Morrison takes the shot to promote vaccine confidence, as government and opposition stay tied in Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s COVID vaccination program has begun with Scott Morrison joining a small group of recipients in a carefully orchestrated event, aimed at boosting confidence as the general rollout begins on Monday.

The first recipient was aged care resident Jane Malysiak, 84, from Marayong New South Wales, who was born in Poland and came to Australia soon after the second world war.

Sunday’s line up for the Pfizer shots included, apart from aged care and disability residents, workers in these sectors, and quarantine and border workers. These are the priority recipients for the first round of vaccination.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan also got their shots, with McMillan assuring “it really doesn’t hurt at all”.

Morrison, decked out in an Australian flag mask, sat beside Malysiak, and encouraged her to follow his “V for Vaccine” sign – this went slightly awry when Malysiak’s fingers inadvertently turned in an “up yours” direction.

Morrison averted his eyes from the needle as he received his shot.

The Prime Minister called on the community to follow his and the other recipients’ example to “join us on this Australian path that sees us come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He said he wanted Sunday’s pre-rollout vaccinations to give confidence. “Tens of thousands of people will be coming in tomorrow and I wanted them to know as they went to bed tonight that we have been able to demonstrate our confidence in the health and safety of this vaccination,” he said.

“Today is the beginning of a big game changer.”

Sunday’s figures recorded no community transmission anywhere in the country.

As the rollout starts, Newspoll showed government and opposition remained deadlocked on 50-50 on the two-party vote, but Scott Morrison extended his lead over Anthony Albanese as “better prime minister” to 61-26% (previously 57-29%). The poll is published in Monday’s Australian, and was taken Wednesday to Saturday.

Labor’s primary vote rose one point to 37% since the previous poll three weeks ago; the Coalition was steady on 42%.

Albanese’s net approval is minus 7, following a 3 point fall in his satisfaction level to 38% and a 2 point rise in dissatisfaction to 45%.

Morrison’s net satisfaction is plus 32 – his satisfaction rating increased a point to 64% and his dissatisfaction rating fell a point to 32%.

Although it has not hit his Newspoll numbers, Morrison will continue under pressure in parliament this week over who knew what in his office about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

The Weekend Australian reported a second former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped last year by the man named by Higgins.

Higgins has alleged she was raped in 2019 by a colleague in the Parliament House office of the then defence industry minister. Linda Reynolds, for whom both she and the man then worked.

Asked about the second allegation, Morrison said at the weekend:“I’m very upset about those circumstances”. He said he did not know who the woman was.

Late Sunday night, The Australian reported a third woman – a Coalition volunteer during the 2016 election campaign – has alleged she was sexually assaulted by the same Liberal staffer days before the election.

Higgins will lay a formal complaint to the police on Wednesday, which will start an investigation.

The Prime Minister said the inquiry by his departmental secretary Phil Gaetjens into who in the Prime Minister’s office knew about the Higgins rape allegation was to be finished “as soon as possible”.

Morrison has said he first knew of this allegation on Monday of last week, when the story was published, and his staff only knew the Friday before that, which was when journalist Samantha Maiden asked his office questions.

He made it clear he was angry he wasn’t alerted to Maiden’s inquiries. “I’ve expressed my view to my staff about that very candidly on Monday.”

The Special Minister of State, Simon Birmingham, indicated at the weekend that Higgins would be able to contribute to the terms of reference for the independent inquiry Morrison has announced into the workplaces of parliamentarians and their staff.

Higgins said in her Friday statement she had “advised the Prime Minister’s Office that I expect a voice in framing the scope and terms of reference for a new and significant review into the conditions for all ministerial and parliamentary staff”.

Birmingham said: “All past and present staff, including Brittany Higgins, will be able to participate in the review.

“I also welcome the input of past and present staff on the terms of the independent review and will be engaging accordingly.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Craig Kelly’s defection leaves government with razor-thin majority


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Craig Kelly’s jump to the crossbench leaves Scott Morrison’s government looking like the man who suddenly finds his jacket feels a little thin in the wind.

It still has a majority, but not a comfortable one.

The Coalition’s block of 76 in a House of Representatives of 151 members means it does not possess a working majority on the floor. A vote would be tied if Labor and all crossbenchers opposed it.

Its majority of one includes the Speaker, Tony Smith. He has a casting vote in the event of a tie – one that he would exercise in a procedurally conservative manner, to preserve the status quo.

The Coalition’s position is not like that of late 2018, when it fell into minority government as things unravelled after the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull.

But losing a number makes descent into minority more of a possibility – if some unforeseen event took out another government MP. That would put it at greater risk of losing votes.

Kelly has said that, beyond supporting the government on confidence and supply, he will back it on the program it took to the election.

This gives him room to play up on a few measures, if he feels inclined, for example on any legislation relating to climate.

On the other hand, he would be unlikely to find parliamentary bedfellows on his pet issues.

Given the makeup of the crossbench, the government can be confident of its numbers, even if they’ve become a little more precarious.

