A few posts back we looked at how South Australia went from economic zero to economic hero during the 1950s and 1960s – with the help of a pragmatic Adelaide Hills farmer, Sir Tom Playford.
Tom created a manufacturing and industrial investment paradise – principally by making cheap and reliable power available through the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA). His guarantee of cheap, plentiful sparks encouraged miners, car makers, shipbuilders and all manner of industry to join in the South Australian economic bonanza of the post-war era.
It was an era that led to rapid economic growth – with working-class migrant households starting in near poverty conditions on their arrival in the 1950s and, within a decade or so, working their way to living standards that far surpassed those enjoyed by their English and Scottish compatriots, who stayed at home.
It is not to place the gloss of nostalgia on that period to call what Tom Playford helped create then as a “working man’s paradise”. Ironic it was that Tom was a Liberal, presumed to be from the “conservative” side of politics – and, therefore, an enemy of the poor. The myth is (and was) that conservatives always put the working man last on their list of priorities. Tom Playford, in the end result, did just the opposite.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Australian Labor Party had its beginnings during a shearers’ strike in the 1890s and – as myth and legend has it – was born in the shade of a ghost gum at Barcaldine in western Queensland in 1891. The Labor Party was, thereafter, seen as the “workers’ party” and its shady birthplace earned the tagline of the “Tree of Knowledge”.
For nearly a century the ALP stuck close to its political and botanical roots. The party attracted shearers – like Clyde Cameron and Mick Young – and one of its most revered sons, Ben Chifley, started life as an engine driver.
It was also seen as a party of “ideas”. Apparently tapping into the Tree of Knowledge – it went on to introduce wide ranging and positive social and economic reforms – such as Medicare (universal health benefits coverage); floating the Australian dollar; and deregulating Australia’s (until then, hamstrung) banks, during the Hawke/Keating era of the 1980s. Since then, the “workers’ party” has become anything but.
In our last post we saw how Labor’s climate change spokesman, Mark Butler was quick to come out swinging in favour of maintaining the ludicrously expensive and utterly pointless Renewable Energy Target. The RET has already cost Australian power punters more than $8 billion in RECs – added to their spiralling power bills – since it began in 2001 – and will go on to cost power consumers a further $50 billion in RECs to be issued and added to power bills until the scheme (as currently constituted) comes to an end in 2030. Unless, of course, Action Man Abbott puts it to the sword first.
Labor’s Mark Butler ought to know better – he’s a South Australian – purportedly looking after constituents from working class Port Adelaide – where unemployment well exceeds the national average and where a power bill, these days, is opened with a sense of dread. South Australia has the highest power prices in the world and, it appears, that Butler is keen to give his constituents more of the same. A large number of the more than 50,000 SA homes that have been disconnected from the power grid in the last couple of years are situated in Butler’s electorate of Port Adelaide – which has a large proportion of unemployed households struggling on welfare payments and plenty on low incomes battling to make ends meet.
Once upon a time, a “good” Labor man would die in a ditch to help working class people by reining in the excesses of wanton corporate greed.
Not so with modern Labor apparatchiks, like Butler – who is more concerned about protecting the $billions invested by his mates running Union Super funds in wind power outfits – like Union heavy, Gary Weaven’s Pac Hydro – outfits that profit from the $billions in RECs that have been channeled via the RET to wind scammers from struggling power consumers. These boys are well aware that if the RET goes they will not only lose their financial shirts, they’ll also lose their ability to control the “game”: in modern politics, money is power.
In this piece from The Australian, former Queensland Labor Treasurer, Keith De Lacy provides an analysis of how the modern Labor Party has taken an axe to the Tree of Knowledge; and, successfully, and irreversibly severed its links to the workers’ party that was born under the shade of a ghost gum at Barcaldine, QLD over a century ago.
Workers party on a bender with its clean, green agenda
Keith De Lacy
21 December 2013
A winning manifesto from the zealots for an industry-free future
FORD is going, Gove alumina is going, now Holden; we’ve still got Toyota and Qantas, but the pace is hotting up. It has been easier than we could have imagined.
We knew we were on a winner when we had two parties, the Greens and the ALP, chanting the mantra “a clean, green economy”. We expected it of the Greens, but we couldn’t believe our ears when the Labor Party started. It used to be the party of blue-collar workers and, as we all know, there is no place for blue-collar workers in a clean, green economy.
We held our breath when Paul Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union and very close to the Labor Party, one of the so-called faceless men, said he wouldn’t support a carbon tax if a single blue-collar job were lost. The AWU is one of those unions that has stood up for its workers in the past, unlike some other unions best left unnamed, so this could constitute a problem.
Still, we were confident we were on a winner. You see, most union officials these days don’t come from their constituent worker base; they are educated in the green fields of academe and come to the union only as a stepping stone to a career in parliament. So it was unlikely they would rock the boat by sticking up for workers. And so it proved.
When we started this campaign for a clean, green economy we knew we had two lethal weapons. If we were to get rid of the brown parts of the economy, such as manufacturing, it had to be via energy prices and labour costs. At our morning meetings we would raise our left arms (the left was far more potent than the right), fist clenched, and chant: “Energy and labour will be our saviour!” over and over. These were the weapons of war.
Australia has a plentiful supply of cheap coal, much of it located close to population centres. We therefore had some of the cheapest baseload power in the world, a crucial factor for competitive manufacturing.
We love hung parliaments, it makes life so much easier. We insisted, in secret of course, that a carbon tax be the price of stable government. Julia Gillard fell for it like a dream — never saw it coming, really. The carbon tax served two purposes: it pushed up the price of energy, of course; but, perhaps more significantly, it took the spotlight off our other schemes, which are even more important in increasing electricity prices.
