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Issue #1784      July 5, 2017

Ediroial

The story so far

In 1990 the call went out from the then Prime Minister Paul Keating for “reconciliation” between the Indigenous and non-indigenous people of Australia. A Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was set up. It laboured long and hard. There is no doubt that a very large proportion of the non-Indigenous population not only want to see reconciliation achieved, but also want the connected questions of recognition of Indigenous land rights together with real attention to jobs, housing, health care, education.

For such change to take real effect, recognition and acknowledgement of history is required.

Basically a policy of genocide has been followed. There was the shooting and poisoning of the Aboriginal people, the forcing of the Indigenous people onto reserves when “protection” was the slogan of the times.

When the Aboriginal people did not surrender but instead fought and resisted, the policy of “protection” was replaced by “assimilation”, the idea being that 60,000 years of culture and connection to country could be absorbed into the white community and be eliminated.

Assimilation involved the attempted destruction of Indigenous culture and, of course, the abandonment by them of any claims to their traditional lands. This policy did not work either, although it was accompanied by the destruction of many Aboriginal families and communities by the deliberate and conscious seizure of their children.

These policies were based on the central idea that the Aboriginal people should be eliminated as a people. It was genocide. There is no other word for it.

Has this objective changed? No, it has not. That is why nothing effective is being done to recognise land rights or alter the basic health and housing conditions of, or to provide the conditions for the development of education and jobs.

What is needed is “recognition” in its full meaning – recognition of Aboriginal rights as a national minority in Australia, and above all their right to land so that there is work for young Aboriginal men and women and a real opportunity to preserve and practice their cultural ways: Treaty.

Class nature of ABCC

In the building industry, the Rudd/Gillard Labor government retained the industry police force – the Howard government’s notorious Australian Building and Construction Commission – which spends millions of dollars a year hounding union officials attempting to enter workplaces over safety, underpayment, loss of entitlements, and other issues.

This Gestapo of construction has cost unions hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines with accusations of unions and their officials of “breaking the law”.

The law they are “breaking” is the “right of entry” law that prevents unions from legally carrying out their legitimate trade union business and in protecting their members from the criminal actions by employers.

For decades trade union officials freely entered workplaces, checked out working conditions of all employees, inspected wages and working hours books, attended to safety issues, assisted members with problems and ensured that employers were complying with their legal obligations.

They exercised one of the most fundamental basic trade union rights – right of entry. Up until the mid-1980s a system of centralised union-negotiated awards governed minimum wages and working conditions.

The Hawke-Keating Labor governments commenced the process of dismantling the comprehensive system of centralised awards in the 1980s, with a shift in focus to enterprise-based determination of wages and working conditions.

But it took the Howard government and its Workplace Ministers Peter Reith, Kevin Andrews and Tony Abbott to emasculate the centralised system of trade union-negotiated awards and gut awards to “20 allowable matters”. Amongst the key provisions that were not just removed from awards but outlawed in enterprise agreements were basic trade union rights including the right of entry and free access to time and wage records of all employees.

When the Rudd Labor government was elected in 2007 there were expectations in trade union circles that the right of entry would be restored; it was not.

Next article – Back from the Future

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