Category: RiotACT (Page 1 of 5)

We can’t pretend everything in ACT public schools is fine

Why not have an independent review of the ACT public education system?

The open letter published in The Canberra Times on 8 March by the ACT Council of P&C Associations, ACT Principals’ Association and the Australian Education Union is dismaying on many levels.

Each of these peak body organisations are meant to be advocates for excellence in ACT public schools. The fact that they have chosen to deny all systemic problems, even before an investigation is carried out, says a great deal about their attitudes.

The first instinct of all three advocacy groups was to protect the reputation of the system they are meant to be supporting and scrutinising, not to find out the truth of the situation.

There was not one word of sympathy for the 17 families who were so distressed at being ignored that they signed and sent a petition to the Minister. No mention of the violence against ACT principals being the highest in the country. Neither was there a single note of concern that it took the Education Directorate three months to “attempt to make contact” with all of the families who signed the petition, despite “personal assurances” given to the Minister that the systems in place to deal with these issues was appropriate.

Remember that this petition was sent after parents had been talking with schools and the Directorate since 2017, and after four separate letters were sent to the Minister in 2018. This was an act of desperation.

There are two possibilities to explain this seeming callousness.

The first is that the Minister and the senior management of the ACT Education Directorate didn’t feel it was important to personally ensure that these families were supported and that their concerns were actively addressed. If this is true, all of them should resign immediately.

However, I genuinely don’t believe any of these people enjoy seeing others in distress. This makes it very hard to understand why everyone from the Minister, the Directorate, Principals, Union Officials and the P&C peak body should be so keen to pretend a problem doesn’t exist.

I believe the key lies in the line towards the end of the open letter where we are implored “not to undermine public confidence in our education system”. The truth is that everyone with a stake in the public education system is terrified at what a true independent investigation would uncover.

It is likely that the results would not even be that bad, objectively speaking. Their concern is that any failures would be paraded in the media, and then be used by the Canberra Liberals as an excuse to divert funding into private education.

The irony is that the cry to “protect the system” is now more important than “think of the children”. The fallacy is that since public education is an intrinsic good; therefore, we must protect public education at all costs. The actual lives of families and children in public schools become secondary to the system that is meant to be serving them.

No system, especially those funded by the public, should be immune from transparency, investigation, and improvement.

I can only imagine how abandoned the families who signed the petition must have felt when they read the dismissive attitudes in the open letter.

The Canberra Liberals should go on the public record and affirm that they will not use the results of an independent review as a justification to cut funds. This is an opportunity to avert fears and establish that they are truly concerned. Canberra people are rightly proud of their investment in public education and want a better system, not a mediocre one due to inadequate funding or weak leadership.

If those involved in this debacle were truly committed to excellence then an independent review would be an opportunity, not a threat.

We need more ethnic names for our electorates

Ensuring that the Australian Electoral Commission operates with integrity and in a non-partisan way is essential to the Australian political process.

Unfortunately, the current redistribution process is weakened by its lack of transparency and self-awareness.

By law, the members of each state’s redistribution committee are chosen by virtue of the public service roles they occupy – the Australian Electoral Commissioner as well as the three state-based positions of Australian Electoral Officer, Surveyor-General, and Auditor-General.

Similarly, the AEC Chair and non-judicial appointee member are appointed by the Governor-General from a shortlist of eminent judges and from the list of public service agency heads, respectively.

The lack of diversity in members of the AEC redistribution committee has the potential to introduce bias.

This has been most recently seen in the ACT redistribution proposal. The committee seemed to have few qualms in discarding all proposals received for electorate names. Instead, they have endorsed yet another white Anglo-Saxon male, Charles Bean.

Despite 30% of Australians having a culturally and linguistically diverse background, only around 5% of seats out of the 150 are named after significant CALD figures. Of the 70 electorate names considered by the Committee, it appears that only one (Ruth Arndt) was from a CALD background.

This lack of diversity is surprising and regrettable, since the ACT has many significant people from migrant backgrounds. Why was Romaldo Giurgola, the architect of Parliament House, not deemed suitable for consideration? The instigator of the Hare-Clark system in the ACT, Bogey Musidlak? Or Amirah Inglis, a prolific Canberra-based writer and author from Belgium? Or even Pawe? Strzelecki, the explorer who named Mount Kosciuszko?

