Flexibility is necessary, but not at the workers’ expense

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INEQUALITY AND WAGES

Flexibility is necessary, but not at the workers’ expense
The complementary articles by Josh Bornstein (‘‘Raise wages, help recovery’’, Comment, The Age, 31/12) and John Hewson (‘‘We ignore inequality at our peril, Comment, The Age, 31/12) aptly and clinically expose the gradual drift of our society away from one of social and economic fairness to one of growing inequality.

This is confirmed by the worsening trend of Australia’s Gini index (which measures the distribution of income) from 31.3 in 1981 to 35.8 in 2014 (the last year for which data in available). We are less unequal than the United States at 41.5 (2016) but well on our way to catching up. In contrast, the citizens of the Netherlands and Denmark happily sit around the mid-20s.

While some flexibility of employment is necessary in a modern economy, those employed on a casual basis should be amply rewarded for the risk that implies, not penalised or marginalised. Those who reside in the executive suite (as I have) need to moderate their own financial expectations and to have as one their key annual measures that of increasing the rewards of those at the bottom of the ladder.
Michael Feeney, Malvern

A critical failure of Australian public policy
The opinion piece from Josh Bornstein about the causes of low wages growth draws attention to a critical failure of Australian public policy. For nearly two decades, the waves of ‘‘IR’’ reform referred to by Mr Bornstein have vilified and undermined unions, as organisations, yet at the same time assumed that somehow, magically, they will continue to perform the function Australian law assigns to them as the legitimate, institutional, engine room of improvements to wages and conditions for workers. We can’t have it both ways.

It is duplicitous for government to encourage spending on business but fail to tackle spending by business on wages.

Nor can it and business bemoan low wages growth while continuing to avert their collective gaze from its causes. To do either holds public welfare hostage to political self-interest.
Malcolm Harding, Coburg

Perhaps they were unqualified to begin with
In support of the proposition that retiring MPs should receive more money, Peter Loney’s comment that ‘‘many members of Parliament have great difficulty finding work of any type’’ suggests three things (‘‘Politicians lose bid for retirement pay boost’’, The Age, 31/12).

First: That one would expect them to be strong supporters of increasing the JobSeeker payment to an amount that allows the recipient and his/her dependent children to live above the poverty line. Second: That if our MPs are indeed unemployable when they retire, they may have been curiously unqualified when elected. Third: Perhaps those finding it hard to find work should look at acquiring some skills and qualifications.
Juliet Flesch, Kew

The theft is immediate
Coronavirus debt is labelled intergenerational theft by former deputy prime minister John Anderson (‘‘Anderson warns over debt due to pandemic’’, The Age, 1/1). With the RBA interest rate at 0.1 per cent, the theft is immediate from those living on lump sums, those saving for a house deposit and those without superannuation.

Interest rates of 0.1 per cent per month, even 0.1 per cent per week, would be more reasonable than 0.1 per cent a year.

And who gains? Those geared with low-interest debt speculating in property and shares who agitate for tax cuts.
Malcolm Cameron, Camberwell

Introduce performance pay
MP Cesar Melhem said (The Age, 31/12) ‘‘it was important politicians were paid enough to entice individuals with skills that could earn them high incomes in the private sector’’. This is rewording the old argument that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

The past couple of years both the Victorian and federal governments have shown that we should introduce the principle that if you have monkeys you should pay peanuts. Performance pay should be the norm for politicians – which could result in a partial dole payment subsidy for many cabinet members.
Adrian Tabor, Point Lonsdale

THE FORUM

Anthem change is a …
So the Prime Minister has tinkered with our national anthem (‘‘Our Nation must sing together’’, Comment, The Age, 1/1), but one could ask, whose tune shall we sing?

While ‘‘young and free’’ should go, Scott Morrison’s essay is limited by its lack of vision. It underscores the many issues that confront Australia and the world. This change isn’t going to address issues such as Aboriginal sovereignty, a humane approach to asylum seekers, climate change, inequality and injustice.

It also has echoes of the nationalism that currently pervades much of the world today with populist leaders such as Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Boris Johnson.

We need to hear something more compelling, visionary and not populist from our PM.
Judith Morrison, Mount Waverley

… squandered chance
Australia’s Indigenous people once again have the right to be profoundly disappointed by yet another leader squandering the chance to acknowledge them in a meaningful way. The change to the national anthem has nothing to do with adding the word ‘‘one’’ but removing the word ‘‘young’’.

