Sunday, December 26, 2010


Tony Abbott's famous phrase, that WorkChoices was dead, buried and cremated may need a new coda according to this piece in The Age ...

Fire at will: Liberals flirt with no-fault sacking

Date: December 26 2010

Josh Gordon, The Age

SENIOR Liberals are ramping up a push for an industrial relations overhaul - including a no-fault dismissal system to end arbitration that decides the fairness of sackings.

Despite Tony Abbott's declaration that WorkChoices is ''dead, buried and cremated'', the Coalition's post-election policy review is working on an industrial relations policy to take to the next election to replace Labor's Fair Work system.

One plan is to replace unfair dismissal laws - blamed for discouraging small business employment - with a radical system modelled on the concept of no-fault divorce that replaced the antiquated Matrimonial Causes Act in 1975.

The idea has been floated by industrial relations consultant Grace Collier in a paper to be published next month in the IPA Review, the journal of the free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

''Our current unfair dismissal system encourages Australians to behave like greedy whingers,'' Ms Collier writes. ''A no-fault dismissal system would set our heads right on the issue and provide for dignity of exit, allowing people to focus not on legal conflict but on managing departure in the chosen way whilst being encouraged to embrace the future opportunities that are always just around the corner.''

Under the proposal, being cautiously supported by influential Liberals, employers could sack workers with impunity, provided they offer compensation including a reasonable paid notice period, an assistance package and job transition services.

Ms Collier, a former unionist who now advises the hardline-conservative H.R. Nicholls Society, said a no-fault dismissal system would remove the need for costly legal argument to determine the fairness of a case, or whether it represented a redundancy or a dismissal.

Labor's new Fair Work system, which broadened unfair dismissal laws, triggered a 63 per cent increase in unfair dismissal applications in its first year, the paper says. ''Every working day, regardless of fairness, truth or the merits of their case, Australia employers collectively pay somewhere between $80,598.50 and $127,804.77 in 'go away money' simply to avoid government arbitration,'' it says. ''Is this a new tax on business and is anyone - other than employment lawyers - winning?''

Mr Abbott has been reluctant to revisit the industrial relations debate amid concerns it would be linked to WorkChoices, the Coalition policy that contributed to former prime minister John Howard's 2007 election demise. During the election campaign, Mr Abbott promised not to touch Labor's industrial laws for at least one term if he won.

But opposition industrial relations spokesman Eric Abetz, a recent guest at the H.R. Nicholls Society's annual dinner, in Melbourne, told The Sunday Age that although he did not want to comment on the merits of the proposal, ''it is a concept I would be willing to look at''.

Backbencher Liberals Stephen Ciobo and Jamie Briggs and frontbenchers Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have also made comments in recent weeks suggesting a need for the party to reconnect with its history of industrial relations deregulation.

Mr Briggs, a former industrial relations adviser to John Howard, believed Ms Collier's idea would be part of the Coalition's policy review headed by Mr Robb.

''The current laws are badly flawed and they prevent people from getting a chance of a job,'' Mr Briggs said.

''The idea that Grace [Collier] has put up is something that will be discussed.''

IPA executive director John Roskam believed the system was now even less flexible than when the former Howard government took office in 1996, blaming it for creating a ''grievance culture''.

''There are clear problems with the current system and for the Liberal Party to stand back while these problems exist and while people are losing their jobs … is wrong,'' Mr Roskam said. ''The system should not be set in stone.''

This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited; its use here is for the purposes of fair dealing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


We must never revisit the horror of Howard's policies

Amalina Wallace's Letter to the Editor, SMH, 21.12.10

Tony Abbott has described the Christmas Island boat disaster as an ''unspeakable horror'', and called for the reintroduction of the Howard government's policies. I am a former refugee decision-maker who has interviewed asylum seekers at Woomera, Port Hedland, Derby, Villawood, Nauru and Manus Island, and it is his words that fill me with unspeakable horror. The scenes I saw at Woomera and Manus Island in particular have left shocking memories of people who suffered cruelly.

Under the Howard government, Australia introduced a process of "screening out" refugee applicants, so that hundreds of people were put into legal limbo, denied access to lawyers and separated from family members, with no information about what happened to them or why.

The first time I entered Woomera, people were crying and screaming. An interpreter told me they were calling out "where am I?" "what's happening to me?", "when can I ring my family?" and "please help me".

The heat and harsh conditions led to significant mental problems, ranging from chronic depression and self-mutilation to hysteria and attempted suicide. I still recall the shock of interviewing people a few months after hundreds of decisions had been frozen at the end of 2001.

I had previously seen refugees with scars from cigarette burns or mutilated faces from torture in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan; now I was seeing people who were going mad. I interviewed a man with large, curved, thickened scars on his arms and torso, not from torture in one of Saddam Hussein's prisons, but from throwing himself repeatedly from the roof of a building at Woomera onto the razor wire. Some people were so chronically depressed they were unable to make it to the interview room, their chance of telling their story to gain release.

The people from the "children overboard" boat were tricked into going to Manus Island, where they were held in concrete bunkers left over from World War II, with water for cooking and bathing that had worms in it.

It is a huge error that such abuses were not investigated properly, and those responsible dealt with according to the law. By sweeping things under the carpet, no responsibility has been taken, and as a result politicians seek to further their ambitions by calling for the return of such a regime.

We must never forget what happened, and never allow it to happen again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Red News Readers,

To sign the Get Up Wikileaks petition, go to the link:

Jenny Haines

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Nurse ratio is double safe level: union

Louise Hall, SMH.

December 1, 2010

NURSES in public hospitals are caring for up to eight patients each, double the ratio the nurses' union says is needed for safe patient care.

A study of staffing in 332 hospital wards, commissioned by the NSW Nurses Association, found the ratio in general wards at most major hospitals averaged one nurse to 5.3 patients.

However the number of patients assigned to each nurse varied widely, with those on evening shifts often caring for seven patients each, and those on nights looking after more than eight.

Advertisement: Story continues below The study, by nursing workforce experts at two Sydney universities, comes as the state government agreed to consider mandated staffing ratios in return for a halt to industrial action planned for today.

The minimum ratio sought for general wards at most major hospitals is one nurse for four patients plus a registered nurse (RN) in charge of morning and evening shifts. At night, the ratio could rise to one to seven.

The general secretary of the association, Brett Holmes, said: ''Just one extra person on a shift can make the difference between a ward coping really well and a situation where there's lots of near-misses.''

The Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, has said staffing ratios are a ''blunt'' and ''inflexible'' tool to manage workloads when patients' need for care in hospitals varied widely. The current nursing award had a workload calculation tool to determine staffing levels based on several factors, including patients needing acute care.

However, the report's co-author, Christine Duffield, said the tool had become largely redundant since its limited introduction to wards in 2004.

Professor Duffield, the director of the Centre for Health Services Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, said ratios were important but it was vital that hospitals had the right ''skill mix'', the proportion of hours worked by the different classifications of nurses.

She warned that mandated ratios, if filled with higher proportions of enrolled nurses or assistants-in-nursing, would create a less safe environment for patients. Studies show a ward in which at least 85 per cent of staff are registered nurses will have lower rates of medication errors, falls, complications and deaths.

However, the survey found a skill mix as low as 46 per cent in some community hospitals.

Professor Duffield said the average skill mix of 66 per cent - with enrolled nurses or assistants-in-nursing making up the balance - reported in medical and surgical wards in second-tier hospitals such as Bankstown was also a concern.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Patients benefit from higher staff levels

Julie Robotham, SMH

November 25, 2010

ADEQUATE numbers of well-qualified nurses make a demonstrable difference to the speed of patients' recovery and their likelihood of complications, a growing body of international research clearly shows.

In the latest study, published last month, researchers from the Connecticut Children's Medical Centre found premature babies in neonatal intensive care units achieved higher blood oxygen levels - linked to lower brain-damage risk - when there was a higher number of nurses to infants on the ward.

Earlier this year US doctors found intensive care patients were at higher risk of their ventilator tubes becoming dislodged if they were cared for at a ratio of one nurse to three patients instead of the more widely recommended 1:2.

Advertisement: Story continues below The NSW Nurses' Association's call for a ratio of 1:4 for most ordinary surgical and medical wards is based on a large survey of US hospital patients, by Linda Aiken from the University of Pennsylvania school of nursing.

Professor Aiken examined how patients nursed in a 1:4 ratio fared compared with those who shared one nurse between eight patients. She found people in the latter group were 30 per cent more likely to die.

But Christine Duffield, associate dean of research in nursing faculty of the University of Technology, Sydney, said the 1:4 recommendation, ''should only ever be the floor, not the ceiling,'' and higher numbers of more highly qualified nurses would inevitably benefit patients.

Professor Duffield's 2007 study of the state's nursing workforce found nurse-to-patient ratios were inconsistent between hospitals and across the working day - with as many as 12 patients for each registered nurse during the night shift.

But the situation was likely to have deteriorated since then, she said, because of NSW Health's policy of using a greater number of less-qualified enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing.


