June 2003 #2

4% of what?

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation about the casualisation of the workforce and the impact it was having on peoples lives. That short piece generated quite a bit of discussion both on air and on line. So today I want to focus on another aspect of the employment / pay discussion.

Just a little more than a week ago, probably using the Howard - Costello or the Crean - Beasley fiasco as a cover, our federal politicians granted themselves a $4000 a year pay rise on their base salary (about 4%).

According to an article in last weekend's Age newspaper, on top of the basic wage of $102,760 for the backbenchers, men like the Latrobe Valley's own Christian Zahra, and women backbenchers also get an "electoral allowance" somewhere between $27,300 and $39,600.

For those of us in the Latrobe Valley, living in one of the most economically depressed areas in the nation, we find our local member not even mentioning to us his latest pay rise neither in the local newspaper or his occasional newsletters to his "constituents". Here we have a Labor man not even telling the people who voted him in that while he is able to live off the common weal, his fellow travelers down this way are more likely to be unemployed, under-employed or continuing to die of asbestos related diseases at a rate higher than any other population in Australia. No, we don't hear about what the Labor party will do about that.

As we are subjected to the ongoing fiasco that is the Australian Labor party, we find the contradictions between what all of the major party politicians say and do continue to grow. If the Crean camp, to which young Christian belongs, were to wake up and the Beasley camp to do the same, they would realise that the reason their party is on the nose is because no matter who leads it, nothing would change.

Beasley hoisted his own petard and that of the Labor party during the last election by siding with the government over asylum seeker policies, the GST, industrial relations, health, security, insurance and on and on it goes. And remember Crean was his deputy and we didn't hear him object did we.

What the Beasley camp wont tell us about their private polling, and is my gut feeling, is that the polls don't show they would lose up to ten New South Wales seats to the Conservatives, they have never said that and its a point they have been careful not to make, but that their losses would be to the Greens and Independents.

Labor doesn't want to win the next election. Even to an outsider, they are not ready to rule and they know it. How the "machine men" as Mark Latham calls them, believe the electorate would fall for Kim (I note with interest a slightly slimmed down Kim), or even consider allowing Crean to rule, is beyond me.

We are at a new point in Australian political history. A conservative government has been extremely successful at destablising it's opposition and has been fox unning in its horse trading with them and the Democrats (it was their turn to spill blood last year) to get its way on rolling back the social compact.

This same government has been able to cash in on the generally racist nature of the Australian community and convince just enough people that those who are different (for example, unemployed, single mothers, the disabled, the sickly,the drug dependent, the ones with different skin colours or accents) are not "true" Australians and should be marginalised and cut off from society.

While Howard and his mob continue to run rings around the ALP, it is time for a change.

Our political leaders have created what Ira Chernus calls the "Insecurity State" .. The national conviction that we can no longer trust anyone and that we must live in fear of destruction, pain and death. However, when we look at that condition and examine the foundations on which it is built, we find, largely, smoke and mirrors.

Crimes against the person are falling, while crimes against property are rising.  Petty criminals are jailed for inordinately long terms, while corporate
criminals are given puny fines or, as in Rivkin case, minor custodial sentences. While drug use among the young is the focus of much police energy, drug use within the force and by the upper classes is largely ignored, covered up, or blamed on "rogue" elements.

All the while our politicians continue to enjoy pay rates orders of magnitude greater than the most needy within our community. The latest research indicates that the average pay for the bulk of the "new" - part-time or casual - jobs created over the last five years has been around $13,000pa.

Recently I was talking with someone who kept on and on about how wrong it all was, about how evil things were and about the ways the media didn't tell us things. In the end I had enough and let fly. 

Sure, it is wrong, it is evil and the media do report in certain ways that cloud the real issues, but they are not reason enough to give up or fall into
despondency. Alone we can feel small, insignificant, powerless and fearful - just as I bet Crean is at the moment. But together we have the means to overcome and break the chains that hold us. 

Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but I live in hope. Every time I have to stop and help someone up or assist them overcome another barrier to a better life, I get a little disheartened. But it doesn't last because while that person has to put less energy into fighting the 'system' they can, perhaps, put that energy into overthrowing it.

While the people I get to help aren't on anywhere near $100,000 a year, don't live in big houses with flash cars or get to fly to lovely locations for their annual holidays (usually because they don't have the luxury of them), at least they usually stop to say thanks or flash a smile.

That smile gives me hope for a better world in this life to be made. That's what I will continue to struggle for. All I ask is for you to consider joining us.