October 2006 Archives
But not bad for the lowly paid.
After being painted as a humourless, god-bothering technocrat, the chairman of the "Fair Pay Commission (FPC)," Professor Ian Harper, has surprised everyone by bringing down a generous decision on behalf of low income workers. They'll get an increase of around $27 per week, or 5.6% over the minimum wage.
The decision has been an unexpected god-send to the government. It's allowed them to paint themselves as friends of the lowly paid, when everyone knows that the commission was created to drive down the minimum wage. They would have been expecting to defend an unpopular decision. Instead, from the Prime Minister ...
"It's substantially higher than what the Labor Party said would be the case and the Fair Pay Commission has been true to its title," [Mr Howard] said.
"It's been fair in the payments for the low-income people in this country.
"This is the third of the trilogy of dishonest criticisms in the Labor Party's attack on our industrial relations system."
And from the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews ...
"For the first time the lowest paid workers in Australia will be earning more than $500 a week," Mr Andrews said.
"So on any objective measure this is a very fair decision of the Australian Fair Pay Commission indeed.
"The Australian Fair Pay Commission has lived up to its name."
Unsurprisingly, the business lobby isn't quite so impressed ...
But the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Hendy, believes the increase is too high, describing it as a big blow to the business community.
"We think this is actually a bad decision that's been caused by the fact that they fundamentally miscalculated the transition from the old system to the new," he said.
"The fact is that this increase is well above the inflation rate, well above the underlying inflation rate."
The cheek! It's been a while since the big end of town's pay increases were restrained by the inflation rate.
The only losers in all this is the Labor party. They would have been expecting the Professor to do his job, giving them a largish stick with which to beat the government. The decision hasn't done them any favours at all.
So we have the delicious situation where the government and the opposition have to look happy about a decision they didn't really like.
We'll have to wait a year for the next FPC decision to see if it's a 'one off,' or marks a trend.
At least the lowly paid are grinning tonight.
In a performance that would make an ambulance chasing lawyer proud, the Pedestrian Council of Australia (PCA) managed, yet again, to get a mention in a news item related to a road accident. This latest instance was on ABC radio early on Monday morning, when reporting an accident that claimed the lives of four north coast NSW teenagers.
Included in the news item was the PCA pushing some of its extremist agenda regarding road safety. Raise the minimum age to obtain a licence and limit the number of passengers provisional drivers can carry. Simplistic solutions to complex problems.
The PCA, an anti-motoring lobby group, has a habit of obtaining this sort of publicity. Its access to the country's news rooms is extraordinary.
It's easy to imagine the PCA's CEO, Harold Scruby, having a bunch of generic news release templates on hand, ready to fax to news rooms at a moments notice. These releases make it easy for news writers to include a quick reaction to the event, before an official response is available.
The PCA has a right to state their views. I just wish that news editors would resist the urge to quote them whenever a road safety related news event happens. The PCA is unashamedly anti-motorist, and has undeservedly become the de facto voice of road safety opinion in NSW ... one that has far more influence than it deserves.
Footnote: Let me stress that I'm not trivialising the shocking accident that claimed the lives of four young men. As a parent, and knowing what I was like when first obtaining a licence, I am very concerned about the risks facing my kids when they are old enough to drive. But I also acknowledge that obtaining a licence is now far more arduous than it was 30 years ago when I obtained mine. Then, qualifying for a learner's permit was simply a matter of fronting with a birth certificate. No knowledge of driving was required. You could attempt (and often pass) a driving test with negligible driving experience. Provisional licences lasted only 12 months. There were no restrictions regarding alcohol consumption for inexperienced drivers.
Young drivers today face a far more demanding licencing regime, yet, tragically, some of them still get killed in accidents. Unfortunately, even if the PCA's measures were introduced, young drivers would contribute to the road toll. I don't believe that placing more restrictions on young drivers is the answer.
Eventually, parents have to hope they've instilled enough common sense in their kids to prevent them from placing themselves at risk, and pray that they won't be the very small minority who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When the present Federal Coalition Government took power, extensive training schemes were in place. These programs were implemented as part of the Wages Accord agreement between the former Labor government and the ACTU, as a tradeoff for implementing industrial reforms that made many workers redundant.
In their first budget after taking power, the Conservatives axed most of these programs. They've ignored vocational training ever since.
Wind the clock forward ten years, an election is on the distant horizon, the economy's booming, and an acute shortage of skilled labour is becoming an embarrassment for the government. True to form, they throw cash at the problem and give mature workers up to $3000 for training. Political problem solved for now.
It's so true to form, it's almost laughable. High petrol prices? Subsidise LPG conversions.
What's next? Interest rate rise? How about a handout for home interest payments?