Louise Hall, SMH, 25.11.10

NURSES have pledged to shut down hospital beds next week if the state government does not meet their demands for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.

More than 4000 nurses walked off the job yesterday and voted unanimously to continue industrial action unless the government agrees to consider introducing nurse staffing ratios in medical, surgical, emergency and palliative care wards, rehabilitation and inpatient mental health units, operating theatres and community health.

The nurses' union says the mandated ratio of one nurse to every four patients introduced into Victorian hospitals 10 years ago resulted in a safer environment for patients, improved staff morale and reduced patient complaints.

Advertisement: Story continues below The assistant secretary of the NSW Nurses Association, Judith Kiejda, said while mandated staffing ratios were expensive to fund, Victorian hospitals ''have not gone broke''.

She accused the government of failing to meaningfully discuss the union's claim despite attempts to negotiate with NSW Health since June.

''If the government won't fund positions to appropriately staff the public health system, then we will reduce the public health system to cope with the staff they will pay for,'' Ms Kiejda.

Intensive care, critical care, paediatrics and oncology wards and emergency departments would be exempted from the industrial action, she said.

Yesterday's strike took place despite a ruling by the Industrial Relations Commission that it be called off and calls from the government for the nurses to return to the negotiating table.

The Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said a wage rise of 3.9 per cent in the first year and 3 per cent in the second year was served on the association last month. The offer was based on continued use of a ''workload tool'' to determine staffing levels based on the number of patients on a ward and how sick they are.

''Ratios can be a very inflexible way of dealing with staffing and workload in a modern hospital,'' Ms Tebbutt said, but the government is ''willing to talk to nurses about all elements of their claim with regards to wages and conditions and workload''.

Yesterday's strike forced hospitals to defer about 500 patients scheduled to undergo elective surgery, NSW Health said. Of these, half have been given a new date before Christmas.

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Jenny Haines, former General Secretary,NSW Nurses Association 1982 to 1987.

NSW nurses need ratios. Nurses Australia-wide need ratios. Victoria has had ratios for the assessment of their nursing numbers per shift now for 10 years, and they successfully attracted 2650 nurses back to the nursing workforce in the first year of the ratios 2000/1.

The Californian Nurses Association, after a long running, and sometimes vindictive dispute with the Governator of Calfornia, Arne Scwharznegger, has ratios, and they in conjunction with nursing organizations in the other American states are taking their campaign for ratios nationwide. The Governator or Gropinator as the California Nurses call him, for his predeliction for close contact with women, tried at one point to close down the nurses registering body. Mind you, the California Nurses did try to sell Arne on eBay, and when it was pointed out to them that they couldn’t sell the Governator, they responded that he had already been bought and sold!!

Ratios in NSW will mean that medical surgical wards will be staffed according to the following ratios:

Morning shift: One nurse per four patients + RN in charge
Afternoon shift: One nurse per four patients + RN in charge
Night shift: One nurse per seven patients

The skill mix for each ward or unit will include a minimum of 85 per cent Registered Nurses for each shift. In terms of clinical support, the ratio specified above does not include the following positions or classifications: Nursing Unit Manager, Clinical Nurse Educator, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Nurse Practitioner, administrative support staff and wardspersons.

The current Secretary of the NSW Nurses Association Brett Holmes put it this way when launching the campaign for ratios in March 2010

"The extension of ratios into NSW is also a major initiative in terms of national healthcare reform. No real discussion about reform can occur without acknowledging the need to provide sufficient staff and funding for those required staffing levels. The issue goes to the heart of how any so-called national ‘efficient price' for a hospital service or procedure is set."

"Therefore, any work currently being done on costing public hospital services must develop scenarios that take this nurse-to-patient ratio claim into account. “

And patients need ratios. Patients need the reassurance that there is some science to the method of staffing wards and units and that it is not just based on whatever meager budget is left over for nurse staffing.

Those bureaucrats and politicians who go white at the mention of the cost of ratios for nurses - $400 million a year for the next 4 years - should consider this:

“Victoria’s public hospitals have recorded a combined financial surplus for the sixth successive year, Health Minister Daniel Andrews said today. “The hospital
annual reports, tabled in Parliament, confirm the Brumby Labor Government has positioned Victoria’s hospitals to continue delivering high quality services
to the community,” Mr Andrews said. “The hospitals are operating in surplus in the face of record demand.” (Statement by Victorian Health Minister, Daniel Andrews, 16 September 2010.)

Health system bureaucrats and politicians should also take into account the following factors:

1. The amount that has been saved by the downskilling of the nursing workforce over the last 10 -20 years.
2. The amount that has been saved through not providing adequate educational support to that downskilled workforce.
3. The amount that has been saved through the flattening of nursing management structures.
4. The amount that has been saved through the closure of too many beds in NSW.
5. The amount that has been saved through increased productivity and efficiency due to those bed closures and the need to expedite patient care within recommended guidelines.
6. The amount that has been saved through nurses working excessive overtime and never getting a chance to take time in lieu, which is supposed to be available under the award.
7. The amount that has been saved through the contracting out of ancillary services and the need for nurses to supervise the unskilled workers employed by the contractors.
8. The introduction of user pays for all services on hospital campuses and the costs to nurses for those services

The ratios are part of a wages and conditions package currently being negotiated by the NSW Nurses Association with the NSW government. There are to be as yet unspecified offsets in that package. I doubt that any of the above listed factors will be taken into consideration by NSW Health or the NSW Government, but they should stop and take notice of the enormous sacrifices being made by NSW nurses to keep the NSW health system running. It is just as well nurses are the nice people that they are. Wharfies and miners of old would have walked off the job years ago.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Richar Ackland, 12.11.10, SMH.

The High Court in Canberra yesterday delivered two decisions that struck at the heart of Australia's most divisive and politically-pedalled fears: refugees and criminal gangs.

It was a big day for justice, freedoms and rights. As a consequence, you can be sure the political mugging will be even more unrestrained and distorted.

In the organised crime case, the court by a six-to-one majority struck down the key component of the South Australian bikies legislation. The reasoning was clear - the legislation sought to dictate what magistrates were required to do in implementing decisions of the state government.

This is an exhilarating warning to governments from the highest court - don't trample on the judicial patch.

The vice in the legislation was that it sought to turn courts into rubber-stamps for decisions of the attorney-general and police commissioner. Magistrates were required to sprinkle holy water over the executive's attempts to restrict people's freedom of association if they were deemed to be engaging in ''serious criminal activity'' (even if they weren't).

It was not so much the attempt to control people's freedom of association that concerned the High Court. After all, numerous bits of law do that. It was the obligation that the legislation imposed on the courts to make control orders at the behest of government that was so upsetting.

It goes to the heart of chapter three of the constitution, the provisions that guarantee the independence of the judiciary and quarantine the government of the day from making ''judicial decisions''.

At the moment, chapter three is all we have by way of a national charter of rights. It is limited and its application is far from consistent but in the past couple of years it has been relied on by the High Court in a number of provocative ways.

In February, the court put a big hole in the NSW Industrial Relations Act by striking down the provisions that removed the right to appeal its occupational health and safety decisions to the Supreme Court. In August last year, it struck down the Australian Military Court because the legislation required it to exercise judicial powers without there being proper constitutional underpinning. A year ago today, the court scuttled elements of the NSW criminal assets recovery legislation because it used the word ''must'' in insisting the Supreme Court make orders to restrain bank accounts and other assets without the affected person being put on notice.

NSW has a bikie case that is awaiting a hearing in the High Court. The South Australian act was supposed to be the ''model'' gangs law, and NSW rushed to draw on its framework after the bikie brawl at Sydney Airport in March last year. Even though the police already had sufficient powers to deal with criminals and criminal organisations, the government of ''Red Hot'' Nathan Rees wheeled out its anti-gangs act and got it through Parliament pretty smartly. It drew heavily on the language of the Howard era's terrorism laws, with control orders and decisions made by judges who were deemed ''eligible''. There's plenty of room for the High Court, if it's in the mood, to find that this law, too, flies in the face of the chapter three protections, but you just never know.

Who was the hold-out in the South Australia case? No surprises there - Justice Dyson Heydon, who is more conservative than the Duke of Wellington. His is the lengthiest and most fascinating judgment, and a variety of authorities are cited, including Lenin.

In the refugee case, the court (unanimously) said that the offshore processing of asylum seekers had to be conducted with procedural fairness and according to law. The fact that the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock had tried to deny legal rights to possible refugees by containing them in black holes like Christmas Island did not excuse the ministerial obligation to observe binding decisions of the Australian courts or the Migration Act itself.

Ruddock's invention, we recently discovered, was the result of some creative discussion around his family dinner table.

Already the court's decision is being flagged by the ''stop the boats'' brigade as an open invitation to asylum seekers and people smugglers to overrun our borders.

Not quite. The broader challenges to the Migration Act and the minister's discretion on granting protection visas were not upheld.

The way in which chapter three and rules of procedural fairness are applied by the High Court are far from consistent. After all, the court has held that it is perfectly legal to lock up a person indefinitely without charge. It has also held that secret evidence can be used by courts to make decisions and that can be done without showing the evidence to the party adversely affected and having it properly tested.

