Page 3830 - Week 12 - Wednesday, 19 October 2005

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for increasing funding to non-government schools is to give people interested in purchasing a social cache for their kids the choice of a range of non-government schools.

WorkChoices will give the better-resourced employers more choice in how they organise their operations and their work force, without a doubt. It will perhaps give high-value staff or those with skills that are sought by employers a wider set of choices, but it will not give those people being pushed off the disability support pension, those with only high school education, those who are looking for their first job or those trying to enter the work force or re-enter the work force any real choice.

Let us look at what choice we really are being offered in this campaign, because the language used is key to this whole debate, really. Howard has said, “We have chosen ‘WorkChoices’ as a title because there will be far greater choice under this system.” I guess the big choice for workers is whether to take up workplace agreements. As Professor Mark Wooden, the deputy director of the Melbourne Institute, says, “Surely this is not much of a choice, given the government intends to continue to undermine awards.” He believes that the direction of change is towards providing workers with less choice.

There is not much choice for Billy, who has to trade off conditions because that is the only way that he can enter the work force. Our federal government and, presumably, the Liberal MLAs in this place think it is fair enough to make a class of working poor in this way. The duplicity of the approach lies in calling it a choice. Just think what we could do with $100 million if we decided to improve the conditions for working people at the lower end. Imagine what we could do if we actually used carrots to entice people into the work force, rather than the sticks that are being applied to the so-called welfare to work program.

The other term that warrants a bit of picking over is “fair”. That the government, once it had done some market research, had to pulp 60,000 brochures and replace them with brochures that describe these changes as fair, as well as simple, goes to show that the notion of a fair go still has popular currency in this country. The Australian people do care about fairness, otherwise the federal government would not have co-opted that word for its own purposes.

So the abandonment of a way of setting wages that is fair and reasonable is one of the key shifts of the community’s approach to caring or not caring for those most vulnerable. The argument that it will be a fair pay commission because it will set wages in order to promote the economic prosperity of the people of Australia overall is an interesting twist on the notion of fair.

One of the problems that we face in dealing with the federal government’s newspeak is that we do not contest the definitions and the presumptions that underpin that language. Studies of the language used in war fighting and nuclear weapons speak show perhaps the origin of this language. Words were used that deflected people from the actual damage that, for instance, nuclear weapons were inflicting. So we had terms such as “soft targets” and “collateral damage” used to deflect attention from the fact that these were real human beings that were being killed, frequently most of them civilians. However, the collateral damage and the soft targets here are going to be visible to us all,

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