Choosing an electorate name is important because it becomes part of our culture. Regardless of the norms of the time, we should not be honouring Bean, an anti-Semite, when there is the opportunity to improve the representation of non-Anglo-Saxon names in Australia’s electorates. Choosing a more diverse option would familiarise people with names that sound alien to them.

With more names like Kosciuszko, Chan, Gupta, and Nguyen for our electorates, people with names hailing from those backgrounds will feel included in Australian society.

The public should know who was responsible for drawing up the list of 70 names for consideration, how diversity was considered as part of the listing process, and what criteria were used in shortlisting. If a vote on the final name is required, the vote of each committee member should be on the public record.

There is a similar lack of transparency in the process of drawing boundaries.

The ACT’s districts, and especially those centred around the town centres of Belconnen, Woden, Gungahlin, and Tuggeranong have a strong local identity and community overlap. Many people in each district work, shop locally, and send their children to local schools.

Reasonable redistribution proposals that preserved these town centres were submitted for consideration. Yet the redistribution committee’s justification for discarding these alternative proposals was scant to non-existent. Their report simply notes that “many of the suggestions and comments on suggestions received advocated for a northern-central-southern split” as if that was sufficient justification.

Receiving 10 submissions when the ACT has a population of 410,000 is not enough to prove popular support for a particular boundary approach. Some of these submissions were not even from the ACT!

I call on the AEC to formalise and publish specific guidelines for carrying out future redistributions. This should include specifying the mechanisms for ensuring that all Australians are considered when naming seats, justifying a preference for specific electorate boundaries, and handling of arguments made in public submissions.

If the public does not have confidence that their submissions will get fair consideration, they will conclude that participation in our electoral processes is a waste of time.

Parliament can easily fix the citizenship debacle

As the citizenship crisis rolls on, our Federal politicians need to elevate the debate beyond technical nuances and find a real solution.

A simple bipartisan agreement to amend the Electoral Act 1918, preventing spurious referrals, allowing for statutory declarations, and providing clear instructions on the appropriate interpretation of section 44 is entirely constitutional and requires no referendum to enact.

I propose two common-sense rules that the Federal Parliament should legislate.

First, if you were born in Australia and are an Australian citizen, the ancestry of your parents should never be grounds for disqualification.

Second, people who nominate to run for Parliament must sign a statutory declaration that they will not acknowledge or seek benefits from any dual citizenship. Elected members should be granted a six month grace period after election to check for and formally renounce any citizenship of their past countries of residence.

These rules are still more stringent than the rules for State & Territory Parliaments, who place no restrictions on dual citizenship at all.

But let’s take a step back.

Countries often make retrospective changes to their rules of citizenship. For example, since 1948 the UK has significantly altered citizenship entitlements no less than 15 times, often with specific time periods and exemptions. Many of those affected are not aware of the changes.

Our politicians should have been united in their recognition of the unworkability of our eligibility rules. They chose not to make a positive bipartisan statement about the diverse ancestry of our citizens. They failed to clearly state that Australians should not be searching through the ancestry of others to disqualify them from Federal Parliament.

Instead, every party sought to gain advantage for themselves. Our representatives and nominees were forced to trawl through the history of their parents and grandparents. Seven Senators and three MPs have resigned or been found ineligible by the High Court due to their citizenship, despite zero benefit to Australia’s governance or integrity.

This is not a new problem. Since at least 1980, there have been at least five attempts to hold a referendum to amend section 44. Our federal members and senators nearly unanimously recognise that its wording is archaic and unjust. As Senator Robert Ray put it in 2003, “of all those that have fallen foul of section 44, none was, in fact, guilty; it was always a technical breach. None was in a position in which they owed actual allegiance to another country; none was in a position where they could have been suborned on economic grounds—and that is absolutely clear.”

Reluctance for a referendum stems partly from the fact that most Australians agree with the principle of loyalty to Australia that section 44 espouses. At the same time, most people agree that there was no breach in spirit by those forced to quit, as seen with the recent by-election results.

The problem is that the High Court has repeatedly applied a black-letter law approach to disqualification that defies common-sense interpretations.

