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Although Abbott maintains his pre-election position on workplace reform , Martin Ferguson’s call on the PM to be “open minded” about the need for further reform to the Fair Work Act beyond what he took to the election (see first two articles below), provides valuable “ammunition” to Abbott and problems for Labor. Abbott also appears to have tightened his attitude on assisting Qantas (tighter than Hockey hinted) and to have encouraged Joyce (and a Qantas board headed by Leigh Clifford) to announce a major reform program that includes large job reductions (5,000 to 2017). That will likely involve a battle with both the union movement that has become entrenched in Qantas and Shorten, who would give Q a debt guarantee.

On the other hand Abbott has caved in on assistance to farmers in drought areas  which would appear to have been close to “normal” expectations in those areas.

The (to me) unbelievable Newspoll showing Labor ahead federally contrasts with the polling in South Australia and Tasmania (although not in NSW according to a Nielsen poll), which suggest Liberal victories in upcoming elections in those two states. That would mean no Labor government in an Australian state.

It is not surprising that the chair of the Climate Change Authority, former Labor-appointed Treasury and RBA head  Bernie Fraser, agreed to recommend an astonishing  20 pc increase (from 5pc) by 2020 in the target for emission reductions. The justifications by Fraser include statements that do not stand up to careful analysis, such as that “the accumulating scientific evidence that global temperatures have been trending upwards over the last 50 years”; that “there are signs that momentum in other countries to address climate change is growing”; and that “Australia should play its part in this global endeavour”. I have asked the Freedom of Information Commissioner to obtain from CCA evidence of who of the claimed “mainstream” scientists was consulted by the Authority.

In line with Labor, the Fairfax press seems to have reverted to its IR focus about what is happening to jobs rather than on union corruption. Its Saturday edition is now for the first time in a compact version and the SMH Ed claims its journalists’ stories “mostly” come from the frontline not from the comfort of the couch.



Martin Ferguson backs Tony Abbott on IR law changes

Article by Sid Maher published in The Australian, February 28, 2014

FORMER Labor frontbencher and union leader Martin Ferguson today will back changes to industrial relations laws, including allowing the use of contractors and restoring the building watchdog, warning that productivity must improve or unemployment will rise and living standards will fall.

Mr Ferguson, a former ACTU president and leader of the factional Left, will support elements of Tony Abbott’s industrial relations and deregulation agenda and reject government subsidies for “unsustainable industries”.

His comments, in a speech to be delivered today in Perth, are at odds with Bill Shorten’s opposition to the government’s plan to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and with criticism of the government’s refusal to provide subsidies to SPC Ardmona and further assistance to General Motors Holden.

He will also call for special-purpose agreements for capital-intensive projects to provide long-term certainty on workforce costs and accuses the Maritime Union of Australia of threatening Western Australia’s economic prospects through outsized wage claims.

Mr Ferguson will say that Australia risks pricing itself out of $180 billion worth of new LNG investments that would create 150,000 jobs.

Arguing that “Australia’s future economic strength will not be underpinned by the propping up of unsustainable sectors or by any government subsidy or handout”, Mr Ferguson will declare that reform must make it easier for business to invest with certainty.

He will call for a reduction in red tape, for government to commit to market-based policy and for it to “re-evaluate how our workplace relations framework influences access to labour and how it affects the economic viability of new projects”.

Mr Ferguson will call on the Prime Minister to be “open minded” about the need for further reform to the Fair Work Act beyond what he took to the election, describing the changes Mr Abbott is proposing as “quite modest”. Mr Ferguson, who as ACTU president from 1990 to 1996 played a key role in the Hawke-Keating reform era that lifted productivity, will warn that the success of the past 23 years has made the nation “complacent” and that many of our leaders have “forgotten the lessons of history”.

Mr Ferguson, who is the chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration advisory board, will back the federal government’s move to create “one-stop shops” to streamline environmental-approvals processes as a “sensible reform”.

