We need to talk about Jean

This week, in response to Labor’s announcement that shareholders who pay no tax will no longer be getting cash back from the government, the Herald Sun introduced us to Jean.

Case Study 1: Jean is retired with a large self-managed super fund. She receives $29,810 in dividends from bank shares and $130,000 from other assets. As the fund is in the pension phase, and pays $0 tax. Jean is currently entitled to a $12,775 rebate. Under Labor, Jean would lose that.

Now, let’s just get something straight right up front. Jean only ever got this cash back in the first place because Howard and Costello wanted to sure up her vote in case she was tempted by racism to vote for Pauline Hanson. This is not a usual way for governments to manage shareholders and company tax – Australia is only one of four countries that offers such a scheme and the original dividend imputation policy designed by the Keating government had no such rort, I mean perk. I meant rort actually.

But, now that we know about Jean, who ‘would lose that’, I think this is the perfect time for us to talk about Jean. We should thank the Herald Sun for kicking off this healthy discussion.

Let’s start at the beginning. We knew the Liberals, in concert with their media arm, the Murdoch press, would launch a propaganda scare campaign against Labor’s very sensible, fiscally responsible, wealth-inequality battling policy to no longer give self-funded retirees cash they don’t need. How did we know? Because that’s what the Liberals and their media arm, the Murdoch press, exist to do. The sky is falling. Everyone is ruined. The economy will rise up like an angry god and smite us all for hurting those who have bestowed trickle-down wealth upon us. And so on and so forth.

I must admit, it’s a sad turn of events that the likes of Leigh Sales on ABC’s 730 is also playing this game, seeking out Lyle-we need those dividends to live-Essery, to show their sad sad faces on TV, to tell Labor how naughty and mean they are for hurting Jean and Lyle, who did nothing to deserve this. But that’s the thing. Jean and Lyle did do nothing to deserve this magical cash-back bribe from Howard and Costello, other than possibly considering voting for Pauline Hanson, and no one should be rewarded for that dirty idea.

But, now that the likes of Jean, and the ABC’s Lyle, are all over the media sharing their suffering, and being given a national audience to urge people not to even consider voting for the possibly-Communist Labor Party who want to spend Jean and Lyle’s cash-back on evil things like schools, healthcare, income tax cuts for workers who haven’t had a pay rise in years, and have the highest house prices and power bills of any generation ever, I have three questions:

1) Why am I meant to be sympathetic to Jean and her poor share portfolio, but I’m not being asked to be sympathetic to people with disabilities and the unemployed who are constantly being bullied and threatened by the Turnbull government who is working as hard as they can to pull their social safety net out from under them, leaving them destitute and possibly homeless? Could they possibly move in with Jean?

2) Related to the above, why is cutting welfare spending framed as a perfectly legitimate government policy, responsible in fact, in order to do the ‘heavy lifting’ job of ‘budget repair’ in response to a supposed ‘debt and deficit disaster’, but saving billions by not giving people with share portfolios most of us could never dream of owning, nor the tax accountants to minimise our tax to zero to help fund it, is apparently bad bad bad?

3) Why does Lyle get to tell his sad ‘my share portfolio might need to be rearranged’ story on TV, but we don’t get to hear the stories of workers who are locked out of their work for asking for a pay rise, or the people being villainised for being unemployed, or the families of children who attend underfunded schools, or the single-mother who can’t afford to take her child to the doctor because of Liberal cuts to Medicare? Why do the Liberals and the media, not just Murdoch-run, but Fairfax and the ABC as well, give Jean and Lyle a run, but don’t tell the other side of the story?

I would like to talk about this please. Because, the problem is not just this story. This same situation happens time and time again, political story after political story, the frame is always the same. I think Jean is just the wakeup call this country’s political landscape needs. What is the society we really want, and how are the Liberals, their media-arm and their rusted-on self-entitled Liberal voting Jeans and Lyle’s stopping us getting that? And if we’re really serious about doing something about wealth inequality, how are we going to get there with this tsunami of elite and powerful opposition against positive change? Answers can be posted below, cheers.

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Barnaby Joyce: he doesn’t think properly

This is a guest post by Kay Rollison, my wonderful mother, who was so fired up about the Barnaby Joyce saga, she just couldn’t let it be until she had written about her ‘hierarchy of deeds’. Enjoy!