Chief Justice James Spigelman of NSW, who would have been chief justice of the High Court had it not been for Kevin Rudd, said something last month that we all know, but least expect judges to say publicly: ''It is all too easy to dress up a conclusion, reached on other grounds, by selecting from the smorgasbord of maxims and principles of interpretation those which assist the achievement of the predetermined result.''

Yesterday was an emphatic statement by the High Court led by Robert French. Further, ministers ignore the law and the judges at their peril. That both major decisions were scheduled to come thudding down from on high on the same day rubs in the points even more forcefully.


David Marr

SMH, 12.11.10,

UNANIMOUS decisions of the High Court are never an accident. Only every decade or so do all seven judges speak with a single voice on big issues of principle. It's their way of sending a blunt message to government. Their support for the Tamil asylum seekers M61 and M69 lays down the law about fair dealing for all refugees. But underneath it's about safeguarding liberty.

Everything in the case turned on the fact that they - like all boat people since mandatory detention was introduced by the Keating government in 1992 - were deprived of their liberty while their claims were assessed. One way of boiling down this dramatic decision to its essentials is this: the High Court will ensure the courts are always there to see that liberty is only lost according to law.

The judges appear to be making amends for what is widely regarded as one of the High Court's worst decisions. Five years ago a majority of the judges decided Ahmed Ali Al-Kateb, a Palestinian whose claim for refugee protection had been rejected, could be held in Australia in immigration detention for the rest of his life if no other country would take him off our hands. So shocking was that conclusion, that Al-Kateb was released from detention by the Howard government. They could not live with a rule they themselves had asked the court to make. Al-Kateb has since become an Australian citizen. But his name is in the law books marking an embarrassing low point in the High Court's valuation of liberty.

Advertisement: Story continues below
Asylum Seekers are transported to Christmas Island by barge. Photo: Allison Millcock

The tone and approach of the judges to the predicament of M61 and M69 could not have been more different. This was all about setting limits on governments acting alone to deprive people of their liberty.

A little history is required at this point. Back in 2001, Australia set up a deliberately second-class system for assessing refugee claims by boat people. About 14,000 have gone through that system which has never been fundamentally challenged until now. The architects of the scheme tried to exclude the courts by separating as far as legally possible the assessment of claims from the minister's role in granting visas. Assessments of visa claims were said to be "non statutory" investigations - hence outside the control of the courts - and only once they were complete did the minister enter the picture. Whether he granted a visa at that point was something said to be absolutely at his personal discretion. Once again, the courts were supposed to be excluded.

They might work, said the court, except that while each case was going on - and here the judges used italics to indicate the crucial importance of these few words - "the claimant was detained". And that changes everything. Loss of liberty, said the seven judges, can only be for lawful purposes. No one can be detained in ways beyond the supervision of the courts.

Technically, the High Court collapsed the distance between the assessors and the minister. The court found that despite claims to the contrary, the minister was there at the start directing the assessors to do their work. They are not independent of the law but caught up in the machinery of the Migration Act. The work of the assessors - but not the minister - can therefore be directed by the courts.

The ultimate upshot? Shock, horror: all asylum seekers have to be dealt with fairly and according to law. And governments of all persuasions are on notice that the court now takes far more seriously its traditional role as guardian of liberty.


Darwin detention: 449

Alternative accommodation in Darwin: 448

Sydney detention: 164

Alternative accommodation: 29

Melbourne detention: 19

Alternative accommodation: 41

Brisbane detention 38

Alternative accommodation: 87

Weipa Qld detention: 291

Perth detention: 33

Alternative accommodation: 23

Leonora, WA, detention 199

Curtin, WA, detention 747

Port Augusta detention 59

Adelaide alternative accommodation: 2

* Alternative accommodation includes community detention and transit housing


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Friday, October 22, 2010


Well may these nurses protest but they are several years too late, and so is the union. The decision made to mainstream mental health clients into the general hospital system was made by NSW Health knowing that there was a desperate shortage of registered nurses who were specialised in the care of the mentally ill and knowing that their facilities were not the best for the numbers of clients that were going to be processed through them. It appears that this nurse was working alone at night in contravention of NSW Health Policy. If we are ever to have enough nurses working in mental health services we need immediate action to address the very low numbers of nurses choosing mental health as their specialty. Why not build on the success midwifery has had with its direct entry bachelor's degree and have a direct entry mental health degree?

Jenny Haines

Nurses protest over bashing

Kate Benson

October 22, 2010, SMH

NURSES are considering taking legal action against the Health Department after a staff member was bashed by a psychiatric patient.

Nurses at Blacktown Hospital will hold a rally to demand the psychiatric emergency care centre be closed because it is inadequately staffed and its design makes it difficult for staff to escape dangerous confrontations.

They say the hospital's 34-bed mental health unit, where the emergency care centre is located, has 10 fewer nurses than it needs to be safe.

Advertisement: Story continues below ''By any decent standard this unit is understaffed and now a nurse on her own has been brutally assaulted, by a seriously ill patient, in a staff room from which she had no alternative escape route once trapped inside the one-door room,'' the general secretary of the NSW Nurses Association, Brett Holmes, said.

The assault on the nurse, who did not want to be named, happened two weeks ago after a patient asked to use the phone at 4am. She was dragged from behind the desk, punched and kicked in the head, face and ribs. She is on stress leave and is not expected to return to work until next year.

The union organiser for the area, Michael Whaites, said a doctor had also been seriously assaulted at the centre two years ago. ''There's no second exit point. The staff do carry duress alarms but management is now looking at whether that's appropriate.''

He said the union was deciding if it should prosecute the Health Department for putting staff in danger, but was concerned that once the unit was closed, NSW Health would withdraw funding for several nurses, which would cause bigger problems. The protest rally will be held on Wednesday.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Call for greater social reform as health gap widens

Mark Metherell, smh

September 27, 2010
Source: CHA-NATSEM Report on Health Inequalities.

The Rudd government's health reforms failed to focus on what a new report shows is the biggest factor in death and disease in Australia - social and economic disadvantage.

An analysis commissioned by Catholic Health Australia has found that the 20 per cent of Australians on the lowest incomes died on average three years earlier than others because of illness caused by unhealthy lifestyles.

The most disadvantaged people were in some cases four or five times more likely to suffer chronic illness than the comfortably-off, the report found.

Martin Laverty, the group's chief executive, called on the new Parliament to press for renewed focus on improved early childhood support, education and welfare for disadvantaged people - an emphasis lacking in the Rudd reforms.

''Health reform in the last term of government focused on hospitals, not the drivers that cause people to end up in hospitals,'' Mr Laverty said. ''The then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, missed a major opportunity and left many health professionals disappointed with the health reforms.

''If this Parliament does not act on preventive and social determinants of health, health reforms will not be achieved.''

The analysis by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at Canberra University found the health gaps between the poor and well-off were often very large. Up to 65 per cent of people in public housing had long-term health problems compared with only 15 per cent of home owners.

More than 60 per cent of men in jobless households reported having a long-term health condition or disability, and more than 40 per cent of women.

Obesity rates were about three times higher among those in public housing than home owners. High-risk drinking among early school leavers was double the rate of those with a tertiary qualification. ''This is not about access to health services,'' Mr Laverty said. ''There is strong evidence that social determinants of health - such as income level, housing status and education level - are the factors more responsible for health inequities.'' The close links between low socio-economic status, illness and harmful lifestyles like smoking and unhealthy diet showed that more preventive health television campaigns would not solve the problem. ''This report shows that policies targeting behavioural change do not work,'' Mr Laverty said.

The health reforms now being implemented by the Gillard government needed to use the proposed new structures such as the local hospital networks and ''Medicare local'' organisations to assess health needs and advocate improvements in early childhood services, schooling and welfare support where necessary, he said. Any suggestion that the health reform was complete was wrong. ''It is far from it,'' Mr Laverty said.

The report, supported by the St Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Social Services Australia, showed that thinking on health equity had to change, said Father Frank Brennan of the Australian Catholic University and Tony Wheeler, chairman of Catholic Health Australia's stewardship board.

''We have failed as a nation to properly consider the root causes of most illness and disease,'' they say in the report

Saturday, September 11, 2010



by Wayne Sonter

A wave of strikes swept through China between May and July 2010, centred on, but not confined to the rapidly growing auto industry.