He says high labour costs and low productivity are an “unsustainable mix” and calls for a “clear-eyed” assessment of the Fair Work Act amid “the continued ratcheting-up of wages and conditions under greenfields agreements - with the last agreement outcome becoming the starting point for negotiations over the next one”.

He calls for an assessment of the range of matters that can be included in enterprise agreements and over which legally protected industrial action can be taken.

This has restricted access to contractors and other productivity-enhancing measures.

Mr Ferguson also argues that the nominal life of enterprise agreements are too short.

“At typically three to four years, this is far too short for major projects like those in the LNG sector,” he will say.

“It effectively means the renegotiation point often coincides with a critical point in the project life.”

Mr Ferguson says the nation needs to think about how the workplace relations system can help attract investment and calls for the debate on the ABCC to be conducted in this context.

“Rather than seeing the ABCC as a tool that allows one side to get an upper hand over the other in some never-ending ideological skirmish, it should be seen for what it was: a mechanism that holds both sides to account and which can help deliver projects on time and on budget,” he will say.

“As the son of a bricklayer, I know a thing or two about the building industry.

“But it is time that some in today’s union leadership recognised that their members’ long-term interests are aligned with their long-term job security.”

Mr Ferguson’s comments today, to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, echo his warnings to building unions in 2009 when he opposed a push to scrap the ABCC.

He will argue that the two decades of uninterrupted economic growth enjoyed by the nation has been built on a shift from protectionism towards open markets.

Australia became much more internationally competitive “thanks to good policies that encouraged productivity and innovation”.

“It saddens me that this legacy is now under threat,” Mr Ferguson will say. “Perhaps our success has made us complacent.”

Mr Ferguson will warn that there are increasing signs “that Australia is regressing towards a new phase of inefficient regulation and of increasing government intervention in business”.

He says that veteran manufacturing sectors have returned to calls for protectionism and “a radical environment movement has arisen that despises market economics”.

“It is adept at creating fear campaigns to advocate for new layers of unnecessary regulation,” Mr Ferguson will say.

He will cite “serious weaknesses in the development of a skilled workforce and support-industries’ supply capacity”.

“This is not the time for anyone to be reverting to a mid-20th century mindset, or adopting the view that somehow we can integrate with the global economy on our own terms,” Mr Ferguson will say.

He says that when the terms of trade worsen and the nation’s competitors grow stronger, the only way to maintain - let alone increase - prosperity is to “improve our productivity and reduce the costs of doing business in Australia”.

Ferguson pasted by union, brother

Article by Sid Maher and Nicolas Perpitch published in The Australian, March 1, 2014

BUSINESS leaders have backed former Labor minister and union leader Martin Ferguson’s call for changes to industrial relations laws to boost competitiveness, but he has been repudiated by his MP brother and accused by the maritime union of being a “traitor”.

Mr Ferguson, in a speech in Perth yesterday, backed the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Abbott government’s deregulation agenda, and rejected subsidies for “unsustainable industries”. He also called for Tony Abbott to be “open-minded” about the need for further reform to the Fair Work Act, beyond what he took to the election.

And he warned that the Maritime Union of Australia’s wage claims were undermining the economic interests of its members and Western Australia.

But Mr Ferguson’s brother, Laurie, the federal member for the southwestern Sydney seat of Werriwa, said he was “diametrically opposed” to his views on a wide variety of issues.

Laurie Ferguson said he was angered by Martin’s decision to invoke the legacy of their father, Jack, during his speech. He told the ABC his father was a lifelong member of the building union and would never have supported wage repression or associated himself with calls to restrict the construction union.

The Prime Minister said he had a high regard for Mr Ferguson, “one of the very serious people for the Labor Party in the parliament”, but he would not exceed his election promises. “I think he’s made a very important and valuable contribution to the debate, but what we will be doing is implementing the policies that we took to the election - they include the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission,” he said.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz welcomed Mr Ferguson’s “thoughtful” speech.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said “there is a lot of sense in what Martin Ferguson says and it’s good to have support for a more flexible workplace relations system in tune with our current economic circumstances”.

