01.Childcare as commodity
The federal government has replaced the existing Child Care Rebate and the Child Care Benefit with the new, means-tested rebate known as the Child Care Subsidy. The government’s latest changes to early childhood education and care (ECEC) came into operation on July 2. This package of changes fails to address the present wage crisis in ECEC, to tighten the regulation of the system or address the lack of affordability.
Women still tend to carry the main responsibility for raising the children.
The federal government has replaced the existing Child Care Rebate and the Child Care Benefit with the new, means-tested rebate known as the Child Care Subsidy.
The government claims that there will be an average of $1,300 extra per annum in government rebates that should result in around 230,000 families increasing their workforce participation.
The government has increased the “childcare” rebate from around 72 percent to 85 percent of fees for the more than 370,000 families whose combined income is less than $66,958 a year and removed the present cap of $7,500 per annum on rebates.
“We’re abolishing the dreaded annual rebate cap for families earning $186,958 or less a year – that’s more than 85 percent of families using childcare in Australia. The cap is being increased to $10,190 for families earning above that threshold,” Birmingham said.
Three factors determine the amount of subsidy:
But this is not as good as it sounds; there is now a maximum hourly rate cap depending on the service type. For example, the hourly cap on long day care (centre based) is $11.77 and for family day care (in a home) is $10.90 per child.
This is where the sting is. Vacancies in ECEC centres with quality, affordable programs can be hard to come by, depending where you live. Fees can be anything from $70-$177 per day depending on such things as the provider, the provision of meals, number of qualified staff, and so on.
If the fees are say $15 or $20 or more per hour, then it is misleading, to say the least, to headline the removal of the $7,500 cap on rebates. That puts an hourly cap of $11.71 on the rebate.
There is no regulation of fees. The raising of the rebate to 85 percent may result in a hike in fees by the big, profit-gouging corporations that are moving into and have monopolised what is now viewed as an industry.
“Childcare” is becoming a commodity, to be sold at a profit with all the shortcuts and exploitation like any other capitalist corporation.
The focus of ECEC should be on education and care, on the children, their development and socialisation of up to five or six years of age. Not profits.
Landlords for ECEC centres are making a return of between five and seven percent per annum on their properties. It is a common practice to build in annual rent increases of three percent per annum. Add to that profits made by providers such as Only About Children and Affinity Education that are owned by transnational private equity companies or G8, a publicly listed corporation.
This drive for profits puts downward pressure on quality and pressure on fees to be constantly raised. The rent and profits are factored into the fees. In other words, the government is largely subsidising the private sector, not the parents.
Under the new package, all families must apply – opt in – to receive the subsidy, even if they were already a recipient of the old benefits. To continue receiving payments it is necessary to log into the myGov website and update details.
It appears thousands of people are not aware of this requirement, but Birmingham says the government has put in place a safety net that allows back payments to be made within the first three months.
Even if they are aware, trying to log into myGov can be a harrowing and unfruitful experience at times. Trying to get assistance by phone is mission impossible.
The other sting in the tail, where the government expects to make substantial savings, is the introduction of an activity test. This is not dissimilar to the tests imposed on welfare recipients.
The number of hours of activity per fortnight determines the hours of subsidised care. For example, eight to 16 hours of activity that meets the test requirements entitles the parent to a maximum of 36 hours of subsidy per child. (Details of the activity test are available on the Department of Education and Training website.)
Where there are two parents both must meet the requirements of the test and the amount of rebate is based on the hours of activity of the parent with the lowest entitlement.
This activity includes such things as paid work, including self-employed, being on leave such as parental leave, training courses, volunteering, unpaid work experience or internships, unpaid work in a family business or actively looking for work. In two parent families both parents must meet the activity test.
The activity test is harsh and complex, cutting access to early learning for children who stand to benefit the most. Disadvantaged, low income and families in insecure work are negatively impacted by the activity tests.
The changes also cut quality ECEC access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, which United Voice vigorously opposes.
Workers in the ECEC sector are highly skilled and the work they do involves a great deal of responsibility and care. Fully qualified ECEC educators have university degrees and should be paid as educators on a similar salary to teachers.
But they are not. The hourly rate is $22, less than half that of the average wage. They have been fighting for equal pay for some years with their calls falling on deaf ears. They have also been hit by the cuts to weekend penalty rates, the most recent being on July 1.