The strikes were triggered by a dozen suicides at the monstrous Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, where Apple iphones are made and hundreds of thousands of workers, nearly all young migrants from rural areas, work 60 or more hours a week in a sprawling complex of factories, under military-style management.(1)

Foxconn’s attitude towards its employers, typically, is that, “They are here to make money, of course they have to work hard. If they want a good life here, they will have to work hard for it. It's natural.” (2)

The suicides provoked sympathy and shame throughout China and stirred fellow migrant workers to take action, first at the Honda transmission plant at Foshan, (3) then at other plants owned by Honda, Toyota and Hyundai and their supplier firms (4)

The strikes mark a period of unrest and unsettled labour relations in China, as workers seek to wrest to themselves a ‘fairer’ share of the social product they create and to lessen their exploitation. As a striking worker at the Honda Lock plant (Zhongshan, Guangdong) stated:

China! It has been promoting low-cost competition and cheap labour. Our GDP keeps growing! However, this growth relies on exploiting our cheap labour. We have created all this wealth but only get very low wages in return.… Don’t we deserve to get better pay? With such deplorable wages, just how are we going to raise the overall level of our national economy? (5)

Those in revolt are the second generation of China’s ‘new’ industrial working class, created by China’s phenomenal economic growth in the last three decades, where hundreds of millions of people have moved from country to city seeking work, feeding a growth of 400 million people in China’s cities in the past 25 years.

They come to places like the Pearl River delta in Guangdong ‘one of the world’s densest industrial estates’ with its broad, low factories and ‘thickets’ of six-storey dormitories. Turnover of workers is high and most are young, few older than their early twenties and many still in their teens. Many manufacturing workers are women and almost all in the affected factories in Guangdong have attended vocational schools, meaning they have a relatively high level of education. (6).

These young workers are determined not to sacrifice their lives like their parents did, but to make a better life:

Our parents have suffered from this cheap labour market and now they are getting old. And now, do we, the post 1980 and 1990 generation, want to follow in footsteps of our parents? I believe no parent wants this. It is because they all once walked down this road and know how hard it is. We do not want to go this way either. Times have changed! So this kind of cheap labour regime must end! (7)

They are also more spirited, and combative in advancing their interests:(8)

“We are not as cowardly and afraid of trouble (as the older workers)”, said … a cheerful 20-year-old factory girl wearing a pink dress, gently mock(ing) an older colleague in his 30s who was among a group of around 10 others gathered in her room. "We don't think so much about things," she laughed. "The risk is worth taking. Now we've started, we must finish it." (9)

With modern information-technology the new generation of workers find it easy to discover, through school networks, mobile phones and internet bulletin boards what is happening from factory to factory. This fed into the strike wave, sweeping across industry and from employer to employer, in increasingly conscious industry wide action that indicates a capability to take action to a more general level.

China’s new labour laws have made it easier for workers to organise and bargain with their employer, and the huge debate among workers and in the media before they became law in 2008, raised expectations that they would provide workers better protection. (10)

But the strikes also exposed the inadequacy of the All China Federation of Trade Unions as a voice for labour, and the comprador role local governments play in backing capital in disputes with labour. As Anita Chan, University of Technology, Sydney, reported in the China Daily:
‘during the Honda strike, in the eyes of the workers the union was “useless” because it “blatantly sided with the local government, which in turn was on the side of the employer.”’ (1)

Employers and local governments have routinely appointed workplace delegates, with ACFTU compliance:

The ACFTU has for many years had “a policy of urging workplace unions to sign collective contracts with managements” and … the government supports “an enlarged trade union role” in negotiating contracts with management … however, in foreign-invested enterprises in the Pearl River Delta region in Guangdong, workers’ representatives are appointed by local governments and are expected to support their localities’ quest for foreign investment. (12)

The top levels of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are recognising the vital role of the young, migrant workforce for China’s future and the justice of their demands on employers for higher wages and better conditions. No less a figure than Chinese Premier, Wen Jibao recently told migrant workers in Beijing:

“You are the main army of the contemporary Chinese industrial workforce. Our wealth and our tall buildings are all distillations of your hard work and sweat. Your labour is a glorious thing, and it should be respected by society. The government and all parts of society should treat young migrant workers as they would treat their own children.” (13)

Yang Shiming, vice-minister for human resources and social security, reported to the National People’s Congress on the need to safeguard migrant workers rights and improve their working conditions, (14) while Wang Yang, the highest government leader in Guangdong, has encouraged the Guangdong trade union federation to “democratize” the trade union by experimenting with election of local trade union leaders. (15)

Some reports claim the words from senior CPC figures are backed by militia ready to enforce civil order. Their warnings almost welcome the prospect of suppression of workers revolt to ‘prove’ the system has failed, or capitalist restoration is complete. (16), (17), (18).

Some also read into these developments the possibility of a ‘solidarnosc’ type workers movement in China, or on the other hand are critical of the extent to which present developments are not leading to ‘independent’ trade unions. (19)

Nonetheless, young workers are directly taking power into their hands through strike action in the workplace, adding to pressure within the ACFTU to start to allow and encourage workers to directly elect workplace committees and representatives, rather than appoint them by the ‘usual’ methods:

“… under the impetus of the workers’ self-organization in the auto parts industry … President of Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions, Deng Weilong, announced creation of a trade union legal services department to represent workers and activists. He also announced the union’s intention to conduct democratic elections to replace management officials with workers as union chairpersons in workplace unions. The Vice-Chair of Guangdong Federation of Trade unions, Kong Xianghong … defended the legal rights of workers to conduct economic strikes. Unions must listen to the workers, support their legitimate demands and aspirations through collective bargaining.” (20)

Workers using their rights to organise in the workplace, accords with China’s constitution and is also the most likely and direct way to empower unions and through an ‘all-china federation’ extend workers’ power across the workforce. In other words, workers, using their collective power, can make the ACFTU itself a more effective force for developing the working class’s organising and management capability at workplace, industry and economy levels. The extent to which they can do this indicates how far the present framework can support an evolving social democracy. Such understanding seemed to emerge among ACFTU officials, in the course of the strikes:

The first strike at the Nanhai Honda Auto Parts transmission plant in Foshan City succeeded in winning wage increases for both “student interns” and permanent workers through courageous actions and strategically sound tactics, but had to overcome violent strike-breaking efforts by Nanhai district trade union officers sent by the local government. Nanhai workers elected their own bargaining representatives and demanded the right to elect their own enterprise union chairperson.... a fair election procedure has been promised them by … the Guangdong provincial trade union federation …

A wave of strikes triggered by the success of the Nanhai strike swept parts plants producing for Honda, Toyota and Hyundai, with roughly similar outcomes, negotiations resulting in major wage increases and promises that workers will have the right to select their local union officers in the future. Generally the striking workers regarded the enterprise and higher level trade unions as useless or irrelevant. At the Honda Lock plant at Zhongshan, after the strike faltered when management brought in scabs and threatened strikers with dismissal, some frustrated strike leaders were reported in the New York Times to be calling for an independent trade union.

However when the strike wave reached Honda Nansha in Guangzhou, the municipal trade union federation reacted positively and pro-actively. The trade union leadership encouraged election of worker representatives to participate in bargaining, and made a public statement that the union would be on the workers’ side and represent their interests. When the local labor bureau officer asked the local union to serve its traditional role as “mediator” in the dispute between workers and management, the trade union officer refused and insisted the government’s labor bureau play that role. The union official even resisted the customary “vetting” of the elected chairperson of the worker representatives by the local police.’ (21)

The Chinese actions are already inspiring workers around the world. For example Ken Lewenza, President, Canadian Auto Workers Union, whose members work for many of the same employers as do Chinese workers, has called for popular forces to look to Chinese strikers for hope:

“Chinese autoworkers who, against all odds and possibly severe repercussions, took to the streets in protest over insufficient wages and poor working conditions … exemplify the principles and fearless spirit of trade unionism … A strong, independent and united Chinese trade union movement can support and inspire unions and workers' movements globally … (22)

Support for the striking workers has come from within China and internationally, (23), (24), (25), including from veteran communists who have called on the ACFTU to clearly stand on the workers’ side and for the CPC to uphold the constitution and its basic principles, by restoring the working class to its leading position and socialist public ownership to its central role in the national economy. (26)

The upsurge in militancy amongst China’s workers is part of an emerging, world-wide ferment of discontent following the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), whose costs the world capitalist class blatantly intends to shove onto workers.

The global auto industry is a case in point. It has undergone an extended period of rationalisation, accelerated by the GFC and recession. Automakers are rushing to China both to exploit a ‘competitive’ labour market and to be inside the world’s largest and fastest growing new car market (27)

In doing this the global corporates have ruthlessly squeezed labour costs, driving hard bargains to enforce brutal work conditions on their own employees and forcing down to the bare bone the prices they give contractors, who are then doubly driven to undercut labour to the maximum extent. Many contracting firms work on margins of less than 5 per cent, so cannot afford any real increases in costs of labour.(28).

The current wave of strikes has succeeded in revealing to China’s young workers their power, particularly when they assert it against powerful multinational corporations in growth sectors of the economy.
They perceive that they are fighting for socialism, and opposing capitalism, which they equate with exploitation by global corporations:
Honda is a Japanese company and Japan is a capitalist country. But China is supposed to be a socialist country! The Japanese companies investing in China must follow the rules of China. Implement socialism! Do not give us capitalism! (29)

This is a new development. Industrial strife has simmered for the whole period of downsizing, bankruptcy and rationalisation of public sector industry, but labour is now exercising its power in an expanding industry sector, linked integrally to the global economy.

Challenges for a socialist pathway

This eruption of strikes starkly highlights some of China’s challenges in strengthening workers’ democracy and forging a socialist pathway of development.

