Who’s running the Asylum? By Paddy Crumlin

Things can go pear shaped in our lives from time to time. Losing on the Melbourne Cup can be tough. Losing your car keys is worse, depending on what sort of car you’ve got. Losing your house and job is getting to the top of the stress list along with losing someone close to you, and we all get together to support anyone in those dire predicaments.

Remember the tremendous outpouring of generosity and sympathy during the recent bushfires in Victoria? So you’d think the same empathy and assistance would be easily extended to individuals and families who have lost everything, including their communities, legal rights and more often than not large numbers of their friends and loved ones through institutionalised brutality and war. That’s the world asylum seekers are fleeing in their last act of reckless desperation to survive.

It’s not all that hard to reach out and frame our minds to the terrible conditions forcing this desperation. Afghanistan wouldn’t make the list of holiday destinations any more than the north of Sri Lanka would. It’s hard enough reading about the institutionalised corruption and violence, horrific human destruction and savagery and single-minded prejudice by larger ethnic and political majorities against minorities unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Our national respect easily extends to those Australian men and women going there to try to stabilise those destructive environments through direct military and civil intervention, but we find it much more difficult it seems to put ourselves in the place of the poor bastards they go there to protect.

Asylum seekers are not a social and political problem that any other developed nation with reasonable community support and public policy isn’t confronting. Most countries are attempting to deal with numbers of refugees far in excess of those seeking to cross the enormous distances and precarious oceans between their nightmares and our shores. We’re not a country that has historically turned our back on those in desperate need, and in fact pride ourselves on being a safe haven for many of the dispossessed peoples scrambling to survive the sheer terror of war and dysfunction.

Certainly our immigration process is the preferred mechanism, but many really have no option but to take a last desperate throw of the dice and gamble to survive – usually because they know with gut wrenching certainty they are likely to lose their lives anyway if they hang around the home town. It is hard for Australians to construct a picture of methodical murder and dispossession because it is as far from our national community experience as the ocean miles between us and the countries where these things are almost of a casual nature.

Ending up in a detention centre followed by a process of assessment and hopefully integration, isn’t exactly winning lotto. The hysteria that unless we lock these impoverished and distraught individuals out we will in time be overwhelmed by a tsunami of them is arrant nonsense cooked up by the dark little minds of cynical politicians and media commentators. All with tickers the size of a split pea and a moral fibre you couldn’t tie your shoes with.

It was our blokes and others on the Oceanic Viking who got on with the job of providing a clean and safe environment for these unfortunate human beings, setting aside the selfishness and distorted political manipulation of Australians’ emotions that the rotten bastards in the Howard government let rip to save their own skin – poor form that we will take a long time to live down as a nation. Our members pick up these flotsam and jetsam from a badly stuffed up world from their ships’ rigs and floating platforms, sometimes at great risk to their own safety. It’s time the Federal Government followed suit.

The National Council of the union together with the Mining and Energy Division of the CFMEU have sent the delegates a large donation to at least make sure the refugees have a bit of light at the end of a very long tunnel. Together with assistance from other Australian unions, it again reinforces the difference between leadership and just wanting to be elected.

Two of the Best

Deputy National Secretary Jim Tannock and Assistant National secretary Rick Newlyn are retiring from office in the MUA after an extraordinary commitment to the union and its members and the labour movement over many years – decades actually. Both are workers who came to the industry as young job seekers, Jim into the tally clerks in Melbourne and Rick as a deck boy on the Australian coast.

Like all our members, they joined the union because the connection between a decent and fair go on and off the job was greatly assisted by that membership. Through the mentoring and example of leadership from others together with their own personal qualities they gained the respect of their peers that ultimately took them to the highest positions of responsibility the union has to offer.

It is no easy matter to gain the respect needed to achieve office in a union like ours. Keeping it for such a long period of time sets both of our two comrades amongst some of the great people who have led our union. They have always discharged their responsibilities with commitment, good humour and style and are known throughout the Australian and international labour movements with respect and goodwill.

