Monthly archives: March 2019

Labor surges further in polls

The surge defies any controversy over the business activities of leader Kevin Rudd's wife.

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The Newspoll, published today in The Australian newspaper, shows Labor leading the coalition 52 to 35 — back at its highest level since the Howard government was elected.

Labor has 60 per cent support on a two-party preferred basis, up five points from last week, while coalition support was down five to 40, according to the poll taken at the weekend.

On the topic of preferred prime minister, John Howard picked up one point to 38 per cent from a fortnight ago, while Mr Rudd shed two to 47.

Support for Mr Howard's performance as prime minister was down one point to 44, with 47 per cent of respondents dissatisfied, up one point.

Support for Mr Rudd's performance as opposition leader dipped four points to 64, and those dissatisfied nudged up one point to 17 per cent.

Labor deputy leader Julia Gillard said she did not think issues such as underpayment of workers at the business of Mr Rudd's wife, Therese Rein, played much of a part in the poll.

"These things … I think don't distract Australians from thinking about their lives, their families and what matters to them," Ms Gillard told ABC television.

She said the opposition camp was not getting carried away about the polls giving Labor a massive lead ahead of this year's election.

"We will expect it to tighten, we will expect it to change; we aren't taking anything for granted.

"If a week is a long time in politics then there's a long time to go until we've got the next election and a lot could happen."

The workplace relations issue was a driver of the support for Labor among voters, Ms Gillard said.

"One of the key things they're looking at is the alternative we've got to offer on industrial relations," she said. "They want the balance restored and I believe they are looking to Labor for that."

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Govt to amend safety net laws

The fairness test legislation was introduced to the House of Representatives on Monday night by Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey.

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But a coalition party room meeting today heard the government already needed to amend the legislation and will introduce an amendment.

Details of the amendment were unavailable from Mr Hockey's office.

Last night Mr Hockey told parliament the fairness test, akin to the old no-disadvantage test which was scrapped by the government's Work Choices laws last year, would ensure monetary compensation was provided to anyone losing penalty rates, leave loadings and the like under new agreements.

It will apply to workers with a gross basic salary of up to $75,000 a year in an industry where an award usually applies.

"The fairness test will guarantee employees fair compensation in lieu of conditions such as penalty rates and overtime and shift loadings. With this bill, workers must be paid more, not less," Mr Hockey said last night.

"The stronger safety net will provide significant additional protection for vulnerable employees including young people and workers from a non-English speaking background."

Mr Hockey said the fairness test would require the Workplace Authority, formerly the Office of Workplace Services (OWS), to be satisfied that a workplace agreement provided fair compensation to an employee in lieu of the exclusion or modification of protected award conditions.

News of the amendment is likely to bring further intensity to the industrial relations battle between the coalition and Labor.

Support 'hypocritical'

Mr Hockey said earlier that Labor support for the new fairness test for workplace agreements exposes the party's hypocrisy.

He said it is a joke, given Labor has been criticising the test from one end of the country to the other.

But opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard says if the legislation before parliament makes Work Choices just one per cent fairer, it would be silly to oppose a system she believes is 100 per cent unfair.

Ms Gillard says she will make the recommendation to vote for the government's softening of Work Choices at a caucus meeting.

She has told the Southern Cross Broadcasting Work Choices has been a complete hash and if Labor wins government it will get rid of the lot.

Ms Gillard concedes some employees will benefit from the changes which will require workers on less than 75 thousand dollars a year to be compensated for trading away conditions like penalty rates in an AWA.

But she says it is a secretive and non-reviewable process and the best solution is to get rid of the government's workplace reforms lock stock and barrel.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow says there is still no guarantee workers will be fully compensated for trading away conditions in an AWA and those whose family responsibilities restrict their availability to work are at particular risk.

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Qantas denies 'flying dog' tag

The survey of 4,000 subscribers to consumer magazine Choice also found Qantas' domestic service was outshone by all rivals except its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar.

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However, Qantas has cited a larger, international poll as proof its customers are satisfied.

The national carrier would not comment directly today on its poor marks in the Choice survey, preferring to draw attention to better showings in specialist airline polls.

"Qantas has been named one of the world's top airlines in the Skytrax world airline awards for the last two years," a Qantas spokesman said.

"Skytrax surveys more than 13 million travellers each year and Qantas was ranked second in both 2005 and 2006.

"The Qantas Group flies more than 34 million passengers a year and our customer satisfaction ratings have never been higher."

Choice asked its subscribers to rate airlines for value for money, booking processes, convenience, the check-in procedure, in-flight service (including food and entertainment), seat comfort, legroom and cleanliness.

Subscribers voted Singapore Airlines top international airline and small airline Regional Express the favoured domestic operator.

