Monday, August 31, 2009


“We are all diminished by every workplace death and injury” Ron McCallum, Professor of Industrial Law, Sydney University, Former Dean of the Faculty of Law, 2002-2007 at Unions NSW Meeting, 31 August 2009.

Union Delegates and Officials are bristling with anger. The National Harmonisation of Occupational Health and Safety laws is becoming the new Workchoices. The Rudd Government’s friendship with big business has alienated their historical mates in the unions. The Government would do well to remember the effectiveness of the union campaign against the Howard Government over Workchoices.

Unions and government are happy that under the national arrangements as currently drafted, all “business undertakings” will now have a duty to provide a safe place of work for their employees. The primary point of departure between unions and government, especially in NSW is over the abolition of the current right of unions to prosecute employers over safety matters. For over 60 years in NSW, unions have been able to prosecute employers where the regulator refuses to act, and unions have done so very successfully. Dawn Chamberlain, a Finance Sector Union member survived 5 bank robberies, where guns were pointed at her face. Interestingly, she related to a meeting at Unions NSW on Monday 31st August 2009, another FSU member who faced a bank robber with a gun in her face, was asked by the robber to open the safe. Her reply was that she couldn’t, as it was on a time lock. So the money was safe, but the employees at the time, faced the dangers. The union prosecuted successfully and banks installed screens to protect their employees.

Unions have a lot of power in this argument. Every time a tale is related of a worker’s life is lost, or a worker is injured at work, a hush descends on a listening audience. Andrea Vegus spoke at the Unions NSW Meeting, and at the ACTU Rally at the National Conference of the ALP. She now represents the Workplace Tragedy Support Group. Big boofy construction workers cried as she spoke. She received the phone call no wife ever wants to receive, back in 2002. Her husband had been electrocuted on a building site, because someone didn’t turn off the power. It took her an hour and a half to cross town to reach her husband. When she got to the hospital, he was dead, lying cold, under a sheet on a hospital trolley. She lost her husband that day, and her children lost their father. Hardened political operatives spoke about her on the floor of the ALP National Conference, and a hush descended on the Delegates.

The Resolution passed unanimously by the Union Officials and Delegates at the Unions NSW Meeting starts by saying “ All Australians have the right to go to work and come home safely. Yet around 8,000 Australians die and almost 700,000 suffer serious injury, illness or disease each year as a consequence of their employment,” and that includes the innocent wives and children of men who work with asbestos.

The Resolution seeks to have the harmonisation deliver the highest standards of protection for all workers, with no worker being left worse off than they are now. In particular, the new laws must ensure:

1. An unqualified obligation and onus of proof on employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace;
2. The ability of workers and their representatives to independently pursue legal action under health and safety laws;
3. A requirement that employers must consult their employees over all work related matters that affect health and safety;
4. The rights and roles of elected workplace health and safety representatives to be fully protected; and
5. The regulatory framework to be genuinely tri-partite and independent.

Dave Gerke, an Australian Metal Workers Delegate at Transfield, Caltex Kurnell, warned the Unions NSW Meeting that the current draft of the national harmonisation laws will disempower his right to represent his members in the workplace. Unions in that workplace have long demanded asbestos remediation. This is a workplace where every time there is a strong wind, there is a danger of asbestos fibres blowing across the site. Caltex, who make multi -billion profits from high prices charged to the consumer at the bowser, have deemed the cost of a full asbestos remediation of the site “not cost feasible.”

Dave Gerke warned that the current draft national harmonisation laws provide for the employer to decide who and when a delegate goes for training. An untrained delegate may be acting illegally. He spoke strongly in favour of workers only deciding who represents them on safety issues.

Politicians, Federal and State, have been warned. The natives are restless. The temperature is rising. Even the mild mannered Unions NSW Officials are demanding that the NSW Government not co-operate in the National Harmonisation of Occupational Health and Safety Laws if they do not meet the five points above. Behind them, there are a lot of angry unionists.

Jenny Haines

Thursday, August 20, 2009


4 . Supreme Court slams Hardie, bans directors

Adam Schwab writes in Crikey 20.9.09:

The Supreme Court of New South Wales has delivered significant findings of penalty in the civil action brought by ASIC against various former executives and directors of asbestos manufacturer, James Hardie.