It is plainly ridiculous to require Australian-born citizens to write to a country in a language they have never spoken, or for adoptees to seek out biological parents they have never met to avoid falling foul of this law. Yet that is the situation as it stands today. How can we have a fair go when people are literally being judged by who their parents were?

A referendum to fix this state of affairs would be ideal. Failing that, a viable legislative solution exists today. Section 47 of the Constitution allows the Parliament to set any means it likes to resolve disputed eligibility. There is no obligation for the High Court to be involved at all.

Our politicians can fix this mess. The bickering over section 44 of the Constitution for partisan advantage must stop. The system we have is manifestly inadequate. If things are left as they are now, the same scenario will continue to play out again and again in years to come.

Long live ACT self-government

The history of Canberra can largely be described in three eraspre-NCDC (up to 1958), NCDC(1958-1989), and self-government (1989-present).

In the early days of Canberra, the vision of Walter Burley Griffin went largely unimplemented. During these years Australia went through two World Wars, an abundance of departmental arm-wrestling, and there was a lack of enthusiasm for senior people to move to Canberra.

It wasn’t until 1958, when the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) was established that the Griffin plan substantially came to fruition. With the construction of Lake Burley Griffin and most of our national institutions, Canberra began to resemble the city we see today. The NCDC also created the “Y-plan” which established the principle of decentralised development in Canberra with Woden-Weston Creek, Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin.

During this time, the population of Canberra exploded from 50,000 to almost 300,000. For many people living in Canberra, the work of the NCDC defines their formative experiences.

The NCDC was essentially a dictatorship, making decisions without any democratic representation of Canberra citizens beyond “token advisory bodies”. An academic analysis of the effects of the NCDC on Canberra concluded that:

Canberra as a place came to express the expectations and agenda of Australia’s administrative elite in the nation-building era – ordered, rational, expansive and expensive.

ACT citizens got a great deal in these years, largely because no one was keeping tabs on who was spending money. Driver’s licenses cost a quarter of what they did in other states, car registration one-third the cost.

After the full cost of paying for the Territory was worked out in the late 1970s, it turned out that ACT residents received double the per-person spend of someone in Victoria, while paying less for the privilege.

In that sense it is no surprise that ACT residents voted against self-government. We had access to the perfect ‘magic pudding’ of Federal funds and were never being asked to pay up.

However, I have to admit I find it baffling and frustrating that nearly 30 years on, people are still hoping for a return to the days of the NCDC when we had no democratic representation on decision-making. The rivers of gold from the Federal Government were going away anyway. At least under self-government we have the ability to vote for people who can represent our hopes and desires for Canberra.

It’s not like the NCDC was perfect in its planning work either. In the Belconnen town centre alone, they were responsible for a three storey car park with amazing lakefront views and the infamous “bus ditch” that separated Belconnen into two halves except for a narrow red pedestrian bridge.

The increase in the size of the ACT Legislative Assembly to 25 members will improve the quality of our governance. The strangely-shaped electorate of Molonglo always undermined the concept of local representation, and the Assembly has always had significant problems with properly resourcing the parliamentary committees that are so vital to investigating issues of public importance. Having more members that are chosen (mostly) from areas corresponding to each town centre will go a long way to fixing these problems.

The NCDC is gone and isn’t coming back. As voters, the onus now falls on all of us to take responsibility for the system of government we have and make it the best we possibly can.

Fairer Federal representation for the ACT

When the original Constitution of Australia was drafted, States were guaranteed an equal number of Senators and a minimum of five members in the House of Representatives. The intent was to ensure that States with bigger populations could not disregard the will of the smaller States.

The ACT does not have any similar guarantees in the Constitution (like all other Territories including the Northern Territory, Christmas Island, and Norfolk Island). For years, Territories have been under-represented despite the implicit constitutional goal of providing all States and Territories with fair rights to representation.

The arrangements for Territories have changed many times over the years, since the rules around Territory representation are set by the Federal Parliament itself. Initially, Territories had to fight just for the right to sit in the Federal Parliament, and even then had no rights to vote. It was only 50 years ago, in 1966, that the ACT’s then sole representative received full voting rights.