Many features of the Chinese state are contradictory. The 2008 labour laws may have increased labour’s power to organise, but the 2004 Congress’s amendments to the constitution also protected private ownership of property and wealth, permitted private entrepreneurs to join the CPC and recognised the merit of ‘progressive’ capitalists among its principles. (30), (31)

Development in China since the 1980s has generated great inequality and a very wealthy elite, creating a potentially explosive situation. According to an article in The People’s Daily, quoted in the China Labour Bulletin:
“China’s Gini Coefficient, … an index that measures inequality, clocks in at 0.47 – very close to the 0.5 marker, which often signals risk of instability. … from 1997 to 2007 labour remuneration as a percentage of GDP went from 53.4 per cent to 39.74 per cent. Workers weren’t the only ones to lose ground. … In 1978 urban per capita income was 2.78 times higher than rural income. By 2009 that gap had widened to 3.33. Also, in cities, the richest 10 per cent controlled 45 per cent of the wealth, while the poorest 10 per cent only had 1.4 per cent. (32)

To the extent the top echelons of the party are founding dynasties who own private and privatised productive assets, work closely with foreign investors to ratchet up economic growth, and have inheritance rights, there is a mortal danger of the state turning into an apparatus that serves a capitalist class, one that concedes to workers only what it must, to maintain stability and growth of consumption in a market economy (33).

China’s last three decades can be characterised as a form of a New Economic Policy (NEP), as well as a sort of ‘market socialism’. It invites comparison with the early Soviet Union, when the young revolution needed a massive infusion of capital to develop industry and improve living standards, and also with the ‘marketisation’ that years later helped collapse the Soviet Union and the Comecon countries.

Lenin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union saw great danger arising from the influx of global financial and industrial capital into a young socialist state economy. Lenin stressed that capital flowing into the economy had to be accompanied by a maximisation of labour’s rights and resources, so it could resist superexploitation, exert a controlling force in workplace and industry and continue to develop its social-economic role:
“(where) a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control, are now being permitted and are developing; (and) state enterprises are being put on what is called a profit basis, i.e., they are in effect being largely reorganised on commercial and capitalist lines … (then) one of the main tasks that will henceforth confront the trade unions is to protect in every way the class interests of the proletariat in its struggle against capital. This task should be openly put in the forefront, and the machinery of the trade unions must be reorganised, modified or supplemented accordingly … (34)

Where now for workers?

The revolt by young Chinese workers has inspired labour around the world. Their actions have reverberated among corporate and ruling circles in a time of global ferment and discontent with the capitalist system.
Their decisive action has hastened increases in the minimum wage in provinces throughout China, (35) in a situation where, according to the ACFTU a quarter of Chinese workers had not had a pay rise in the previous five years (36)

Their commitment and strategic thinking is forcing the ACFTU towards accepting a more representative unionism in the workplace and to taking on a new role as labour ‘advocates’ rather than ‘mediators’ between labour and capital; and gained recognition from government of their vital role in the economy and the justice of their case.

Given this, workers’ gains in some cases were little more than the minimum wage increases municipal and provincial governments are now setting. Employers have reneged on deals once the strikers were back at work, intensified work and ramped up costs and penalties for employees. They are accelerating automation, seeking lower cost immigrant labour and preparing to move to lower cost labour markets –provincial China and lower wage countries such as Vietnam, Bangla Desh and Cambodia. (37).

Employers – especially foreign investment enterprises – are accustomed to, expect and demand that the Chinese government protects their investments in China. They perceive a common interest between businesses, both foreign and domestic, and governments seeking stability. On the other hand, those workers who have recently taken direct action against global corporations are a ‘thin sliver’ of China’s total workforce. They need to be vigilant, connected and organised to maintain their gains, avoid isolation and counter these pressures.

China employs a fifth of the global workforce. Its economy is inextricably part of the global market economy. The Chinese workers’ long march to emancipation against the forces of imperialism, including their own emerging capitalist class, is of vital concern to the global workforce. The labour movement worldwide needs to work in solidarity with China’s workers if it is to effectively challenge imperialism and the world capitalist class, transform society and bring about a civilised future for humanity.

1. ‘Billionaire Terry Gou sweats in fallout over 10 Hon Hai suicides’ Jason Dean and Ting-I Tsai, The Wall Street Journal May 27, 2010
2. ‘Special Report: China's new migrant workers pushing the line’ By James Pomfret and Kelvin Soh, Reuters, Mon Jul 5, 2010.
3. ‘Honda Strikers Victorious in China’ Paul Garver, Talking Union, posted June 7, 2010.
4. ‘Auto Strikes Open Up Space for Union Reform in China’ Paul Garver, ibid, posted July 7, 2010
5. ‘A Honda Worker in China Speaks Out at Close of Historic Strike’, Labor Notes Staff, 06/02/2010.
6. ‘Workers in China grasp the power of the strike’ Jonathan Watts, The Observer, Sunday 4 July 2010
7. ibid. ‘A Honda Worker in China Speaks Out …’
8. ‘China takes hands-off approach to labour strikes’ AP, Monday June 28, 2010.
9. ibid. ‘Special Report: China's new migrant workers pushing the line’
10. ibid. ‘China takes hands-off approach to labour strikes’
11. ‘Labor unrest and role of unions’, Anita Chan, China Daily, 18 June 2010
12. ‘The New Challenge of the Strikes Won’t Go Away’ Stanley Lubman, Wall Street Journal July 11, 2010,
13. ‘Echoes of workers’ struggle in apartheid-era South Africa in China’s factories today’, Geoff's blog China Labour Bulletin, June 14 2010.
14. ‘China's migrant workers see some gains on labor rights’, Violet Law, June 30, 2010, Christian Science Monitor.
15. ibid. ‘Auto Strikes Open up …’
16. ‘As Chinese premier urges “respect” for workers, police prepare crackdown’, John Chan, 18 June 2010,World Socialist Website.
17. ‘China strikers bypass union, organize with social media’, Michelle Phillips, June 27, 2010, Washington Times.
18. ‘UPDATE 1-Striking workers at Honda China supplier demand apology’, Doug Young; Fri Jul 16, 2010, Reuters.
19. .ibid. ‘Special Report: China's new migrant workers pushing the line’ “But the Communist Party, which traces its own heritage to a worker's movement, has faced a policy tightrope. It must also ensure that strikes don't proliferate and scare investors or ignite broader political confrontation that erodes Party rule. Few workers blame the government for low wages, but more and more say higher pay and a larger share of China's economic pie are only fair.
While the past few years have seen bargaining power shift in labor's favor, it's virtually unthinkable that Beijing would allow workers to form independent unions along the lines of those found in Japan or South Korea, which might undermine its one-party power. When workers of struggling state-owned factories in northeast China organized protests and voiced political demands in 2002, authorities arrested the leaders and jailed them on charges of political subversion.
China's leaders have studied the lessons from Poland's solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa, which saw an independent trade union morph into a powerful opposition force that played a key role in the downfall of Communism there and in other Eastern bloc countries.
20. ‘Auto Strikes Open Up Space for Union Reform in China’ ibid.
21. . ibid. ‘Auto Strikes Open up …’
22. ‘Look to Chinese strikers for hope’ Ken Lewenza, Jun 25 2010, The Star.
22. ‘Time to defend Chinese workers' rights’ Li Hong, June 07, 2010, People’s Daily.
23. ‘Support Honda Workers in Foshan China’, 3 June 2010, Chinese Workers Research Network.
24. Follow the Lead of China’s Strikers’, Jim Stanford June 27, 2010
25. ‘[Worldwide Scholars Petition]: Support Honda Workers in Foshan China’ Fri, 06/04/2010 China Labour Net
26. ‘Position Statement of Old Revolutionaries on Present Upsurge of Worker Action in China’ 13 June 2010, Li Chengrui, et al.
27. Automotive industry, Worldwide Trends.
28. ‘Apple's iPhone supply chain faces sharply increasing costs in China’ Josh Ong, 7 July 2010 Also: ‘Secrets, Lies, And Sweatshops’ Business Week, 27 Nov, 2006
29. ibid. ‘A Honda Worker in China Speaks Out at Close of Historic Strike’
30. ‘Major Amendments to the Constitution’ China Through A Lens March 16, 2004
31. ‘Chinese regime amends constitution to protect private ownership’, John Chan, 2 April 2004 World Socialist Website’
32. ‘People’s Daily cites gap between rich and poor as most pressing issue in China, but solution still elusive’, william's blog 13 Jul 2010, China Labour Bulletin.
33. ‘In Who’s Interest does the State in China Serve and Why’ Mark Vorpahl, July 2, 2010
34. ‘Draft Theses on the Role and Functions of the Trade Unions under the New Economic Policy’, V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, 1971.
35. ‘Provinces across China raise minimum wages’ People’s Daily, August 18, 2010 Also:
‘China Provinces Raise Minimum Wages to Curb Disputes’ Business Week July 01, 2010
36. ‘ACFTU: SOE senior Executives earn 18 times higher than grassroots workers’ People’s Daily, March 10, 2010
37. ‘With Lower Garment-worker Pay, Bangladesh Moves In On China’Vikas Bajaj, Manilla Bulletin July 22, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Bob Katter is not mad. Just because he is able to offer a sustained and valid attack on the economic orthodoxies of our age, he is called mad! How dare he suggest that capitalism does not deliver for farmers and rural workers. How dare he remind those who have grown fat and rich, those who preach globalisation, economic rationalisation, and the dominance of the market economy, that after 12 years of Liberal Coalition Government there was one farmer suiciding in Australia every four days. How dare he fight to defend the members of his constituency by opposing the mining tax and advocating the greater use of ethanol for fuel. I disagree with him on the mining tax, but I defend his right to his view. Bob Katter has been returned to parliament by his constituency 7 times. How many other politicians can claim that? He is not mad, he is a politician doing his job for his electorate, however uniquely, and somewhat eccentrically.