The civil action related to a press release approved by the James Hardie board in February 2001 which wrongfully claimed that an asbestos trust setup to compensate victims was "fully funded" and "provided certainty for both claimants and shareholders". It was later determined that the Trust established by Hardie was underfunded by $1.8 billion.

The harshest penalty was handed to former chief executive, Peter Macdonald, who was banned from serving as a director for 15 years and fined $350,000. The disqualification was close to ASIC's request of a 16-year ban (MacDonald's counsel had earlier argued that a five to seven year prohibition was appropriate). When he departed from James Hardie in 2004, Macdonald received an $8.24 million termination payment, which in light of the recent decision of the NSW Supreme Court, represents a low watermark for corporate governance in this country.

Ultimately, Macdonald's fine amounted to less than five percent of his final payment from Hardie.

Other James Hardie executives to receive civil penalties included former general counsel, Peter Shafran ($75,000 fine and seven-year ban) and former chief financial officer, Philip Morley ($35,000 fine and five year ban).

Justice Ian Gzell also imposed significant fines for the non-executive directors of James Hardie who were found to have breached section 180(1) of the Corporations Act (the duty to act with due care and diligence) when they approved the infamous press release in February 2001.

The former directors, including former chairwoman Meredith Hellicar, along with Michael Brown, Michael Gillfillan, Martin Koffel, Dan O’Brien, Greg Terry and Peter Willcox, received fines of $30,000 each and have been disqualified from acting as company directors for five years. ASIC had been seeking a five year disqualification and fines of between $120,000 and $130,000. Despite glowing character references, Justice Gzell imposed a significant penalty on the non-executive directors after being especially critical of Hellicar in his early finding, stating that she was "a most unsatisfactory witness" and that "there was a dogmatism in [Hellicar's] testimony that I do not accept. She was proved to be inaccurate on a number (of) occasions."
ASIC had earlier argued that the breached committed by Hardie directors were "a culmination of planning over a long period" and "one of the most significant decisions in the company's history."

The disqualifications and judgment effectively end the corporate careers of the Hardie directors. Hellicar had already resigned from the blue-chip boards of AMP and Amalgamated Holdings, while Willcox departed the Telstra board earlier this year.

The disqualifications and fines will do little to appease asbestos victims, with James Hardie stating in May that due to the global financial downturn and tax debts associated with its relocation to the Netherlands, it would be unable to make a contribution to the asbestos compensation fund during 2009/10 and would have difficulties in making promised compensation payments over the coming three years.

Such pessimism appears to have been short-lived however, or perhaps convenient. On Tuesday, James Hardie shares rose 22% (its biggest spike in forty years) after the company released positive profit figures and CEO, Louis Gries, stated that the US residential construction slump was "nearing the bottom".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Heavy immigration detention centre security stays

By Karlis Salna , Daily Telegraph

From: AAP

August 18, 2009 6:06PM

THE Rudd Government has no plans to reduce security at the Christmas Island detention centre despite an inquiry finding measures employed at the facility are draconian and over the top.

In its third and final report into immigration detention in Australia, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration has raised serious concerns about the standard of accommodation in detention facilities.

The report also raises concerns about the level of security at some centres, particularly at the North West Point facility on Christmas Island.

"The standard of the accommodation and facilities provided at immigration detention centres was of a serious concern, particularly Stage 1 at Villawood and the Perth immigration centre," the report said.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
Calls for overhaul of immigration detention, 1 day ago
Christmas Island can cope: Government, 28 Jun 2009
100 more boatpeople on way Perth Now, 26 Jun 2009
Villawood detention centre revamp The Australian, 11 May 2009
Migrant centre stretched to limit Daily Telegraph, 28 Apr 2009
End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

"Many detention facilities also have disproportionate and antiquated security measures such as razor/barbed wire, in particular at the North West Point immigration detention centre on Christmas Island."

Included in a raft of recommendations is for all caged walkways, perspex barriers and electrified fencing be removed from the North West Point detention centre, and that barbed wire fencing be removed from all immigration detention centres.

