The Guardian 23 March, 2005

Towards a deregulated,
privatised Australia

The Australian workforce has the highest level of casual jobs of all industrialised nations. Yet now a federal government report proposes that there is a need for more casual employment to "increase workforce participation rates". And at the same time as PM John Howard claims we're "running out of workers" and need to import 100,000 with skills, there are two million people who either don't have a job and want one, or want to work more hours (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Yet Treasurer Peter Costello still claims Australia has "record low unemployment". This as the Government is forcing disability pensioners and single parents into the workforce while driving people away from registering for unemployment benefits using extreme punitive measures.

As far as skilled trades are concerns, the government is taking away the means for people to gain skills by undermining the TAFE system and privatising tertiary education, putting it beyond the reach of the majority of working people (see The Guardian, March 16, 2005).

Howard said in a statement when the skill question came up: "It is not as if has crept up on us and it is only something we have become aware of in the last few weeks. We were on the case of skill shortages months ago." Months? They've been in government for almost a decade!

Costello has even rolled out the old chestnut used by the Keating Labor government, the "mobile" workforce. Last week he said: "If people can't find work in their current location, the incentive structure should be in place to encourage re-location to areas of labour need."

Referring to single parents and disability pensioners, he continued, "The challenge ahead is redesigning the current system to achieve an appropriate balance between incentives, assistance and obligations that will encourage workplace participation "

So what does all this mean; all these apparent contradictions?

First, it means the unemployment figures are a sham. The government has cooked the jobless numbers by forcing people off the official list of the unemployed by making them jump through hoops to receive a payment, including that cheap labour scheme, the euphemistically titled "mutual obligation" work-for-the-dole.

Second, the plans Howard and Costello have is for a deregulated, privatised Australia with a welfare system stripped bare and a largely de-unionised workforce, making Australia a cheap labour haven for foreign investors and corporations.

That they have overseen a recent rise in interest rates is a real contradiction coming out of the band-aid solutions they have applied too the various parts of the economy where bleeding is occurring because of their policies.

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