At present, the rules use a population quota based on the number of citizens in the States and the number of Senators elected by the States. If this calculation produces a fraction of more than half a quota for a State or Territory, it gets rounded up. Then, the Australian Electoral Commission divides each State or Territory into seats of roughly equal size, based on expected population growth or decline.

The problem is that when this formula is applied to Territories, the population of seats can get very large or small compared to the rest of Australia. In 2003, special legislation was rushed through to prevent the Northern Territory from having just 1 seat with a population of 200,000 while Tasmania still would have received five seats despite each of them only having one-third the population.

The ACT population is growing relative to Australia but it has not quite reached the magic figure of 2.5 quotas to get a third seat. On current projected figures from the ABS, the ACT will get its third seat back in the next 15 years.

Even if this prediction comes true, I think we can do better. A decade ago, my husband Stephen and I wrote a proposal that was submitted to a 2005 Joint Standing Committee inquiry. Our idea was to modify the rules for Territories to cap average seat sizes at 10% above than the national average. It is inequitable for us to be disadvantaged compared to the constitutional protections granted to the States. A 10% cap also provides a simple formula that avoids the need for reference to things like “twice the standard error of the measure of the Australian Statistician’s estimate of the net undercount”.

At the time the idea received a positive reception from noted psephologist Malcolm Mackerras and we met with Senator John Faulkner to explain our ideas – but unfortunately they did not go any further.

Territories are also under-represented when it comes to the Senate. At the last election, an ACT senator required 75,469 votes to be elected, compared to just 24,408 votes for a Tasmanian senator. With the population of the ACT expected to overtake the population of Tasmania in less than 25 years, it is getting harder and harder to justify Tasmania’s 12 senators to the ACT’s two.

A simple option for addressing this issue is to allow Territories to elect 1 Senator per half quota of population. Under this arrangement, NT would get three Senators and the ACT four, and likely five within the next 15 years.

It is not easy to progress these issues at a federal level when the rest of the Australia doesn’t really pay much attention to the ACT. However, with more representatives and especially more Senate seats in play, Federal political parties would have a much bigger interest in campaigning in the ACT during elections. Getting fairer representation for the ACT is important for us – even if it is something that we will only achieve with patience and over time.

Medicare: our nation’s greatest gift

There is probably no policy that better defines modern Australia than Medicare. First legislated by the Whitlam government in 1974 as Medibank, Medicare guarantees free hospital services for public patients in public hospitals, and provides benefits for out-of-hospital medical services and most notably consultations with GPs or specialists.

Medicare was and is a positive transformational force in Australia, and is unquestionably the primary reason why I am a member of the ALP today.

Medicare has also been the most pronounced and consistent area of policy difference between the ALP and the Liberal party for more than four decades. Ideologically, the ALP believe in the importance of socialised healthcare, while the Liberals do not.

The challenge for the conservative movement has been working out how to reverse the effects of Medicare while claiming to support it, since it enjoys widespread support in the Australian population.

Following the close election result from last Saturday, the Coalition have been crying foul over Labor’s claims that the Liberals planned to privatise Medicare. Yet if we follow the principle that it is more important to judge people by what they do instead of what they say, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Federal Labor campaign was 100 per cent correct. We just have to look at how successive Coalition governments have acted.

In 1975, Medibank commenced under Gough Whitlam. In 1976, Malcolm Fraser systematically dismantled Medibank. First, the government allowed people to opt out of paying the Medicare levy by holding private health insurance. Next, Medibank Private was set up, hospital agreements with states and territories were declared invalid, and bulk billing was restricted to pension card holders.

Finally in 1981, free health care was once again restricted to a small subset of the Australian population holding health care cards or meeting other strict criteria.

The Hawke government reversed almost all of these destructive changes in 1984, reverting to the original model under the new name of Medicare and retaining it with some minor funding changes for the next decade. Yet less than 12 months after Howard was elected, the Medicare Levy Surcharge and the Private Health Insurance Rebate were introduced to encourage people to return to the private health sector. By 2003, columnists in The Age were pointing out that the unrealistically low Scheduled Fees for GPs and incentives to only bulk-bill pensioners were once again undermining the universality of Medicare by stealth.

Post-Howard, it seemed that a strained consensus had been reached that both Medicare and the private health insurance system could co-exist. As one example, Kevin Rudd’s proposed Commonwealth takeover of the hospital system was focused on improving the public health system rather than undercutting the private health sector.