The overwhelming majority are women, and the government’s attitude seems to be one of treating them as though they are doing “women’s work” minding children.
Their union, United Voice, is waging the Big Steps campaign in response to Prime Minister Turnbull’s refusal to act on the equal pay crisis in the centre. On March 27, Keep Your Children Home Day, thousands of members took part in its biggest walk-off ever. Parents and providers supported their action and parents with children at the affected centres organised alternative arrangements.
Educators are angry and fed up. They, and the children they educate every day, have once again been left behind.
Education and Care
Education Minister Simon Birmingham constantly uses the term “childcare” as if the centres do little more than mind children. Yet these early years are the most important in a child’s development.
If 90% of our brains are formed in the first four years, why are our early childhood educators paid only half the average national wage?
Early childhood educators deserve to be valued for the important work that they do.
A child’s life chances should be shaped by their innate abilities, not where they were born or how much their parents earn.
Strong investment in ECEC can break the cycle of disadvantage and set children on a strong educational course for life.
The government’s package also includes an allocation of $870 million in support of 15 hours preschool a week for every child during 2018 and 2019. Beyond those years there is no commitment.
The union has put the government on notice that continued refusal to give ECEC educators due recognition for their skills and professionalism will lead to further action from the sector this year.
The Communist Party of Australia believes that there is no place for private, for-profit sector in ECEC.
The important role of early childhood educators in the emotional, intellectual, social and cultural development of pre-school children should be recognised. These educators should be paid a salary commensurate with their qualifications and responsibilities.
All children should have access to free early childhood education.
The Department of Human Services is to become the federal government’s manager of digital identities after being selected to build the identity provider solution that will be used for the Govpass platform.
The government announced $92.4 million in funding for the Govpass digital identity program in the 2018-19 Budget, with $60.9 million earmarked for an “accelerated implementation” by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).
“The Govpass program will allow users to create their digital identity and use this digital identity to engage with services online. This funding will include a public trial of approximately 100,000 tax file number (TFN) applications being completed online,” the Budget papers said. The delivery of Govpass will include a pilot for users to create a digital identity and complete a Tax File Number application online from end to end.
“Govpass will unlock access to a host of online services, while reducing the burden on individuals to have to prove who they are each time they want to make a transaction,” a statement from Human Services Minister and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan and Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said.
The information held on individuals by agencies such as Medicare, Centrelink will be centralised in a single data base but accessible through computer links and the use of the cardholder’s identity number. There are suggestions that Medicare numbers will be used as the ID number, in a form to comply with international conventions.
Once registered, it is possible to apply for the Access Card, and details of this card including personal ID number are included on the register.
It is clear from the government’s activities in other areas that it is only matter of time before other sorts of information are added to or linked to the centralised register and secret areas of the card.
These could range from religion, sexuality, political affiliation and activities, work permits, criminal record, places visited, close associates, and be used by employers, military, police, intelligence organisations, immigration. Banks have a particular interest in access to such information as the current Royal Commission into their activities makes clear.
In the present conditions, with the federal government’s beat-up on terrorism, the demonising of Muslims, government advertisements creating fear and insecurity, the fostering of nationalism of the worst type, wide-ranging anti-democratic ASIO and terrorism laws, the massive attack on trade unions and employer offensive on wages and conditions, a national centralisation of personal information of such proportions should be viewed as extremely dangerous.
The private sector is set to make a killing.
Their involvement also raises serious security concerns. They are not accountable to Parliament, they will be subcontracting to other contractors and who knows where some of the data collected will end up or how it will be used.
The government will also use the system to take a more punitive approach in cutting welfare payments as part of its plan to wind back services.
The Govpass must be opposed and stopped. It is being rushed through at top speed, the period of public consultation was non-existent. The Communist Party of Australia opposes the introduction of the system.
It is important to pressure the major political parties and build as broad a movement as possible to defeat it. The involvement of trade unions in this struggle is imperative. Trade unionists and workers in general will be on the receiving end of Govpass, with its net being cast wide to include progressive political activists and silence all voices of dissent.
03.New ATO building will lock in massive job cuts
A decision by the Australian Tax Office to enter into a 10-year lease for a new Townsville office building that only has space for existing staff numbers has been criticised as a short-sighted decision that will prevent the restoration of the 149 jobs that have been axed during the past five years.
