Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
The ghosts of Work Choices still haunt the Coalition on industrial relations policy. The Coalition’s recent labour market reform policy was timid and politically driven: It addressed issues of union accountability and corruption, while failing to make significant inroads to prominent flexibility concerns.
Australia’s outdated and onerous award system is at the heart of the issues confronting the labour market.
Awards were the centrepiece of Australia’s industrial relations system and the bedrock of the Aussie ‘fair go’ in the 20th century. But in today’s modern, competitive market, awards are burdensome, restrictive, and redundant; they are the relics of a Byzantine IR system and ought to be abolished in favour of a simple minimum standard for all employees.
Awards set minimum pay and working conditions on an industry-wide basis. There are layers upon layers of minimum wages, restrictions on working hours, penalty and overtime rates, and other allowances and conditions.
There have been reforms to the award system. Most recently, Labor’s Fair Work reforms simplified and reduced the number of awards down from 3,715 state and federal awards to 122 modern awards. This was a positive step, but minimum wages and conditions (particularly penalty rates) have increased significantly in the new awards. Small businesses in particular have borne the brunt of these cost hikes.
Award wages, and particularly penalty rates, have become a significant cost hurdle and barrier to employment. Businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors are increasingly shutting their doors on weekends and public holidays because they cannot afford to pay the exorbitant wage costs mandated in awards. When firms close their doors nobody wins – employers lose business, workers lose jobs, and consumers cannot access services.
It is possible to achieve greater labour market flexibility, create more jobs, and ensure employees retain acceptable minimum standards.
The Fair Work Act introduced a comprehensive set of statutory entitlements available to all employees. This safety net, made up of a federal minimum wage and 10 National Employment Standards, is one of the most generous among the world’s richest countries. In 2011, Australia’s federal minimum wage represented 54% of the median wage and ranked fifth highest among OECD nations. Australia’s annual leave and holiday entitlements also compare favourably against other wealthy nations.
It is high time we abolished the award system in favour of a single standard for all employees.
Alexander Philipatos is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of Relics of a Byzantine IR System: Why Awards Should Be Abolished, released 23 May 2013.
Almost 10 years ago, the leader of an East Arnhem Aboriginal community arrived unannounced at CIS asking for help. His community’s children were not receiving any education so he feared that they would be condemned to a life on welfare. This plea led to the CIS finding practical assistance for the community and the development of our Indigenous program.
Since then, with volunteer helpers, the community has moved forward in parallel with CIS’ Indigenous policy development. Our research exposed the failure of ‘culturally appropriate’ Indigenous education while the Baniyala community now has an excellent school with the highest Indigenous school attendance in the Northern Territory.
From education, the focus has moved to housing. The community wants decent homes instead of the sub-standard dwellings into which they have been crowded. In keeping with the CIS’ liberal philosophy, we support home ownership as an alternative to public housing.
Over the last 50 years, 20% of Australia has been returned to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership. Few know that this land was returned without the provision for individual land title. Australia’s Indigenous lands are the largest area on earth where you are not allowed to own your home. All prosperous societies combine good governance of communal assets such as roads, parks and hospitals, with private ownership of homes and business. On Australia’s vast Indigenous lands, communal governance is poor and private ownership is non-existent. The misery of remote communities on Indigenous lands is the result.
This East Arnhem community commenced negotiations with governments and their statutory organisations to introduce 99 year leases for private housing. Progress has been slow.
To move private housing along, two modest houses have been built in Baniyala for private rental. These houses have kitchens and bathrooms – unlike the public housing provided in remote outstations. Two families now rent these houses. One family – parents plus children – was previously ‘housed’ in an 18 feet ‘donga’ container. The other family shared bedrooms in a dwelling that would be condemned as ‘unfit for human habitation’ outside Aboriginal Australia. In their new houses, these families are planting gardens and taking advantage of ‘quiet enjoyment’ – the right of a tenant or landowner to undisturbed use and enjoyment of property. When leases over the housing blocks are issued, the tenants have the option of getting a mortgage and buying these houses.
These first two houses built for private rental and ownership have easily disproved the mantras about housing on Indigenous land. For years it has been claimed that construction costs are too high and Indigenous incomes too low, and that unlike other Australians, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders do not want to own their homes. These are excuses used to hide the discriminatory state and federal policies that deny individual property rights on Indigenous land. The CIS and a handful of volunteers are helping a remote Northern Territory community to drive changes in these policies.
Helen Hughes is a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and Mark Hughes is an independent researcher.
Three times in as many weeks the surprise of elite education for Aboriginal kids has made the news: A Tony Abbott staffer demoted for allegedly threatening to ‘cut the throat’ of funding to the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (which funds such scholarships); an Aboriginal Scots College boy front-page in The Australian; and an SBS World News Australia special ‘An Indigenous PM: This Can Happen’, with private-school Aboriginal boys.
This month a new book will be launched around Australia. As stated on the back-cover: ‘In black & white: Australians All at the Crossroads seeks to illuminate the issues through perspectives of concerned blackfellas and whitefellas, both, on root causes, how issues play out on the ground, and what needs to be done. It is the hope of the editors that experiences and ideas, from the community base to the heights of policy, may reveal the common ground that is sine-qua-non to working out real answers and practical programs that will make a difference.’
In our technological age it is so obvious that life prospects depend absolutely on education. As such, education is one of the key issues covered by contributors to In black & white, a number with links to the CIS: Helen and Mark Hughes, Sara Hudson, and co-editor Dr Anthony Dillon. Alison Anderson MLA writes with feeling on real education for real jobs for her people in the most remote areas, too often ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’. Warren Mundine tells where he comes from: hard work, the recipe for success. Bess and Dave Price discuss ‘good and bad culture’. My chapter with Professor Rhonda Craven, ‘Together We Can’t Lose’, looks at how research can identify ways to seed Aboriginal success and, together, achieve what Australia can be.
In contrast to the ‘doom-and-gloom’ of most Aboriginal affairs discourse, In black & white is positive, with a confident focus on how we can make a difference, and in particular on how the talents and the potential of Aboriginal Australians can be realised and harnessed to make Australia what we always should have been:
‘As the subtitle’s reference to our National Anthem suggests, all Australians – that’s all of us – must put an end ‘one-time’ (right now, once and for all) to the wastage of Aboriginal talent and the denial of the real Australia that has diminished our nation far too long.’
Nigel Parbury is attached to the Centre for Positive Psychology and Education at the University of Western Sydney and co-editor of In black & white, available from Connor Court Publishing and select bookshops.