Rebel Nationals would love to recruit Kelly to their party, to get an extra vote in the cause of removing Michael McCormack from the leadership. But Kelly sees himself as an “independent Liberal”; anyway, he’d have nothing to gain by joining the Nationals (which of course would restore the Coalition numbers).

The government is determined to portray Kelly’s departure in the most positive light it can find. “Good riddance”, is the official informal line.

With his passion for spruiking ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, unproven treatments for COVID, Kelly has been deeply irritating for Morrison. The Prime Minister recently called him into his office for a dressing down, after Kelly’s spectacular corridor clash with Tanya Plibersek.

He wanted Kelly to shut up. Instead Kelly, the zealot with the contrarian cause, is now more than ever on a mission to promote those controversial drugs.

This is the second defector to catch Morrison on the hop.

In 2018 word came of Julia Banks’ desertion when she was on her feet in the House of Representatives. Morrison was giving a news conference at the time.

Kelly on Tuesday only showed his hand in the party room. He said he wanted to tell his colleagues first. But perhaps there was a touch of tit for tat after that bawling out.

For Kelly’s part, he had the choice of an attention-grabbing exit from the Liberal party, or being dispatched from his seat by the preselectors, who would have ensured he’d not be the Liberal candidate at the election.

What harm can Kelly do the government do now?

He can cast an anti government vote now and then.

He can shout his views on COVID treatments and climate change. But he’s done that often enough. Arguably, at least in the mainstream outlets, when he is not talking as a rebel Liberal, what he says on COVID will get less attention. He’ll just be one crossbench voice.

He is signalling he is likely to run as an independent at the election. If he does, he wouldn’t poll well and it’s doubtful his presence would do much harm to the Liberals in his Sydney seat of Hughes.

In what’s a painful fortnight for the government, an element of the Kelly story fed into its problems with handling allegations of rape and sexual misconduct.

A staffer in Kelly’s office, Frank Zumbo, is being investigated over claims of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace (which he denies).

When this matter was raised with Morrison’s office last year by a local reporter via email, it did not answer her.

Morrison on Tuesday said he had spoken to Kelly about both this matter and the staffer’s performance. But Kelly has kept the man on.

The government had a significant win on Tuesday when Facebook agreed, in a deal involving the Coalition making some changes to its legislation, to lift its ban on republishing news on its Australian site.

Any other time, that would have made it a very good day.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who has been under sustained pressure over her 2019 handling of the Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation, entered hospital in Canberra on Wednesday morning.

A statement from her office said she “will take a period of medical leave.

“This follows advice from her cardiologist relating to a pre-existing medical condition.” The statement said the hospitalisation was “a precautionary measure”.

Reynolds had been due to address the National Press Club on Wednesday, the same day Higgins is due to lodge her formal complaint with police against the alleged perpetrator of the assault against her, which she says took place in Reynolds’ office in March 2019.

Higgins tweeted her best wishes to Reynolds.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Polls say Labor and Coalition in a 50-50 tie, Trump set to be acquitted by US Senate


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2021 has the major parties tied at 50-50 on two-party preferred, a one-point gain for Labor since the final 2020 Newspoll in late November. The poll was conducted January 27-30 from a sample of 1,512 people.

Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one point), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (up one).

63% were satisfied with PM Scott Morrison’s performance (down three) and 33% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +30 points. While this is still very high, analyst Kevin Bonham says it is Morrison’s lowest net approval since April.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of -2, down five points. Morrison led Albanese by 57-29 as better prime minister (60-28 in November).

While much commentary has written off Labor for the next election, a source of hope for the opposition is that while the Coalition has usually been ahead since the COVID crisis began, the two-party-preferred margin has been close.




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View from The Hill: Coal push from Nationals is a challenge for Scott Morrison


Morrison’s great approval ratings have not translated into big leads for the Coalition. It is plausible that by the middle of this year COVID will not be a major threat owing to a global vaccination program.

A return to a focus on normal issues could assist Labor in undermining Morrison’s ratings and the Coalition’s slender lead on voting intentions.

Albanese has come under attack from the left owing to Thursday’s reshuffle in which Chris Bowen took the climate change portfolio from Mark Butler.

But the Greens lost a point in Newspoll rather than gaining. With the focus on COVID, climate change appears to have lost salience.

On Australia Day and climate change

In an Ipsos poll for Nine newspapers, taken before January 25 from a sample of 1,220 people, 48% disagreed with changing Australia Day from January 26, while 28% agreed.

But by 49-41 voters thought it likely Australia Day would be changed within the next ten years.

In a Morgan SMS poll, conducted January 25 from a sample of 1,236 people, 59% thought January 26 should be known as Australia Day, while 41% thought it should be known as Invasion Day.

In an Essential poll conducted in mid-January, 42% (down 20 since January 2020) thought Australia was not doing enough to address climate change, 35% (up 16) thought we were doing enough and 10% (up two) thought we were doing too much.




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But there was a slight increase in those thinking climate change was caused by human activity (58%, up two since January 2020), while 32% (steady) thought we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate.

Trump set to be acquitted in impeachment trial

I related on January 20 that Donald Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives over his role in inciting the January 6 riots with his baseless claims of election fraud.

