Kicking the can down the road: Australia risks missing climate transition opportunities

Australia is being urged to seize the opportunities of decarbonisation.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers recently announced that the federal government’s much-anticipated package of climate industry policies will be delayed by at least another six months.

He cited concerns over skills shortages and environmental approval wait times before moving ahead with new measures to stimulate renewable energy and related industries in Australia.

The concerns raised by Mr Chalmers are real, and need attention. But the industrial opportunities of the net zero transition will not remain forever. Australia can’t wait for the perfect moment before responding to the rapidly changing global industry conditions – and in particular Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

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Will ‘Closing the Loopholes’ protect ‘gig economy’ workers?

One of the most important aspects of the government’s Fair Work Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill is the detailed provisions covering gig workers. Those provisions account for 100 pages of the 284-page bill.

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Why Australia Needs a Climate Industrial Policy

For the first time in decades, Australia is talking about industry policy. And the interest is coming from all sides.

At Labor’s recent national conference, the Electrical Trade Union (ETU) led a successful motion demanding the Commonwealth government invest big money to support domestic clean technology industries.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) released last week a report that called for a reinvigorated government industry policy to develop advanced manufacturing and renewable sectors, among others.

Several landmark reports, including by the Centre for Future Work, have all reached the same conclusion: Government must invest big in industry policy to accelerate the clean energy transition and build Australian renewable industries.

Business, unions, and civil society are all singing from the same sheet. Clearly, something has changed – but why?

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We need more than a definition change to fix Australia’s culture of permanent ‘casual’ work

The surprising thing about the Albanese government’s announced reforms to “casual” employment is not that they’re happening. It’s that employer advocates are getting so excited about them, despite the small number of people they will affect and the small impact they will have.

That’s not to say the changes aren’t needed. Rather, true reform of the “casual” employment system, of which this is just a first but important step, has a lot further to go to resolve the “casual problem”.

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Don’t blame Australia’s lowest-paid workers if interest rates rise again

The odds have been shortening on the Reserve Bank of Australia lifting interest again, and Australia’s workers are again being blamed for driving inflation.

Harvey Norman chairman and executive director Gerry Harvey is one of the business leaders flamboyantly warning higher wages will lead businesses to cut staff numbers or increase prices, making it harder for the central bank to get inflation down to its 2–3% target.

This follows the decision of Australia’s industrial relations umpire in its Annual Wage Review last week. The Fair Work Commission granted a 5.75% increase to award wage rates, and an 8.6% increase to the minimum wage.

But there are good reasons this decision won’t have a material impact on inflation or interest rates.

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After the NSW election, privatisation is politically dead in Australia

Last month’s New South Wales election ejected the final mainland Coalition state government from office. As the dust has settled, it isn’t just Chris Minns’ Labor Party which has emerged victorious; public ownership – particularly of Sydney Water – has been resoundingly endorsed by NSW voters. It is now safe to say: privatisation is politically dead in Australia.

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Prof David Peetz Appointed Next Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow

The Carmichael Centre at the Centre for Future Work is proud to announce the appointment of Prof. David Peetz, one of Australia’s most outstanding labour policy experts, as the new Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow.

Prof. Emeritus Peetz has recently retired from a long career at Griffith University, where he served as Professor of Employment Relations at the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing.

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Yesterday's Tomorrow Today - a new podcast from the Carmichael Centre

The Carmichael Centre within the Centre for Future Work is pleased to announce the launch of a new podcast project titled Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today, presented by the Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow, Dr Mark Dean, and comedian and ecology researcher, Duncan Turner.

Laurie Carmichael believed that a worker-centred agenda for technological change was important to achieving better outcomes for society, with workers and their unions playing a pivotal role in shaping technology and skills for social progress.

The films reviewed in Yesterday's Tomorrow Today often depict the opposite of a worker-led future of technological change. It’s the aim of the podcast to break down what this looks like, and to suggest what an alternative future - one that benefits workers and humanity - might look like.

Listeners of YTT can expect podcast episodes to feature accessible political-economic analysis laced with good humour, reflections on accurate (and not-so-accurate) predictions of a future shaped by the neoliberal surveillance state, and a rotating list of special guests, including Dr Jim Stanford, Lily Raynes (Anne Kantor Fellow at the Centre for Future Work), Matt Grudnoff (Senior Economist at The Australia Institute) and more to come.

