The Guardian November 28, 2001


Keeping up with "Jones"

by Marcus Browning

On May 19 this year unionists blockaded NSW Parliament in protest against 
planned changes to the state's WorkCover Authority aimed at taking away 
injured workers' rights. On the order of Police Minister Paul Whelan, the 
police viciously attacked the protestors, allowing Premier Carr and his 
cabinet members to cross the picket, enter Parliament and vote for the 
legislation. The Labor Council Secretary at the time was Michael Costa, who 
last week replaced Whelan as Police Minister.

Costa's ascendancy is a variation of a classic ditty: "The working class 
can kiss my arse, I'm in the Parliament at last".

Made a Minister after only 17 days as a Member of the NSW Legislative 
Council (Upper House), appointed to replace the retired right winger Johno 
Johnson, his unprecedented rise can be attributed primarily to radio 
broadcaster Alan Jones.

A week before his ministerial appointment was made public, Costa  with 
the blessing of Premier Carr  went to the Jones residence and over dinner 
had a chat with the radio host and his guests, former detective Tim Priest 
and Richard Basham, a Sydney University criminologist. The three have 
carried out an on-air campaign against the way the NSW police force is 
being run.

For those outside of NSW who may not know him, Jones, a failed aspirant for 
Liberal Party candidacy, uses the airwaves to push right wing ideas which 
he puts in the guise of attacking power politics and upbraiding the big end 
of town. In this way he has wormed his way into some working class 
institutions, specifically in sport  the South Sydney and Balmain Rugby 
League Clubs.

He has certain pet subjects. In particular Aboriginal rights, where he 
promotes assimilation through paternalism, the self-same paternalism that 
for so long was used to cloak the policies of genocide in the garb of 
"civilisation". 

When you think about it, that Jones determines Government policy is no less 
bizarre than Carr handing over the Sydney Showground to Rupert Murdoch's 
Fox Studios for a token rent, and then sunsidising its conversion into an 
entertainment and retail centre to the tune of $70 million of taxpayers' 
money.

In his time as Labor Council Secretary, Costa had one-on-one dealings with 
Jones when the latter was head of the Employers' Federation.

The new Police Minister sees Jones as a part of his learning curve, almost 
a mentor: "I had to deal with him in many capacities as the Secretary of 
the Labor Council. I'm not surprised that Alan thinks I'm competent to do 
the job. I think I am as well."

Costa is a proponent of zero tolerance policing and as one of his first 
tasks he intends to override a recent decision of the deputy chief 
magistrate that found the use of police sniffer dogs on the public was 
illegal and against international civil liberties.

After the Workers' Compensation Bill was passed last August an inquiry was 
set up in which Justice Terry Sheehan was to make recommendations on the 
legislation. The report by Sheehan  a former NSW ALP President  
suggests only minor changes. Injured workers will still have no right to 
sue their employers under common law unless their injuries have caused 20 
percent (formerly 25 percent) whole body impairment. 

Claims for psychiatric and psychological injury at common law are still to 
be severely restricted. There is a proposed "no fault" statutory scheme and 
the introduction of up-front weekly payments, a shallow gesture put forward 
as compensating for the loss of common law rights. The ALP State Caucus has 
approved the legislation.

"The treatment of injured workers is a fundamental issue for trade unions", 
said the Labor Council Secretary, John Robertson, last week. "We will 
continue to negotiate with the Government, but we want to make it clear 
that we will pursue industrial and political action if our concerns are not 
addressed."

The reality of the anti-worker, pro-business compensation legislation is 
where Costa will have to fly his true class colours. What will he do when 
confronted with angry unionists in the ongoing fight against the Government 
stripping away the rights of injured workers? Maybe he'll strike upon the 
idea of setting the police on them ... over cocktails at Jones'?

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