Donald Trump boarding a helicopter as he leaves the White House.
Donald Trump departs the White House.
Alex Brandon/AP/AAP

The Senate is tied at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the majority with her casting vote. But it requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, so 17 Republicans would need to join the Democrats for conviction.

On January 26, a vote was called on whether it was constitutional to try a former president. The Senate ruled it constitutional by 55-45, but just five Republicans joined all Democrats.

That is far short of the 17 required to convict, so Trump is set to be acquitted at the Senate trial that begins February 8.

Only ten of over 200 House Republicans supported impeachment. It is clear the vast majority of Congressional Republicans consider it more important to keep the Trump supporters happy than to hold Trump accountable for the rioters that attacked Congress.

In a late January Monmouth University poll, 56% approved of the House impeaching Trump while 42% disapproved. When asked whether the Senate should convict, support dropped to 52-44.




Read more:
Biden faces the world: 5 foreign policy experts explain US priorities – and problems – after Trump


FiveThirtyEight has started an aggregate of polls to track new President Joe Biden’s ratings. His current ratings are 54.3% approve and 34.6% disapprove for a net approval of +19.7 points.

While Biden’s ratings are better than Trump’s at any stage of his presidency, they are worse on net approval than all presidents prior to Trump this early in their terms.

Prior to Trump, presidents were given a honeymoon even by opposition party supporters, but it is unlikely the 30% or so who believe Biden’s win illegitimate will ever approve of him.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why is it so offensive to say ‘all lives matter’?



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Karen Stollznow, Griffith University

This week acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack uttered a controversial phrase.

Defending previous comments in which he compared the Capitol riots to the Black Lives Matter protests, he asserted,

All lives matter.

McCormack was widely condemned for his remarks, including by Indigenous Australian activists, Labor and the Greens.

His use of the phrase was reminiscent of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s failed attempt to have the Senate endorse a motion that “all lives matter” in 2019. As former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann noted at the time, “you have to consider things in their context”.

As a linguist, who has just published On The Offensive, a book about offensive language, “all lives matter” is a phrase that reveals prejudice.

So, where does the phrase “all lives matter” come from? And given it is of course true that all lives matter, why is the phrase so offensive in today’s context?

Black Lives Matter

“All lives matter” was born out of “Black Lives Matter”. This is a slogan and a social movement in response to racism and violence perpetuated against Black people, both historically and in the modern era.

Protester carrying a 'Black Lives Matter' flag
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s comments about Black Lives Matter have outraged his political opponents.
Stuart Villanueva AP/AAP

This can be traced back to a tragic incident almost nine years ago. In February 2012, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin was walking home in Florida, after buying Skittles at a convenience store.

Local resident George Zimmerman reported Martin to police as “suspicious”, then confronted the innocent young man and fatally shot him. Zimmerman claimed the act was in self-defence and was later acquitted.

After this, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began to appear on social media, in support of Martin and in protest against social and systemic racism — that is, racism in society and through institutions. This grew into a movement, co-founded by three Black community organisers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

Concerns and anger about racism towards Black people was reinvigorated more recently after several high-profile, racially charged incidents in the US.




Read more:
Black Lives Matter is a revolutionary peace movement


These include the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging in a south Georgia neighbourhood, and also the murder of George Floyd.

These tragic events inspired worldwide protests against institutional racism. In Australia, Black Lives Matter marches also called for justice for Indigenous people, including Aboriginal man David Dungay Jr, who died in custody in 2015. There have been more than 430 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991.

‘All lives matter’

What does it mean to say “all lives matter”?

When the Black Lives Matter motto arose, some people interpreted the phrase as confrontational and divisive. They took it to exclude other races. The phrase “all lives matter” sprang up in response, ostensibly to argue all lives are equal because we are all human beings.

However, Black Lives Matter was not intended to mean that other lives do not matter. In a world where Black people are stigmatised, marginalised, and discriminated against, Black Lives Matter simply recognises Black lives matter, too.

Not a straightforward phrase

Responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “all lives matter” derails the specific conversation about racism against Black people. The phrase is seen to dismiss, ignore, or deny these problems — it shuts down this important discussion.




Read more:
The backlash against Black Lives Matter is just more evidence of injustice


US President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other US conservatives like Rudy Guiliani, have used the phrase to criticise the Black Lives Matter movement.

Through its use, “all lives matter” has also become associated with white supremacy, far-right nationalism and racism.

A racist dog whistle

Black Lives Matter is intended to promote the peaceful protest of racism against Black people, not only in the US, but worldwide. It also calls for immediate action against systemic and social racism.

Germans gather to protest the death of George Floyd.
People around the world have marched in support of Black Lives Matter.
Martin Meissner AP/AAP

When used by Black people, “Black Lives Matter” is a declaration that Black lives do indeed matter. It is a call for protection and recognition.

When said by allies — supportive people outside of the racial group — “Black Lives Matter” acknowledges that Black lives do indeed matter, and says we stand in solidarity with members of Black and indigenous communities both locally, and globally.

