In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute
One of my favourite musicians is the late Guy Clark, whose poignant lyrics always painted pictures. The Texan troubadour was affectionately called The Fifth Highwayman and many other distinguished artists such as Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, covered songs from his extensive repertoire, which included the melancholic Immigrant Eyes. In just over three decades at the beginning of the twentieth century about 12 million immigrants passed through the US federal government processing centre at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, which was often referred to as the Isle of Tears. Many of the displaced itinerants were seeking freedom and an alternative life in America although the sagacious Alexis de Tocqueville once proclaimed………The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint and occasionally one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through.
Much like most superficial western democracies, the Australian economy is underpinned by a ruthless feudal system of indentured servitude, peonage or serfdom. More recently, it is fashionably and somewhat deviously referred to as a gig economy, which disguises many sinister neoliberal features that secure and protect the interests of the powerful over the powerless. A shallow and furtive engagement process obscures and further complicates statutory duty of care requirements and provides many notorious corporate brigands with a malevolent freedom to harm.
This typically consists of a loose and impassive tripartite arrangement between the host employer, labour hiring agency and the subjugated peons or ragged trousered philanthropists. Most of the victims are unable to forge any identity and are merely a dishonoured pay check or expensive dental invoice away from misery and destitution.
It leaves cohorts of oppressed itinerants surfing between mundane McJobs with fluctuating and erratic incomes without any prospects of career development. Moreover, the impositions or chores no longer offer additional benefits such as vocational training, holiday entitlements, sick pay and maternity or parental leave and the inconsistent pittance merely puts a loaf of bread on the table and keeps many wolves from howling at the door.
The volatile predicament is often antagonised by wages of fear with stagnant remuneration, underemployment, wage theft, escalating costs and declining living standards, which have generated a pecuniary subsistence and deracinated any reliance on job security. Many of the demoralised and embittered precariats endure a rapidly diminishing range of sociopolitical, cultural and economic rights or opportunities and a miasma of anomie emerges amidst the escalating insecurity, anxiety and despair. It inevitably cultivates alienation and anger with a profound intolerance and distrust towards colleagues and strangers, which destroys communities of practice and extirpates learning, especially tacit knowledge.
The undesirable consequences were skilfully depicted by Upton Sinclair at the dawn of the twentieth century via his critically acclaimed novel entitled The Jungle. It was a humanitarian appeal against the subjugation of helpless refugees and exposed the malevolence, cruelty and deplorable working conditions encountered by many Russian and Baltic migrants across the United States, especially throughout Chicago’s notorious stockyards, abattoirs and fertiliser plants……..Old Ellis Island was swarming, like a scene from a costume ball; decked out in the colours of Europe and on fire with the hope of it all. They were standing in line just like cattle, poked and prodded and shoved; some thought they were one desk away from sweet freedom, some were torn from someone they loved.
Over one hundred years later many of these Dickensian conditions prevail across Australia and widespread corporate malfeasance is evident throughout numerous industrial organisations. It is entrenched amongst various agricultural and horticultural corporations or cooperatives and also encompasses the financial services, hospitality, retail, construction, waste recycling and our health and aged care sectors.
This is exacerbated by a tyranny of bureaucracy within the federal government’s chaotic visa system and antagonised by coercive corporate business models. These often include inequitable franchising arrangements, which are tantamount to extortion and typically involve the subjugation and exploitation of vulnerable and helpless migrants. Despite the many bright lights, ostentatious advertising, opulence and executive bacchanalia, a ruthless heart of darkness prevails, which is underpinned by corporate impiety or perfidy with a contemptuous disregard for human rights, industrial relations and work health and safety legislation.
Extensive complaints and subsequent media investigations revealed the magnitude of the problem and it involved many household names or iconic brands such as Gloria Jeans, Donut King and Michel’s Patisserie. It implicated several organisations including 7-Eleven, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises and the Retail Food Group. The federal government with an election looming responded accordingly and established a Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, which investigated the corporate malfeasance and many other systemic misdemeanours. The subsequent report has merely enabled the incumbent government to evaluate many of the sociopolitical and economic risks, protect reputations, divest liabilities, socialise any losses and secure the remaining assets of party donors and other neoliberal sycophants.