Jenny Haines

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Lucy Turnbull recently wrote a think piece in the Sydney Morning Herald triumphantly declaring that despite the Global Financial Crisis and the market excesses that led to that crisis, that capitalism is the only viable system we have for organising our economies. Well Lucy, I wonder if that is what those who survive by scrabbling for food in rubbish heaps in the Phillipines think? Or those in the townships in South Africa who have been waiting now for a very long time for better housing, education and health services? Or those in rural Australia who don’t get heard in the babble of an election contest when they try to talk about real issues, but the electorate is too busy wondering about Julia’s hair and Tony’s ears.? Bob Katter should have shaken the apologists for capitalism with his recent statement that after 12 years of Coalition Government implementing an economic rationalist and deregulatory agenda, there was a farmer suiciding every four days. What a great triumph for capitalism!

History tells us that capitalism is nothing without its opposite, socialism. Capitalism and Socialism should live in a perpetual duality, a balance. Socialism tempers capitalist excess. Capitalism can temper Socialism. Abolish, crush, abandon socialist ideas, and capitalist excess flourishes. Lucy simplistically talks about socialism as the command economies of Stalinism, but socialism takes many more forms and philosophies than the oppression of Stalinism. Interestingly in the first few years after the Russian Revolution, before the terrors of Stalinism took hold, the economy flourished, not just through the efforts of local Russian industrial, post war reconstruction but because of the co-operation with American and European Business. Not many people now remember that Henry Ford had a car factory in the Soviet Union in the 1920 and 1930s. The prosperity of the post war co-operative reconstruction was blown away by the terrible and stupid mistakes of Stalinism and the terror economy.

But socialism is much much more than this. Socialist ideas inspired the early trade unionists, and still inspire them today. Trade unionists know that they need a political party to take their demands forward in the realm of government, and so the Labor Party was formed. Socialist ideas underpin the formation of the Green Party. Small liberals in the Liiberal National Coalition espouse socialist ideas when they support welfare for the aged or single mothers. Without the regulation that socialism requires to achieve social objectives over economic rationalist objectives, deregulation allows the sharks and shonks of capitalism to rip people off. Greed is not good! And there is a price to pay down the track for all that greed, and we are now paying it. And there is more to come. The Global Financial Crisis is not yet over. On Four Corners on Monday 23rd August 2010, we were reminded that we are now living in the biggest bubble of all time. The PIGS countries, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are using borrowed monies to repay debts. The bubble is expanding. It is going to blow. And we are going to see the worst recession, if not depression since the Great Depression. And as Franklin Roosevelt taught us, the only way out of the coming recession or depression is the implementing of socialist based ideas and programs.

It is not fashionable to talk about socialism these days as the horrors of Stalinism in the 20th century equate socialism with death, destruction and economic decay. But socialism survives in all its inspirations and its forms. It must be defended, and so we must fight for the rightful place of unions in our society, and the achievement of the social democratic objectives of the left of centre political parties. The capitalist agenda of economic rationalism, globalisation and productivity and efficiency as the basis of the distribution of wealth have led us into the recent Global Financial Crisis and the coming Crisis. Unless we recognise the duality of Capitalism and Socialism there is a lot more pain in our economic life to come

Friday, August 13, 2010


Yahoo 7 News, 13.8.10

Bob Hawke says there is no way to "stop the boats" as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has claimed he will do to the asylum-seeking craft regularly arriving on islands off Australia's north-west coast.

The former Labor prime minister repeated his attack on Mr Abbott describing him as "mad as a cut snake" and said Australia needed people like those arriving by boat to claim asylum because they had initiative and courage.

Mr Hawke offered a range of thoughts across many issues to a Financial Services Council conference in Melbourne on Friday.

Mr Hawke admitted he had early concerns about Prime Minister Julia Gillard's re-election prospects but believed the Labor campaign was looking up for her now.

He also said there was no way to "stop the boats" as Mr Abbott has promised.

"We're all bloody boat people," he said.

"That's how we found the place."

Mr Hawke said he understood the frustration of many voters at "queue jumpers", but said "we have to look at the other side of the coin".

He said the coalition's approach to the boat people question was "nonsense".

"We cannot turn the boats back," Mr Hawke said.

"These people have got initiative, guts and courage and Australia needs people like that."

He pushed Indonesia as the location for an asylum seeker processing centre, saying it would be "fair enough, as long as the conditions there are humane".

Mr Hawke also spoke about his South Australian-based work with a centre focused on improving relations between the Islamic community and others, saying the real challenge for Australia in his eyes was not to "demonise Muslim people".

On the wider question of the August 21 poll, Mr Hawke was happy to admit the five week campaign had not started well for Labor, after a series of damaging leaks and the issue of former leader Kevin Rudd's rolling.

"Julia hasn't been able to shine in the first half of the campaign," he said, but he genuinely felt that Labor would win

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Red News Readers,

At last some information about what is happening with the nurses wage claim.

Jenny Haines

Public sector unions watch rail vote for wages guide


August 11, 2010

REPRESENTATIVES of the state's rail workers will vote today to either end their bitter industrial dispute with the state government or fight on with a possible strike on the eve of the federal election.

The workers have been offered a wage increase of just under 3.5 per cent a year over the next four years, less than the 5 per cent sought by their unions.

In return, the government and RailCorp have backed down on planned redundancies among train guards and security staff, though it is understood they continue to demand increased productivity. This is in keeping with the government's policy of keeping public sector wage increases capped at 2.5 per cent unless ''productivity gains'' can be made elsewhere.

Other public sector unions preparing for wage negotiations are watching the rail deal with interest, including the NSW Nurses Federation, which is seeking a 5 per cent annual increase over four years. It has rejected a productivity deal, saying its members are already so stretched ''there is nothing else to give''.

Rail chaos was averted when a tentative wage deal was reached early yesterday.

But strike plans still exist in the event about 400 union delegates at Trades Hall vote the proposal down. They include a 24-hour strike on the day before the federal election - an action that could seriously harm Labor's chances, particularly in crucial seats in western Sydney.

The NSW secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Alex Claassens, denied he was using the federal poll as political leverage to pressure the government.

''That's certainly not my intention,'' he said. ''I am hopeful that, even if the proposal doesn't get up, there will be an agreement reached before we have to take that action.''

Regardless of the outcome today, the rail deal raises questions about the state government's ability to keep its promise to stay under the 2.5 per cent cap.

In its 2010-11 budget, the government promised to keep expenses growth to 4.7 per cent a year - even though expenses had grown at 6.6 per cent for each of the four previous years.

Public sector employee costs - mainly wages - account for 43 per cent of the total expenses bill.

The pressure is now well and truly on, with unions unwilling, and in some cases unable, to find productivity gains to offset their desired wages increases.

The acting secretary of the nurses union, Judith Kiejda, said the association rejected the government's requirement that any rises over 2.5 per cent be offset by ''efficiency measures''.

''We believe we have put productivity savings into the system and that there is nothing else to give - that's how our membership are feeling,'' Ms Kiejda said.

The union is also seeking to have minimum nurse-to-patient ratios mandated under the award, which would force hospital managers to fill vacancies or close a ward.

Hospital managers would have to fill vacancies, including those created when staff take sick, parental or holiday leave, lessening the reliance on overtime and casual agency staff. Only a nurse or midwife of the same qualification would be permitted.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Red News Readers,

Those members of Gen X and Y who have not registered to vote would do well to remember the words of Nelson Mandela on the day that he voted for the first time in his life. He said that this was the day that he had spent 25 years in jail for, the day on which he could vote, as a citizen in a democratic election in South Africa. They should also remember the words of UN Aid Workers in Cambodia, touched by the sight of women in Cambodia, crouched by the side of a road after having walked all night, waiting for the polling booths to open, so they too could vote for the first time in the Cambodian elections after the fall of Pol Pot. And recently I was touched by the reports of election observers in Afghanistan who observed crowds of people taking their life in their hands, under threat from the Taliban, but willing to take the risk, just for the right to vote. The right to vote is a priviledge that should not be taken lightly or ignored. Many have died and suffered for it. Register to vote and have your say. Even better, get active in a political issue that interests you. The future of this country is in your hands.