I know there’s already been a lot written about Barnaby Joyce from many perspectives. But I still think it’s worth distilling the whole affair into a sort of Maslow-esque taxonomy – Kay’s hierarchy of deeds. I’ll start with what is actually the least important and work up to the main game.

7. The Affair. In itself this is not really important, though it’s the only aspect of the whole saga that has attracted LNP – or was it Lucy Turnbull’s – attention with the bonk ban. Sex between senior and more junior staff in an office often creates tensions in the workplace, as it did in Joyce’s office, but sex is not the real issue here. Conflict of interest is. You can’t stop consenting adults having sex; outlawing it only makes it more fun. But you can at least try to eliminate the potential for conflict of interest by requiring staff to declare their involvement with each other, and prohibit a senior staff member from advantaging a junior partner in terms of work allocation, promotion or whatever. If you are ashamed of the liaison and don’t want it made public – like you already have a partner and kids – that’s tough, and maybe you should re-think the whole situation. But you only have to tell one person in confidence – in this case the Prime Minister, and refrain from advantaging your partner.

6. Hypocrisy. If you campaign on traditional ‘family values’ and oppose the equal rights of others in the community to marry, while all the time you are two-timing your family, then you deserve to be called out on it. Joyce’s comment that introducing the Gardasil vaccine might result in ‘an overwhelming backlash from people saying, “Don’t you dare put something out there that gives my 12-year-old daughter a licence to be promiscuous”’ didn’t help either.

5. Perks. Conflict of interest. See above. I won’t go into all the job moves, the non-jobs and the paid stress leave of Joyce’s partner. But people are entitled to know what was done for her. That Turnbull’s office didn’t know about it is beyond belief – why else were there crisis meetings about it before the New England by-election, as revealed by Sharri Markson. Turnbull’s assertion that they weren’t in a relationship so that the Ministerial Code wasn’t breached doesn’t pass either the Centrelink or the pub test. And his decision to kill the investigation into Joyce’s perks once he had resigned sounds pretty much like a deal: you go and I’ll stop the investigation. Though it may have been a National Party ultimatum after the new(ish) formal complaint of sexual harassment. Who knows? What a train wreck.

4. More conflicts of interest. The undeclared free apartment has raised questions about Joyce’s relationship with rich mates, and focussed attention on other potential conflicts of interest. These include moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority into his electorate at a cost to taxpayers of $25.6 million (meaning they would stay in his mate’s hotel) and the purchase of land adjacent to the inland railway route, Joyce’s pet project, which may or may not have raised the value of that land. Joyce denies any conflict of interest, but then he would, wouldn’t he. (Never mind that the railway won’t generate a commercial return.) When the conservative premier Tommy Bent did something similar in the early twentieth century, they called him for what it was: Bent by name and bent by nature. And who could forget Gina Rinehart’s $40,000 ‘award’ that Joyce had to give back?

3. The press cover-up. This comes higher in the hierarchy because a properly functioning press is a prerequisite for a properly functioning democracy, and we don’t have one. Since news of the affair was published in the Daily Telegraph, journalists from all sections of the mainstream media have fallen over themselves trying to justify why the story – which was clearly well known in Canberra – wasn’t reported before the New England by-election. The argument that it was a private matter simply doesn’t bear scrutiny; the hypocrisy and conflict of interest issues were there clear to see, and were matters of legitimate public interest. Accusing the public of being prurient for wanting to know such information is a pathetic reaction from people who couldn’t – or chose not to – do their jobs. Sharri Markson’s admission that the story wasn’t revealed as part of a vendetta against Joyce and was expected only to run for a couple of days is peculiar but revealing; did the Daily Telegraph really think people wouldn’t care about anything but the affair, news of which, if that was all there was to it, might indeed have quickly vanished without trace?

But it’s so much more than just an affair; it has legs and was off running as soon as it was revealed. People don’t care about the sex but do care about the rorts. Maybe the full story might have damaged Joyce’s chances at the by-election, or maybe it wouldn’t. But given that the LNP’s majority was at stake, it looks awfully like a cover-up, just in case. Politically motivated or just protecting other insiders? Bit of both maybe, but political coverup seems more likely. And the Murdoch press has form – lots of it.