There are over two million temporary visa holders in Australia and it currently remains home to many genuine international students, provisional graduates and skill sponsored professionals. It also accommodates many backpackers, seasonal workers, refugees, asylum seekers and numerous unauthorised tourists or itinerants under expired or prescriptive bridging visas with restricted employment conditions. Moreover, the Commonwealth of Australia is a signatory to various elementary international treaties covering basic human rights. It voluntarily accepts the binding legal obligations for everyone within its territories, which includes individuals with temporary visas and sometimes, depending on the circumstances, even those with expired passports and invalid permits. The humanitarian requirements apply whilst the individuals remain in Australia and are not diminished or attenuated by the prevailing circumstances. Moreover, they cannot be undermined by neoliberal policies, recommendations, suggestions or even inhumane propositions from our ecclesiastical prime minister, impetuous attorney general or any neanderthal cocksure shock jocks.
The incumbent government must ensure everyone has physical access to an affordable and sufficient supply of food and potable water, which fulfils specific dietary requirements. This must be supplemented by equitable access to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health care, which includes provision of initial and emergency medical treatment, irrespective of nationality, residency or immigration status. Furthermore, each individual has a fundamental right to reasonable conditions at work, which includes a safe and healthy working environment with ethical standards in beneficial surroundings supplemented by equal pay rates and freedom from discrimination or harassment.
The human rights obligations also prescribe basic requirements covering the provision of safe and secure housing, which includes access to potable water and a reliable energy supply for cooking, lighting, heating, sanitation and food storage. The incumbent government must also ensure temporary migrants have legal protection against enforced evictions, escalating rents, excessive body corporate fees and unreasonable or persistent harassment and intimidation from landlords or property managers.
Temporary migrants and other itinerants must be provided with reasonable access to social protection mechanisms, which include unemployment benefits, welfare allowances and additional relevant subsidies. This must afford reassurance against racial discrimination with a guarantee of respect and dignity towards those who encounter unanticipated circumstances, which restrict their capacity to secure basic human rights.
These obligations extend to children, refugees and asylum seekers and the Commonwealth of Australia must ensure any minors within its jurisdiction are provided with a standard of living that aligns with their physical, spiritual, moral and psychosocial development. Irrespective of immigration status, it applies to every child and requires the incumbent government to ensure suitable networks are established, which assist parents or carers with offers of material assistance covering adequate nutrition and suitable accommodation facilities. This must be supplemented with adequate and unrestricted access to appropriate schooling and a primary education.
Refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable and have no protection from their country of origin. The incumbent federal government has special legal obligations, which ensure stateless or displaced individuals cannot be expelled from Australia. There are also prescribed requirements covering the provision of reasonable accommodation and primary and secondary education programs. These must be supplemented with suitable arrangements to seek and engage in proper, decent and legitimately paid employment, which reflect and align with established processes that are afforded to its citizens or permanent residents.
During the first quarter of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic reached Australian shores and its devastating consequences spread across the continent like a catastrophic bushfire. After many decades of rampant unfettered free market fundamentalism, it soon became evident that preventive legislation, superficial social protection mechanisms and deteriorating public health and privatised aged care facilities were disproportionately inadequate and often ineffective. Indeed, the entire structure resembled a house of cards built on estuarine mudflats and the emaciated architecture underpinned by adversarial legislation merely protected the state and secured the interests of the powerful over the powerless. This inequitable and asymmetrical framework provided socialism for the influential and prosperous and austerity for the doomed and deprived, which included many vulnerable migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced itinerants.
Federal and state governments across Australia with assistance from the National COVID-1984 Commission Advisory Board implemented policies and other stringent obligations, which attempted to prevent and curtail the disease from escalating out of control. This included categorisation of crucial or essential occupations with prescribed requirements covering any unwarranted or unnecessary movement of countless workers. It forced thousands of businesses to close their doors and many small to medium enterprises ceased operating altogether, which created widespread redundancies across the country. Additional federal government interventions were immediately required and included the COVID-1984 social support package. This consisted of the nebulous JobKeeper and JobSeeker interim schemes that offered some assistance to many of the struggling businesses, retrenched employees and the broader community affected by the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.
However, the support packages explicitly excluded temporary migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and many other displaced itinerants. Most employers understandably retained the services of Australian citizens or permanent residents, which enabled businesses to apply for federal government financial assistance and other subsidies.
This was exacerbated by the federal government’s provisional relaxation of restrictions covering the hours worked by international students throughout the retail, disability support services and the health and aged care sectors. Countless legitimate visa holders were suddenly unemployed without any income or suitable opportunities of finding decent employment with rent and many overdue bills to pay. It soon transpired that most of the international students and other temporary migrants were unable to meet basic living needs and fulfil outstanding financial commitments.
