Sunday, 24 July 2011

The unions were once the heart of the ALP... when one turns around and sinks its teeth into a Labor government like this, you know there's a problem.

Original article in italics, my comments plain.

ONE of the nation's biggest trade unions has turned on the Gillard government, savaging Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans as incompetent and unworthy of his office. 
Days after strident criticism of the government by business leaders, Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon yesterday likened Senator Evans to a corpse, accusing him of failing to implement Labor policy and endangering the lives of truck drivers.

I’m no fan of this government, but this seems like a fairly long bow to draw. Let’s see what there is to it.
The condemnation, rejected by Senator Evans, came as a trio of senior ministers dismissed a claim by Suncorp chairman-elect Ziggy Switkowski that there was " a whiff of illegitimacy" about the government.

A claim not without foundation, given Julia Gillard’s spectacular change of mind over the “Carbon Tax” business and the Government’s spectacular record of absolute failure on every single score. That being said, such illegitimacy is more moral or professional than legal or constitutional.

Wayne Swan, Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet accused business critics of acting out of self interest, vowing the government would stick to its guns on the carbon tax and govern in the national interest.

WHAT? No, I’m sorry – sticking to your guns on the Carbon Tax is not governing in the national interest; it is precisely the opposite, for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with whether climate change is anthropogenic or not.

Labor has suffered a series of poor results in opinion polls, including a weekend poll suggesting Julia Gillard was losing support in her Melbourne electorate.
Despite a rise from record lows in today's Newspoll, Labor has its back to the wall as it campaigns to win public support for the $23-a-tonne tax to be introduced next July.

Not much of a rise. Still terminal, still enough to send Labor to the crashing defeat it so richly deserves, and which it would have got had Rudd contested the last election. In retrospect I wonder if he didn’t engineer his own removal, in order to avoid having to face the hammer.

While the government has anticipated attacks from businesses affected by the tax, it was blind sided by Mr Sheldon's assault, based on the fact the impost -- which he on Friday called a "death tax" -- will apply to the heavy transport industry from 2014.

The flow-on effects are as follows: higher fuel bills for the independent truckers, higher fuel bills for the transport companies, higher delivery costs, higher costs on the shelves, more expensive everything. Everywhere. All the time. Just how well has the Government calculated its compensation package? Not well enough, I fear.

Mr Sheldon, whose 90,000- member union represents truck drivers, wants the government to prevent trucking companies from passing the cost impact to drivers and owner-drivers. The TWU argues that passing on the costs to drivers will lift stress and drive up accident and fatality rates on roads, not just for truck drivers, but also for all motorists.

A stressed driver is a less careful driver. If the cost of delivery goes up and the amount paid to drivers per delivery goes down, the drivers and their families suffer. Drivers pushing themselves to make more deliveries in a certain time frame to keep food on the table for their families (in the context of rising costs) and pay the mortgage to keep the roof over their heads are fatigued drivers as well as stressed drivers. Some of them bite the bullet and take amphetamines in an attempt to preserve their alertness, but amphetamines only help so much. Mr Sheldon has a point.

Speaking on the Sky News Australian Agenda program yesterday, Mr Sheldon said Labor had contested the past two elections promising to act on driver safety, but that Senator Evans had failed to act. "I have no confidence in Chris Evans's capacity to deal with the fundamental industrial relations issues in this country and the undertakings it will make working life in the trucking industry better and safer for all road users," Mr Sheldon said.

Evidently there are also unsettled issues.

"If he cannot carry out his duties he should not be in the portfolio. There's a broad feeling that the minister has real deficiencies in carrying out his responsibilities as minister. He has not been able to implement government policy."

This government couldn’t implement policy successfully if its life depended on it. That has been the continuous criticism from the moment the feel-good stuff (“Stolen Generations” apology, 2020 summit) was over. GroceryWatch, FuelWatch, the Pink Batts program, the Building the Education Revolution program, the refugee policy... one shocking failure after another. Even if you agree with the policies themselves, you have to take a cane to the government over their execution.

Mr Sheldon likened the minister to a corpse in the movie Weekend at Bernie's -- "the dead guy that stands in the middle", unable to act or perform his duties.

Oh dear.

Senator Evans said the government had investigated the TWU's Safe Rates campaign, released a discussion paper, sought public submissions and was finalising a response.

Former Prime Minister John Howard, the one unlucky enough to lose to these mountebanks, made the astute observation that the Rudd Government seemed far more interested in the process of government than in actually governing. Please note – it investigated the union’s campaign, it wrote and released a paper, it sought public submissions and is now ruminating over them. NO ACTION. By the Minister’s own admission.

"There's never any shortage of robust advice for industrial relations ministers, but it's unfortunate that Mr Sheldon has chosen to express his frustrations in the form of a personal attack," Senator Evans said.

The Minister should consider that if he was doing his job right, Mr Sheldon would have no need to attack him. In any case, Mr Sheldon’s criticisms (as included in the news article) appear restricted to the manner in which he perceives Mr Evans is doing (or rather, not doing) his job. A personal attack would involve saying awful things about Mr Evans’s parentage, his sexuality, his masculinity and so forth.