Qantas only scored 63 per cent, compared to Singapore Airlines' 78 percent.

On the domestic front, Qantas fared little better, with a 67 percent rating. Consumers labelled its service "arrogant and aloof".

Jetstar scored just 62 percent, with one respondent describing Jetstar staff as "uniformly surly, unhelpful and most definitely unwelcoming".

Regional Express won the survey's top rating of 79 percent, followed by Virgin Blue with 71 percent.

"Virgin Blue staff attempt to make what is a reasonably unpleasant experience flying with a no-frills service light-hearted and enjoyable," one respondent said.

One possible reason Qantas may have fared so poorly in the survey is that people may be more critical of their national carrier, the magazine suggested.

Some travellers said they continued to fly with Qantas to earn frequent flyer points, even though they rated the airline significantly lower than average.

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Rein company accused of scam

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey has said new allegations against Therese Rein's company will be properly investigated.

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A former employee of Labor leader Kevin Rudd's wife's company was forced to resign for not supporting dodgy work practices

In another attack on Labor leader Kevin Rudd's wife, a former worker at the Launceston office of her WorkDirections job placement company accused the firm of shonky behaviour.

Bill Wagner, who worked at WorkDirections for two months in early 2004, told Fairfax newspapers he was forced to quit because he refused to claim government payments for job seekers who found their own jobs.

Mr Wagner said he was told to claim outcome payments from the commonwealth for job seekers who found their own employment without help from the agency.

Mr Hockey said the claims would be investigated.

"We always take allegations seriously. If there are allegations of fraud within WorkDirections, we will ensure they are properly investigated, independently investigated," Mr Hockey told Sky News.

"Whenever there are allegations made involving unfair dismissal or ripping off the government, of course they're properly and independently investigated."

Mr Hockey denied that the government was personalising the attack on Ms Rein, who will sell the Australian arm of her $175 million job placement empire to save her husband any more political embarrassment.

"No one suggested for a second from the government that there was a conflict of interest for Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein," Mr Hockey said.

"What was suggested by the government was that there was a level of hypocrisy that Kevin Rudd and (deputy Labor leader) Julia Gillard attacked a small business that had underpaid employees a few hundred dollars, yet the next day the leader of the opposition's wife's business had conceded it underpaid 58 employees $70,000, and not a murmur from the Labor Party, nor a murmur from the union movement."

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Petrol price fix charge lost

Federal Court judge Peter Gray today dismissed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) case, ruling there was insufficient evidence of collusion.

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Eighteen petrol retailers in the city of Geelong, south-west of Melbourne, were accused of price fixing between 1999 and 2000.

The month-long trial in 2005 heard allegations of a price-fixing arrangement between the retailers, supported by telephone records and retail petrol price logs.

But, in a major blow to the ACCC, Justice Gray today said there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case, which is expected to cost the regulator millions of dollars in legal bills.

One of the respondents, Peter Anderson, director of APCO Service Stations, said the win was a relief.

He accused the ACCC of a vendetta mentality and called for a federal government inquiry into the competition watchdog.

"It's a great relief for myself, family, wives, staff and everybody," Mr Anderson told AAP.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride … I want them (the government) to open an inquiry into this investigation and why they pursued a vendetta against this company the way they have.

"They just went after us from day one … the investigator arrived on our doorstep the first day and said we've got evidence that you've been involved in price fixing.

Mr Anderson won a similar case brought by the ACCC on appeal in 2005.

APCO was one of 16 parties fined a total of $23.3 million for colluding to fix prices in Ballarat in 1999 and 2000.

The full bench of the Federal Court later upheld APCO's appeal against the judgment.

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Howard, Rudd battle it out

An angry John Howard has accused Labor leader Kevin Rudd of being "puffed up" and cocky after opinion polls showed the opposition heading for a landslide win.

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With the latest Newspoll showing Labor back at record levels of support despite the crisis over Mr Rudd's wife's business dealings, the prime minister urged coalition MPs to maintain the faith before going on the attack in parliament.

During a bitter debate, Mr Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello launched personal tirades against Mr Rudd as he unsuccessfully attempted to censure the prime minister over climate change.

Mr Howard angrily dismissed Mr Rudd as being full of "puffed-up hubris" and of having the "most fragile glass jaw in Australian politics".

"The leader of the opposition has come into this place feeling very, very much the cock of the walk, he feels full of himself, he feels very much on top of everything, he thinks everything is going swimmingly his way and he's entitled to behave like that and I understand why he might behave like that," Mr Howard told parliament.

"But let me just remind the leader of the opposition that there is a long way to go before a decision is made by your master and mine – and that is the Australian people.

