The campaign takes off

President's perspective

The Evatt Foundation continues the debate on the challenge to our civil and industrial liberties. I was fortified by developments at the NSW ALP Conference on the Queen's birthday weekend. Having attended every ALP conference since l954, I can confidently say there is a genuine unity in the labour movement against the coalition's industrial relations laws.

Premier Morris Iemma, on behalf of the NSW government, was much clearer and firmer than the previous premier, when he pledged to fight the federal government. The industrial relations minister, John Della Bosca, said he would work closely with the unions in protecting workers and fighting the national government. At the conference, the characteristic of the debates around the IR legislation was that every industry and every region of the state had stories of the abuse of power by employers allowed by this legislation.

At a press conference organised by Unions NSW, Greg Combet launched the ACTU television commercials, which told the stories of individual workers disadvantaged and/or sacked without justice. Union leaders have realised that it is not the talking head leaders that will win this issue; rather, it is the brave victims of the system, talking to other families and the community.

The leader of the federal opposition, Kim Beazley, made a clear declaration, repudiating the Howard IR legislation and pledged to repeal it. This is the primary issue in the next federal election, and in this Evatt Newsletter, we lead our feature on industrial relations with Beazley's speech rejecting AWAs. We also reproduce Sharan Burrow's address to the ILO Committee at the International Labour Conference of the ILO, presented as the Australian worker delegate's speech. Burrow's conclusion rings, in summary:

The Australian government's new 'WorkChoices' legislation actually means no choices for working Australians and unilateral power to employers - a backward step for a rich and democratic nation like Australia, and a backward step for international labour rights.

In addition to these two formal landmarks, in this Evatt Newsletter we present two reflective pieces. The first by Bradon Ellem from the latest issue of the journal of Labour History looks at the government's new regulation, and seeks to ascertain the extent to which WorkChoices embodies change or continuity. "Today", writes Professor Ellem, "WorkChoices is about much more than industrial relations, though that would be radical enough. It is at once a dramatic reflection of changes in Australian society, and an attempt to reshape still further not only the regulation of employment but also class and power in Australia."

 

The oxymoron that says WorkChoices means "deregulation" is the focus of our second reflective piece, by Braham Dabscheck from the current special IR issue of Economic and Labour Relations Review. With deep erudition in the history of the recent period of industrial relations, in "The Contract Regulation Club" one of Australia's leading specialists fully reverses the assumptions in Gerard Henderson's landmark essay on the "The Industrial Relations Club".

"John Howard recently went to the United States to be praised by President George Bush. He came back to Australia to raise the nuclear power issue. What is he up to? Is he trying wedge politics on the uranium issue? Did Bush ask him to help solve the Indian nuclear issue? Will talk of nuclear power diffuse the climate change crisis as the grass shrivels around the white picket fence?"

Civil liberties and democracy

The struggle for civil liberties and democracy is the parallel discussion that all thinking Australians must face. We are living in an increasingly top down society where the elite at the top of the pyramids of power, whether executive government, media barons or large corporations, dictate and manipulate those at the bottom of the pyramid.

We are very fortunate that a world authority on democracy, John Keane, Professor of Politics at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University, will be visiting Australia in July. Among Professor Keane's many books are The Media and Democracy (1991), which has been translated into more than twenty-five languages; Democracy and Civil Society (1988; 1998); and the prize-winning biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (1995).

I am delighted to be able to say that he will speak at an Evatt Sunset Seminar on "The Life and Death of Democracy" on Wednesday 12th July, 5.30 for 6.00 pm at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts. I recommend everyone read Professor Keane's "Democracy: A Short History" on our website.

The issue of civil liberties and democracy came up at the NSW ALP Conference over the issue of a State Human Rights Charter. Australia is the only western democracy with no clear human rights protection. The Howard government's anti-terrorism legislation has been a catalyst, but these rights that protect the average citizen with a right to freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, and the right to vote, must be enshrined by law.

Professor George Williams spoke at the ALP Conference in favour of a Human Rights Charter, as did the Attorney General Bob Debus. George Williams repeated the argument he used at a recent Evatt Seminar "Australia is unique, unfortunately". Professor Williams has been in the leadership of the six month community consultation in Victoria, that has led to draft legislation, that will be introduced later this year. In this Newsletter, Williams updates on the Victorian leadership.