2. The secret coalition agreement. This looks like a bit of a jump from the Barnaby Joyce affair. But there are significant connections. Turnbull had to sign it to get the Nationals to support him as Prime Minister. It apparently prevented him from sacking Joyce; only the Nationals could do that. It also apparently covers the allocation of portfolios, giving Joyce responsibility for water resources, then resources and Northern Australia (his friend Gina Rhinehart’s pet project), then infrastructure and transport. And it presumably has policy implications about what issues the government can or cannot tackle, and how they should do it. Turnbull’s weakness allowed Barnaby to do as he wanted – in matters large and small.

1. Bad policy. Allowing – and maybe even actively supporting – water theft in the Murray Darling Basin. Positive support for coal, opposition to renewables and inaction – or waste of money on Direct Action – on climate change. Pork barrelling in rural electorates. These policy disasters stem from the same sense of entitlement that Joyce showed in the conduct of his affair, but have much more significant results. They are the real legacy of Barnaby Joyce.

I’ll leave you with a comment from a local in Joyce’s electorate quoted by The Monthly:

“He’s a climate change denier, Barnaby Joyce, and I just find such people disturbing, and we lost him because he had sex with someone, I just find that also disturbing, we should be losing him because he doesn’t think properly.”

By Kay Rollison


Just a flesh wound

It was only meant to be a flesh wound, it wasn’t meant to end Barnaby’s career. That was his fault.

This is the basic message from the Daily Telegraph, where Sharri Markson revealed insider knowledge of the ‘crisis talks between the offices of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’ in the lead up to the New England by election, about how to hide Joyce’s affair with his media staffer.

If you’re confused about how it could be that Markson, who on October 20, before the New England by election, reported the rumours of Joyce’s affair as ‘vicious innuendo’, can now be admitting to knowledge of the crisis talks before the by election (why would there be crisis talks about rumours?), and can also be the very same journalist to win the ‘scoop’ of the front page story confirming the rumours, with a photo of the pregnant mistress who used to work at the Daily Telegraph, you’re not alone. But it gets even more-confusing still, while at the same time making perfect sense.

Markson’s ‘analysis’ of these crisis talks reads like an apology to Joyce, as if everything got a bit out of hand, and he was never meant to lose his position as Nationals leader, Deputy PM and Cabinet Minister, and that this kerfuffle was not to be blamed on the poor innocent Daily Tele – any damage done was Joyce’s fault for not handling the story well. Markson writes:

‘The government got through the by election without the secret exposed’ – because Markson chose not to expose the secret – and Joyce’s resignation today ‘is down to his (Joyce’s) serial mismanagement of what could have been a one – or two-day story – which is all it was ever intended to be, for there was no vendetta against Joyce or malice towards him by The Daily Telegraph’.

Read it twice if you need to. I know I did.

Now let’s unpack that layered statement, shall we? We know the government got through the by election without the secret exposed, which raises questions about the integrity of journalists across the nation, who are all defensively claiming to have the upmost honour in never reporting ‘vicious innuendo’, unless of course that vicious innuendo in some way damages a Labor government, and then it’s a ‘questions to answer’ pile on with no end in sight.

Next. Markson only ever intended for the story to be a one or two-day story. Let that sink in. Markson is admitting here, or even boasting, that the Daily Tele decides how long a story runs in the media, and that if they decide to press go (with the shot of the pregnant mistress), they can also decide to press stop. This one just got away from them. Not like usual. I shit you not.

We’re not finished yet. The reason it was only ever intended to be a one-or-two-days-at-the-most story, a flesh-wound and not a career-ending scandal, is because, low and behold, The Daily Telegraph, in all its personified wisdom has ‘no vendetta against’ or ‘malice towards’ Barnaby Joyce. The Deputy PM from the Liberal National Coalition is a mate of the Daily Telegraph, naturally, so, as Markson innocently explains, they weren’t out to get him – he just tripped and fell of his own accord.

Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. As we knew, but we never thought the Daily Telegraph would admit, the Murdoch press holds vendettas against individuals, and shows malice towards them in their editorial positions. Like Julia Gillard, for instance. Like Craig Thomson. Like Peter Slipper. Like Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Dan Andrews, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Jay Weatherill, name any Labor politician from the last few decades and the story is the same: vendetta and malice by the truckload from the Murdoch media. And they’ve just admitted it.