"There is a long way to go before the Australian people make a decision about who is better able to handle the most vital economic decision to be taken in this country's experience over the next 10 years."

Mr Costello said Mr Rudd was a man who did not tell the truth, used crude language and held no strong convictions.

"We know what he's like when he's speaking in private," Mr Costello said.

"He's not the person that he would have you believe."

But Mr Rudd accused Mr Howard of being driven by polls in his response to climate change, saying voters knew he was not "fair dinkum" with his late conversion to the cause.

He tried to censure Mr Howard for refusing to confirm that a taxpayer-funded climate change campaign was on the way.

But he said the campaign was only being run because Mr Howard was worried about losing the election.

"Prime minister, that is not leadership. That is not leadership at all," Mr Rudd said.

"That is just waiting around, kicking the sand and waiting till the next opinion poll comes in. And you know something? Everyone in the country knows it."

Earlier, Mr Howard told his MPs to keep a positive sense of self-belief in a toned-down version of last week's warning that the government faced annihilation at the election.

His address to what one backbencher described as a "depressing" joint parties meeting this morning came after Newspoll showed showed Labor leading 60 per cent to 40 on a two-party preferred basis.

An ACNielsen poll analysis on Monday showed the government on track to lose 46 of its 87 lower house seats.

But Labor Party national secretary Tim Gartrell was warning caucus not to get carried away with the polls, saying they signalled an intention to vote Labor but did not mean voters were rusted on.

The personal attacks on Mr Rudd showed "the government has got nothing left in the tank", Mr Gartrell said.

"We're about to see the worst, unfounded, negative and personal campaign in Australia's political history," he said.

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Balibo 'possibly a war crime'

Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch has been conducting an inquest into the death of Brian Peters at Balibo in East Timor on October 16, 1975.

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Ms Pinch today heard final submissions from counsel assisting, Mark Tedeschi QC, who said there was evidence the men were deliberately killed by Indonesian soldiers to prevent news of Indonesia's involvement in the attack being publicised.

"This case is a case which cries out for referral to the Commonwealth DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions)," Mr Tedeschi told Glebe Coroner's Court.

The killing of the journalists could constitute a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and those allegedly responsible could be prosecuted in Australia, he said.

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Alexander Downer denies ever telling Indonesia that it should not be concerned about a coronial inquest into the Balibo five killings.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda has said Australia basically guaranteed there would be no repercussions from the inquest.

VIDEO: Reports dismissed

Five Australian-based journalists died in Balibo in 1975 as the Indonesian military invaded East Timor, and more than 30 years later the NSW coroners' court is investigating the deaths.

Witnesses to the inquest have accused the Indonesian military of executing the five journalists.

Reports out of Indonesia today suggest the Australian government has told Jakarta they should not be concerned about the inquest.

But Mr Downer said he had not given Indonesia any guarantee.

"I wouldn't put it in those terms," Mr Downer told ABC Radio today.

"We had, from my recollection, a very brief discussion on this quite some time ago, not that it wasn't anything to worry about, but that this was an investigation into events that occurred over 30 years ago and obviously we will just take it as it comes."

Mr Downer said he had not seen the Indonesian reports and would not try to analyse them.

"I haven't seen the quote and I haven't seen the context of the quote and it's attributed to a foreign minister so I am not getting into a micro-analysis of the quote," the minister said.

Mr Downer said the deaths had happened well before his time in government, and there was nothing much he could do.

"I mean this has not been a focus of my work, particularly this deputy coroner's inquiry because it's not something that I've ever had involvement with of course.

"These are events of many, many years ago."

But he said the Department of Foreign Affairs had cooperated with the coroner's inquiry so far, particularly with providing documents from 32 years ago.

"We will let the coroner's inquiry take its course and when it is concluded, if there are recommendations, if they have any bearing on foreign policy then we'll have a look at them."

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Overtime life not so good

An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey has found 37 per cent of employees work extra hours and almost half of them do so without extra pay.

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Almost a third work unsociable hours between 7pm and 7am while more than double that number have no say in when they start or finish, the survey found.

John Buchanan, director of the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney, said receding union power and a government less inclined to intervene in the labour market in recent years had contributed to the culture change.

But workers’ own thirst for wealth had been a key factor in driving the shift, he said.

“As inequality deepens, the reference point for what is a decent standard of living constantly rises,” Dr Buchanan told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

“So as the rich get richer, people look to them for a signal of how they should be living their own lives.

“Then our norms rise and we have to work longer hours to try and get the money needed.”

The ABS survey found 15 per cent of employees worked on Saturdays and 7.5 per cent on Sundays.

More than a quarter had no choice about when to take holidays.

Dr Buchanan said there needed to be an assessment of fundamental social values.