Jenny Haines

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Red News Readers,

Gerard Henderson in today’s SMH reviews some of the dark history of government decision making on refugees and asylum seekers. While he remembers Labor in a bad light, he tries to justify all that Howard et al did. My blog posting is below:-

“Some of what Gerard Henderson says about past governments, Labor and Liberal Coalition is true unfortunately, but past mistakes do not justify current repetition of mistakes or lack of humanity. On Amanda Tattersall's statement, Gerard, I refer you to Page 228, of Dark Victory, by Marr and Wilkinson, "But critically the purpose of Operation Relex was not search and rescue. It was a military operation to stop the boats and turn them back before they reached Australia." And you may like to turn to Page 291 of the same book to find their comment about John Faulkner, "the questioning of civilian and military officials was driven by Labor's John Faulkner in a ruthless forensic exercise extending over many months. He and his colleagues on the committee laid bare much of this story."

If you wish to add to this blog go to the link:

Jenny Haines

Friday, July 09, 2010


Mandatory detention destroyed my life: refugee

SMH, July 9, 2010 - 3:58PM
Gillard eats her words over refugees
Abbott smells blood
Richard Ackland: Facts and furphies
What would you do?

A former immigration detainee has told a rally protesting the government's new policy on asylum seekers that mandatory detention destroyed his life.

Iranian refugee Mohsen Soltani says he lives with the scars of his detention.

"They destroy my whole life in detention," said the poet and musician, who spent four years in immigration detention centres in Western Australia and New South Wales.

"I run away from torture and execution in my country, but here they crush all my spirit."

Mr Soltani was sent to the Port Hedland detention centre in WA in 1999 and was later transferred to Villawood, in Sydney's southwest, before being released in 2003.

He told about 60 people outside the Immigration Department offices in Sydney's CBD today that detention centres were "hell".

The rally was held to protest against Prime Minister Julia Gillard's proposal for a regional offshore processing centre for asylum seekers.

Protesters waved banners and chanted: "Say it out loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here".

Mr Soltani told the rally that Ms Gillard's proposal showed she was the same as former prime minister John Howard and his immigration minister Philip Ruddock.

"We don't want the same history repeated with more mandatory detention - with more mental people released from that bloody hell," he said

"I have a huge mental illness from the detention."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is also proposing a return to offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Jenny Haines, spokeswoman for Labor for Refugees, said Ms Gillard's proposal was an election tactic.

"To cave into that idiot Abbott's idea that we can offshore process and then send (people) back to dangerous places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka is reprehensible," she said.

Mark Goudkamp from the Refugee Action Collective castigated both sides of politics.

"It seems like its a debate on who can be ... more tough in terms of stopping asylum seekers even getting to Australia," he said.

Ms Gillard this week announced East Timor was a possible location for a detention centre, but later had to tone down her remarks after Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao responded negatively.

The government has since had discussions with Papua New Guinea.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Red News Readers,

Having just read Gillard’s speech, my view is that she seems to be trying to walk the middle path in the first part of the speech and then she lurchs towards Abbott with her East Timor processing centre. Why does she need this centre? She has Christmas Island and the onshore processing centres on the Australian mainland. East Timor I presume is in addition to what we have, not in place of? .

I agree with John Dowd who I heard on ABC 702 yesterday morning. He said that if the people that have recently arrived were white South Africans or white Zimbabweans, no one would be raising a murmur. But because they are brown and from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan there is a problem. John Dowd said this is racism. And it is, and Gillard should be ashamed that she is caving in to such forces in our community.

Mind you it is a good thing that she is not sending the Hazaras back to Afghanistan immediately. William Maley, an Australian National University expert on the Hazara, said in the SMH today: ”On the day Julia Gillard became prime minister, 11 Hazaras travelling in a vehicle in Oruzgan, the province where our troops are deployed, were waylaid by the Taliban and had their heads cut off.” He said it would be extremely dangerous to send any Hazara back to Afghanistan at present, and that no Afghan specialist in the world would say that the situation in Afghanistan is improving.

But pity the Sri Lankans. At the very moment that the EU is cutting off trade benefits to Sri Lanka because of the failure of its government to improve human rights, at a time when human rights organisations are reporting continued human rights abuses, Australia is planning to send vulnerable applicants for refugee and asylum seeker status back to Sri Lanka. Will Australians be satisfied when some, or god help us all of these returning refugees are imprisoned, or worse executed on their return? I hope Gillard, Abbott and those advocating their return can lie easy in their beds, because I can’t knowing what may very well happen to the Sri Lankans on their return.

Jenny Haines

Gillard on asylum seekers: time for an East Timor Solution

by Bernard Keane, Crikey 6.7.10

Australia will establish a revised “Pacific Solution”, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard flagging a “regional processing centre” for asylum seekers to be based in East Timor, to where asylum seekers who arrive by boat would be redirected as part of a “regional protection framework”.

In an address to the Lowy Institute this morning, the Prime Minister moved to establish a tougher line on asylum seekers by announcing her intention to pursue an East Timor processing facility with President Jose Ramos-Horta, the New Zealand government and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

She also flagged that improved conditions in Sri Lanka now meant Tamil asylum seekers were likely to be sent home, and that negotiations were proceeding with the Afghan government on the repatriation of failed Afghan asylum seekers. Gillard also indicated unspecified measures to strengthen penalties for people smugglers whose actions lead to death, and committed to ensuring that successful asylum seekers would receive no “special treatment”.

Gillard explicitly denied that the proposed East Timor facility would be “a new Pacific Solution”, instead insisting it would be a “sustainable, effective regional protection framework”, but the difference with the Howard government’s approach of spending large sums of taxpayer money to send asylum seekers to locations such as Nauru for processing is unclear, beyond the promised involvement of the UNHCR.

The Prime Minister indicated that, in light of the UNHCR’s overnight report indicating a significantly improved security and legal situation in Sri Lanka, most Tamil asylum seekers faced being put on a plane back to their homeland if they attempted to reach Australia, although acknowledging that case-by-case determinations would remain. The present suspension of claims by Sri Lankan asylum seekers, put in place by Kevin Rudd just under three months ago, would be lifted.
The present suspension of processing of claims for Afghan asylum seekers would remain in place, but Gillard appeared to suggest this awaited the resolution of repatriation arrangements with the Afghan government. She emphasised that nearly three-quarters of Afghan asylum applicants had been refused in recent months.

Gillard also sought to address the persistent community myth that refugees are given extensive and special taxpayer assistance. “When newcomers settle in our community, they accept their responsibilities as members of the community — to learn English, enter the workforce, and send their kids to school like everyone else. Most refugees fulfil these obligations and are grateful to be able to make a new home in Australia … But the rules are the rules. We will ensure refugees shoulder the same obligations as Australians generally.”

What action this would entail remains unclear.

Earlier today, the opposition sought to further toughen its own stance on asylum seekers by indicating those who “deliberately destroyed” identity documentation would be denied asylum, an approach that appears unworkable given Australia’s international commitments and the practicalities of establishing “deliberate destruction” in the context of escape from brutal regimes and people smuggling.

The opposition also proposed to move the Minister for Immigration back into asylum claims processing, suggesting the minister be given the right to intervene in any asylum claim. The Secretary of the Department of Immigration would also be required to sign off on all asylum claim determinations, rather than lower level officials, although the power could be delegated.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Largest Ever Nurses' Strike Could Be Sign of Future Unrest

Robert Lowes

June 11, 2010 — A 1-day strike of 12,000 nurses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota — said to be the largest in US history — ended as planned this morning, but experts expect more labor unrest to roil the hospital industry.

The nurses on strike from14 hospitals in the Twin Cities belong to the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), an affiliate of an ambitious new "super union" with 155,000 members called National Nurses United (NNU). The NNU advocates nationwide adoption of nurse-to-patient staffing ratios that it deems low enough to ensure good patient care and prevent nurse burnout.

Staffing levels figure heavily into continuing negotiations between the Minnesota nurses and their hospitals over a new labor contract. Other points of contention are wages and the Minnesota hospitals' proposal to reduce the nurses' pension benefits.
The Minnesota nurses set their strike date of June 10 about 2 weeks beforehand, giving hospitals time to prepare. Maureen Schriner, a spokesperson for a trade group called Twin Cities Hospitals, said the 14 affected hospitals brought in 2800 replacement nurses on Thursday. Some hospitals rescheduled surgeries.

"Things ran smoothly," Schriner said. "The level of patient care was the same as it always had been."

The strike is the third major labor battle waged by the NNU this year. Members of an NNU affiliate in Philadelphia went on strike from Temple University Hospital for 28 days this spring, and just this week, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop members of the affiliated California Nurses Association (CNA) from walking off their jobs yesterday at University of California medical centers and student health facilities. The NNU was formed last December when the CNA merged with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and United American Nurses.

NNU leaders say they will take aggressive action wherever hospitals put profits above patient care and the well-being of nurses.

"This phenomenon is not just in Minnesota," NNU co-president Jean Ross, RN, told Medscape Medical News. "In this recession, employers expect everybody to sacrifice whether there's a need to or not, or whether it's prudent or not, and it always comes on the backs of nurses.