You seriously couldn’t make this shit up. Sharri’s not making it up. Sharri, the journalist who ironically had to go ‘undercover’ to a journalism course at university in order to ‘expose’ the left-wing brainwashing of the media (ha!), who claimed not to know about Joyce’s affair, then did know, then apologised for knowing, and admitted she did know before after all, has laid it out very clearly. The Murdoch media is not interested in reporting about politics. They’re interested in playing politics. It’s just such a pity that so many Australians are still willing to be played.


The truth bomb that terrifies Turnbull

There is mass outrage today at the news that Turnbull has pressured the ABC to take down and censor parts of an article by Emma Alberici which analysed how little tax some of Australia’s largest companies pay. This story reeks of a scandalous government intervention in a publicly owned free press. But this isn’t the only story. In fact, it’s not the biggest story. If you look closely at exactly what was removed from the article before it was reposted, you can see what Turnbull was so desperate to censor. And you immediately see where this desperation comes from: a fear that his house of cards is about to come crashing down, blown up by a truth bomb. Because the line that was taken out of this article smashes not just Turnbull’s entire political ideology, his political career and his government’s hold on power; it also smashes the right wing narrative the world over. The stakes are that high.

This is the key line which the public no longer have access to:

There is no compelling evidence that giving the country’s biggest companies a tax cut sees that money passed on to workers in the form of higher wages.

The Guardian reports that ABC director of news, Gaven Morris, gave in to Turnbull’s pressure to change the article because ‘he believed it sounded too much like opinion’. In other words, Turnbull told Morris that Alberici’s statement of fact – that there is no compelling evidence that tax cuts trickle-down to workers – is not a fact, and is instead an opinion.

At this point, we could waste hours of outrage, sending Gaven Morris every ABC news article ever printed, with segments highlighted to show how opinion is inherent in any news article – whether it be opinion about what is important to report, how the report is framed, which ‘facts’ make it in and which are excluded, who is used as a source, what order those sources are used, who doesn’t get a chance to speak, and what prominence the story is given on the ABC news agenda. But, again, this is not the big story.

The big story is Turnbull’s fear of workers finally understanding the truth. Finally understanding how they’ve been lied to for generations. Why else would Turnbull go to such extraordinary lengths to get this so called ‘opinion’ removed, if he didn’t know how damaging this truth is to his neoliberal worldview?

The truth is, Emma Alberici is spot on. The truth is, there is no evidence that tax cuts either increase wages or create jobs. If there was such evidence, Turnbull would be able to point to it, instead of censoring an opposing view. The truth is, the lie that tax cuts increase wages and create jobs has been engineered as conventional wisdom by right wing governments and the compliant media for so long, that workers have fallen hook line and sinker for the lie and punched themselves in the face by turning against unions, the only ones giving them the power to stand up to the liars.

The truth is, Turnbull is terrified the lie is no longer believable. And it’s no longer believable because workers are waking up to the reality that their Point Piper millionaire PM, who uses tax havens to ensure wealth created through the labour of workers doesn’t come back to the community, who uses the power of government to make rules enabling other millionaires to steal wealth from workers, is actually lying to them. These lies benefit Turnbull individually – giving him political power and more money. These lies benefit all the Turnbull’s kind – the one-percenters whose wealth has grown exponentially as compared to the wealth of those whose productivity produces the wealth. Once these lies are exposed, once the game is up, there is no turning back.

I have long said that once workers realise wealth doesn’t trickle down, right wing governments will never be elected again. Turnbull knows this too. So, he can censor all he likes, but editing an ABC news article is akin to pissing in the ocean when the waves of change are building like a truth-tsunami. Bring it on.


Business owners should join unions and vote Labor

It is not just workers who should be backing unions and voting Labor. Small and medium business owners should too. Yes, I’m deadly serious. Let me explain.

There is a reason why business owners have traditionally despised unions and voted Liberal, and why many workers have been convinced to punch themselves in the face by doing the same. It’s because they’ve bought into two big lies told by liars –  Liberals, big business, employer groups and their parrots in the media. The first lie is that corporate tax cuts create jobs, and the second is that pay rises are bad for the economy.

I call them big lies because they have big consequences for all of us; they clearly hurt workers, who haven’t had a pay rise in years, and also hurt the businesses who rely on their customers having money to spend. In turn, these lies hurt the economic prosperity of the entire country, reducing spending, gutting demand and discouraging investment. So, you can see why it’s time we understood just how corrosive these lies are, and worked to convince the lied-to to stop putting the liars in control of the economy.