Scott Morrison deliberately chose to concentrate on the word that replaced young, rather than acknowledging why removing the word was so important for Australia given the long Indigenous history, which dwarfs that of European settlement.

But the Prime Minister knows that this is where the majority of Australians feel most comfortable, so let’s all continue on with our heads in the sand and look forward to Australia Day.
Rod Glover, Highton

A rapid turnaround
I awoke on New Year’s Day with a 6am text message of my COVID-free status having been tested at Sandringham Hospital the afternoon before.

On behalf of fellow Black Rock residents, I write in appreciation of the team at Melbourne Pathology and Sandringham Hospital for the speedy turnaround of testing results and forsaking their own New Year’s Eve celebrations to get the tests done to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and to keep all Victorians safe and virus free.
Sandra Fordyce-Voorham, Black Rock

Mixed feelings about this
I read with both joy and concern of the planned induction into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame of Johnny Mullagh (Sport, The Age, 29/12). Joy, that this hitherto uncelebrated sportsman should finally be recognised for his significant role in the history of the game; concern, that his attributed, rather than traditional, name will be recorded for posterity.

Born Unaarrimin, the great all-rounder from the Jardwadjali people was re-named Johnny Mullagh, after the property where he was raised and later worked for white bosses. This insult was further compounded by his being referred to as Black Johnny. Moreover, despite being the team’s captain, he had to suffer the indignity of eating separately from his fellow players.

As a tribute to his contribution to the game of cricket, he was presented with a memorial medallion bearing the name of Johnny Mullagh, as though the erasure of Unaarrimin had been perpetuated in silver.

Although his induction into the Hall of Fame corrects an enormous historical oversight, it leaves another uncorrected. There is still time to honour this pioneer of Australian cricket as Unaarrimin – his true Indigenous name.
Robin Teese, South Perth, WA

Send them a message
The Prime Minister has already said, in so many words, ‘‘you’’ voted us in. It’s his defence for climate change denial, refugee abuse and treatment of the poor and homeless. This is sadly the truth. Australia voted in this government knowing they had no interest in these issues.

You don’t have to vote for the major parties. Send them a message that you’re not happy with them.

It’s the only way.
Meredith James, Glen Huntly

It sounds fair enough …
At a recent private event, hosted by New York think tank Asia Society, of which former prime minister Kevin Rudd is president, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reportedly told Mr Rudd, ‘‘If Australia sees China as a threat, then the improvement of this relationship would be difficult … If Australia sees China not as a threat, but a partner, then for the issues between us there are better chances that we find solutions. So I would kick the ball to Australia.’’ (‘‘China’s message to Australia: the ball’s back in your court’’, The Age, 31/12).

Might sound fair enough, but although the ball may be kicked to Australia, if the rules of the game are rigged or not adhered to, how likely is a fair, sporting outcome?

Regarding partnerships, though, Mr Wang is absolutely correct. A better chance of finding solutions does exist when parties are partners, rather than posing a threat to each other.

But this raises a series of questions. Who is posing the threat? Whose behaviour is not only threatening, but causing actual damage? Is such behaviour partnership?
Deborah Morrison, Malvern East

Stop bellyaching
We really have to stop whingeing about what a terrible time we all had in 2020. In WWI, 60,000 Australians were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. Then, in 1919, two out of every five Australians got the Spanish flu – that’s 400 out of every 1000 – and 15,000 died. That’s a death toll alone of 75,000.

In 2020, we’ve had 909 deaths and fewer than one person in 1000 has caught the coronavirus, largely because of the public response to government measures, as imperfect as they might seem in hindsight.

Come on, everybody, let’s get real. Let’s stop bellyaching about wearing masks and missing our expensive dinners in glitzy restaurants and not seeing enough of friends and family in the age of mobile phones and Zoom, for heaven’s sake.
John Lewis, Elphinstone

Enough with the inquiries
In an ideal world, a no-blame COVID inquiry would prove useful and instructive. Unfortunately, the whole scene has been contaminated by extremely snarky and partisan comments during 2020 from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and, to a lesser extent, by state premiers. There has been reluctance to take genuine responsibility for errors at both levels of government.