However, Immigration Minister Chris Evans dismissed the possibility of making any significant changes to the Christmas Island centre, saying it would be too costly.

"The detention centre on Christmas Island is an integral part of Australia's border protection regime and is the only large, secure immigration detention facility available other than the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney," Senator Evans said.

"The Christmas Island detention centre was built as a high security facility by the previous government at a cost of $400 million and to make significant alterations now would be financially unfeasible."

The Rudd government was committed to maintaining its policy that all illegal boat arrivals were detained and processed at Christmas Island while health, identity and security checks are undertaken, Senator Evans said.

"The Labor party went to the last election with a commitment to maintain a system of mandatory detention and offshore processing on Christmas Island for all irregular maritime arrivals and these commitments are being met."

Joint Standing Committee on Migration chairman Michael Danby said the poor standard of accommodation at detention centres supported the case that detainees instead be placed in residential housing.

"The standard of the accommodation and facilities provided at many immigration detention centres were of a serious concern," Mr Danby said.

"The committee has therefore recommended that detention in immigration residential housing should be used in lieu of detention in immigration detention centres, provided that is feasible."

The committee also recommended that the reconstruction of Stage 1 at Villawood be a priority and that the Perth detention centre be replaced with a purpose-built, long-term facility.


Red News Readers,

Lest we forget the position of the Liberal National Coalition when in government and in opposition on refugee and asylum seekers,

Jenny Haines

Detention bill reopens split over asylum seekers

Yuko Narushima Immigration Correspondent, smh.

August 19, 2009

THE Opposition will vote in the Senate against Labor's planned detention reforms as Liberal fissures opened again over the treatment of asylum seekers.

The Opposition spokeswoman on immigration, Sharman Stone, said the party would seek amendments to the bill, which is designed to give people more time to claim asylum and grant more independence to detainees while their cases were assessed.

The Opposition has consistently linked changes announced by the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, last year with a surge in boat arrivals.

But a parliamentary committee, which includes the Liberal MP, Danna Vale, and the Labor senator, Anne McEwen, said the Government's detention practices were too harsh. Prison-like detention centres, such as the $400 million compound at Christmas Island, should be used only when no other option was available, the committee said.

It also called for more transparency, including publication on the department's website of the number of men, women and children detained at any time.

''We have an obligation to both the Australian and international community to ensure that all people in immigration detention are treated humanely and fairly,'' said the committee chairman, Labor MP Michael Danby.

In a dissenting report the Liberal moderate, Petro Georgiou, attacked the Government's continued detention of children, saying all minors and their families should be freed from ''facilities euphemistically described as alternative and family style''.

''It must be made very clear that both immigration residential housing and transit accommodation are closed, secure environments where detainees are closely monitored by guards and are not allowed to freely come and go,'' he said.

The Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, was also disappointed by the report. She demanded the Government resume control over detention centre management to create a direct line of accountability for what happened inside.

The Government recently broke an election promise by awarding a five-year management contract to Serco, a private contractor.

Dr Stone, a committee member since last November, refused to endorse any of the findings, calling them ''a stab in the dark'' due to the lack of evidence provided.

Repeated attempts to visit Christmas Island after the surge in boat arrivals began were rejected and the department failed to provide a detailed breakdown on how much detention cost, she said.

''This makes a meaningful discussion … impossible,'' she wrote in a separate report.

Yesterday Senator Evans said he was committed to mandatory detention and offshore processing.

"The detention centre on Christmas Island is … the only large, secure immigration detention facility available other than the Villawood immigration detention centre in Sydney,'' he said.

The detention reform bill is expected to reach the Senate next month.

A bill to stop charging refugees for their detention is expected to be passed this week.


Red News Readers,

Abortion law reform is long overdue in NSW. Good on the Labor Pollies for speaking out for this and hopefully there can be across party co-operation on this to get what is needed.

Jenny Haines

Labor MPs support new calls to legalise abortion

Alexandra Smith, smh.

August 19, 2009

AT LEAST three Labor MPs are supporting a new push to change the state's 40-year-old abortion laws.

Angela D'Amore, Helen Westwood and Penny Sharpe have supported calls by a new lobby group to remove abortion from the criminal code.