The Renewable Energy Target mandates that 20 per cent of energy must come from renewables by 2020. Battalions of magisterial windmills now grace our hillsides and rows of photovoltaic cells glisten in the sun. Really makes no impact on total global emissions (the blessed wind won’t blow when you want it and the sun won’t shine in the night, so it all has to be backed up) but it meets our objective of greatly increasing the cost of electricity — set to cost Australian consumers $1.6 billion a year by 2020.
The one we really like is the feed-in tariff. During the past decade state governments across Australia, mostly Labor, introduced fixed tariffs for excess electricity fed back into the grid from rooftop solar panels. Some of these tariffs, as high as 60c a kilowatt hour, were up to 10 times the cost of coal-generated power. Some recalcitrant Liberal governments have started reducing the tariffs but the original premium schemes have been grandfathered until at least 2024, so they will have a large impact on electricity prices for a long time yet — long enough for us to achieve our goal.
What we especially like about the feed-in tariffs is that it is not costing our own people in the leafy suburbs — in fact they are making a quid out of it. Not only do they get these inflated prices for the solar power they generate, very often when the grid doesn’t need it, but they also get generous taxpayer subsidies for the installation of solar panels. The poor, of course, don’t get any of this because they can’t afford the panels or they live in rented accommodation. It is a classic case of the poor subsidising the rich.
You would think someone would make an issue out of this. However, the people with a voice are the ones gaming the system. Nearly makes you giggle, really — remember the days when the ALP looked after the poor?
The cumulative effect of these three schemes is to more than double the price of electricity in Australia. Now, a lot of people think it is all about reducing global warming. Gee, how lucky are we that no one ever asks, like the French revolutionaries, what the sacrifice is for? The fact is if we achieved our goal in Australia of reducing emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, it is estimated it could reduce projected global temperature increases by 0.0007C by 2050 — that’s less than one-thousandth of a degree.
The ABC is on our side (maybe it can’t see the light for the panels) so it won’t be asking difficult questions. Don’t you just love it when the public broadcaster does a story on emissions of carbon dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas, and it highlights boilers belching steam? It’s a classic con, but oh so effective.
But we are not a one-trick pony.
There are several large brown industries in Australia that not only depend on cheap power to survive, they are very vulnerable to uncompetitive work practices. So, to achieve our goal, we select those with strongly unionised workforces: aviation, carmaking, refining and smelting, food processing and so on.
Look at Qantas. It used to be government-owned, so it is very heavily unionised. And it is operating in an extraordinarily competitive international market, so selecting it is a no-brainer. There is one downside, though: if we close down Qantas it will make it more difficult to travel to our international conferences to save the world. But sometimes even we have to make sacrifices for the greater good.
We were very close to a major victory in October last year with a brilliantly engineered industrial campaign. Steve Purvinas from the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Union even warned passengers against flying Qantas. We respect such commitment to the cause but I wish he wouldn’t be so frank — someone may wake up to our real game.
Bloody Alan Joyce stuffed it up by grounding the whole fleet. I can remember the days when the Irish were on our side! But we live to fight another day.
You should have a look at Holden’s enterprise agreement negotiated with the unions. Holden workers are getting about twice the award in terms of base rate of pay, but when you add in loadings, penalties, allowances and hardship payments, it is three times the award and multiples of our global competitors.
But it is not the wage rates that are winning the war, it is the work practices. Under the EA, Holden has very little control over its own business. Even to employ a casual for an hour it has to get permission from the union. Half the people working for Holden aren’t building cars — they are supervisors (it seems there is one team leader, who is not allowed to touch the plant, for every six workers), occupational health and safety officers, union delegates and what have you. Union delegates get 10 paid days a year for union training, and we would be highly surprised if they came back with a plan to improve workforce productivity.
Our biggest obstacle in closing down the car industry has been bloody governments. They keep piling subsidies in. Julia generally has been very helpful to us, particularly with the Fair Work Act, but I was really upset when she announced a “strategic co-investment” of $275 million. I was upset about the language too. It is just a bloody taxpayer subsidy, yet strategic co-investment sounds so grand. She’s on to us; control the language and you control the debate, we always say.
And it is not only Julia. What about Kevin bloody “I don’t want to be prime minister of a country that doesn’t make things” Rudd? He’s gone now, but blokes like him can be very dangerous, as there is no limit on how much taxpayer money they are prepared to waste.
But even then we were still confident, for two reasons.
First, Kevin was usually concerned only with the announcement, not the outcome. And second, we were confident that no matter how much money governments threw at the car industry, we could soak it up in labour costs and prevent it going into more competitive product.
You may well ask, why would workers conspire in this plot, when it means they eventually engineer themselves out of a job? The trick is to convince them the employer is the enemy and had to be defeated. That’s worthy of a sacrifice, and the fact the employer is a dreaded multinational makes it that much easier.
As for the union organisers, well, when the plants close and the jobs are gone, we simply make them members of parliament.
When we achieve our goal of a clean, green economy, we will be a lot poorer as a country, there will be fewer jobs and less revenue to pay for pensions and healthcare. And, as is always the case, the people at the bottom will be the ones who suffer most.
But hey, how can you put a price on the warm inner glow?
Keith De Lacy is a former Queensland Labor Treasurer
The Australian worker might fairly ask: “with ‘friends’ like the modern ALP, who needs enemies”?
To STT it seems that the workers’ party is having serious trouble just keeping in touch with its roots.