The Prime Minister backed Senator Evans. "Minister Evans is doing an outstanding job in an important portfolio," Ms Gillard said.

Yeah. Right. Rose-coloured glasses if I ever saw them. That, or the other possibility – which is to mouth bland platitudes because a reasonable defence of the Minister’s conduct is impossible. 

The exchange came as the government counterattacked in the face of business criticism fanned by the carbon tax. On Friday, Dr Switkowski, former Telstra chief and Suncorp chairman-elect, told a conference in Melbourne there was " a whiff of illegitimacy" surrounding the government while Westpac Bank chairman-elect Lindsay Maxsted said it was focused on short-term political gain ahead of the national interest.

I’m not sure about that. This government has reached the point where it is simply lurching from disaster to disaster. There’s a word in chess, zugzwang, which is used to describe the situation a player is in when they’re on the brink and where every possible move weakens their position. They would love to skip a turn or sit on their hands, but the rules don’t allow that – all they can do is play and lose, or resign.
Mr Shorten said it was not surprising some business people would criticise a government that was making decisions which did not promote their own interests.

Labor might like to paint this as a “greedy big business defending its turf” issue, but it’s a lot harder to take that line when trade unions are weighing in with the same argument. Memo to Labor – it’s big business which employs a lot of the ordinary Australians whom you would like to see yourselves as the defender of, and which contributes to the tax base which keeps Australia in something approaching a state of solvency (but we’re $200bn in debt less than four years after we were free and clear with surpluses in the tens of billions, and another term of this government will just about finish us.)

"People are entitled to promote their sectional interests, but our Prime Minister and our government govern for all Australians and some of these business leaders won't be there in their positions in 10 years," Mr Shorten told the Sky News Australian Agenda program. 
I suspect some of those business leaders were there ten years ago, and I’m willing to bet that some of them could well still be here ten years from now. Mr Shorten, on the other hand, is as good as gone in 2013 if not before. These are words that could come back to haunt him.

"This country is doing better than some of the news reportage of it would indicate and some of the comments from some of these business leaders." Mr Shorten said Australia had rates of unemployment and debt that "the Yanks and the Europeans would give their eye teeth for".

Not for much longer, Mr Shorten, because your government is plundering Treasury at a rate of knots and is about to perform the economic equivalent of frontal lobotomy upon the powerhouse of the economy, not to mention what ructions on the sharemarket are doing to the superannuation on which ordinary Australians are depending in their retirement. How do you compensate that?

And, while he noted Mr Maxsted had criticisms, he said Westpac was supportive of another government reform -- lifting compulsory superannuation contributions from 9 to 12 per cent. He said Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford, who on Friday was critical of industrial relations laws, had "quite a background in industrial relations".

Using the fact that someone who’s criticising the living shit out of you agrees with you on one point IS NOT the same as addressing those criticisms, and it certainly does not invalidate them. Major fail. Lifting compulsory super contributions is going to be necessary if that superannuation isn’t going to yield as much in the future, thanks to this (IMO) idiot government’s policies.

"These guys have also got other agendas -- legitimate business agendas . . . but you sort of expect them to do that," he said.

Mr Combet said the carbon tax had been well-received by business as he rejected an ad campaign funded by an alliance of business groups as "Liberal Party ads".

Did I just see an ad-hominem attack? Playing the man? As for the carbon tax being well-received by business, perhaps readers (as well as Mr Combet) would like to consider this list.

It was important, Mr Combet said, not to assume that "one or two business people" critical of the government spoke for the entire business community. He told the Ten Network's Meet the Press program that since the carbon tax details were revealed a fortnight ago many business leaders had described it as workable.

See the list above. One or two business-people my eye. As for the business leaders who consider it workable, perhaps he’s talking about the wind and solar energy providers who stand to do very, very well indeed out of his tax.

"They are concerned about international conditions and the high value of the Australian dollar, for example, but generally I think the carbon pricing package has been pretty well received in the business community," he said.

“What I tell you three times is true” applies only on Snark hunts. Given the propensity of such events to end with someone ‘softly and suddenly vanishing away’, perhaps he would like to reconsider his words, especially given that he’s one of those in line to vanish if current polls are anything to go by. 

Mr Swan also said businesses were continuing to invest in mining and that industrial cities like Gladstone were "powering ahead".

Despite you, Mr Swan; not because of you.

"Despite the reality on the ground, the well-funded vested interests are still out there trying to talk down the future of our economy, of our great industries like coal and LNG and of great towns like Gladstone," the Treasurer wrote in his weekly Economic Note.

No, sir, they are not trying to talk down the economy. They are offering a brutally honest forecast of what is going to happen to the economy if you keep on doing what you are doing. If anyone’s talking down the future of the coal industry it’s you and your fellow-travellers, who have done nothing but demonise local consumption of coal while you plan to tax the hell out of anyone trying to extract it.

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