The group, Pro Choice NSW, was set up after criminal charges were laid against a couple in Queensland who had used RU486, also known as the abortion pill.

Despite the push by the Labor MPs, who are working with Pro Choice NSW, the Premier, Nathan Rees, said he had no plans to follow Victoria in decriminalising abortion.

A Liberal MP, Pru Goward, has also had discussions with Pro Choice NSW, a fact that was expected to enrage members of the party's religious right, David Clarke and Greg Smith.

In Victoria and the ACT, a woman may have an abortion within the first 24 weeks of gestation for any reason. But in NSW abortion is illegal unless it would prevent serious danger to a woman's health.

The campaign by Pro Choice NSW follows efforts by a similar group in Victoria that resulted in the removal of abortion from the Victorian criminal code.

A spokeswoman for Pro Choice NSW, Jane Caro, said the group was formed after a Cairns couple was charged with criminal offences for using RU486.

Tegan Simone Leach, 19, faces seven years in jail if she is convicted.

This week it emerged that legislation to overhaul abortion laws in Queensland was drafted in 2003 but the bill was blocked by the former premier Peter Beattie and his deputy, Anna Bligh, who is now Premier.

''Our focus is simple and that is to have abortion removed from the criminal code in NSW,'' Ms Caro said.

Ms Sharpe, an upper house MP, said she supported the actions of the Victorian and ACT governments. ''I'd like to see abortion removed from the Crimes Act but I do understand it is something that would require some support from all parties.''

A spokesman for the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, said: "In NSW, the common law provides for legal abortion under certain circumstances and adequately protects women and health professionals.

''The current legal position on abortion has been in place for almost 40 years."

The Greens MP Lee Rhiannon is also working with Pro Choice NSW and said the state was fast becoming the most conservative state in the country.

''Following the news from Queensland, Premier Rees should give the NSW Law Reform Commission a reference to modernise our outdated laws, taking the lead from Victoria and the ACT, which now regulate abortion through public health laws.''

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Red News Readers,

My experience with centralised rostering in the past is that it is inflexible. That was why the rank and file nurses' demands over the years devolved to Request Rostering at ward or unit level. It does create work for the Nursing Unit Managers, but a good NUM teaches her senior staff to roster and spreads the work around. There are some ward based computerised rostering systems that are time savers and remain flexible. Greater inflexibility in nurses rosters will only lead to greater dissatisfaction.

It doesn’t seem as though NSW Health is learning the right lessons from the Garling Report, and there is a contradiction in what they are doing, with what the Feds are doing. Roxon is putting money behind RN positions in universities and Bringing Nurses Back to the Workforce which is mainly designed to attract RNs and ENs. Meanwhile, NSW Health is filling RN position with AINs. Next thing we are going to have is RN unemployment at a time of RN shortages! Their crazy!!

Jenny Haines

$4m for 10 bureaucrats to do rosters as nurses go

Eamonn Duff and Louise Hall, Sun Herald

August 16, 2009

THE NSW Government will pay 10 bureaucrats an average of $100,000 a year to micro-manage the rosters of all nurses, junior doctors and allied health staff while hundreds of front-line hospital workers are made redundant to save money.

Documents leaked to The Sun-Herald reveal the rostering of almost all NSW Health staff will be taken away from local managers and centralised in a new electronic system.

On top of the $4 million set aside over four years to create 10 management roles at the Gladesville-based ''Rostering Centre of Excellence'', a panel of ''change management consultants'' will be paid to help roll out the system across the state.

Health unions say the situation is the latest example of a health department devising short-term policies that contradict each other and lead to poor morale and put patients at risk.

NSW Minister for Health John Della Bosca said voluntary redundancies and widespread replacement of registered nurses with unqualified assistants in nursing were necessary as the health budget increased by a record 10 per cent this year.

''The reality is that every area of hospital activity is under scrutiny so we can pay our bills,'' he told the NSW Nurses' Association annual conference last month. ''The status quo is not sustainable in the face of rising demand, an ageing population and a limited budget.''

Mr Della Bosca has championed the introduction of 500 clinical support officers, who will provide administrative help, including rostering, to nurses so they can focus on patients.