So, “all lives matter” can be understood as a racist dog whistle — a direct push-back against the Black Lives Matter movement. It is far from an innocent term celebrating the worth of all humanity.The Conversation

Karen Stollznow, Research fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: aged care to cabinet, Tehan to trade in Morrison’s modest reshuffle



Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The most important changes in Scott Morrison’s limited reshuffle are centred on two vital and controversial issues – aged care and trade – that will severely test the government in coming months.

Aged care has been elevated to cabinet and put in the safe hands of Health Minister Greg Hunt, who has performed strongly during the pandemic.

The current Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, retains responsibility for aged care services, including delivery of residential and home care packages and the regulation of the sector.




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Grattan on Friday: Six issues on Scott Morrison’s mind over summer


With the royal commission due to deliver its final report in February, Hunt will spearhead the policy response. Importantly, he will carry the government’s public case as it works through one of the most difficult policy challenges of early 2021.

The choice of Dan Tehan for trade is logical. He comes with an extensive background in the area before his parliamentary career, including serving in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, and as an adviser to a former trade minister, Mark Vaile.

Tehan arrives in the portfolio – shed by Simon Birmingham who is now Finance Minister – when trade tensions with China are an all-time high, and Australia is looking to negotiate trade agreements with Europe and the United Kingdom.

Tehan’s education portfolio goes to Alan Tudge, who will also have responsibility for youth (previously under Colbeck). The recent Four Corners expose about Tudge’s private life hasn’t affected his ministerial career. Questioned at his news conference on Friday, Morrison said those matter related to years ago.

Morrison has also elevated some spear carriers of the right.




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Is Canberra having a #metoo moment? It will take more than reports of MPs behaving badly for parliament to change


Queensland senator Amanda Stoker is promoted from the backbench to become Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General. ACT senator Zed Seselja moves from being an Assistant Minister to become Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Rewarding the Liberal party right might be politically useful next year, if Morrison needs the conservatives’ forbearance for a shift on climate policy.

Andrew Hastie is also from the Liberals’ conservative wing, but his move up from the backbench will be seen through a foreign policy prism.

He has been an outspoken hawk on China and the Chinese will be particularly noting his appointment as Assistant Minister for Defence.

Hastie has been well respected on both sides of politics as chair of parliament’s influential intelligence and security committee.

A former soldier in the SAS who served in Afghanistan, he will potentially be able to help manage the fallout from the Brereton report on alleged Australian war crimes, which is proving difficult for the government.

The new Immigration Minister will be Alex Hawke, Morrison’s strong factional ally. This position has been in limbo for a year, in the hands of an acting minister, while David Coleman has been on personal leave.

Coleman is to become Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, an area Morrison has given high priority in the pandemic.

It is notable Ben Morton, who is very close to Morrison, has not been moved up to the junior ministry. He stays as Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where he can have a bird’s eye view on many matters, as distinct from the narrower focus demanded by a ministerial portfolio.

Morton formally takes over from Hunt to become Assistant Minister for the Public Service — a role he has had anyway while Hunt has been preoccupied with the health crisis. A former Liberal party director in Western Australia, Morton will also have the politically-sensitive position of Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters.




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Grattan on Friday: China plays reverse ‘poke the bear’


Jane Hume moves up from assistant minister, with expanded responsibilities as Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher adds urban infrastructure and cities to his responsibilities, but loses cyber safety.

Morrison emphasised key portfolios relating to the economy and security remained unchanged, as did the positions held by the Nationals, and the number of women in cabinet.

He said the changes reflected a “very strong focus on stability in key portfolios, together with a commitment to bring forward some new talent”.

The new Morrison ministry list can be found here.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Morrison government’s ‘double-dipping’ gambit fails the pub test



Shutterstock

Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne

It’s almost unimaginable: an Australian government proposes a law that would wipe out billions of dollars of employers’ entitlements.

Even more unimaginable: it does so on the basis of mistakes made by employees.

Yet right now a “Black Mirror” scenario lies before Australia’s federal parliament, in the form of the Morrison government’s “ominbus” industrial relations bill.

It proposes to extinguish entitlements owed to workers due to the mistakes made by employers. If passed, thousands of low-paid workers stand to lose billions of dollars in entitlements.

But that’s not even the worst thing that can be said of the bill. Worse still is the cynicism of its premise, the need to “fix” a problem that does not really exist.

To appreciate the depth of that cynicism, let’s recap the smoke and mirrors that have made “double-dipping” – the “horror scenario” of paying workers misclassified as casual employees both a 25% casual loading and paid leave entitlements – a hot-button issue.




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So much for consensus: Morrison government’s industrial relations bill is a business wish list


Paying the costs of employer mistakes

Action is needed, the government claims, to address the “uncertainty” over employers incurring up to A$39 billion liabilities because of a Federal Court decision in May 2020.

Known as Rossato v Workpac, the case was unusual because the defendant, labour-hire company WorkPac – with the federal government’s support – funded the legal action against it by former mine worker Robert Rossato.

Rossato argued Workpac should have employed him as a permanent worker, rather than a casual worker, given his regular work roster. Workpac wanted the Federal Court to hear the case so its lawyers could try some arguments not used in Workpac’s unsuccessful defence of a 2018 court case (involving similar claims by fly-in-fly-out worker Paul Skene).