The Community and Public Sector Union said that while it welcomed the ATO commitment to remaining in Townsville for another decade, the long-term leasing of a new, custom-built office should include capacity for growing job numbers, rather than locking in five years of cuts by only having space for current staff.
“Despite plenty of talk about decentralisation, the last five years have seen the Liberal National government in Canberra slash an extraordinary 149 jobs from the Townsville tax office alone,” CPSU Queensland assistant regional secretary Amy Smith said.
“Just last month the loss of another 10 jobs from this office was announced.
“Our union has been campaigning hard with the local community to have those jobs returned to Townsville, ensuring future employment opportunities for our city.
“While it is great that the ATO has announced they will enter into a 10-year lease for a new, purpose-built building in Townsville, it is concerning that it will only be large enough to house current staff, which says the Federal Government has no intention of restoring any of the jobs that have been lost.”
The union says the construction of a new office building is an opportunity to plan for the future, in parti cular by ensuring there is space for more jobs to be based in the region, but instead we are seeing an attempt to lock past job cuts in by ensuring there will be no space available for new staff.
“Our community has been calling on the Turnbull government to stop these cuts and bring jobs back to Townsville, but this announcement confirms those pleas have been falling on deaf ears,” said Smith.
“Townsville needs new, reliable, quality jobs if we are going to ensure a strong local economy. The federal government has to play a part in this, starting with a commitment to restore the jobs they have axed and ensuring ATO facilities in Townsville have room to grow.”
Some of Australia’s lowest-paid workers are facing a penalty rate cut – with the full force of the cuts still to come. The next 10 percentage point cut began from Sunday July 1 with another cut still to come in 12 months.
On July 1, hospitality workers lost approximately $16 for working their Sunday shift, compared to doing the same work as the previous weekend. This is the next step towards hospitality workers losing $40 a week or over $2,000 a year once the full cuts are implemented.
There is no equity in a system that enforces a pay cut for some of Australia’s lowest-paid workers when inequality is at all-time highs. This is a fundamental attack on working people.
The cut to a worker’s Sunday penalty rate largely negates the recent small rise in the minimum wage of 64 cents an hour.
The net effect is penalty rate cuts make the increase in the minimum wage meaningless – effectively trapping low-paid workers in a wage crisis shown by historically low levels of wage growth.
Jo-anne Schofield, national secretary of United Voice, the hospitality union says, “The system is broken for Australian workers about to be hit financially with another penalty rate cut. This next penalty rate transition wipes out the bulk of the minimum wage increase. This is an attack on working people.
“These changes to penalty rates represent a pay cut that weekend workers can’t afford and don’t deserve.
“When our industrial relations laws are used by employers to cut the pay of low paid workers and when our government refuses to utter a word in support of workers, the system is broken. The system is broken if hardworking hospitality workers can have their pay cut for doing the same shift as just the weekend before.
“Malcolm Turnbull could stop this inequity now, if he has the will. The Turnbull government’s inaction has shown that protecting the living standards of working Australians is simply not a priority for them.
“Hospitality workers are calling on their employers to do the right thing and commit to not cutting the wages of their staff. Businesses can make the choice to support their staff and commit to not cutting weekend rates by 10 percentage points this coming weekend.”
Clubs attack penalty rates
The day after the harsh 10 percentage point cut came in, Clubs Australia were back in the Fair Work Commission on Monday July 2, continuing to attack the penalty rates of club workers. The wealthy clubs sector will be aggressively pursuing their attempts to merge into the Hospitality Award so as to reap the benefit of the penalty rates cuts to workers under that Award.
United Voice slammed Clubs Australia’s continued attempts to cut the penalty rates of club workers.
Jo-anne Schofield stated, “It remains inconceivable that the Fair Work Commission has provided this opportunity to Clubs Australia to re-prosecute their failed case from the original penalty rates decision. This is out of line with community expectations of justice and of treating workers fairly. The clubs sector needs to withdraw this case immediately and stop their attempts to cut the pay of the workers who are the backbone of the sector.”
Workers’ voices in the system are not being heard because the system is stacked against them. The penalty rate cuts are a clear sign that the laws in this country are out of step with community values, and those laws will need to change.