“The debate on work has been preoccupied with the question of flexibility, but that misses the point,” he said.

“I think we should be talking about living in a civilised society and not a flexible society.

“If you talk about living in a civilised society, hours of work go right up there as a key issue.”

Dr Buchanan said there had been positive effects from greater flexibility, to counterbalance the increased power of employers to fire staff.

“Women have been the big winners in the two decades, in their capacity to work part-time, particularly in occupations where they weren’t allowed (to),” he said.

“I’m not saying the world’s perfect, but the choices women have today are significantly greater than any previous generation.”

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'I'm no pawn' says Union boss

"As a union official I've done nothing wrong," Mr Mighell told reporters in Melbourne.

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"All I've done is fight for the very best (pay) increases I can for my members. I've done that lawfully.”

"It's pretty clear that I'm being used as a political pawn by the Howard government to antagonise the ALP and I don't want to be used in that scenario.”

"I think it's very disappointing that we've had our meeting taped … and now released some time later as part of Howard's election campaign and quite frankly I don't want to be involved in that."

It comes as Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd demanded and obtained the resignation from the Labor party of Mr Mighell.

Mr Mighell was caught out bragging about obtaining pay rises for workers by threatening strike action.

But he says he was only acting in the interests of his members.

Dean Mighell also claimed a tape recording of an address he gave to a private meeting in which he is heard making the boast was leaked as a political stunt by the federal government.

"Here we have a political stunt from the Howard government out of Canberra," the Electrical Trade Union Victorian secretary told Sky News.

"We knew it was coming a week ago – it's designed to drive a wedge between unions and the ALP and that's fine, we don't get sucked into that."

In the meeting, Mr Mighell told members in an expletive-riddled address that industry-wide agreements had been used to gain millions of dollars from employers which they did not need to pay.

But he denied his union was operating inappropriately.

"No-one, no union in Australia has done more to tackle excessive working hours and secure decent wage increases for their members – and that's been done within the law," Mr Mighell said.

He said the federal government tried to paint the Labor Party and the trade union movement as sleeping in the same bed.

"I'm not going to pander to any political party," he said.

"If I believe something is in the interests of our workers and our members we'll go out there and say it, and say it strongly.

"I don't see anyone jumping up about CEOs' wages and all these sorts of things anymore but when workers get an extra four per cent, the whole world is coming to an end."

Labor treasury spokesman Wayne Swan described Mr Mighell as the "black sheep" of the party.

He said Mr Mighell's comments were repugnant and that the union leader's views were not shared by the Labor Party.

"Dean Mighell should wash his mouth out with soap," Mr Swan told reporters.

"His views are absolutely repugnant."

"Every party has their black sheep, Dean Mighell is a black sheep."

Labor National Secretary Tim Gartrell has also distanced himself from Mr Mighell.

"I want to make this really clear – Dean Mighell only speaks for Dean Mighell," Mr Gartrell told ABC Radio today.

"Those were offensive and repugnant comments. He does not speak for anyone else – Dean speaks for himself."

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Indon official offended

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso also demanded an apology and claims officers entered his room without knocking to request he give evidence at an inquest into the death of an Australian-based newsman in East Timor in 1975.

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An offended Mr Sutiyoso, who had been scheduled to visit Canberra after Sydney, cut short his visit and flew back to Jakarta early Wednesday.

“I really feel slighted by such treatment,” he told reporters in Jakarta.

“If there is no apology, I will deem it as arrogance on their part, and do we need to continue relations with Australia?” a visibly angry Mr Sutiyoso asked.

“The matter will quickly be settled if they admit to their mistake.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda had already sought and received an explanation from the Australian ambassador over Tuesday’s incident, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman said the government was “so far” not planning to lodge a formal protest with Australia.

The inquest in Sydney is probing the death of the cameraman killed with four other Australian and British newsmen in crossfire ahead of the Indonesian military’s invasion of East Timor.

Their families insist that they were murdered and there was a cover-up by Canberra and Jakarta.

Mr Sutiyoso, a retired Lieutenant General, served in the military for three decades and was part of Indonesia’s occupation of the half-island nation.

He said he had lodged a formal protest with the New South Wales government in Sydney, where he was the official guest of Premier Morris Iemma to revive a cooperation pact between the state and Jakarta.

“If the Australian government apologises and says it was a case of negligence, then we will think of continuing our relations,” he said.

His office outlined the incident in a statement which said police entered his room using a key from staff at a harbourside hotel while he was taking a nap. His staff later met the officers about their request, which was refused.

“For the sake of safeguarding the dignity and integrity of the nation, the governor cancelled his scheduled programs, including an official visit to Canberra, the capital of Australia,” the statement said.

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