For the 2013 election, the Liberals put out policies that largely matched Labor’s platform, only to spring a completely unforeshadowed $7 GP co-payment on the Australian public the following year. Even after the switch to Malcolm Turnbull, the Coalition has continued to undermine Medicare, cutting bulk billing for pathology tests in the most recent budget.

Given all this, the ALP’s campaign to ‘save Medicare’ from the Liberals not only seems warranted but pretty restrained. I’m genuinely proud to be part of a party that believes in the importance of a strong public health-care system. The ideology of conservatives means that they simply can’t be trusted.

In the UK, David Cameron repeatedly and explicitly ruled out privatising the NHS (the UK’s Medicare equivalent), only to go on to significantly undercut the universality of their system through funding cuts and rationing of hospital and GP services to the public, leading to demonstrably worse care. As another example, the US private health system famously pays twice as much on its largely privatised health care system while having the lowest life expectancy of wealthy countries.

Medicare is not a guaranteed right for Australians. It has been revoked once and it could happen again if we don’t exercise our voting rights wisely.

The legendary writer and historian Harry Leslie Smith described life before public health care at a UK Labour conference in 2014. His speech continues to remind me why the fight for universal health care is still necessary today.

More to do on affordable housing

Housing affordability remains a hot topic with most Australians. And rightly so, given the fundamental human right for safe and secure housing.

I have previously written about the debilitating effects of homelessness and the comparatively high rate of secondary and repeat homelessness experienced by people in the ACT. This problem is made harder by the fact that Canberra has the highest average wage in the country.

To see why, we need to look at two simple measures of housing accessibility: borrowing power and housing stress.

Borrowing power is the amount a bank will lend you for a home loan. Assuming typical expenses of $2000 per month, a single full-time worker employed on:

  • average Canberra wages makes $92,000 and can borrow $520,000
  • average wages for a café worker earns $57,000 and can borrow $257,000
  • the minimum wage will receive $35,000 and can borrow just $189,000.

This large discrepancy means that higher wage earners can easily outbid lower wage earners. When the median unit price in Belconnen (the cheapest place to buy units in 2016) is $365,000 and the cheapest listing anywhere is $195,000, minimum wage earners are literally unable to buy in the open Canberra housing market.

Of course, many couples use joint incomes to purchase houses. But since full-time care of children and other periods with no income are common, from a social affordability perspective it is important for home loans to be able to be serviced with a single income.

If you can’t buy, you have to rent. Housing stress is a generally accepted benchmark for the maximum you should spend on accommodation, and is defined as spending more than 30% of your gross wages on accommodation. That works out to $330 per week in rent for the café worker and $200 per week for the minimum wage earner. It’s not as unaffordable as buying a home, but can still be a significant challenge for people on lower incomes.

The often-touted answer to this problem in the ACT is to “release more land”. While this is part of the solution, relying solely on land release programs is both bad economics and bad policy.

Releasing more land simply allows the well-heeled investor to reap windfall profits instead of the government. This situation is likely to continue until the problems with capital gains tax and negative gearing are fixed at the Federal level.

In the meantime, a more nuanced approach is needed. Social enterprises often define their goals in terms of marketmission, and money, and the same three factors apply to the ACT government’s approach for delivering affordable housing for the ACT:

  • Market: The ACT government sponsors the construction of affordable houses and land rent schemes that are attractive to lower income earners but are less profitable for developers.
  • Mission: The ACT’s public housing program includes a range of measures to provide people with secure housing, and also to transition them to home ownership in the long-term.
  • Money: If the first two objectives are being achieved, it is both reasonable and responsible for the Land Development Agency to seek good returns on the sale of land to allow investment in infrastructure and other services that benefit all Canberra residents.

The ACT government is ahead of the game in implementing the majority of the changes recommended by the 2015 Federal Government Senate Committee on housing affordability: reducing stamp duty, implementing shared equity schemes and land rent schemes, and supporting increases in community housing programs.

We can always do more. With high office vacancy rates in Canberra at the moment, the ACT Property Council has pointed out that other capital cities convert lower-grade office space into “apartments, hotels, and senior’s housing developments”. This should be considered as a way of rapidly improving affordable housing options in central locations.