One of Workpac’s new defences was that Rossato (and workers in similar situations), even if misclassified as casual employees, had been paid a casual loading that should be “set off” against leave entitlements now accrued to them.

As Andrew Stewart summarised at the time: “In other words, if he was entitled to the benefits he claimed, he had already been paid for them.”

The Federal Court rejected this argument comprehensively.

In finding for Rossato, it ruled the casual loading paid any worker wrongly classified as a “casual employee” did not offset their separate entitlement to paid leave, as guaranteed to all permanent employees under the Fair Work Act.



CC BY-NC-ND




Read more:
The truth about much ‘casual’ work: it’s really about permanent insecurity


Different entitlement types

Presumably the Federal Court must have had its reasons – and indeed it did. It laid them out in terms so clear it is hard to see where uncertainty arises.

The key distinction, said the court, was that casual loading and paid leave are two different kinds of entitlements.

The casual loading is a monetary entitlement supposed to compensate casual employees for the downsides of being casuals. Casual employees are meant to get 25% more than what a permanent employee would be paid, though research suggests in reality the loading is often neglible.

Does the loading cover casual employees not accruing annual and other leave? That is a matter of confusion, with differing approaches taken by courts and industrial tribunals. It some cases, the casual loading might be framed as compensating for the disadvantages of casual employment. Sometimes the loading might simply be paid due to prevailing “market rates”, as a wage premium to attract workers to jobs with few other benefits.

Whatever the circumstances, the Federal Court stressed that paid leave was not just another monetary entitlement when it came to permanent employees (including those wrongly classified as casuals).

As the judges put in their Rossato ruling, there is a “temporal dimension” to paid leave.

That is, it was an entitlement to an absence from work “in order to facilitate rest and recreation”. This made it qualitatively different to a cash entitlement.

So the Federal Court’s ruling was clear. There was no uncertainty. It saw no double-dipping. Its ruling did not require employers to pay twice. It required them to honour different types of employee entitlements.




Read more:
What defines casual work? Federal Court ruling highlights a fundamental flaw in Australian labour law


Return of a living dead argument

Now the federal government is arguing what WorkPac (with the government’s backing) argued unsuccessfully to the court. Its industrial relations bill proposes making that losing argument the law.

If passed, courts will be required to deduct the value of any casual loading paid to misclassified casual employees from any claim they now have to compensation for not being being given the leave entitlements owed to permanent employees.

It creates a “back door” for employers to cash out paid leave obligations, leaving even more workers in the “employees without leave entitlement” category.



CC BY-NC-ND

In doing so, the bill doesn’t just strip rights from wrongly classified casual workers. It undermines a fundamental principle in Australia’s national employment standards – reflected by the Fair Work Act having limits on cashing out paid leave.

These limits recognise leave entitlements aren’t just a personal benefit. The the whole community benefits; and 2020 has shown the community costs of failing to ensure all workers have paid leave entitlements.

Workers in risky jobs – such as aged care and meat processing – without sick leave or other entitlements have been clear transmission vectors for COVID-19 outbreaks such as that which enveloped Melbourne.




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These limits have safeguarded low-paid workers signing away these rights out of financial need in lop-sided bargains.

If there’s only lesson one to be learned in the months since the Federal Court handed down its ruling, it’s this. Further impoverishing the value of leave entitlements is just about the last thing any COVID-inspired industrial relations reform should being doing.The Conversation

Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison likely to elevate aged care to cabinet, as government boosts its funding by $1 billion


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government will inject a further $1 billion into aged care, most of it for home care packages, in Thursday’s budget update.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also likely to elevate the troubled policy area to cabinet, in his imminent ministerial reshuffle.

Some 10,000 home care packages will be provided, costing $850 million, in the latest funding – 2500 packages will be released across each of the four levels of care.

The funds – announced Wednesday and included in Thursday’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook – come ahead of the final report of the royal commission into aged care due in February. An interim report more than a year ago was scathing about conditions in the sector.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck is in the outer ministry and struggled during the pandemic. COVID’s largest death toll was in the residential aged care sector – approaching 700 deaths out of the total Australian deaths of just over 900.

Colbeck, a Tasmanian senator, was with Morrison in Tasmania on Tuesday and it is understood the Prime Minister went to Colbeck’s Devonport office after a function.

The reshuffle is expected to be modest, with most interest in who gets the trade portfolio, presently held by Simon Birmingham who took over finance when Mathias Cormann left parliament.

Trade is high profile with the attacks by China on a range of Australian exports. Education Minister Dan Tehan has been widely speculated for the post.

Tehan has experience in the area. He served in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department; in 2002 he was seconded to the office of trade minister Mark Vaile as trade adviser. Later he worked for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry as director of trade policy and international affairs.

If Tehan moved to trade, that would leave the education portfolio open – with the new incumbent facing the problems of a higher education sector that has taken a beating from the pandemic, which has blocked overseas students’ entry to Australia.

David Coleman, who has been on leave from the ministry for personal reasons for a year, is expected to step down from it in the reshuffle.