But the Health Services Union organiser Adam Hall said Area Health Services are currently making experienced administrative and allied health workers redundant.

He said of the 1100 applications received for 73 clinical support officer positions at Sydney West, only 10 were from current employees. ''Why would you spend taxpayers' money to pay out all these redundancies when you've got to hire more people to do the same job - it's crazy.''

NSW Nurses' Association general secretary Brett Holmes said the plan to offer voluntary redundancies to experienced nurses and replace registered nurses with assistants in nursing flies in the face of Garling inquiry recommendations.

''Garling was adamant that experienced nurses are crucial … It is difficult to see how voluntary redundancies, which will increase workloads, reduce [ward skill levels] and put more pressure on the nurses who remain, is consistent with Garling recommendations.''

Christine Duffield from the Centre for Health Services Management at Sydney's University of Technology headed a $1.2 million study in 2007 that showed increasing the proportion of less-qualified staff in hospitals caused preventable deaths.

She said a faceless public servant churning out pro forma rosters was no match for a nursing unit manager.

Opposition spokeswoman for Health Jillian Skinner said the archaic, paper-based payroll and rostering systems in NSW Health were overdue for modernisation. But she said any centralised electronic rostering system must be flexible enough to accommodate the ''human factors'' such as family responsibilities.

A NSW Health spokesman said the Rostering Centre of Excellence was part of an upgrade of the department's IT systems and aimed at freeing up nurse unit managers and heads of department from administrative roles. ''It is not intended that the centre will devise rosters in a single location nor replace the local development of rosters,'' he said. ''Staff will continue to have an input.''


Red News Readers,

Make no mistake. The privatisation of food services in public hospitals is not going to contribute to improving the quality of a patient’s care or cuisine while in hospital. It will only add to the chaos.

Hospital food has to be available on a round the clock basis 365 days a year. Patients do not present for their meal neatly at meal times, particularly in the current system. Food that meets all sorts of dietary needs, tastes, and requirements has to be available on this round the clock basis eg for new admissions, patients eating late or early due to diagnostic and surgical procedures being done during the day, patients recovering from abdominal disorders, diabetic patients.

Food in hospital is not always a plate of meat and three vegs. It can be liquid food that is fed through a tube. Patients of Asian origin need Asian food. How many contractors are going to be willing to provide these services at a cost that is less than what it costs now? Especially without cutting corners on quality and safety?

Privatisation of food services in public hospitals is a bad idea and Rees and Della Bosca should drop it once and for all.

Jenny Haines

New food on the table for public hospitals

Julie Robotham Medical Editor

August 12, 2009

NSW Health is looking to privatise food service across the state, with a single external company responsible for providing all food to public hospitals one option under consideration.

NSW Health chief executive Debora Picone acknowledged full privatisation was an option, as the department scrutunises food service for possible efficiencies.

''There is no question at all that I am looking at the whole food service issue,'' Professor Picone said.

Professor Picone pointed out that contractors were used to supply meals in many areas already, but acknowledged any more general state-wide contract would be an escalation of the move towards outsourcing hospital food, which has already alarmed nutritionists.

It would go far beyond plans announced earlier this year to bulk-purchase pre-packaged or frozen meals direct from factories.

Professor Picone would not comment on when any plan might be finalised and said one complexity was negotiating with relevant unions. ''I haven't made any decision and it will be made on a whole range of economic and quality [measures],'' she said.

Other sources said the plan was already well advanced and had been briefed to senior area health service managers, though meals for people with special dietary requirements might still be produced directly by NSW Health staff under the proposal.

Already the department has begun centralising responsibility for meals away from hospital and regional management and into a new statewide Health Support Services unit increasingly charged with corporate functions across NSW. In its last annual report, the department stated as a priority for this year, the ''transitioning of food services to Health Support Services to be managed as a statewide business unit''. That move would ease the way for any privatisation.

The Health Services Union organiser, Adam Hall, said, ''3000 jobs will be lost if the health department is to give this the go-ahead''. Mr Hall said centralising food inevitably would limit patients' food choices and was particularly inappropriate for hospitalised children, whose condition and appetite could change swiftly.