Finally, there needs to be a community discussion around rental reforms, with an emphasis on improving security of tenancies and helping people stay in their homes even when they hit temporary financial difficulties.

Trolling: When our worst impulses come to the fore

With the recent news that a chiropractor has been charged after allegedly leaving racist comments on Senator Nova Peris’ Facebook page, it is fascinating to analyse the mindset of people who feel the need to insult, belittle, and degrade others online.

Clearly many people feel social media is an outlet for expressions and feelings they must keep repressed in their “real world” lives.

The existence of “internet trolls” has been documented since the mid-1990s. Classic troll behaviour came from people who used anonymous accounts as a way to avoid identification. The anonymity implies that people knew what they are writing was transgressive and took steps to avoid accountability for their actions.

Now though we are seeing more people post things online without making any attempt to hide their identity. With 65% of Australians using Facebook at least once a month, Facebook has become the de facto standard for many of the casual conversations that used to happen in pubs, bars, and backyards. Facebook’s real name policy means it is mostly very easy to work out the identity of people making these posts.

People posting racist, sexist or other offensive comments are increasingly facing real-world consequences. After poorly-thought out posts we have seen hotel supervisors fired for insulting a columnistsports presenters sacked for Anzac Day tweetsairport workers sacked for pro-ISIS comments, and teachers fired for writing about taking drugs.

After the fact, many people claim that the posts were “just a joke” or “taken out of context” or even that “someone hacked my computer”. While not excusing their behaviour, they may have been subject to what the US psychologist Dr John Suler calls the online disinhibition effect. Suler outlines six reasons why people feel free to say things online that they would not in person:

  1. We are anonymous – When we are anonymous we feel disconnected from our normal personality. Some people even consider their online personality to be an alter ego.
  2. We are invisible – Since others can’t see us, we can mask emotional signals of distress, fear, etc. This can allow people to say things online that they wouldn’t be able to face to face.
  3. We don’t see responses straight away – We don’t read what others write at the same point in time, and responses may take time to appear. This allows people to write without fear of immediate judgement (and may never see responses at all).
  4. We make up who others are – When we are interacting with others online, we often simply invent our perception of who someone else is. This may allow us to justify nastiness to others on the basis of this imagined personality
  5. We don’t see it as real – Online activities can seem to be insubstantial or “just a game”. This is particularly common with some of the nastiest trolls who turn out to be teenagers.
  6. We don’t fear punishment – Many places on the Internet have no obvious authority figures to control our behaviour, or the punishments for transgression seem minimal (eg being banned from a forum).

All of these factors encourage people to act out, often impulsively – even if the long-term impacts are serious. We are used to operating in environments where social disapproval and punishment is a real and tangible threat. When these are taken away sometimes our worst impulses come to the fore.

This is not an easy problem to solve.

Why Sunday penalty rates should stay

Although the majority of people no longer go to church on Sundays, it is still mostly a day of leisure. ABS statistics show that Sunday remains an overwhelmingly non-work day. Even though Sunday working participation rates have more than doubled, still only 20% of currently employed working age people work on a Sunday compared with 80% on weekdays.

The same statistics found that working on Sundays reduces family leisure time by over two hours, inclusive of reduced parents’ time with their children and reduces leisure time in the company of friends by an hour and a half.

Conversely, while there is some evidence that there are lower employment rates because of Sunday penalty rates, it is a less settled issue.

Although it is a cliché, Australia does have the idea of ‘a fair go’ deep in its genes. Early governors shared food among soldiers and prisoners evenly to prevent unrest and appointed ex-convicts as senior public servants and magistrates, unthinkable under the rigid class hierarchy from England.

Australia’s world-leading Court of Conciliation and Arbitrations heard the famous Harvester Case of 1907, where the first minimum wage was set at the amount required for “a man to support a family of 5”. In the judgment handed down, Judge Higgins expressed a sentiment that many of us still feel strongly today:

The standard of “fair and reasonable” must [be] the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilized community …

I cannot think that an employer and a workman contract on an equal footing … when the workman submits to work for a low wage to avoid starvation or pauperism … [Wages must be] sufficient to insure the workman food, shelter, clothing, frugal comfort [and] provision for evil days …

But the concept of a “fair go” can cut both ways. Even though penalty rates date back to the same 1907 judgment, Sunday penalty rates have been a hot-button issue this election.