There is some room for backbench promotions to the frontbench.

The government said the new aged care money would bring to nearly 50,000 the number of home care packages funded since the commission’s interim report, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

In September more than 100,000 people were waiting for packages. The government says 99% of people on the home care waiting list are already receiving some level of support package.

The latest funding also includes $63.3 million for increased access to allied health services and improved mental health support for people in residential aged care.

An extra $57.8 million will be provided for aged care under the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response. This will strengthen protection, including training and and support in infection prevention and control.

There will be $8.2 million to extend the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre until June 30.

The budget update will show the projected deficit not to be as large as forecast in the budget only two months ago.

The update is expected to adopt conservative assumptions about the iron ore price which has skyrocketed recently.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Chance for genuine industrial relations reform thrown under the omnibus




David Peetz, Griffith University

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the formation of five working groups of employers, unions and government officials in June 2020, he signalled an unexpected twist to industrial relations reform.

Some observers anticipated a new politics of consensus — or even an Accord 2.0. The working groups met over several months.

They need not have bothered. The newly-released “omnibus” bill was mostly as partisan as if the working parties had never existed. To some, the omnibus looks old, oddly familiar and somewhat shady. Real reform is as distant as ever.

When an agreement over one issue was reached between the unions and the body representing large employers, it was quickly scuttled by other employers and the federal government itself.

The bill that the government released last week was organised along the five themes of the working parties.




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Casual employment

Employers wanted to overturn two Federal Court decisions that gave a legal entitlement to annual leave to many long-term leave-deprived employees. Employers wanted a definition of casuals that avoided any possibility of a leave entitlement, and retrospective voiding of any previous entitlement.

To unions, these court decisions had ended a long-standing rort enabling employers to avoid their legal responsibilities. Unions wanted the chronic insecurity facing casuals to be reduced.

The bill meets employer demands. It enables employers to define any employee as a casual, with no leave entitlements or job security, at the time employment commences, provided certain conditions were met. This is more about power than genuine flexibility in work. Existing casuals lose any previous entitlement to leave if they received the casual loading.




Read more:
The truth about much ‘casual’ work: it’s really about permanent insecurity


Award flexibilities

Employers’ initial agenda had been for simplification of awards, by reducing or removing penalty rates, overtime pay, or other payments. But the government was unwilling to face the political problems with this. It was haunted by the loss of the 2007 “WorkChoices” election. So the focus switched to award “flexibilities”.

The bill enables hours for part-time employees to be increased without any overtime premium. Part-time employees take on the hours flexibility that casuals currently have, but at lower pay rates.

The main effect, though, may be to minimise employers’ incentive to take on additional workers, as they could cheaply increase hours for existing workers.

The bill also allows employers to give “flexible work directions” to employees to perform new types of work, or at new locations, if it is reasonable to “assist in the revival of the employer’s enterprise”. As “revival” is not defined, there is a lot of scope for discretion by members of the Fair Work Commission to interpret this. This matters as some say that, since 2013, the notion of “balance” in appointments to the commission has “been abandoned”, with most appointments coming from the employer side of the table.

The Fair Work Commission will have a lot of scope for discretion.
AAP/James Ross

Enterprise bargaining

Both unions and employers claimed the enterprise bargaining system was too complex, but without any agreement over how to simplify it.

Some employers had called for the “better off overall test” (BOOT) to be abolished. The BOOT meant an agreement had to make any worker better off compared to under their award.

The bill tries to override it for a specific, albeit large, group (workers in firms that could claim they were affected by COVID-19) and for a specific time (agreements must be made within two years, though their effects could last many more). It has provoked so much opposition that the minister has appeared to back away from it — possibly throwing that idea under the omnibus.

The bill would reduce scrutiny of agreements, allowing only short periods before approval, cutting opportunities for employees to consider them and restricting the ability for unions to comment on non-union agreements. While non-union agreements cover only a small proportion of employees, they have lower average wage increases, are less likely to be genuinely negotiated. They are also more susceptible to loss of award conditions. This means they are more vulnerable to exploitation.

The main complexity in the enterprise bargaining system is the barriers put to unions seeking agreements. The bill addresses none of these, instead aiming to make non-union agreements easier to make. Nor does it address how an agreement with a few employees can deny the rights of a whole workforce, employed later. They lose all rights to negotiate through industrial action. Ironically, in other industrialised countries, non-union agreements are impossible anyway.

Greenfields agreements

Greenfields agreements are agreements that cover a new project, usually in construction, but also (less commonly) outsourced services, new ventures and, rarely, theatrical shows. The main employer objective here was to increase the duration of agreements on large construction sites. On this, the bill delivered.

For up to eight years, any employees recruited to a new “major” project initially approved by a chosen union will be unable to negotiate better conditions through industrial action. A major project is anything worth above $250 million that the minister declares to be “major”. That’s about the size of a motorsport entertainment complex in Toowoomba or a medicinal cannabis plant in South Australia. That’s a lot of employees denied the right to negotiate over a long period.