Replying to Mr Ferguson’s claim that the West Australian branch of the MUA was a “rogue union”, MUA state secretary Chris Cain said he was a “traitor” to the working class, who should be thrown out of the ALP.

Qantas doesn’t need a debt guarantee yet,
says Warren Truss

Article by Cameron Stewart and Sid Maher published in The Australian, 1 March, 2014

Warren Truss says the Qantas plans for recovery are not dependent on commonwealth backing for the airline’s debt. Source: News Corp Australia

TRANSPORT Minister Warren Truss has hardened the government’s opposition to a debt guarantee for Qantas, saying the airline’s plans for recovery are not dependent on commonwealth backing for its debt.

Ahead of an expected cabinet discussion on Qantas on Monday, Mr Truss said that, while the airline faced significant challenges, it was not at a critical point that would require such an intervention as a debt guarantee.

“The Qantas announcement demonstrates a plan forward (for the company), but that plan does not seem to be dependent on the need for a government guarantee at this stage,” the Deputy Prime Minister told The Weekend Australian.

“I’ve always considered that government intervention is an absolute last resort, an absolute last resort.

“I think Qantas is quite a long way away from being at a critical point; it has still got a debt rating two points higher than Virgin’s.”

Coalition sources said yesterday Tony Abbott cooled on the idea of a debt guarantee for Qantas early this week, effectively rolling Joe Hockey, who had strongly hinted in recent weeks that the government would support the move.

Qantas and Labor were blindsided by the Prime Minister’s decision, with Qantas not knowing until Mr Abbott’s comments during question time on Thursday that he had decided not to support the proposal.

Although Mr Abbott has strongly supported changes to the Qantas Sale Act to allow for greater foreign investment in the national carrier, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said this is a long-term solution that does not help Qantas in the short term.

Labor yesterday vowed to block any move to shift Qantas maintenance operations outside Australia or to allow majority foreign ownership. The Weekend Australian understands that cabinet on Monday will discuss options around relaxing foreign investment restrictions that limit offshore ownership to 49 per cent and other provisions in the Qantas Sale Act that demand the majority of maintenance and aircraft housing facilities are in Australia.

The proposals face a political deadlock, with opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese attacking Mr Abbott’s “extraordinary backflip” on providing a government debt guarantee to Qantas and warning it would send jobs offshore.

The Qantas discussions loom as Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti warned that support for a Qantas debt guarantee would entrench “an age of entitlement” that was counter to free enterprise and a free market, and deter international investment.

Mr Borghetti launched a scathing attack on his bigger rival’s attempt to secure government aid as he unveiled a first-half net loss of $83.7 million in a “tough trading environment” that combined too much capacity with an economic slowdown.

He said the best assistance the government and the opposition could give the industry was to remove the carbon tax, “which has cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars and to that end may I just say we applaud the government’s position on this”.

The Virgin boss’s warning came as regional airlines demanded that if Qantas received a debt guarantee, they should too.

Union officials left a meeting with Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce yesterday claiming Qantas management picked the number of 5000 job cuts “out of the air”. They said Mr Joyce had been unable to identify where almost half of the planned retrenchments would come from.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver and other senior officials left the meeting in Sydney furious that the Qantas boss had come to the table without information to back the airline’s plan to shed 15 per cent of its workforce.

As part of its $2 billion cost-reduction program, Mr Joyce confirmed on Thursday that Qantas intended to cut 5000 full-time jobs by mid-2017, the majority within 18 months.

However, “the company was not able to justify how they came up with the 5000 jobs number,” Mr Oliver said after the meeting.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said he believed Mr Joyce did not have a strategy, and had plucked a jobs total out of the air, considering that the loss of 2200 positions could not be explained.