The first lie is easy to refute. Corporate tax cuts do not create jobs, nor do they increase wages. I’ve explained here why this lie is codswallop. Sure, tax cuts could be spent on higher wages and hiring new staff, but could doesn’t mean they are. The best predictor of the future is the past, and judging by the past experience of companies receiving tax cuts, workers aren’t getting a pay rise from Turnbull’s latest round of cuts.

The reason why workers and business owners believe this lie is because they are lied to so regularly. Whenever they open a newspaper, they read statements like this from the AFR:

‘The Labor party and an increasingly determined Australian Council of Trade Union secretary Sally McManus are punting on winning hearts and minds through a return to interventionist wages policy. Pitted against them is a Coalition determined to do what it can to stoke investment, hiring, and pay packets through corporate tax cuts’.

You don’t even have to read between the lines here to see the clear implication is that villainous Labor and unions will hurt ‘investment, hiring and pay packets’ by intervening in the economy, whereas the heroic Coalition (liars) will ‘do what it can’ to improve all these things with a corporate tax cut. Lies!

The truth is, there is only one reason why the liars want, lobby for, and deliver through their political-arm-Liberal-Party, corporate tax cuts, and that is to increase their profits. Increased profits are great for them and their off-shored millions, but do nothing to increase employment or wages. Lies!

The second big lie – that pay rises cost jobs – was on display on Q and A Monday night, when spokesperson for the liars, James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:

‘there’s something worse than having subdued wages growth, and that is not having a job at all’.

In other words, stop complaining that you haven’t had a pay rise in years – you’re lucky to have a job at all! This threat, that pay rises cost jobs, as I explain here, has been a clever little strategy for the liars as it has resulted both in productivity increases going unrewarded and also workers, through fear of job losses, turning against unions. Unions negotiate pay rises, and therefore in the lied-to-workers’ eyes, unions threaten their jobs.

These two big lies have therefore become a circular problem for the lied-to-workers, the business owners, and in turn, the economy. Workers have been so successfully turned against unions and the Labor Party – turned against themselves – that the labour movement is struggling to deliver pay rises for workers who fear losing their jobs if they are paid more, and in turn, businesses are struggling because their customers can’t afford what they’re selling. What an economic clusterfuck the liars have caused!

But wait, I hear you say. Businesses aren’t struggling – they have had huge profit increases year after year. So how can they be struggling if they’re making so much money? And yes, you’re right. Not ALL businesses are struggling.

At this point it’s important to differentiate between big business, and medium or small business. And, for medium and small businesses to see how the big business liars, who they keep voting for and helping to bash unions, are hurting them too.

Big businesses are making huge profits. That’s true. Big businesses also care most about corporate tax cuts, because they’re the ones who benefit from them most. Big business are the ones who most often get away with paying little to no tax because they can afford clever accountants with offshore tax schemes. Big business, often foreign owned, are more credible, but still not entirely credible, in claiming they can take their investment elsewhere if we don’t do what we’re told and vote for Liberals who will give them a tax cut. In reality, I can’t really see how Qantas is going to move offshore and still service Australian-based customers, or how BHP is going to mine Australian dirt in South Africa, or how huge banks and energy companies are going to gouge Australians of almost every cent they earn without investing their capital in the Australian economy. But either way, hugely profitable big businesses, who don’t pay their fair share of tax, who offshore most of their profits, who fund the employer groups and the Liberal Party in order to get the tax cuts they want, who own the newspapers which lie about tax cuts and pay rises, are, I admit, not the ones most hurt by low wages.

No, the ones hurt by low wages are the local small businesses, the medium sized employers, the Australian investors, who are suffering because their cash-strapped-customers can’t afford their products and services. It’s the owners of these businesses who are being hurt by the big liars, just as much as the workers missing out on pay rises.