These events indicate how difficult it will be for the Opposition to win the next election. The government is awash with cash. Problems that crop up can be neutralised with dollars.
The next budget will contain giveaways that will dwarf those of the last pre-election budget.
Industrial relations won't save the opposition. Yes, the new laws are draconian, but the labour shortages are insulating workers from the laws' worst aspects. EBAs for the majority of employees of larger companies aren't due for renegotiation until 2008.
I'm experiencing a bad case of deja vu. At this time during the last political cycle, as now, Labor was ahead in the polls. It didn't do them much good then, and I fear it won't matter much this time round, either.
Media reports are starting to echo thoughts I had when first learning of the tiny size of the North Korean atomic test.
"It was explosion-like … That's all we are saying," said an Australian Government source, who asked not to be named. "It could have been a small nuclear explosion, it could have been a chemical explosion." The blast was simply "too small to classify what caused it. Whether it was nuclear or not, we don't know."
Seismic waves recorded at several nuclear-test monitoring stations in Australia suggested the blast was probably equal to somewhere between 300 and 500 tonnes of TNT.
Small is not the word. Tiny is more like it. The bombs dropped on Japan during WW2 were rated around 20,000 tons of TNT, and are considered small by modern standards, where atomic weapons are measured in the millions of tons of TNT.
The North Korean blast was a mere fire cracker by comparison.
Whether it was a hoax or a failure is yet to be determined. American authorities are ...
... discounting some reports that North Korea had staged a hoax, trying to disguise a large conventional explosion as a nuclear blast ...
The Pentagon said it had dispatched planes carrying sensitive atmospheric sensors into international airspace along the North Korean coast, in hope of picking up a whiff of radiation vented from the test site. But so far, they said, none has been detected.
Until more analysis is done, the world media should temper its histerical reaction to the news of the North Korean 'atomic test.' It is playing into the hands of the North Korean regime as they revel in the exposure.
THE world's newest nuclear power, now brandishing a missile threat, wants to sit "face to face at the negotiation table with the United States".
A North Korean official in Beijing told South Korea's Yonhap news agency: "We want this situation to be concluded before the unhappy situation arises in which we fire nuclear missiles, and this depends on how the United States acts."
We should be wary of the warnings of Western governments who have a vested interest in keeping their populations feeling insecure, and the rantings of a small, impoverished, despotic nation that has not proven they have any real nuclear capability.
North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons is a serious development. However, given that the blast was likely a failure or even a hoax, and that there's a large technological leap between exploding a bomb and actually putting a working warhead on a missile, it's safe to take the view the threat is not as dire as that being depicted.
Heard on the ABC's PM program last Thursday ...
MARK COLVIN: A visiting British expert on cleaner energy says he's surprised by the way Australia's thrown away a world lead in solar energy technology over the last decade.
It's nothing new. Conservative governments have done this before. During the 1950s and 60s, they invested in rain making over the emerging electronics and computer technologies, ignoring that we were leaders in those technologys' development. Opportunity lost.
Now, they're at it again, backing carbon sequestration to save the coal industry over funding the development of renewable energy technologies. It hasn't yet dawned on them that coal is doomed as an energy source. The environmental consequences of burning it are just too dire.
The challenge of climate change is going to be the major issue in decades to come. The adjustments needed to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere are massive, as are the economic opportunities that will arise from these changes.
Hopefully, we haven't yet blown our chance at being at the forefront of these emerging technologies.
I've been perplexed by the hysterical reaction to the recent North Korean nuclear test. Sure, another nation possessing the bomb is not ideal, but the risk that the regime would ever use the weapons is slight. The means of controlling North Korea's nuclear arsenal is the same that has effectively worked in preventing nuclear war for 60 years.
North Korea knows that using nuclear weapons is paramount to signing the regime's death warrant. Any
deployment use of a nuclear weapon would provoke a response in kind many times worse. Paranoid they may be, but not insane.
The challenge for the West is to contain the country. Hopefully, an international effort will be enacted to monitor movements in and out of the country to prevent the export of its nuclear and missile technology.
The events in North Korea are disturbing, but controllable. Tight containment is the way to mitigate the risk it poses to its neighbours.
The Sty's been on a bit of a break, during which time I was lucky enough to attend the AFL Grand Final in Melbourne. It's history now, but my team, the Sydney Swans, fell short of the mark by one point, in a game that was equal to any of the classic finals.
The Swans should have lost to the West Coast Eagles by 10 goals, but to their credit, fought back in the second half to lose by that narrowest margin.
The team's key forward, Barry Hall, had a dirty day, and judging by his body language, knew it. But he should console himself with the thought that the team almost won an unlikely victory, against the club that is the bench mark of the current competition.
There's always next year, Baz!