He also expressed concern the move would lead to increased transportation costs and result in wastage of food and packaging.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health said the department produced about 22 million meals a year, at a cost of up to $250 million.

After adverse comments about food standards received by Peter Garling in his review earlier this year of NSW public hospitals, the department had set up a nutrition and food governance committee under the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, ''to ensure that a nutritionally appropriate, safe, equitable and cost-effective food service is delivered to NSW Health public hospitals''.

''Any consideration to a change in service delivery will be informed by a thorough consultation process with the union and staff, and reflect a commitment to improved quality and service for patients,'' the spokeswoman said.

Mr Garling heard half of patients were malnourished and most elderly patients could not open meal packages - compromising their recovery and lengthening their hospital stay.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Robin Rothfield, 1.8.09.

Robin is the Secretary of Labor for Refugees in Victoria.

Delegates, the Rudd Government is to be commended for making significant progress with refugee policy in many areas, the latest of which are plans to ensure that asylum seekers living in the community have work rights and that the system of charging asylum seekers for the costs of their detention is abolished.

The platform before you, together with the amendments proposed, indicate the promise of additional positive outcomes with regard to:

*Australia’s non-refoulement obligations
*the operation of the refugee review tribunal
*the management of detention centres
*financial assistance to people coming to Australiaunder the Special Humanitarian Program,
*assistance for Pacific Islanders affected by climate change.

Labor for Refugees expresses its appreciation to Minister Chris Evans and his Advisers for their cooperation on these policies.

We are however disappointed that the Rudd Government fails to recognize the nonsense of its policy on the excision of outlying islands from Australia’s migration zone. Let us recall that excision was the brainchild of the Howard Government with the object of preventing asylum seekers landing on the excised islands from being able to apply for refugee status. But as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission pointed out in 2001 when the excision legislation was drafted, Australia continues to be bound by its human rights obligations towards aslylum seekers landing on the excised territories. The idea that Australia can escape from its international obligations by legislating for the so-called excision of these territories is an illusion.

The Rudd Government has allowed such aslyum seekers to apply for refugee status so that in a sense it has repudiated the intention of the Howard Government in introducing such legislation. But in retaining the concept of excision the Rudd Government is in effect contradicting itself and engaging in an act of deception.

In the early 1990s France legislated to create an 'international zone'in its airports and ports which was deemed to be outside French territory. However, in Amuur v. France, the European Court of Human Rights held that despite its name, such an 'international zone' did nothave extraterritorial status and France's international obligations (inthat case under the European Convention on Human Rights) continued to apply. Thus, creating the legal fiction that certain Australian territory is outside the migration zone does not in any way reduce or avoid Australia's international obligations, most relevantly under theRefugee Convention.

Delegates, Labor policy on refugees has in many ways moved forward but in this matter of excision it has actually moved backwards because in the platform adopted at the 2007 National Conference three territories only were specified for the continuation of excision i.e Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Ashmore Reef with the implication that the remainder of Australia’s 3000 odd outlying islands would resume membership of its migration zone.

But the draft platform before you suggests that all offshore places will remain excised. The current draft platform implies that there is something legal called a migration zone, when such an entity is entirely notional and has been declared to be legal fiction by the European Court of Human Rights.

Delegates, the second part of the paragraph on excision deals with the location of the processing of asylum seekers. The processing of asylum seekers who land on the excised territories is to be carried out on Christmas Island. This effectively creates two categories of asylum seekers with access to different rights: those landing in the excised territories and those landing on the mainland. Asylum seekers processed on Christmas Island are not permitted to appeal to the Federal Courts in the event that their application is rejected by the Department. I submit that this distinction is nonsensical and unconscionable.

Delegates, let us reject the policy of encouraging racial fear and distrust, resulting in the persecution of people in distress and the disregard of our international obligations. Instead, let us stand by our principles, and show compassion and justice to those who come to Australia seeking our help. We must abandon the very expensive and futile policy of processing asylum seekers on an excised Christmas Island. On the grounds of conscience, consistency and plain commonsense Labor for Refugees urges the Rudd Government to remove this major obscenity of the Howard era.