United Voice is calling for the industrial relations system to move to an industry-based collective bargaining system. Only six percent of workers in the hospitality sector have been able to access bargaining on an enterprise basis. It simply does not work. Workers need to be able to have a say about their pay and conditions. So, workers in industries like hospitality can bargain together, jointly and collectively with their employers to secure a fair deal.
United Voice will keep challenging the system if it fails to restore these central principles.
United Voice joined the ACTU in welcoming the recent increase to the minimum wage. However, the Fair Work Commission acknowledged that the raise will not lift all award-reliant employees out of poverty. Nor did the decision address the gross inequity of penalty rate cuts, which will see hospitality workers lose out on any gain.
The decision highlights the need for a bigger, systemic fix for Australia’s low-paid workers.
The answer is simple: allowing workers to effectively bargain and restoring their voice in a system that has been stacked against them for years.
Overall the decision only demonstrates the need for a stronger system for workers, where we can bargain across our industries for all workers and for more than the minimum that this decision provides.
Unions have also expressed great concern that the award wage system that is supposed to be a “safety net” is now the source of wages and conditions for nearly a quarter (23.9 percent) of the Australian workforce – an alarming rise from the 15 percent of workers covered by the minimum wage and awards in 2010. This, along with the continued collapse of the enterprise bargaining system, is clear evidence of the need for a stronger industry bargaining system for workers.
A very Australian coup
This background comes in light of the revelations exposed by whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery that Australia bugged the conference room of then East Timor government. They now face criminal prosecution for revealing the Australian government’s illegal actions in bugging the private government discussions of our East Timor neighbours.
In 2004 agents from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) planted listening devices in the cabinet room of the East Timor government. The aim was to obtain information to advantage Australia in negotiations over the East Timor-Australia boundary which straddles a major undersea oilfield
On May 5, 1999 Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations agreed on a UN-supervised “ballot consultation” process to determine whether the people of East Timor wanted independence. Indonesia agreed that if continued rule by Indonesia was rejected, they would quit the former Portuguese colony.
However, despite initial optimism after the arrival of UN personnel, events unfolding in East Timor dimmed hopes of a free and fair referendum on independence for the nation. The Indonesian military and militia groups deliberately intensified moves to foster an atmosphere of terror and intimidation in the run-up to the referendum.
Over a period of two months leading up to ballot paramilitary militias backed by the Indonesian armed forces killed more than 150 people, with many more missing.
In the East Timorese capital of Dili, militia groups with overt support from Indonesian soldiers attacked many pro-independence supporters and drove thousands of people from their homes into makeshift reservations, described by human rights groups as similar to concentration camps.
At the time, the application of former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans for the position of UNESCO Director-General was supported by the Australian Liberal Party and its Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
Evans, a long-time defender of the Indonesian regime, once described the execution of some 270 people during the 1991 Dili massacre as an “aberration”.
Evans also negotiated the Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and Indonesia, a treaty which neatly excluded the East Timorese from any share in the exploitation of the oil resources which lie beneath the sea bed around East Timor.
Evans was noted for his attacks on supporters of human rights for the East Timorese as being unrealistic and ignorant of Indonesian “realpolitik”.
In 1999 in the United States the State Department and Pentagon reported projected arms sales for 1999 to Indonesian military of $106 million, as well as plans to train the Indonesian police.
From the earliest days of its formation in 2002 as an independent state with a government led by Fretilin, Australian governments have been seeking ways to undermine the government of East Timor. Its aim: to replace it with one that would comply with Australian policies and do Australia’s bidding.
A former Portuguese general Alfredo Assuncao who commanded a UN force in East Timor told a Portuguese newspaper that, “what interests the Australians most is oil and gas ... So what better way to control these enormously rich resources than to be physically present and control the country’s political system?” He went on to say that the Australians always wanted to control everything and everyone in East Timor but had been frustrated because President Xanana Gusmao and Mari Alkatiri had shown a united front. “The break-up of this union is opening the way for them [Australia] to take control of the country.”
The establishment of a military base under the control of Australian forces and available inevitably for use by the United States forces as a forward base for US troops, tanks, aircraft, missiles and warships, has always been a major objective.