Sure, small and medium businesses might not enjoy giving their staff pay rises, but they sure enjoy their customers earning more cash. Without pay rises, the self-employed painter sees his customers paint their homes every 10 years instead of every 5. Without pay rises, the café owner sees less coffee orders. Especially after paying their mortgages to hugely profitable banks and their power bill-shockers to privatised overseas owned electricity companies, workers without pay rises can’t afford to spend. This means small and medium business owners can’t afford to invest, and can’t afford to hire anyone, because there is not enough demand for the products and services they sell. As any good economist knows, capital investment comes from the promise of return on that investment. Return comes from demand. Demand is dependent on the customer’s ability to pay. When customers haven’t had a pay rise in years, they can’t afford to pay. So, bye bye revenue, bye bye potential returns, bye by investment, bye bye jobs and economic growth.

Remember this equation when you hear the Labor Party and unions opposing corporate tax cuts and calling for higher wages. Be warned, there might be a little voice in your head, put there by the liars, that makes you think Labor and unions are hurting the economy. But think of the small and medium businesses. Think of workers as customers, and understand why the economy relies on customers who can afford to spend. Call out the lies that are hurting all of us.

And next time you speak to a small and medium business owner, tell them they should join unions and vote Labor instead of supporting lying-employer-groups and voting for the liar-Liberal-Party. Tell them this story to explain why, if they really want to see their businesses succeed, this is the smartest thing to do. Unions and Labor governments are good for the economy, no matter what part in the economy you play. Spread the word.


How to ‘un-smash’ unions

Labor’s Mark Butler says unions are in ‘deep crisis’ thanks to Howard ‘smashing the power of organised labour’. Although the history books say that Howard’s WorkChoices policy was killed by the trade union movement and Kevin07, in reality, the biggest trick the Liberals and big business-devils ever played was convincing the world WorkChoices was dead, buried and cremated. Just when workers felt they were safe, protected by the Fair Work Act, the Liberals and big business were bringing in individual contracts and minimum rates by stealth, and finding loopholes to sabotage collective bargaining. How did they do it? By turning workers against unions. And wow, wasn’t it easy.

In my study of trade union narratives, I have looked at the way the media framed trade unions, from the shearer’s strike, the pig iron strike, the waterfront dispute, the Hawke Accord to WorkChoices. There is a consistent theme in the coverage: unions are framed as the villains – unreasonable and bad for the economy. Employers are framed as the heroes – reasonable and good for the economy, always given the benefit of the doubt. It is no wonder, since the public have been hearing this trope for their entire lives, that they believe it.

This narrative has been so successful at winning the culture wars that workers are cutting off their nose to spite their face by opposing unions, right when they need unions most. Take, for instance, the case of Turnbull cheered on by truck drivers when promising to rid them of the Transport Workers Union and Labor Party’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a regulatory body which was designed to increase truck driver pay so they could drive more safely.

Think about it for a moment. These owner-operator truck drivers were outraged that a union, of which they weren’t members, was working in their interest for free. It was forcing monumentally-profitable supermarket chains to pay them enough that they didn’t have to break the speed limit all night to make a living. Since they were all being paid at least the same minimum amount, and truck drivers provide a service the supermarkets can’t forgo, they’d still have work. So, how is it in truck drivers’ interest to campaign against higher rates of pay? Contract workers, like these truck drivers, have been convinced that ‘being your own boss’ gives you ‘freedom’, when really the only freedom it gives is for employers to rip you off. The fantasy of the Liberal’s WorkChoices dream has come true, yet many workers vote for union-bashing Liberal governments again and again.

Unions need to ‘un-smash’ the movement by countering this dominant cultural narrative in two ways:

The first is to put workers back in the frame by taking themselves out of it. Let workers tell the media their story, rather than speaking on their behalf. Remind workers that a union is just a group of workers who have every right to a say in their working lives.

Unions need to tell the ‘workers are the union’ story to show they aren’t just another boss, an outside influence who meddles in workplaces and tells workers what to do, duping members into giving them money to extend their political power. A union is not forcing workers to do anything against their interest. Instead, a union gives workers the tools to organise better wages and conditions for themselves. Unions are not in fact run by ‘union bosses’; workers vote to control the action. Enterprise bargaining agreements result from worker consultation; everyone working together to solve workplace problems.

By framing unions as power-hungry political players, the media have detached ‘unions’ from ‘workers’. They have put unions in the political-establishment-bucket, where they are written off as acting against the interest of workers. Industrial disputes are framed as ‘boss’ versus ‘union boss’, suits doing back-room deals, leaving workers with no voice in the story. Media reports of train strikes are about the will of ‘militant power-hungry union bosses’ rather than stories of poor conditions for rail workers and unsafe travel for commuters.