People on both sides claim to only be motivated by “fairness”.

Those against penalty rates see it as “unfair” for people to be paid a huge premium for the same work when Sunday no longer is the “day of rest”.

On the flip side, people argue that those receiving Sunday wages are disproportionately likely to be working on or near minimum hourly rates were it not for the “bonus” given by penalty rates.

A 1981 inquiry established two reasons for the payment of penalty rates:

  • compensation to employees for “disability or inconvenience” arising from the time of day or day of the week on which they are required to work
  • a deterrent to employers who require employees to work at times or on days regarded as being outside the prescribed times of ordinary working hours or beyond what are regarded as ordinary working days

The idea of “disability” here means that people are unable to undertake activities they might otherwise wish to do, such as play sport on the weekend. A 2014 split decision by the Fair Work Commission found that:

… Sunday penalty rates may have a limited effect on employment, particularly in relation to owner-operators working on Sundays in preference to engaging staff for additional hours … [the idea that] the level of disability for working on Sundays is no higher than that for Saturdays is rejected. The position has not changed since a Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission considered this issue in 2003. Working on Sundays involves a loss of a day of family time and personal interaction upon which special emphasis is placed by Australian society.

On balance I agree that Sunday penalty rates are still worth protecting – but as Bill Shorten says, having an independent umpire like the Fair Work Commission to ensure that decisions are based on facts rather than political pandering is more important still.

Photo Credit: Ruth Ellson

The ancient art of shopping

Shopping is one of humanity’s oldest pleasures. From ancient Greek agoras to Roman markets to the Turkish Bazaar of the Middle Ages and the modern day shopping mall, people have always liked to come together to shop.

Originally, markets sold food and other essentials as well as luxuries. We still see echoes of these all-in-one destinations in the farmers’ markets in places like HallEPIC in MitchellCIT in Phillip, and Tuggeranong.

But with the rise of self-service supermarkets, shopping has split into two experiences: the mostly mundane chore of filling up a trolley of household goods, versus the enjoyable experience of “going shopping” which still represents the larger experience of being out in public of a crowd and seeing lots of things to buy.

As you might imagine, the psychology of both kinds of shoppers are studied closely by the corporations that own the supermarkets and shopping malls.

To take one example: milk is one of the most commonly purchased items in the supermarket, but it is always put right at the back of the supermarket to force shoppers to walk past more items on the shelves. This increases the likelihood that shoppers will “remember” other things that need be bought. The same principle applies to the impulse buy items placed at the register. There is a reason why “make a shopping list and stick to it” is commonly cited as a money-saving trick.

The design of shopping malls similarly incorporate a series of clever psychological ploys to convince you to spend the cash in your wallet:

  • Interiors are always designed with lots of mirrors and other highly-reflective surfaces to make shoppers conscious of how they look.
  • Mannequins encourage people to see themselves wearing the displayed clothes
  • Escalators are mostly oriented away from exits so that shoppers have to walk past more stores on the way to and from their cars.
  • Stores are mostly glass facades to make it easy to see the shopping going on inside, whether it is someone booking a holiday or a family being fitted out with shoes.

Even with the rise of online shopping, physical shops don’t appear to be going away soon. However, the emphasis is shifting to storefronts as a way to advertise, gain customer loyalty and deliver a “shopping experience”. For example, both the Apple stores and Peter Alexander sleepwear stores are designed to evoke a specific sense of “space”, whether sleek and high-tech or playful and child-like.

Local shops are still important too, encouraging greater physical activity for nearby residents and providing a sense of community and “place” that is simply missing from our globalised and homogenous shopping centres. People may be able to find a recognisable McDonalds store anywhere in the world, but the experience of visiting Little Oink in Cook or the local hairdressers in Florey is both unique and personal.

To thrive however, local shops need reasons for people to visit and to stay. Play equipment, good coffee, and a hairdresser all do wonders in building regular and sustained traffic to shops. This then provides the incentive for other professions like butchers, accountants, and therapists to move in and attract local clients.

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