Australia’s first Pentecostal prime minister, (who conceitedly stopped the boats during the federal government Operation Sovereign Borders exercise), subsequently advised any impoverished temporary migrants to return home. Despite a significant contribution to Australia’s economy over many years via a readily available supply of cheap contingent labour, the clumsy diplomacy was understandably misinterpreted as a discreet alternative for the redneck rhetoric……Why don’t you fcuk off back to where you came from?
A recent extensive survey completed by the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative and subsequent report describes the humanitarian despair experienced by thousands of international students and temporary migrants in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic. It walks a mile in their moccasins and depicts the devastating social consequences through many immigrant eyes. Displaced itinerants anticipate their dire predicament will rapidly deteriorate towards the end of the year following the federal government’s brutal decision to exclude international students and temporary migrants from the COVID-1984 social support package.
Returning home potentially threatened their future livelihood, especially following substantial investment towards studies and professional careers in Australia, which was initially encouraged by our federal government and various commercial and educational establishments. Additional uncertainty emerged if they were unable to return to Australia or denied entry after the pandemic subsided.
Many others found homeland international and transit nation borders were closed and internal domestic travel was restricted. Flights were often cancelled or fully booked and the cost of airline tickets escalated. Most international students and temporary migrants disregarded the inept prime ministerial fatwa and decided to remain in Australia. Many of those who were working lost their jobs or shifts were slashed to a bare minimum and workplace relations and conditions deteriorated accordingly. Without any income and limited expectations of additional financial support from relatives or close friends, they became displaced itinerants or pariahs and were promptly abandoned by our federal government in their hour of need.
Many required emergency support that was provided by several universities, private colleges, charities and various not for profit organisations. This typically consisted of a modest and solitary cash handout, which was supplemented by food parcels and other bare necessities. Several state governments offered some support although many exiles were afraid or extremely reluctant to seek assistance in case it undermined visa conditions or immigration status.
The pandemic and subsequent panic rapidly intensified across Australia and its states and territories were forced to implement isolation and segregation policies to contain the outbreak. A predictable miasma of anomie or normlessness soon emerged with an inherent distrust and profound intolerance towards strangers. Many international students and temporary migrants experienced extensive and unwarranted racism, which was typically directed towards Chinese, East Asian or South East Asian undergraduates and other scholars.
United Nations representatives have reinforced that no one should be left behind in the global struggle against the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, its member states and incumbent governments must adopt measures to ensure every individual is offered sufficient support and adequate protection, irrespective of their migration status.
The recent Migrant Worker Justice Initiative survey and comprehensive report provides ample substantive evidence that the Commonwealth of Australia has disregarded its international human rights obligations. Its incumbent government abandoned thousands of international students and other temporary migrants during the coronavirus pandemic, which left many facing imminent homelessness and unable to meet basic living requirements.
Australia has a moral obligation to international students and temporary migrants who were invited to be part of its society and the inhumane treatment has created irreparable damage to its global reputation. The educational sector will inevitably experience some pain although the financial consequences will eventually be socialised via remote learning with escalating course fees. It may also generate significant geopolitical risks, especially if any unforgiving international students acquire regional or global executive leadership roles with substantial political and commercial influence. Much of this was exacerbated by blatantly disingenuous authoritarian populism and further antagonised by mixed messages, political doublespeak and clumsy diplomacy. Impoverished migrants and other displaced itinerants were told by an ecclesiastical leader that it was time to make their way home after solemnly proclaiming……We’re all in this together.
Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest neighbour and during the second world war many of its humble natives were engaged under a military directive to provide assistance for embattled Australian troops along the infamous Kokoda Trail. This involved supply of ancillary equipment to the frontline offensive and first aid treatment and pastoral care for many sick and wounded Australian soldiers. It was accomplished under intolerable conditions during heavy combat over rugged terrain in a sweltering jungle rife with tropical diseases such as malaria, cholera and amoebic dysentery. The alliance and courageous efforts restrained the invasion of Port Moresby (and subsequently Australia) from a fierce, determined and rapidly advancing Japanese army. During the barbaric campaign, no sick or wounded Australian soldiers were ever left stranded or abandoned by the unpretentious Papuans, which earned them the eternal gratitude of many Australian diggers and a gracious hallmark of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
Almost eight decades later, many temporary migrants from Papua New Guinea are working in Australia, which is effectively indentured servitude and reminiscent of blackbirding. The precarious employment arrangements are typically mundane McJobs that are readily available throughout the agricultural, horticultural, retail, health and aged care sectors and are often embellished by parasitic labour hiring or recruitment agencies. During the coronavirus pandemic most students and other temporary migrants lost their jobs and were subsequently excluded from federal government social protection and support packages…..We are one but we are many and from all the lands on earth we come.