"This union is prepared to do what it needs to do to get its needs met. What's good for nurses is good for patients."

Labor Historian Expects More Strikes in Era of Consolidation

Over the past 10 years, strikes by nurses have been "sort of rare," Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, a professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, told Medscape Medical News. Dr. Buerhaus said the drive to unionize nurses comes at a time when many aspects of the hospital workplace have improved, leading to higher job satisfaction.

"It's a much better picture than it was in the 1990s," said Dr. Buerhaus, referring to surveys of nurses that he has helped conduct over the years.

To Peter Rachleff, PhD, a labor historian at Macalester College in St. Paul, this week's 1-day strike illustrates how the nursing profession is responding to a healthcare industry marked by consolidation among health insurers and hospitals. "A new generation of nurses sees collective action as necessary to develop national standards for how they work," Dr. Rachleff said.

Asked if he expects to see more nurse strikes in the near future, Dr. Rachleff replied, "Absolutely."

In one sense, said Dr. Rachleff, nurses are trying to fill in the details of healthcare reform legislation enacted by Congress.

"The nurses are addressing issues of delivery of care that weren't clear in the larger macro discussion," he said. "They're taking it to the next level."

Opinion Divided on Value of Mandatory Staffing Ratios

One detail of healthcare reform dear to nurses in the Twin Cities is staffing levels. Their union is asking hospitals to maintain a ratio of 1 RN to 4 patients in medical and surgical units, and 1 RN to 2 patients in critical-care units, for example.

NNU co-president Jean Ross said some hospitals in the Twin Cities assign 3 patients per nurse in intensive care units instead of the 2 patients sought by the union.
"When things get more hectic, you're more likely to miss fine changes in a patient's condition," she said. "You can't be as watchful. You're afraid you're going to maim or kill someone."

The NNU maintains that mandatory staffing levels — already the law of the land in California — will not only save lives, but also solve the nursing shortage by improving job satisfaction. However, the nursing profession is divided on the effectiveness of mandatory staffing levels, with supporters and opponents pointing to research that supports their respective positions.

The trade group Twin Cities Hospitals argues that there is no objective evidence linking specific staffing ratios and patient safety. It calls the union proposal inflexible and expensive, adding at least $250 million to the annual expenses of the 14 affected hospitals.

Maureen Schriner, the spokesperson for Twin Cities Hospitals, said that previous contracts between the hospitals and nurses contained detailed language on staffing levels that in some cases exceed what the union is demanding.

"Instead of trying to work with what we already had, they came forward with their own ratios," said Schriner.


Sent to the daily papers but not pubished:

The lessons that should be learnt from the whole Dr Patel and Bundaberg Hospital saga is that rewarding managers through performance based pay based on the achievement of productivity and efficiency targets can produce terrible outcomes in the health system. But sadly, with the current economic and human resources theologies in the health system, I doubt if this will be the lesson drawn. Interesting to hear a spokesperson of the Queensland medical fraternity say that there were plenty of doctors willing to go to Bundaberg to take the surgical position Patel held, but it was considered more cost efficient to employ Patel.

All credit to Toni Hoffman, the Nursing Unit Manager who kept going to senior management of Bundaberg Hospital over a 2 year period raising concerns about Dr Patel’s standards of care only, to be rebuffed and told that she needed to learn how to get on with overseas born doctors. All credit to Anna Bligh, Premier of Queensland, who today paid tribute to Toni as a whistleblower, and recognised the suffering that Toni has undergone because she was a whistleblower.

It is not all over yet, as there is to be an appeal and the suffering of Patel’s patients, and the families of the patient’s who died, continues. To those patients and families, I pay tribute. Despite the callous indifference of some, there are many in the health system who are thinking about you, and send you our sympathies.

Jenny Haines



Julia Gillard as part of her intial policy statement as Prime Minister said that she understood the concerns of the Australian people about the arrival of refugees by boats, and would move to address those concerns, signalling that she intends to adopt and even harder stance than that of Kevin Rudd’s Government. She seemed to particularly target her message to the western suburbs of Sydney.

When I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney in the 1950s through to the 1970s, life was not easy. The post war boom was in progress, but families struggled. In more recent times the western suburbs is now a mix of those struggling, but also the aspirational middle class. If I could summarise the apparent concerns of people in the west, it would be that they are concerned that those refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat are queue jumpers, taking advantage of their apparent wealth compared with those still waiting in countries of origin to pay people smugglers to get to Australia on leaky unsafe boats. The taxpayer of Australia then pays for their detention while they are processed.

The big problem with this view is that there is no queue. The Australian Ambassadorial staff in the countries of origin do not put on their pith helmets and go out to the refugee camps and set up a table and chairs and take names on an orderly list. If you are unlucky enough to be in opposition, or an unwanted activist in one of these countries of origin, you probably leave in the dead of night, to avoid attracting attention to your departure. You leave behind whatever family you have, and you don’t want to imperil their continued existence after you leave. You may have sold everything you have ever owned to pay travel expenses. Your travel to a second country, and maybe a third. If you get to Indonesia, and your presence as a refugee and asylum seeker comes to the attention of the authorities there, you may be interned. You pray that you are interned in an Indonesian government run facility, as the standard of accommodation and treatment is better than the Australian run and paid for facilities. In the latter, the guards can threaten you with injury or death, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you are not interned in Indonesia, and can still afford it from what you have sold, earned, or borrowed, you find a people smuggler who will offer you a place on a boat in exchange for the last of your money. You then arrive at the dock to find the boat heavily overloaded, but you have paid you money and the people smuggler does not do reimbursements to dissatisfied customers.

If you are fortunate your fishing boat arrives off the north west coast of Australia, where you are met by Australia’s navy, and taken to Christmas Island for mandatory detention while you are processed. Having left your country of origin in the dead of night, you may not have brought with you your birth certificate, passport and all of the documentation required to identify you, so processing can take some time. Then there is the ASIO check to make sure you are not a terrorist. Mind you what self respecting terrorist would travel this way? ASIO processing takes a very long time. Even ASIO says they are understaffed. Then under the Howard Government system, even if recognised as a refugee under international conventions, you were placed on a temporary protection visa, but allowed out of detention into the community. But the trick of this was that you could not work or receive Medicare health benefits. So to survive, you relied on the goodness of charities, churches and friends. Thank heavens the Rudd Government abolished TPVs, and may they never return. Such bureaucratised cruelty!!

Life on the refugee trail is desperate and disorganised. You do what you have can to survive. Refugees who came to Australia before and after World War Two will recognise these circumstances, and no doubt be able to tell similar stories of pushing their way forward to a new life, against all of the forces arrayed against them.

Refugees arriving in Australia by boat constitute 4% of those seeking refuge in this country. The other 96% come by plane. QANTAS –Australia’s own people smuggler? The numbers of refugees arriving in this country are no threat to anyone, particularly people in the western suburbs of Sydney. I recently saw an election leaflet for one of the conservative parties. It said that the people of the electorate were being deprived of health, education and welfare services because money for these services was being spent on servicing refugee and asylum seekers arriving in this country by boat. Budget stringencies by State and Federal Governments in relation to health, welfare and education services have a multitude of other causes that have nothing to do with refugees and detention centres.

I am a member of Labor for Refugees. Labor for Refugees has become a rank and file organisation within the Labor Party that has improved party policy several times since the dark days of the Tampa Election in 2001, at National and State Conferences of the Party, I wait with interest the next moves by the Gillard Government, but remind the Government and the parliamentary leadership of the party of party policy, plus of course, the real politik that up until Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party was haemorrhaging to the Left ie the Greens, on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers and it is the real politik that matters on election day, not populism.

Jenny Haines

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Dear All,

The ever revolting Andrew Bolt is out dog whistling in the Daily Smellograph today. He has a blog you may wish to contribute to. It would be good to get some balance on this blog, as it seems to be full of the refugee haters, which seems to be Andrew’s purpose. But if you can’t stand the stench of their arguments, don’t go there!

Jenny Haines

“Andrew Bolt where have you been? Or do you have a hearing problem? There are plenty of organisations and persons having a go at Rudd and his inner cabinet over their treatment of asylum seekers. Take for example Pamela Curr who was on Lateline two nights ago talking about asylum seekers in an Australian funded detention centre in Indonesia being tasered and threatened with death. And Ian Rintoul of Refugee Action Coalition criticising Rudd transfering boat people to desert detention centres yesterday. And Labor for Refugees criticising Rudd in a front page newspaper article only 2 weeks ago. And Labor for Refugees Victoria printing off a very telling criticism of the Government for the Victorian State ALP conference which was very well received by conference delegates. And Project Safe.Com beavering away in Western Australia on all aspects of the injustices of the refugee and asylum seeker system in this country. For someone who is supposed to be an on the ball journalist, how have you missed all this, and more? Mind you, your column seems to have worked in being a dog whistle call to all the asylum seeker haters to come out and bray against the Rudd Government.

Jenny Haines of Newtown (Reply)”