Sydney Seige Inquiry, RC on Union Corruption, Productivity Commission Review

The announcement of a siege inquiry, and the release of the interim report of the Royal Commission into union corruption, have produced much important commentary – and some important action by the federal government too. But the Fairfax press and the ABC continue to lag badly in recognising the seriousness of the threat from Islam, with attempts to use the “lone wolf” or “nutter” explanation of the siege rather than any inherent threat from Islamic ideology. The decision by The Australian to (partly) publish my letter below, along with several others in similar vein and with various reports in yesterday’s edition, should help widen recognition of the seriousness of the threat in public discussion and in academia. With some important exceptions, most of the latter are only just starting to acknowledge that a serious problem may exist. But the suggestion by ANU Professor Wesley (see article below) that we are experiencing “a new and more dangerous form of terrorism” seems to overlook the basis on which earlier Islamic terrorist activity has occurred. His warning that we avoid polarisation of society also misses the point that the existing extent of extremism within Muslim communities means such polarisation already exists. That needs to be more widely recognised and responded to.

While The Australian has played an important role in exposing the problem, whether in its editorial or selection of opinion pieces it too has some way to go. For example, while it argues for better surveillance of potential terrorists, as I attempted to say in my letter (but edited out), the government needs to get across to the community that we live in a vastly different world than we did just a few years ago. Indeed, as argued by ex-Judge Whealy (who reported to the Gillard government on counter-terrorism), the complexities involved may require a more comprehensive review than could be produced by the siege one in the short period it has been given to report.

As to union power, The Australian’s editorial below points out that the Royal Commission on union corruption identifies “grave threats to the power and authority of the state”. Indeed, one would argue that more than threats are involved: the powers which unions and the Fair Work Commission are already able to exercise have reduced state authority and power in ways which arguably were not intended. A glance through the interim report indicates the RC has identified many examples where unions have not only acquired unwarranted powers that have allowed them to unjustifiably extract funds and “concessions” from employers. Such powers have also had adverse effects on the operation of the economy. The submission to the RC by the HR Nicholls Society called on it give attention to “the adverse economic implications of the existing regulatory arrangements”.

As to Gillard’s call for an apology on the grounds that the Royal Commissioner judged she did not “commit an crime and was not aware of any criminality on the part of those union officials”, one suspects that Dyson Heydon judged that there were more important issues to address than the behaviour of the former PM. But it is difficult to believe that she was not an accessory to the activities of those recommended for prosecution.

Presumably because the Abbott government recognised the wider implications of the RC, it has at long last asked the Productivity Commission to review the existing regulatory arrangements applying to workplace relations by Nov 2015. The terms of reference disappointingly avoid stating any objective of a deregulated system allowing individual bargaining. The implication is that the PC might only report on options for improving the existing Fair Work arrangements rather than considering a new approach that is badly needed for competitive and fairness reasons. Given the importance of the issue, it is surprising that the Prime Minister did not jointly sign the press release with Hockey and Abetz.

Despite the extent and importance of the pre-Christmas policy developments and accompanying commentaries, it is not feasible to do more in this message than make brief analyses. I apologise for the extent of those commentaries but they seem to be important.

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