Compliance

Unions have long complained about systematic underpayment and “wage theft” by many employers (heightened since the loss of union rights of entry) and about business models, such as franchising and sub-contracting, that encourage it.

The bill partly addresses this by criminalising certain deliberate instances of this behaviour. It would override laws some states have.

These provisions are uncontroversial and indeed welcomed by unions.

However, the biggest problem is not that the maximum penalty is too low. Already the maximum is rarely used, and many offences are ignored. Not many are caught, and punishments are light.

True, increasing the threatened punishment for the most egregious offences might discourage wage theft. But the assertiveness of administrative action seems to be the main factor shaping employer behaviour. If you think you won’t be caught, let alone punished, you’ll keep on doing what you’re doing.

Employers win … again

Every industrial relations reform is proclaimed by its proponents as being “commonsense” and “practical”. This bill is no different.

Like most industrial relations reforms, though, it is principally about affecting who gains income and power in the workplace. The wage theft provisions purport to favour the most disadvantaged, though with uncertain effects. The remainder, more simply, favour employers over employees.

The most important changes that could be made to simplify enterprise bargaining — removing the many obstacles facing employee representatives — have been thrown under the omnibus.The Conversation

David Peetz, Professor of Employment Relations, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

So much for consensus: Morrison government’s industrial relations bill is a business wish list


Jim Stanford, University of Sydney

“We are all in this together,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison solemnly intoned in April – and for a brief few months, in the face of the economic crisis wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s industrial relations protagonists agreed.

Business groups, unions and governments put aside their usual differences and worked together to minimise job losses.

They quickly negotiated alterations to dozens of awards and enterprise agreements, adjusting rules and rosters to help keep Australians on the job.

Then, in late May, seeing opportunity in that spirit of cooperation, Morrison heralded a new consensus-based approach to industrial relations.

The federal government set aside its effort to impose more legal restrictions on unions and established new “industrial relations reform roundtables” for employer groups, unions and government officials to work together on reforming workplace laws Morrison said were “not fit for purpose”.

“We’ve got to put down our weapons,” he declared. The change in approach was even compared to the historic Accords of the 1980s, in which the Hawke-Keating Labor government convinced unions to accept wage freezes in return for enhanced social benefits (like Medicare and superannuation).




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Well, the Kumbaya moment didn’t last long.

Within weeks the parties retreated to their corners and their standard speaking points. No meaningful consensus emerged on any issue from any table.

Even tentative proposals – like an idea supported by unions and the Business Council of Australia to combine fast-track approval of union-negotiated enterprise agreements with greater flexibility in determining their suitability – were shot down in partisan gunfire by more strident business lobbyists.




Read more:
Morrison government invites unions to dance, but employer groups call the tune


Now, in the absence of consensus, the government has picked up its traditional hymn book and is once again singing the praises of “flexibility”.

Today federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter revealed the rotten fruit of the roundtable process, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020.

If passed, it will further skew the already lopsided balance of power towards employers.

The bill doesn’t just take the employers’ side in the five issues debated at those roundtables (award simplification, enterprise agreements, casual work, compliance and enforcement, and “greenfields agreements” for new enterprises).

One of its biggest changes is to suspend rules that prevent enterprise agreements from undercutting minimum award standards. This proposal wasn’t even discussed at the roundtables.

This confirms the gloves are off once again in Australia’s interminable IR wars.

Here are the most significant ways the bill will weight the scales further to the disadvantage of workers.

Suspending the BOOT

As the law now stands, enterprise agreements cannot undercut minimum standards in industry awards. This is known as the “better off overall test” – or BOOT. The new bill instructs the Fair Work Commission to approve agreements even if they fail this test, so long as the deal is nominally supported by affected workers (more on this below) and deemed to be in the “public interest”.

Australia is unique among wealthy nations in allowing employers to unilaterally implement enterprise agreements, without involvement by a union. The BOOT is thus necessary to prevent enterprise agreements from undermining award rights.

The bill proposes suspending BOOT for two years. But even if it were restored after that (which is uncertain), agreements approved during that window would remain in effect (enterprise agreements typically last four years). Even after they expire, under Australian law they remain in effect until replaced by a new agreement, or terminated by the FWC – neither of which is likely in a non-unionised workplace.

Apparently in anticipation that unions will actively oppose non-BOOT-compliant agreements, the bill also includes measures to speed their approval by the Fair Work Commission. The process must be completed within 21 days (with some exceptions). This will limit the ability of affected workers to learn about and resist their loss of benefits and conditions. Unions will be restricted from intervening around agreements they were not directly involved in negotiating (including intervening against agreements that had no union involvement at all).

Broadening the definition of casual work

The growing use of “casual” employment provisions was a hot topic at the IR reform tables. The new bill clarifies the definition of casual work in the most expansive way possible: a casual job is any position deemed casual by the employer, and accepted by the worker, for which there is no promise of regular continuing employment.

In other words, any job can be casual, so long as workers are desperate enough to accept it. This will foster the further spread of insecure employment without paid leave entitlements. Most importantly, it removes a big potential liability faced by employers as a result of recent court decisions, under which they might have owed back pay for holidays and sick leave to employees improperly treated as casual workers.