Nathan Safe, a Qantas pilot and president of the Australian & International Pilots Association, agreed. He said the aviation industry was “cut-throat” but he believed Qantas had nominated shedding 5000 jobs as an arbitrary figure to impress the sharemarket, and would work backwards to justify its restructure.

Mr Safe doubted Qantas would reach its jobs target.

The Prime Minister yesterday dismissed suggestions of any differences between himself and the Treasurer on the Qantas bailout.

He said Qantas was an iconic Australian business and it was the government’s duty “to do everything we reasonably can to take the costs of Qantas and to allow it to compete on a level playing field with everyone else”. “That’s why we are looking at changing the sale act; that’s why we are determined to scrap the carbon tax: because not only is the carbon tax a $9bn tax on jobs generally, last year it was a $106m tax on jobs at Qantas,” he said.

Labor’s transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said Mr Abbott wanted to open the door for Qantas to cease to become an Australian airline.

“Mr Abbott wants to replace the flying kangaroo with the flying panda or the flying camel,” he said.

“If you remove the provisions in the Qantas Sale Act for Qantas to remain an Australian airline, the likely result of that is effectively a takeover from a foreign-based airline which is based by a government other than Australia’s.”

He said if Qantas did not remain an Australian company, there was a possibility of a raider breaking up the company, which had assets greater than the value of the total share price.


Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford backs CEO Alan Joyce as unions gear up for fight

Article by Matt O'Sullivan and Anna Patty published in The Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2014

No answers: ACTU secretary Dave Oliver says the unions 'will fight for every job'.

Mayday: How Qantas became a modern corporate tragedy. Luxury airport lounges: where power and influence check in

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford has stood firmly behind his embattled chief executive Alan Joyce over his high-stakes strategy of slashing 5000 jobs, in the midst of stiff opposition from powerful unions and the Abbott government dashing the airline's hopes for financial assistance.

His comments came as the airline suffered another setback late on Friday, with collision of two Qantas jets on the ground at Los Angeles airport.

A day after Mr Joyce outlined plans to axe jobs, cut routes and cancel orders for new planes, Mr Clifford said in a Fairfax Media editorial that the overhaul would accelerate the ''transformation of Qantas under Alan Joyce's leadership with the full support of the Qantas board''.

''Hard decisions have been needed to reduce Qantas' cost base and improve productivity relative to its major competitors. More hard decisions will be needed in future,'' he wrote.

But union heavyweights left a meeting with Qantas management on Friday little wiser and vowing to ''fight for every job'', indicating Mr Joyce will face an uphill battle in convincing them to agree to a wages freeze.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also firmed his opposition to handing Qantas a taxpayer-backed bailout in the form of access to cheaper loans.

Qantas executives made clear to union officials at the meeting that they wanted to apply wage freezes to any previous agreement and any that would soon be up for agreement.

After the meeting with Qantas management, Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the Qantas board and management did not have a strategy for the future.

''Quite clearly the board has to change strategy and it has to have an executive team to have the capacity to do that,'' he said in another swipe at Mr Joyce's leadership.

He described the mood in the meeting as ''angry and disappointed that the company has not clearly thought through what the ramifications are of these strategies … and don't have a growth strategy for the future''.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver said Qantas had refused to negotiate the number of jobs cut or the proposed salaries freeze.

''Quite frankly that meeting has left us with more questions now than what we had when we went in there,'' he said. ''We are not suggesting strike action at this stage, but what we are saying is that we will be fighting for every job.''

Costly collision in Los Angeles

The collision in Los Angeles topped a dramatic week for the airline. No one was injured but flights to Melbourne and Brisbane had to be cancelled. A spokesperson for the embattled airline apologised for any inconvenience to passengers via Twitter.

"The wing tips of two Qantas aircraft, an A380 and B747, came into contact at approximately 9pm (local) while being towed out of the hangar in Los Angeles," the Qantas spokesperson said. "No passengers were on board.