Many were left stranded and became disillusioned with the callous response from Australia’s federal government. Limited emergency relief and support including temporary accommodation was eventually provided by via various state governments and humanitarian aid or church groups. Others received noble assistance from compatriots at several bible study classes and the shallow sophism from Australia’s prime minister resonates……..We’re all in this together; we are charting a road through. We are all in.
On the next state visit to Papua New Guinea the ecclesiastical Australian prime minster should be accompanied by our unrestrained attorney general and impulsive federal treasurer. The itinerary must include an excursion to the start of the Kokoda Trail at the aptly named Owers Corner about fifty kilometres east of Port Moresby. This should enable the three musketeers to reflect on the doctrine of salvation and egalitarian concepts of collective coherence, compassion and communities of practice. Reading material on the flight from Canberra to Jacksons International Airport at Port Moresby should include the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights although….Men of power have no time to read; yet men who do not read are unfit for power.
Australia’s track record covering human rights is rather abysmal and several notable and controversial struggles include the Home Children child migration scheme, Stolen Generations and Wave Hill pastoral workers. More recently Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Pacific Solution involving the Manus Island and Nauru Island regional processing centres have attracted significant worldwide media attention.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines obligations covering just and favourable conditions of work. Moreover, the federal government somewhat belatedly and rather reluctantly ratified the International Labour Organization Convention C155, which was fundamental to the national uniformity and harmonisation of safety legislation throughout Australia.
Following several decades of relentless neoliberalism under the hendiatris of deregulation, diminution and privatisation supplemented by widespread outsourcing, the entire work health and safety legislative framework has been undermined and emasculated. This was quite evident during the coronavirus pandemic, which exposed its fragility and many structural inequalities. It also revealed substantial deficits pertaining to decent work and the paucity of social protection mechanisms.
The response to the coronavirus pandemic from a neoliberal federal government via a National Cabinet is underpinned by authoritarian populism. Indeed the medium is the message and it is supported by an imperial National COVID-1984 Commission Advisory Board, which is merely a subsidiary of the Business Council of Australia and covertly affiliated to the Centre for Independent Studies, McKinsey & Company or even the clandestine Harlow Foundation.
This regal sect embraces a positivist worldview that typically generates more questions than answers and has established a hegemony underpinned by power, control, compliance and enforcement. It places an unwarranted emphasis on scientism and its discourse is preoccupied with objects and metrics and littered with stentorian language such as zero community transmission, flattening the curve, transmission coefficients, herd immunity and overdispersion, which inevitably ensures that humans come last.
A recent appointment to the advisory board includes the national managing partner of KPMG Enterprise, an organisation that was embroiled in the controversial home insulation program in Australia and the catastrophic collapse of Carillion in the United Kingdom. The forked tongue turncoat is a former trade union powerbroker and bedfellow with the Alan Joyce corporate stable and often wallows in dropping obscure economic statistics, non-sequiturs and complex political terminology into discussions to masquerade the paucity of any formal education.
Most of the current and former members with the advisory board have been rewarded with an order of chivalry and its hierarchical status is typically inversely proportional to the professional integrity of the recipient. Several notable omissions from this nest of vipers, which deifies the Friedman doctrine, free market fundamentalism and corporate welfare, include George Christensen BFC, Clive Palmer FC, Ross Lightfoot ChOHSP, Marcus Einfeld FAIHS, Gary Helou COHSProf, and Gina Rinehart.
In Papua New Guinea anecdotal evidence from its unimpeachable corporate world at the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Port Moresby suggests a Knight or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE or DBE) costs almost $400,000. The inferior Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) can be procured for approximately $70,000. The fees covering this preposterous charade are subject to change and additional processing may charges apply.
Much of this neoliberal malaise is mirrored throughout the occupational health and safety sector in Australia. The relentless propaganda is inculcated via a parochial and shallow curriculum administered by the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board and supported by a parboiled and immature OHS Body of Knowledge. It places an inordinate emphasis on scientism, statutory legislation, metrics, rational decision making and the black box psychology of behaviourism.