Don’t forget to like and subscribe to Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today wherever you get your podcasts and be sure to leave a review – this is what helps other listeners to find and subscribe to YTT, making sure we can keep reaching working people far and wide.

You can find the first episode - a review of 1987’s RoboCop - and what it warned us about deindustrialisation, gentrification, privatisation and police militarisation, here (also available on Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts).

The Inaugural Laurie Carmichael Lecture with Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz: The Economic Benefits of Trade Unions

Nobel Laureate, former World Bank Chief Economist, and best-selling author Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz toured Australia in July 2022 courtsey of The Australia Institute, to discuss the need to expand the role of governments, unions, and civil society. His call for a windfall profits tax made national headlines.

The tour, hosted by the Australia Institute, saw Professor Stiglitz speak to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, national television and news outlets, and at a wide range of events for the general public, policymakers, unions, civil society, investors and philanthropists.

Professor Stiglitz's final public speaking engagement saw him deliver the Inaugural Laurie Carmichael Lecture on the Economic Benefits of Trade Unions. Professor Stiglitz spoke to a sold-out Capitol Theatre in Melbourne, with the event supported by RMIT University, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Education Union and the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training.

A number of key themes emerged from Professor Stiglitz's talk, which is available here. Professor Stiglitz drew attention to key facts and realities of the union movement - not only in Australia, but across the world:

  • Unions were invented because living standards declined for most people during Industrial Revolution, despite huge gains in output and productivity.
  • In the centuries since, it is clear that without the countervailing power that comes with a union, workers will not win a share of the gains of economic growth and higher productivity.
  • Unions are a specific example of ‘collective action’, whereby people come together to solve economic problems that cannot be managed through market interactions alone.
  • Income inequality, which is made worse when unions are weak, undermines productivity and innovation. Employers face little incentive to improve technology and productivity when labour is available at very low wages.
  • By providing workers with safe and reliable voice in workplaces, unions are a vital channel for conveying information that can also boost productivity.
  • Unions have also played a vital role in protecting health and safety, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Shifts in the sectoral make-up of the economy (toward more services), and the growing role of smaller businesses, make it harder to organise unions by traditional methods. That’s why new systems (such as sectoral or pattern bargaining) are needed to allow workers to negotiate across employers and workplaces.
  • Prof Stiglitz concluded with an agenda of recommendations to improve workers’ economic situation. These recommendations included:
    • Sectoral or pattern bargaining to improve workers’ bargaining power, especially in industries with highly fragmented business structure;
    • Measures to enhance workers’ voice in workplaces;
    • Reducing restrictions on union organising and union activity;
    • Improving competition laws so that large companies cannot take concerted action (such as non-compete clauses) to drive down wages; and
    • Providing workers with seats on boards of directors, and a representative of workers on the board of the RBA.

The Carmichael Centre is grateful to the cooperation and support of its event partners, RMIT University, the ACTU, AMWU, AEU, the Department of Education and Training Victoria, and The Australia Institute.

The full recording of the lecture can be viewed below, as can an interview of Professor Stiglitz ahead of the Inaugural Carmichael Lecture (courtesy of the ACTU).

How to Lift Wages and Create Better Jobs: A review of The Wages Crisis: Revisited

The Wages Crisis: Revisited, co-authored by Professor Andrew Stewart, Dr Jim Stanford, and Associate Professor Tess Hardy, makes an important contribution to the national debate on the wages crisis, which became a central feature of the Federal election campaign.  The report provides a helpful analysis and evidence of the wages crisis, using several complementary measures to substantiate the labour movement claims that workers’ real wages have, and are, falling; that there is a crisis in wages and inequality; and that action is required to reverse the trend of falling real wages.

The report correctly credited consumer spending with driving pandemic recovery, noting that:

“Through the first year of recovery from the initial lockdowns (from the June quarter 2020, the low point of the recession, to the June quarter of 2021), increased household consumer spending accounted for 80% of the total expansion in real GDP. Household spending on new residences accounted for another 15%. All told, consumers thus carried 95% of the weight of post-COVID recovery”.

One factor the report overlooked is the impact of the Government’s decision to allow workers to raid their retirement savings held in trust in superannuation funds. Around three million workers withdrew some $37 billion from their superannuation accounts to supplement their discretionary expenditure during the pandemic. That accounted for around 30 per cent of the net transfers to households during the pandemic. The key point that the paper could have identified from this fact, given the theme of the paper, is the long-term detrimental effect on workers’ life cycle living standards.

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