We have already had inquiries that delved extensively into what went wrong. It’s difficult to believe another will add much to our knowledge base. While we are still learning, acting sensibly on what we have already discovered will make a huge and critical difference next time round.

I suspect the public is getting a bit fed up with gigantic, never ending, horribly expensive inquiries, especially where the government cherry-picks the recommendations to suit its own political agenda.
Peter Barry, Marysville

No redeeming features
Every year at this time I ask the same question: who decided jet-skis in the bay were a good idea?

There’s nothing positive to say about these things and the people who drive them. They’re a nuisance, they’re dangerous, they’re pointless, there’s no skill involved, they’re ridiculously loud and annoying and should be totally banned from the bay.
Lisa Vinnicombe, Saint Leonards

Avoid the same mistake
In yesterday’s Age, Adam Carey writes about brilliant young women scoring such high marks in the 2020 VCE and year 11 (‘‘Standing tall: The students who aced it’’, 1/1). What particularly caught my eye was the achievement of Claire in environmental science at Koonung Secondary College.

As I cycle up the Koonung Creek path, one of my commuting routes, I imagine how beautiful it could have been before the Eastern Freeway works bulldozed most of the Koonung Creek into oblivion. Let us not repeat the mistake with the proposed North East Link Project, which will destroy even more waterways and habitat, leaving little for Claire and Koonung Secondary College environmental science students tosave.
John Merory, Ivanhoe East

A little peeved
After having to cancel holidays in NSW last January because of bushfires, my son was excited to get the last spot at the Eden camping ground this January. But on Thursday he packed up early to get back across the border before midnight. Being New Year’s Eve, few places were open to cater for the thousands of Victorians like him on the road. He got home safely at 4.15am with his wife and daughter.

On, New Year’s Day, they discovered two fellow Victorians who tested positive to COVID-19 visited venues in Eden on Wednesday and Thursday while they were there. They are now trying to find a COVID testing station that is open, it’s a public holiday, and they expect long queues.

They accept the public health advice but think things could have been done better, given the Victorian government has been warning about this for some time. They are just a tad peeved.
Ray Peck, Hawthorn

A 19th century fossil
If the supermarket chains weren’t relentlessly turning the screws on producers, driving prices down and pushing the erroneous idea that cheapest is best, then farmers could pay their workers better. And if wages and JobSeeker were increased, then not just the rich could appreciate that cheap is rarely ever best.

In the past decade, economic theory has been turned on its head, yet “screw the worker and the unemployed” remains a dominant paradigm, even though it’s a 19th century fossil blocking the way to economic and social advancement.
John Laurie, Newport

AND ANOTHER THING

Coronavirus
Given the latest COVID-19 cases in south-east Melbourne, it might be prudent to stop people crossing
the Yarra.
Ross Ogilvie, Woodend

Memo to Gladys Berejiklian (as the NSW outbreak expands into our state): The Swedish model didn’t work, the Victorian model is a
proven success.
Graeme Kaufman, Ringwood East

Relations with China
‘‘Ball in Australia’s court, says China’’ (The Age, 31/12). It sure is, and that is why I have dropped my plan to purchase a Chinese-manufactured car this year.
Robin Page, Port Fairy

E-bikes
Irene Ritchie (‘‘More bike pain’’, Letters, 31/12) the same could be said for cars, which are quite literally choking the city. E-bikes and e-cars will make city transport more sustainable and tolerable.
Graham Cadd, Dromana

The national anthem
Scott Morrison, the change to ‘‘one and free’’ rings hollow while we have innocent, desperate people in never-ending detention. Let them free and then change the anthem.
Peter Seligman, Brunswick West

Good on Scott Morrison for changing a word in Advance Australia Fair. Now for the other 107.
George Greenberg, Malvern

Looking for something ageless? ‘‘Young and old’’ might do the trick.
Harvey Mitchell, Castlemaine

Better to have a new national anthem than to patch up the old. Besides, ‘‘one and free’’ is four, according to my grandson.
Kevan Porter, Alphington

Furthermore
Loved the two headlines (The Age, 1/1): ‘‘State borders slam shut …’’ alongside ‘‘Australia now ‘one and free’’’. A happy new year’s paradox?
Steven Scheller, Benalla

Finally
Back to square one in 2021.
Myra Fisher, Brighton East

New Year’s Day is just another day … no more, no less.
Jenny Bone, Surrey Hills

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