Read more:
What defines casual work? Federal Court ruling highlights a fundamental flaw in Australian labour law


Casualising part-time workers

Further casualisation will be attained through new rules regarding rosters and hours for permanent part-time workers. The bill extends flexibility provisions originally implemented earlier this year – during that brief moment of pandemic-induced cooperation. The rules allow employers to alter hours for regular part-timers without incurring overtime penalties or other costs (currently required under some awards). This will allow employers to effectively use part-time workers as yet another form of casual, just-in-time labour.

Doubling new project agreement times

Finally, the bill grants one more big wish from the business list.

It allows super-long enterprise agreements at major new projects. Agreements can last for up to eight years – double the time now allowed – and be signed, sealed and delivered before any workers start on the job (thus denying them any input into the process).

Under revised BOOT provisions, they could also undercut the minimum standards of any industry awards.

Back to business as usual

These changes are being advertised as a spur for post-pandemic job creation. But this claim is hollow.

In reality, the changes in part-time and casual rules will actually discourage new hiring. Since existing workers can be costlessly “flexed” in line with employer needs, there is no need to hire anyone else.

Weaker BOOT protections will spur a wave of new enterprise agreements, most union-free, and aimed at reducing (not raising) compensation and standards. This makes a mockery of the goals of collective bargaining, and grants employers further opportunity to suppress labour costs (already tracking at their slowest pace in postwar history).

So what to make of that short-lived spirit of togetherness that purportedly sparked this whole process? In retrospect, it seems to have been just an opportunity for the Coalition government to pose as visionary statesmen during a time of crisis.

Now, mere months later, the government is back to its old ways – and the pandemic is just another excuse to scapegoat unions, drive down wages and fatten business profits.The Conversation

Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute; Honorary Professor of Political Economy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison remains very popular in Newspoll as the Coalition easily retains Groom in byelection



James Ross/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll will presumably be the final one for 2020. It gives the Coalition a 51-49% two-party-preferred lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 2% One Nation (down one).

This is One Nation’s worst result in a federal Newspoll since before the 2019 federal election. It comes after the party slumped by 6.6 percentage points at the recent Queensland state election.

Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger. This poll was conducted November 25-28 from a sample of 1,511 people.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up two points) and 30% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +36. Morrison’s approval rating has consistently been over 60% since April, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recorded a net approval of +3, down one point. Morrison led as better PM by 60-28% (58-29% previously).




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Why good leaders need to hold the hose: how history might read Morrison’s coronavirus leadership


Coronavirus may be the only important issue for many voters at the moment, and Morrison is perceived to have handled that well. In normal times, issues less favourable to the Coalition would likely have gained traction, undermining Morrison’s ratings, but these times are not normal.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has enjoyed a similar polling boost in her state as well, due to her handling of the pandemic.

In a NSW YouGov poll taken after revelations of her affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, she still had a 68-26% approval rating.

LNP easily retains Groom at federal byelection

There was very little media attention on Saturday’s byelection for the safe Coalition seat of Groom in Queensland.

Only four candidates ran, representing the Coalition, Labor, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrats.

The LNP won by 66.6-33.4%, a 3.9% swing to Labor since the 2019 federal election.




Read more:
Final 2019 election results: education divide explains the Coalition’s upset victory


Primary votes were 59.0% for the LNP (up 5.6%), 27.8% for Labor (up 9.1%), 8.0% for Sustainable Australia and 5.3% for the Liberal Democrats. The major parties benefited from the absence of One Nation and the Greens, which respectively won 13.1% and 8.0% in 2019.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says the average swing against a government at byelections in its own seats is 6%, so this is not a great result for Labor.

Furthermore, there was a 5.2% swing to the Coalition in Groom in the 2019 election, as it romped to a 58.4-41.6% drubbing of Labor in Queensland.

If federal Labor had recovered support in Queensland since then, a much bigger swing would have been expected.

While Labor easily won the recent Queensland state election, state and federal voting can be very different.

Biden’s popular vote lead stretches

In the Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote in the US presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden leads incumbent Donald Trump by 51.1-47.1%.

Biden’s four-point lead is up from 3.1 percentage points on November 8 when the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada were called for him, making him the presumptive winner. Many mail votes are still be counted in New York, which will heavily favour Biden as well.

Biden came out on top in the Electoral College vote count, 306-232.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden’s popular vote margin now exceeds Barack Obama’s margin of 3.9 percentage points in 2012. But Obama won the “tipping-point” state that put him over the magic 270 electoral college votes by 5.4 points, while Biden won his tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by just 0.6 percentage points.

Trump performed 3.4 percentage points better in the tipping-point state in 2020 than in the national popular vote and this difference will increase further as more New York votes are counted. In the 2016 election, the difference was 2.9 points.




Read more:
What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate


In the House of Representatives, the Democrats lead the Republicans 222-206 in seats, with seven races uncalled.

Republicans lead in all seven of these uncalled races. If they hold their leads, Democrats will win the House by just 222-213. That’s a net gain of 13 seats for Republicans from the 2018 midterm election.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.