"Both aircraft have been assessed by engineers and as a result the 27 February QF94 (LAX-MEL) and QF16 (LAX-BNE) services have been delayed overnight. Customers will be provided with hotel rooms overnight and will be accommodated on the next available services."

Guilt by association, grounded by ASIO

Article by Paul Maley published in The Australian, March 1, 2014

‘Ahmed’ and ‘Bilal’, at Bass Hill in Sydney’s southwest, have had their passports confiscated on ASIO’s recommendation, to prevent them travelling to Syria. Picture: James Croucher Source: News Limited

‘Ahmed’ and ‘Bilal’, at Bass Hill in Sydney’s southwest, have had their passports confiscated on ASIO’s recommendation, to prevent them travelling to Syria. Picture: James Croucher Source: News Limited

A CAMPAIGN by ASIO aimed at cancelling the passports of young Muslim men it believes to be bound for the Syrian conflict could spark the very problem it is designed to prevent.

Bilal and Ahmed, not their real names, discovered they were considered threats to national security after receiving letters advising them their passports had been cancelled on the recommendation of ASIO.

“(It said) the usual,” Bilal, 21, told The Weekend Australian. “That we believe you’re highly likely to engage in PMV.”

“PMV” is politically motivated violence, a phrase so familiar to Bilal and his friends that they have reduced it to an acronym.

Ahmed and Bilal say they know plenty of other young men who have lost their passports.

Ahmed reckons he knows about seven. Bilal puts the figure at 10. The numbers are impossible to verify, but are in the ballpark.

On ASIO’s figures, 18 Australians lost their passports in 2011-12, up from seven the year before.

In the past eight months, that figure has jumped to 33.

The skyrocketing numbers reflect not so much the progress of Syrian conflict itself but the eruption of jihadist material on social media, which authorities believe has been crucial in spurring the travel of young Australians.

First-hand battlefield accounts are freely available on the internet, Facebook abounds with grisly material posted by fighters and jihadists use Twitter to debate the finer aspects of Islamic law.

To stem the tide of young Australians drawn to the conflict, ASIO has embarked on a concerted campaign to ground Australians it believes are headed for Syria. Ahmed and Bilal are targets in that campaign, although they would call themselves victims.

Like Bilal, Ahmed was given no reason, making it impossible to effectively contest the decision.

But, like most young Muslims in his position, Ahmed has a basic idea about ASIO’s suspicions. “I was hanging with a definite individual,” he said. “He’s in jail now.”

The individual Ahmed names is a known extremist facing a string of serious charges: by any reasonable definition, he is a dangerous man.

Ahmed tells me he had known him for years, but argues that mere association does not justify ASIO’S actions. “If that’s the case, then why don’t they take my mobile phone?” he said. “Everyone that’s got contacts with me go to jail with me.”

Bilal believed his passport was taken for similar reasons.

“Like the brother said, maybe certain individuals I was speaking to, I had contact with. I know that did play a part,” he said. “But at the end of the day, that’s not enough grounds to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to take this guy’s passport’.”

Both men deny any ambition to travel abroad to fight but they say the effect of ASIO’s decision has been profound. “You are in jail,” Ahmed said. “Australia is an island, if you haven’t noticed. Their families are overseas, they have to understand that.”

Bilal and Ahmed claim ASIO is highly active in Sydney’s Muslim community, where its officers frequently offer cash payments to would-be informants.

ASIO’s tactic of interdiction is no doubt a necessary one, but is not without risk.

The anger it is causing among Ahmed and his circle of friends is palpable and there is concern ASIO may inadvertently trigger the very problem it is seeking to avoid. “It’s causing hatred within the communities,” Ahmed said.

ASIO is alive to danger, but sees it has little choice but to ground would-be fighters lest they travel abroad and return home more dangerous than ever. A spokesman for the agency said less than 0.5 per cent of the “tens of thousands” of security assessments it conducts annually result in a negative assessment.

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