A section of delegates were opposed to a Human Rights Charter based on a concern that judges might usurp the power of the elected parliament. As does George Williams in hisd article, the Deputy Mayor of Sydney, Verity Firth, tried to answer these concerns, she argued:

If a Human Rights Charter was introduced in NSW, government departments would have to comply with the Charter, and future legislation would be developed with regards to the rights set out in it. Courts would not dictate legislation. Under the Victorian model, if legislation was challenged in the Supreme Court and found to be inconsistent with the Charter, the Court could issue a declaration of Incompatibility. A Declaration means the law will be referred back to Parliament for reconsideration by a Parliamentary Committee and report by the Attorney General."

A Human Rights Charter will not prevent government from taking strong action to protect the community against terrorism. Future state governments would also have to take human rights into account of their decision making. The conference agreed to continue the debate on a Charter of Human Rights.

Another organisation that is supporting a Charter of Human Rights is New Matilda, which has launched "Reclaiming our Common Wealth: policies for a fair and sustainable future". New Matilda will be producing policies in the areas of health, education, environment, media and economic policy for working Australians. For further information, go to: Our Common Wealth.

Nuclear power

Prime Minister John Howard recently went to the United States to be praised by President George Bush. He came back to Australia to raise the nuclear power issue. What is he up to? Is he trying wedge politics on the uranium issue? Did Bush ask him to help solve the Indian nuclear issue? Will talk of nuclear power diffuse the climate change crisis as the grass shrivels around the white picket fence?

John Howard has said there should be a 'full blooded debate in Australia' on nuclear power, and then appointed a pro-nuclear team to make recommendations. Significantly, he did not allow equal examination of the other greenhouse solutions.

The Evatt Foundation will join the debate with a Sunset Seminar next Wednesday, 28th June 5.30 for 6.00 pm at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts. The speakers are: Richard Broinowski, Professor of Communications at the University of Sydney, a former diplomat, and the author of Fact or Fission? The Truth About Australia's Nuclear Ambitions (Scribe, 2003); with and Frank Muller, a lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW and a former head of greenhouse and sustainable development policy in the NSW Government and former advisor to the Clinton Administration.

Other news

The story of how modern Australia failed to make a lasting settlement with its Indigenous people is embodied in the life of one of the nation's most widely recognised Aboriginal leaders, Rob Riley. Quentin Beresford, Riley's biographer, introduces his new book in this month's Newsletter. Riley's life, says Beresford:

contains powerful, universal themes: early triumph over adversity; the search for justice; and disillusionment over reformist politics. Not all will agree on either his vision or his political methods. But the legacy of Riley's life is to force us to reflect on why the battle for reconciliation was lost by this generation and what this says about the nation.

We are delighted that Professor Beresford will be a speaker at an Evatt Sunset Seminar on "Rob Riley and the Future of Reconciliation" in Sydney later this year.

We also feature introductions and reflections on three more new books. Rebecca Huntley reflects on her book about the generation born in the 1980s and now entering their late teens and early twenties, The World According to Y: inside the new adult generation. Bruce Scates's new book is a Return to Gallipoli. Based on having surveyed several hundred of the Australians who make their way to Anzac Cove each year, he finds less and more than a nationalistic flag waving festival.

Finally, we have an introduction to a new American book that will resonate with all Australians participating in the present IR struggle: Dean Baker's Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. "In almost every area of economic policy", writes Baker, "it is possible to find the hand of the government intervening to ensure that money flows from those at the middle and bottom to those at the top. The conservatives pretend that this upward redistribution is just the natural working of the market, but this is not true - it is conscious government policy."

Website

We receive many thanks for the material provided on the Evatt website, which enjoys strong readership support. On average, around 3000 pages are opened by readers on the Evatt site every single day, generating more than three million hits a year. Of late, it would also be honest to say that a steady stream of kind readers have written to point out faults and areas for improvement. In particular, it is apparent that readers are unhappy with the absence of a formal citation system for the many popular papers on the site, and with our letters page, along with some other minor design features.

The good news is that the Evatt executive has been moving toward a site upgrade for some time, and among many perhaps small but useful improvements, we aim to introduce a full citation system and a self-publishing letters page, subject only to a 24-hour moderation to ensure civilised discussion. The not so good news is that site upgrades take time, and this one will probably take the best part of the balance of the year, before it is fully tested and our archive is transferred. Thank you for your feedback, and by all means keep the messages and letters (and criticisms) coming; but, also, please be patient, for help is on the way.

Bruce Childs
President
Evatt Foundation
26 June 2006