by Alan Thornhill
You knew it.
There is something seasonal about news.
Those stories you are seeing, now, about penalty rates, are part of it.
A hardy annual, this crop blooms in late December and early January, when most of our political leaders are on leave, and there isn’t much other news, apart from those dreadful bushfires.
This is known, in newsrooms throughout the nation, as “the silly season.”
Australia’s shopkeepers kicked it off this time, by explaining, very patiently, that they could stay open longer, provide better service and offer more jobs, if it wasn’t for those punitive penalty rates.
One coffee shop operator even painted a delightful word picture of people sitting about in a restaurant – no doubt very like his own – enjoying good company and civilised conversation.
A senior Labor MP, Doug Cameron, sees Tony Abbott’s hand in all this, stirring employers to demand action, so that he can respond to public demand.
There are, of course, Liberal denials.
And ghostly figures in the background, like the former Howard government minister, Peter Reith, who warns his successors that they could be a one term government, if they don’t put some real work place reforms in place, quickly.
Oddly, perhaps, Peter didn’t mention “work choices.”
You are right.
You have heard all of this, before.
But there are real issues, at stake, here.
That’s all why this keeps coming back.
So, now that we all have a little time, let’s dig deeper.
A Sydney woman, Margaret was a full time nurse, until her three babies started arriving, demanding her attention, full time.
Now that the the youngest, Shane, is three, Margaret has started working again at weekends.
She seeks midnight to dawn shifts, particularly, because they offer the best penalty rates.
Her husband, Paul, takes responsibility for the children, at these times.
The hospital – and its week-day nurses – like this arrangement, because it helps them plan predictable rosters, without exhausting their day to day nurses.
So do Paul and Margaret, as it boosts their family finances, without putting undue pressure on others, like grandparents, who, otherwise, might well be assuming responsibility for those boisterous children.
There is something common to most cases, in which penalty rates are paid.
They allow, mostly low paid workers, like nurses, waiters and shop assistants to earn a little more by accepting tough times and conditions.
There is another, deeper, aspect to all this, too.
The French economist, Thomas Picketty, says the Western world has been moving back, over recent years, towards the highly unequal distribution of wealth, last seen at the time of Jane Austen.
The landed gentry,then, dominated everything.
This has been happening almost imperceptibly.
But, if Picketty is right, this is risky.
It took a Frenchman to notice.
Marie Antoinette certainly didn’t.
When told, back then, that the peasants had no bread, she famously quipped: “Well let them eat cake.”
And that ended badly.
So those comfortable coffee shop customers – and restaurant owners – have something to think about here.
After all an extra 50 cents, for a skinny latte, has to be a small price to pay for averting the inevitable excesses of a revolution.
by Alan Thornhill
Labor says Tony Abbott is about to start the New Year by destroying 1,400 “strategically vital” jobs in Australia’s shipbuilding industry.
The Acting Opposition Leader, Penny Wong, and two senior colleagues, Stephen Conroy and Kim Carr, also said in a joint statement, that the Prime Minister would be breaking pre-election promises by doing so.
There were reports today that the jobs would be lost by the end of the year.
However the government has dismissed the statement, describing it as “cheap Labor scaremongering.”
The Defence Minister, Kevin Andrews, also said: “reports of massive job losses in the industry are speculative.”
“The Coalition Government is committed to increasing its investment in Australian Defence infrastructure,” he added.
Mr Andrews said: “Labor’s promises on Defence have no credibility.
“Immediately following its 2009 White Paper, Labor cut or deferred $16 billion from the Defence budget out to 2016-17.
“Over the last six years, Defence spending dropped to levels not seen since 1938.
“The former government’s decisions led to 119 defence projects being delayed, 43 projects being reduced in scope and eight projects cancelled, risking critical capability gaps,” Mr Andrews added.
However the Labor critics were adamant.
“The closure of the naval shipbuilding yards in Newcastle and Williamstown could and should have been avoided,” they said.
Tony Abbott had known exactly what he had to do to bridge a gap in work orders.
That was to bring forward work on two supply ships and new patrol boats, implement Labor’s Future Submarines Industry and Skills Plan and start the Future Frigate program.
“But because of the recklessness and incompetence of the Abbott Government, as many as 1400 shipbuilders will lose their jobs and livelihoods in the coming months.
“Defence manufacturing is a strategically vital Australian industry that supports thousands of workers and protects our national interest,” they added.
Senator Wong also said that – before the last election – the Coalition had promised to build 12 new submarines in Adelaide.
But instead of keeping his word, Mr Abbott had sat on his hands, and 1400 Australian workers are paying the price.
Labor had a plan to bridge a production gap by bringing forward the construction of new supply ships and patrol boats, as well as frigates that were to be built here in Australia.
“Instead of taking action to protect these jobs, the Abbott Government has spent months denigrating the skill and professionalism of the workforce,” they said.
“These manufacturing job losses are on top of the up to 200,000 more job losses in automotive manufacturing still to come as a direct result of this Government’s outright hostility to Australian manufacturing.
“It’s clear that the switch from David Johnston to Kevin Andrews has only increased the chaos and dysfunction on defence policy.
“Tony Abbott replaced one failed Minister with another, but he did nothing to protect the 1400 workers who don’t deserve to lose their jobs.
“The Prime Minister has fundamentally failed to secure a future for naval shipbuilding in Australia, and 1400 workers are now paying the price,” they added.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government’s Enterprise Connect service, which was set up to provide business advice, will close today.
This cost-saving decision was announced in the government’s May budget.
About 30,000 businesses have used the service, since it was set up in 2008.
Labor says the closure is a bad idea.
The Shadow Minister for Research, Industry and Innovation,Kim Carr, said more than 16,000 businesses will miss out on tailored business advisory services over the next four years, as a result.
He described that as “senseless destruction.”
Senator Carr also said more than eighty per cent of the firms which have used the service had reported improvements in their productivity.
“Yet it is being ruthlessly thrown on the rubbish heap.
“This gives the lie to the Government’s claims that it wants to increase productivity and competitiveness – all Tony Abbott wants to do is export Australian jobs,” Senator Carr said.
He said funding is also to expire today for Labor’s two flagship Industry Innovation Precincts in food and manufacturing.
This leaves their future in limbo, Senator Carr said.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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