The Guardian 13 April, 2005

US spy agencies to screen local workers:
Racist “profiling” gets toehold in Australia

The US government is riding roughshod over Australian laws by forcing companies it does business with to discriminate against employees on the basis of nationality. Two companies — Boeing and Australian Defence Industries — have so far applied and received exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Last week in Western Australia, the Trades and Labor Council launched a strong challenge against the Australian Defence Industries (ADI) application to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal seeking exemption from certain provisions of WA’s Equal Opportunity Act.

ADI was demanding the right to discriminate against certain Australian workers on the basis of their country of origin, in order to qualify to bid for certain US defence industry contracts.

In a hearing that lasted two days, Unions WA in alliance with the Equal Opportunity Commission, Ethnic Communities Council and Western Australians for Racial Equality strenuously opposed the application.

Presenting its case to the Tribunal, Unions WA pointed out that the case has significant implications that extend beyond workplaces and into the wider community. If the company were successful, it would likely set a precedent for other defence contractors and other industries to seek similar exemption from anti-discrimination obligations that rightfully bind the community as a whole.

The case takes on heightened significance given a number of recent developments, including concerted pressure from the business community to increase the intake of skilled migrants. The government is showing no signs of addressing the causes of any shortages — such as the failure of industry to take on apprentices and its refusal to adequately fund or meet training needs.

Granting of such exemptions could, by default, influence the profile of immigration and narrow the field of candidates to preferred countries that fit the US’s military and political agenda.

“We put up a very good case”, Unions WA spokesperson Claire Ozich told The Guardian, “though I fear that the fact that the exemptions granted in NSW, Queensland, Victoria may go against us”.

The Tribunal’s final decision is not expected to be handed down for several months. Clearly the pressure needs to be maintained on authorities in the meantime to ensure a just outcome.

NSW bows down

Last week it was also revealed that Labor Premier Bob Carr had supported a similar exemption which had been granted to Boeing in NSW.

The exemption specifically requested that Boeing be allowed to “ask present and future employees to advise of their exact citizenship or residency status under Australian law, then identify employees accordingly, and make decisions about deploying employees on that basis”.

That exemption was granted in a decision that is made personally by the NSW Attorney General Bob Debus.

Boeing has 800 employees in NSW; the decision will particularly affect 760 employees based at Bankstown Airport.

Speaking to the local newspaper the Bansktown Torch, Boeing spokesperson Ken Morton said the company regretted making the application but was forced to by the US State Department.

“We tried over the past 18 months to two years to get this dropped by the US but to no avail. Unfortunately the US State Department and Whitehouse said ‘either comply or lose the contract’, so that was that.”

Mr Morton said he did not know which nationalities the US security agencies intended to discriminate against: “All we are required to do is gather that information and then give it to the US State Department if they require it.”

Mr Morton has said no Boeing workers will lose their jobs under the new arrangements. “If they turn out not to be suitable to work in that area, we will move them to other work.”

The shamefaced statement from the Australian representative of the US defence industry giant should fool nobody. The “profiling” process of security threats by US intelligence and police agencies is blatantly racist. Individuals of Middle Eastern extraction and adherents of the Muslim religion are of particular interest in any US screening process. This type of ignorant stereotyping now has a “legal” foothold in the Australian labour market.

Premier Bob Carr defended the government’s decision by claiming that Australia might otherwise lose work that it does not yet have to overseas companies.

However, Greens Justice spokesperson and MP Lee Rhiannon described the decision as tantamount to “government-sponsored racism”.

“The situation is very bleak indeed when the State Government supports a multinational corporation’s application to make racially and culturally prejudicial decisions.

“In plain speak [the decision] seems to allow Boeing to hire, segregate, train, pay and promote employees based on their citizenship, which is clearly racist.

“I challenge the Attorney General to show what is right about allowing Boeing to engage in this type of behaviour without penalty. Unlike previous exemptions granted under the Act, there is no public benefit so it should be revoked.

The question of new jobs and new contracts is important. There is also a fundamental principle at stake, a key moral and social issue regarding racial discrimination. Such basic human rights that took years of struggle to have enshrined in law should not be sacrificed for a few temporary jobs.

A government with any sense of morality would point blank refuse to even consider such a request. The situation is made even more abhorrent by the fact that these jobs are linked to the US war machine, including Star Wars 2. There are many other means of creating jobs.

Unions WA, the Greens and the other organisations fighting the exemptions to anti-discrimination law are to be congratulated for their principled stand.

The rolling over of the NSW, Qld and Victorian governments in the face of pressure from the US State Department is a bleak indicator of the future.

With Australia merging its defence force into the US war machine, and now the Free Trade Agreement, the Australian people will increasingly find themselves powerless over many aspects of their lives and instead subject to the reactionary agenda of the Whitehouse.

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