The Guardian 6 July, 2005

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Letters to the Editor

The battle for hearts and minds

The Howard Government and big business will spend more than $20 million on promoting their anti-union plans. The government is trying to counter the unions’ campaign to alert the community to the widespread affect of the government’s agenda. I believe it is crucial to get the public at large to help defend such basic rights as minimum wages and the right to organise collectively.

Clearly, the government also realises it is a battle for hearts and minds. Government MPs will distribute a full colour, eight-page brochure to households using their recently-increased mailing allowances. But the really big money will go on an advertising campaign that will dwarf the ACTU’s $8 million campaign budget.

It should be recalled that when the government was in political strife over GST and Medicare it saturated the airwaves with "advertising", spending upwards of $20 million.

Advertising agencies say they expect the government to spend even more on workplace relations in an effort to win back ground after it was revealed that the Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrew’s own department was trying to force its staff onto individual AWA contracts.

"Freedom of choice" is the catch cry of Andrews, but now that’s been discredited, big time.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry is launching a campaign backing the federal government’s anti-union push after a recent meeting of business heavyweights in Melbourne.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the leading employer body running with the government’s new laws, even drafting them for Andrews and his legal team.

The organisation is made up of peak bodies representing most Australian employers, including master builders, retailers, airline companies, insurance houses, caterers, hotels, oil companies and the National Farmers Federation.

Chief executive Peter Hendy was a staff member of former Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, who organised 1998 attack on the Maritime Union. That dispute brought the community into the struggle, perhaps the most important lesson that the unions movement took from it.

Nathan Barnes
Brisbane, Qld

Struggle continues to save universities

The struggle to save tertiary education from being stripped to the bone is continuing. I can report to readers that the students and staff of the University of Newcastle last week held a public meeting organised by the National Tertiary Education Union to voice concerns about the cutting of 450 staff. That’s one in five.

Newcastle Uni’s students and staff say there are other ways of dealing with a deficit caused by years of chronic under-funding by the Howard government. The union said the meeting heralded the beginning of the next stage of the campaign against staff cuts.

To quote the union’s vice president Bert Groen, "The public campaign, which includes advertisements in the Newcastle Herald and on radio stations KOFM and NXFM, street stalls and a public meeting, are to highlight the impact of the cuts on quality education, jobs and economic growth.

"The Federal Government needs to explain to the people of the Hunter and Central Coast why it is that funding cuts to higher education have been allowed to imperil the future of university education in this region."

Their strategy includes calling on the management to "join us in our campaign to extend regional funding to the University of Newcastle as well as support additional funding to the University during these difficult times."

They have already have had successful stalls, with the public queuing up to sign the petitions against the cuts.

To quote Bert Groen again, "It is also fitting that this public meeting is being held in a week in which the union movement nationally is campaigning against the Howard Government’s attacks on the workplace rights of all Australian workers and their families. It is an example of where another area of the Government’s policy, that of higher education funding, has led to a very real and immediate threat to the job security of so many workers in Newcastle and the central coast." Speakers at the meeting included Sharon Greirson, Federal Member for Newcastle, Senator Kerry Nettle, Milton Orkopoulos, State Member for Swansea, Clr John Tate, Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Grahame McCulloch, National General Secretary, NTEU, Carl Harris, President, Newcastle University Students Association and Sandy O’Sullivan, President, Newcastle University Post-Graduate Students Association. Federal Liberal member for Paterson, Mr Bob Baldwin, was invited to speak but declined.

Marcus Browning
Sydney, NSW

Public health
undermined by vested interests

Multinational companies are often promoted (by themselves) as good corporate citizens who are part of the general community. They do it through sponsoring various events, generally making sure that everybody knows through display of either their logos or/and merchandise about their presence.

Of more concern, however is what is happening behind the scenes. It is well known that such companies as Monsanto, for instance had been paying for articles (seemingly written by “independent" scientists) about the greater value of genetically modified food as compared to non-genetically modified food. Pharmaceutical companies are notorious for their infiltration of influential bodies which decide on medicines and their cost to the public.

Somehow or other all these companies are very keen to get into the public purse.

Now we learn that food industry’s giants Kellogg and Nestlé are sponsors of the Dieticians Association of Australia! We’ve been hearing for years that junk food creates huge problems for children and adults alike.

Many public health campaigns and promotion of healthy eating habits fail because of advertising. I am yet to watch a children’s program without some junk being pushed.

It is only natural that that we, as consumers trust public health officials whose job it is to inform the public about nutrition. If an organisation is sponsored by food industry’s big boys, one has to question the opinion of the organisation itself.

No wonder some members of the Dieticians’ organisation have already resigned. One can understand and appreciate their position. On the other hand, the position of the government which is supposed to be looking after public health and public interests is questionable, to say the least. Why should a public health organisation be dependent on sponsorships in the first place?

What a shame!

S A Cummins
Bondi, NSW

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