Both Jim and Rick have been instrumental in the consolidation of all of the amalgamations that have paved the way to the Maritime Union of Australia and in doing so secured the interests of stevedoring and port workers and seafarers against some of the greatest political and industrial challenges ever confronted in the long history of the union. They have been tireless on the picket lines here and internationally, in the front line of the march to remove the Howard government and in delivering successful ITF Flag of Convenience and Ports of Convenience campaigns, securing an effective trade union response to the global exploitation that drives standards in the maritime industry.

Their commitment to international human and labour rights and peace are exemplified in their work for Apheda, and through the many international alliances that define the potential and scope of a genuine trade union agenda. Together with the outstanding contribution in continuing to build the Maritime, Mining and Power Credit Union and Maritime Super Fund, both comrades have reflected and further built on the legacy of our union, its members and its leadership that we not only get the job done, we do it in a fashion admired and respected by labour activists and organisations everywhere. Well done to two comrades who, although having retired from the workforce will never retire from the struggle as our veterans put it.

Both Jim and Rick have been fully involved in mentoring young union members which has led to the MUA being one of the most progressive activists in developing new leadership for our movement. Having a smooth transition in leadership in the National Office, and the subsequent filling of positions in the Sydney and WA Branches is a great credit to Jim and Rick, the National Council and Branch Executives and Committees affected. It places the union in a strong position to continue to deliver policies and resolutions adopted by the members at National Conference in order to protect the interests of our members, their families and workers everywhere.

New Economy, New Opportunities and Old Threats

Australian workers have paid a big price thanks to the Global Financial Crisis or, as we prefer to call it, the Latest Outbreak of Capitalist Swine Flu. We were prescient as a nation not having John Howard and his politics of division and elitism anywhere near the joint when the business hit the fan. Their WorkChoices would have bludgeoned workers and their unions even further, rather than genuinely supporting our communities under great economic stress.

We are currently patting ourselves on the back that we are not sitting as low in the water as most other developed economies where unemployment is running faster than Usain Bolt, national debt bigger than Peter Costello’s ego and hope for the future lower than Peter Reith’s reputation.

As our economy continues to work itself clear a few things need to be done. The rorting, conniving and grasping banking and private equity culture must be brought to heel. Measures needed include better regulation and accountability and new opportunities for second tier cooperative banking and community investment to ensure we are inoculated from another life-threatening round of flu.

If banks can attract AAA ratings to keep them flush, why can’t we have similarly rated bonds and other guaranteed investment vehicles to build our roads, rail and ports along with the new broadband and other infrastructure projects that will secure our future national economic health and wealth? Or we can just leave it up to the banks again to invest our retirement incomes and they can have another giant piss up and only invite themselves.

As our workplaces pick up, there is also a responsibility on employers to move back to full permanent and guaranteed employment particularly on the wharves and to minimise the use of supplementary and casual labour. We have worked through many of their commercial difficulties, done our jobs efficiently and safely and expect them to invest in long-term, secure and well-trained jobs in return.

The offshore industry should settle up to the reasonable outcomes required in a productive and highly demanding industry and stop trying to be tough guys in some cases and cry babies in others. We want decent and comparable economic outcomes with other workers in the industry, a properly structured and funded training scheme and a stable working environment as we meet the great demands in constructing and expanding the industry over the next few years.

Shipping is also essential to our future economic security. National Council together with representatives from the AMOU and AIMPE welcomed the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, who again reinforced his commitment to revitalise our coastal and international shipping industry. The union and its membership together with all Australian seafarers need to lift our efforts to ensure the Rudd government delivers the policy framework for this to happen.

Already the international shipping interests that see any developments here as eroding their influence are whinging and carping about any change. They need to get on board too and realise the rorting of permits and the use of tax havens and developing nation crews to compete in an Australian domestic transport sector, only exposes them to the perception that they are still committed to the practices that brought the international economy to the precipice.