In 2006 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that an Australian base was to be established in East Timor and that the Australian government had already tendered for the construction of the base. It would house 3,000 troops and be equipped with all mod cons. The report said that the base would be maintained for 15 months but it is unlikely that such a substantial base would be established for such a short space of time.
The push for a base has to be seen on the background of the general situation in the Asia-Pacific region. Its intended use was not only to be to impose and maintain a colonialist regime in East Timor but also aimed against Indonesia and the Asian mainland.
The Australian and US governments were preparing, step by step, for a big war in Asia within the next 15-20 years or less. In October 2005 former military adviser to the Howard government Ross Babbage published a booklet “Preparing Australia’s Defence for 2020”. He wrote of the possibility of a “major war in Asia in the 2020 timeframe”.
A forward base in East Timor fits snuggly into this plan. However, the emergence of a Fretilin government with Alkatiri as Prime Minister, to whom independence meant real independence and not some new form of colonisation, threatened, and still does, these ambitions.
The Fretilin government proceeded to implement social and economic policies without resort to the shackling loans, “market forces” economics and privatisation policies of the IMF and World Bank. Furthermore, Prime Minister Alkatiri stood up to the bullying and threats of Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer over the control and revenue sharing of East Timor’s oil and gas resources.
Gas and oil
In a situation when control of oil and gas supplies, exploration and pipelines has become a major international issue and when the former, almost completely control by US and British companies, is being challenged, control of East Timor’s considerable oil and gas resources was a significant issue. Indonesian and East Timor oil and natural gas supplies may become a critical source of supply to Australia and the United States in the future.
These are all major reasons behind the Australian government’s determination to remove Mari Alkatiri as Prime Minister and to destroy Fretilin as the major progressive and government force in East Timor’s political life.
The first signs of this conspiracy against East Timor were evident when the US and Australia urged the scaling down of the UN mission in East Timor following the vote of independence and the election of the Fretilin government.
Once the UN was removed as an effective presence the way was cleared for other preparations to be put in train. The main objectives were the removal of Mari Alkatiri as Prime Minister, the weakening of Fretilin as the majority Party and its eventual replacement by other political forces and leaders who will be amendable to the political and economic policies favoured by the Australian government.
This coincided with the long-term objective of Australian governments, including the current one, and was behind the use of Australian troops at the time of East Timor’s independence in 2001. It appeared at the time that the Howard government had, all of a sudden, become genuinely committed to the independence struggle of the savagely suppressed population of East Timor. But this conversion was never the truth of the matter.
Role of troops
Another essential part of the coup attempt taking place against the government of East Timor was the introduction of a large contingent of Australian and NZ troops. The presence of Malaysian and Portuguese troops was mere camouflage to help cover the real intentions of the Australian and NZ governments. As Portuguese General Alfredo Assuncao said, “what better way to control these enormously rich resources than to be physically present and control the country’s political system?”
A task given to the Australian military forces set down in the Rules of Engagement agreed between Australia and the East Timor government, was to disarm the soldiers who had rebelled against the army and police forces loyal to the government.
However, immediately upon the arrival of the Australian forces, officers hot-footed it into the hills where the mutinous soldiers were located, not to disarm them, as had been agreed in the rules of engagement but to talk and no doubt drink the beer that Major Reinado had suggested they bring with them.
As far back as 1999 this paper wrote of “Australia’s imperialist ambitions cloaked in humanitarian pretences”. The government had announced what was called the “Howard Doctrine” at the time. It made clear the Australian government’s intention to play a “Deputy Sheriff” role to the United States.
The Australian government said that even before the referendum in East Timor in which the East Timorese people voted for independence, it had “... made ready an additional brigade of the Australian army in case Australian forces were needed for peacekeeping operations in East Timor. As a result we were able to respond immediately to the UN request, not only to participate but to lead the multinational force.”
The same advance preparations were made for intervention this year. Once again the real intentions are being obscured by humanitarian pretences.
If Australia’s real intentions are successful it will be a tragedy for the East Timorese people who will again be reduced to a colony not of Indonesia but of Australia. Unfortunately, some who played a worthy part in the struggle for independence from Indonesia are now, as a result of confusion, blindness or malice, about to sell their country’s independence to the new colonial power in the South Pacific.
The following articles were published by The Guardian, newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia, in its issue of July 11, 2018.
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