To fix this, unions need to remind the public that workers are the true victim of stalled workplace negotiations; workers are forced to take the drastic measures of industrial action. Employers are the villains who have forced them there. Strikes happen because workers need them, not because union bosses want them.

The second thing unions need to do to ‘un-smash’ dominant cultural narratives is to kill the mistaken belief that union-won pay increases cost jobs, with the presumption that low wages are good for the economy.

Employers have been using the cover of the Global Financial Crisis to claim they can’t afford pay rises. This is not a believable excuse. Profits are up 40% in the last four years, yet workers are still waiting patiently, too patiently, to be rewarded by wage rises. Too often workers believe their only choice is unstable, casual, low wage work – better than no job at all. Part of the reason profits are so high is because productivity isn’t being rewarded, and wages do not cost what they should. Profit-takers are laughing all the way to off-shore-tax-haven-bank accounts, while workers are left with wages that are not keeping up with cost of living.

A solution to this problem used to be collective bargaining. But since most workers don’t bother to join their union, let alone consider collective action, the employers have them right where they want them – in a position where they feel too vulnerable to ask for a pay rise. And even if workers do ask, they can be easily rejected.

Then there is the double-whammy of the Liberal-stacked-laughingly-so-called ‘Fair Work Commission’ which has made industrial strike action virtually impossible. So, even when the brave few union members organise to push back against greedy, uncompromising employers, they are left with no option than to put up with bad conditions, or resign.

But this is not the end of the story. Employers are individually greedy in refusing pay rises, and are also collectively cutting off their nose to spite their face by reducing the spending power of their customers. With 60% of the economy reliant on consumer spending, you have to laugh so you don’t cry when groups like the Retailers Association bemoan low retail spending, in the same year as they’ve won their campaign to cut the pay of hundreds of thousands of workers earning penalty rates. Workers are consumers, and when they can’t afford to shop, they don’t shop. This is not rocket science.

Unions are in a position to tell this story – of how the wage rises they facilitate are good for the economy. How workers should be unafraid of wage rises and how employers are lying when they say they can’t afford to pay workers.

The media’s trade union narratives have helped the Liberals and big business turn workers against unions, which ultimately turns workers against themselves. Unions can help to un-smash the movement by telling new stories to explain how workers can improve their lives, and make the economy a more equal and profitable place to work, by joining their workmates in solidarity.


Train track media narratives

When a political event unfolds, you would expect that each media outlet, and each political journalist might report that event from a different angle. You would expect a diversity of opinion and commentary in the stories, depending on the subjective and independent analysis of the individual journalist. But, my research into the stories told by the media shows this is not how political journalists behave. Instead, a media narrative springs up immediately to explain the what, why, how, when and who, and this narrative is adopted as given by the rest of the pack, with very few, if any, journalists willing to look at the story from a different perspective. Simply put, it is much more common for the political media to all tell the same story, and democracy is the loser.

I wrote recently about the success Alice Workman from Buzzfeed had in questioning the facts behind the AFP’s raids on the AWU, and how her reporting blew a hole in the media’s usual ‘unions are corrupt’ narrative, simply by investigating how it came to be that the media arrived at the scene ahead of the police. This type of brave, swimming-against-the-narrative-tide reporting is the exception, not the rule, in the Australian political media. Usually, political stories follow a far more uniform pattern of characterising the ‘facts’ of events as a ‘given’, in what I call the ‘train track narrative’ – as if the train only has one option – following the other trains ahead of it, instead of weaving its own path.

The train track media narrative was exemplified this week by the media’s reporting of the ongoing parliamentary citizenship saga. There seem to be some train tracks which are particularly popular, used as templates in media reporting, like a train set to auto-pilot. For example, there is the ‘they’re just as bad as each-other’ template. It appeared to be a relief to most journalists last week when Labor finally had some citizenship problems of their own. David Feeney’s lost paperwork and five others who claim to have taken reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship, who didn’t receive a response to their correspondence in time to tick that box before the commencement of a new parliament, have been a gift to this template narrative.

