The attack on industrial & civil liberties

President's perspective

At the Evatt Foundation annual general meeting we had a discussion on the issues that members would like covered at seminars and on the Evatt Website. A high priority was given to the current attack on industrial and civil liberties. We will have a sunset seminar on Tuesday 14th March at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts.

The speakers will be Geoff Derrick, Secretary NSW ACT Branch of the Finance Union, who will describe his union's experience in the banking and insurance industry, and Professor George Williams, Director, Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law, UNSW, with his special expertise in issues of law reform and human rights, will examine the broader ramifications.

The Evatt foundation publication The State of the States with its five additional chapters on industrial relations is selling well and is available at $24.95 (plus postage) from the Evatt office or online. In this month's Evatt Newsletter we reproduce the chapter from The State of the States that deals with working children, written by the NSW Commission for Children and Young People. Almost 60 per cent of children aged 12 to 16 years work, and over 60 per cent of these work for a formal employer. Facts revealed by a study conducted by the Commission show that a great number of children will now be vulnerable in negotiating with employers under the new IR laws.

Another very useful publication for anyone wishing to understand the Howard governments IR blitzkrieg is a special issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy. This book has twenty-two articles from thirty-three contributors covering every aspect, written in easily understood language. In this Newsletter we publish the introduction to the Journal by Evatt Foundation committee member, Professor Frank Stilwell, in his role as co-ordinating editor of the Journal of Australian Political Economy, with John King, which analyses the legislation and describes the chapters. JAPE is published twice a year and is available to individuals for $24.00 (four issues) at JAPE Box 76, Wentworth Building University of Sydney, NSW 2006.

"The American health care system is a monster. It is by far the world's most expensive. The US spent $US1.9 trillion in 2004 on health or 16 per cent of GDP almost twice as much as the OECD average. For decades, American health care spending has outstripped income growth, by an average of 2.5 per cent a year."

The impact of WorkChoices will in part be shaped by labour market conditions. Despite shortages for some classes of skilled labour, Professor John Quiggin reminds us that the number of people who are unemployed or underemployed remains very high. "The official rate is above 5 per cent, but when various forms of hidden unemployment are taken into account", writes John, "the true rate exceeds 10 per cent".

The question of whether Australia, and for that matter the Australian states, should have a Bill of Rights enacted is coming under increasing examination. This especially is the case against a background of increasingly draconian security or 'anti-terrorism' laws. Evatt Foundation Vice President, Ron Dyer chaired a Standing Committee on Law and Justice of the NSW Legislative Council that inquired into the question and recommended against a statutory Bill of Rights in NSW in 1999. In this month's Evatt Newsletter, Ron Dyer explains why he has now changed his mind.

The health system crisis

It is clear that the Howard government is attempting to adopt the United States industrial relations system that gives more power to capital over labour. In a parallel way, our health system is in crisis, as the federal government moves to mimic the US model.

The Save Medicare Alliance has launched a leaflet across the state as the debate about the priorities in the next budget are argued. They point out that the big end of town, personified by the Business Council of Australia, has aggressively pursued claims for tax cuts and other concessions to business. The private health funds have a log claim for a 7 per cent increase before the government, at a time when health spending has been directed to the private sector, increasingly.

The media face of the crisis has been the state hospitals and their emergency departments as they take the casualties of the failing health system. The contributing factors include the decline in the bulk billing rate, escalating pharmaceutical costs, mental health, dental care and the dumping of elderly private nursing home residents in emergency departments because they won't employ enough skilled staff.

In the same week as the Save Medicare Alliance was warning of the dangers of the privatised American model, the conservative Economist magazine had a special report on America's Health Care Crisis, saying the world's biggest and most expensive health care system is beginning to fall apart. Can George Bush mend it?

The Economist claims the American health care system is a monster. It is by far the world's most expensive. The US spent $US1.9 trillion in 2004 on health or 16 per cent of GDP almost twice as much as the OECD average. For decades, American health care spending has outstripped income growth, by an average of 2.5 per cent a year.

The Economist says the Bush team is under fire for botching the biggest health care initiative to date - the introduction of a prescription drug benefit for the elderly covered by its Medicare program. The result is that thousands of poor old folk have been denied drugs they used to get free, and 20 state governments have had to step in and pay for the medicines.

This is the same type of problem state governments are facing in Australia. The Save Medicare Alliance was addressed by John Wicks from the St Vincent de Paul Society, National Social Justice Committee, and we publish the notes from his presentation this month: "Income inequality & health: Areas for action". John Wicks shows that the State of your health will be determined by how well off you are as the principles of Medicare, universality, equity and access are being sidelined.

Australia today and progressive forces in general face many challenges. This is hardly the first time in history. It is now 70 years since the publication of John Maynard Keynes' landmark The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, which ushered in an era where unemployment, capital investment and maintaining a mixed economy was taken seriously by the world's governments. On the 70 year anniversary, Christopher Sheil speculates on the origins of a work that changed a century

Bruce Childs
Evatt Foundation