bill, a little higher up. Of course, if I thought about some of the questions for a bit longer I might come up with some different answers, but hey, it was fun.

      While I feel that putting those little suffixes “ist” and “ism” on the end of descriptive term risks defining it far too narrowly, if I had to put a label on myself, I guess I would probably describe myself as a democratic socialist (though you could probably read anything you liked into that).


    2. Dear Lefty

      Yes, all these questionnaires have issues. I hated answering the question about “spending taxpayer funds on the arts”. If the person constructing the quiz understood modern monetary theory they would not have framed it in that way. They would have written – do you object to the government using net spending to fund the arts – same answer for me though. But it is a nice guide to where one sits in the political spectrum and is backed by academic research – which, of-course I like.

      By the way, the understandings of modern monetary theory are neither “left” or “right”. My explanations of the operations of the monetary system and the interaction between the government and non-government sectors are based in the actuality. The “left” or “right” slant impacts on what you think the government should do with its fiscal power – not the fact that it has it.

      best wishes

    3. Bill – this is off this topic – do you think you would be able to do a post on the Queensland election, particulary on the economic policies of the LNP, since I fear that there is a good chance that they will get across the line on Saturday?

      As a frontline QLD public sector service delivery worker, I am concerned that I will feel the brunt of his “efficiency dividend”. I have been here 13 years and I cannot see what “fat” can possibly be left to be cut, at least at the coalface. Labor is of course, far from perfect but I am particulary worried about consequences that may arise from an LNP victory at the beginning of a serious economic downturn.

      Would probably make a good book title : “The economic consequences of Mr Springborg”


    4. Dear Lefty

      Yes, it is off topic. I am sorry that I haven’t really got the time to study all the pros and cons of the platforms of the two parties contesting the QLD election. Sufficient that is to provide a well-researched and detailed commentary. However, I was favourably attracted to the current government’s Green Jobs proposal although I would not have placed a time limit on how long someone could hold one of them.

      In terms of so-called “efficiency dividends” they are usually excuses for cutting the lowest paid jobs – which are at the level where things are actually done while “restructuring” the executive service level jobs – “to attract the best managerial talent available” – and paying the top end of town several multiples of their current salary. Over and over again that has been the history.

      Sorry I cannot be more volumunous.
      best wishes

    5. I found the digression about the exceptions rights of entry based on a consciountious objection interesting as it is something I had seen in the legislation before but never understood.

      What is the source for the numbers regarding the employers?

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