This is reinforced via a remunerative displacement activity masquerading as a professional certification scheme, which provides naïve acolytes with meaningless post nominals and authorises the indoctrinated SHEeple to drink its brand of Kool Aid. It disregards the inherent subjective nature of risk, fallibility and the enigmatic power of the collective unconscious, which extirpates learning, communities of practice and tacit knowledge. This renunciates wisdom and a miasma of despair, distrust and fear eventually enshrouds a carousel of culpability.
This positivist stem worldview is regurgitated at national and regional safety conferences or zoom webinars. It typically consists of a formulaic and relentless stream of turgid sesquipedalian sludge from cohorts of mirror wanking solipsists or narcissists, who would shout out their own name when making love. Most presentations are littered with pseudo-academic cowardice and rarely challenge the prevailing stem or antediluvian behaviourist ideology. This typically enables many disingenuous proselytes and their band of caliginous parasites, gutless panjandrums, public serpents, delusional bloggers and circle jerking sycophants to wallow in the micturating patronage and accrue credits under the chimera of continuing professional development.
Over several decades the response from our peak safety body towards this sustained sociopolitical and economic neoliberal offensive with its malevolent freedom to harm has been a resounding silence and merely substantiates its collaboration and complicity in the sinister crusade. This reticence and pusillanimity with an extreme reluctance to challenge the orthodoxy has generated inertia or stasis and constrained meaningful change or progress. It is often underpinned by vanity and exacerbated by a brutal fatwa of zero harm, which enables authoritarian sociopaths to masquerade the turpitude under a rubric of righteousness.
Peak safety body fees covering annual membership, professional certification and continuing professional development are typically incurred by brainwashed crusaders and subsequently reclaimed from their employer as expenses. These are eventually approved provided the safety proselyte preaches the zero harm fatwa, embraces the black box psychology of behaviourism and does not rock the corporate boat. Indeed, most corporate brigands embrace the Lyndon Baines Johnson maxim and believe it is much better to have safety evangelists…..Inside of the tent pissing out than outside of the tent pissing in.
Moreover, no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it and the sinister intent of every tyrant is to curtail free speech, crush rebellion and disenfranchise dissidents. The vision or mission statement of most corporations, which even includes some not for profit organisations, mirrors shareholder theory and it is incongruous with the primary object of preventive occupational health and safety legislation.
Most corporate brigands and their socially autistic executives remain unconcerned or even apathetic about the devastating consequences resulting from its plundering escapades because they are unlikely to experience any pain. The ultimate objective is to accrue satisfactory returns for its shareholders, which is typically accomplished by whatever it takes. This was quite evident following the Upper Big Branch and Deepwater Horizon disasters in the United States and Rio Tinto’s desecration of cultural heritage rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia. Other significant events include the BHP and Vale mining disasters at Samarco and Corrego do Feijao in Brazil and the catastrophic explosion at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon. Much of this destruction and desolation is nonchalantly categorised as a cost of doing business or collateral damage and…….All it takes for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing.
The disruption and subsequent crisis generated via the COVID-1984 pandemic will be transformed into an opportunity and a more intense and dystopian version of capitalism beckons. Much of the creative destruction and replacement infrastructure is already evident and includes artificial intelligence, remote learning, suprasurveillance, big data, algorithms, predictive analytics and a cashless society. It will be supplemented by genome editing technology and the return of eugenics, which remains the skeleton in the closet of many Fabian socialists.
Back in 1785 at Warwick Assizes in England, one of my early ancestors was sentenced to death for burglary and the theft of a gown and other minor items. The sentence was subsequently commuted to seven years transportation, which included a brief internment on a prison hulk in the River Thames. In January 1788, he arrived at Port Jackson in Sydney harbour aboard the merchant ship Alexander, which was hired by the UK government to transport convicts to Australia and became part of the First Fleet.
A rebellious streak and several bouts of recidivism eventually had him relocated to Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land, where he subsequently died and was buried in a pauper’s grave at a convict cemetery near Richmond about ten kilometres north of Hobart.
It probably accounts for my seditious traits with a total disdain and distrust of authority although it provides me with an alternative and often iconoclastic worldview. This enables me to challenge any skerrick of injustice through immigrant eyes and undauntedly expose many far worse white collar crimes, corruption or corporate malfeasance. Indeed, Australia’s peak safety body and its cohorts of Cimmerian crusaders should reflect on the following maxim from the American Baptist minister and civil rights campaigner, the late Martin Luther King Jr…..In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
This reflects and aligns with the infamous elegy about the cowardice of German intellectuals from the German theologian and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemӧller who opposed the totalitarian Nazi regime during the late 1930s:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.