As the results of the audit came in, immediately it was the Labor MPs under a cloud who were the focus of the media’s attention. Just to name a few, we had Katharine Murphy at the Guardian making the story all about Labor. The ABC also did their best to paint Labor as the losers in the story, framing Labor’s cross-bench-supported bid to send all un-confirmed citizenship cases to the High Court as a ‘failure’, right there in the headline. Adam Gartrell and James Massola for Fairfax wrote a similar story under the heading ‘More Labor referrals loom as Bill Shorten’s horror fortnight ends with infighting’. David Speers, in the Daily Telegraph, reported Turnbull’s week as ‘the best for this year’, while labelling Shorten’s week a ‘shocker’. And so on and so forth.

To a casual observer of this story, it would seem that Shorten’s Labor opposition were the only party in parliament last week who had any issues with citizenship uncovered in the audit and that Shorten was mismanaging those issues by refusing to sort them out via the High Court. This narrative, however, doesn’t reflect the true reality of the situation.

Let’s look at some of the big things missing from this ‘thank goodness Labor can now be bashed about citizenship problems too’ narrative. Not only is Turnbull facing a by-election this weekend over his own citizenship problems with John Alexander in Bennelong, a by-election which could undermine his government’s numbers on the floor of the parliament (you would think this was a huge story, remember Craig Thomson?), he also has more citizenship problems uncovered through his pathetic attempt at an audit which looked more like a rabble of scant paperwork and disorganisation by the Liberal Party, who clearly have never had a proper process to deal with the requirements of Section 44 of the Constitution.

A reminder at this point that the Liberals and Nationals are in GOVERNMENT. The political stakes are higher for government than opposition I would have thought. The audit showed there are at least four Liberal MPs who still haven’t lifted the cloud of citizenship-doubts through their statements, who need to be referred to ensure they met the requirements the same as everyone else.

Even if you want to leave Josh Frydenberg out because his mother was a Jewish refugee, which Labor have chosen to do (as sympathetic as we all feel towards Jewish refugees, I’m not sure what this element of the story has to do with Frydenberg fulfilling the requirements of the Australian Constitution), there are still four who definitely need to be referred, as argued by Labor and the cross benchers – including Julia Banks, Nola Marino, Jason Falinski and Alex Hawke.

Falinksi has been named in the Daily Telegraph today as being ‘snared’ in the saga – a fact that was obvious last week as soon as the audit was released. All four of these Liberals aren’t arguing that they’ve taken ‘reasonable steps’, as the Labor MPs are, but rather are claiming not to be dual citizens of their respective ancestors’ birth nations, ignoring the fact that S44 requires that dual citizenry AND rights to dual citizenry be denounced.

So have their rights been denounced or not? The High Court are the only ones who can decide this. But even a non-lawyer like me, whose only education in S44 has been to follow the citizenship drama since June, can see that these four have a problem, just by looking at the paperwork they’ve submitted through the audit. Anyone reading media stories, however, this week would think these four MPs were being unfairly targeted by mean-big-bad-bully-Labor, who apparently coerced the cross-benchers into believing their conspiracy against the Liberals for political point scoring. That’s how the ‘they’re just as bad as each other’ story was old last week.

The fact is, Turnbull is shit-scared to send these four Liberals to the High Court because he knows that they are on shaky ground, and if even one or two of them was forced to a by-election, his government’s wafer-thin majority is at risk. So, why do journalists not report from this angle – from the angle that Turnbull blocked a bid by Labor to check both their own and Liberal citizenship cases – to get it all sorted at once – when it is clear that Turnbull would only fight to block the referral if he himself had doubts about his MP’s eligibility? If he thinks they are fine, as the journalists seem to agree, why not let the High Court lift the cloud and everyone can move on, starting 2018 afresh?

The media narrative straight out of the blocks in reporting the citizenship dramas unfolding last week was to rush for the ‘Labor are now on the bad-guy scoreboard and just as bad as the Libs’. But it is Turnbull, not Labor, who has the most to lose, and it is Turnbull’s MPs, not Labor’s, who can’t claim to have taken reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship. This is the crux of the story.

It stuns and frustrates me in equal measure that the political journalists are so quick to all write the same story, that they misrepresent the truth of the citizenship saga, and fall into unquestioning line with each other, leaving the public in the dark about what is really going on. There are many sides to every story, and when journalists all choose to go along the same track, the lack of diverse opinion is not just a bad look for their professionalism, but is also detrimental to democracy. We all lose when journalists don’t do their jobs well.