Thursday, September 13, 2007

Australians! Know where you stand!

In America, the Bush Administration has followed a two track policy. On one hand you scare the public about terrorism, and on the other, you make it easier for big business to get the better of employees and consumers.

Australia's federal government has adopted a similar dual-track policy. In any big Australian city, one set of federal government posters instill fear of terrorism -- part of a massive advertising campaign urging citizens to spy on their neighbors (see here). The other ubiquitous set of posters promote something called "Work Choices." Naturally, with a name like that, you just know it's got to be some kind scheme that makes workers less secure. (I once saw a poster that had been slightly improved. Under the phrase "know where you stand" a street artist had scribbled what seemed the likely answer. A strong believer in "truth in advertising" I doctored the above photo to the same effect).

In an interview with The Age, Harvard labour economist Richard Freeman said of Australia's Work Choices initiative: "It's an amazing law, something I think the US government would never in a million years try -- the micromanagement, the detailed regulatory provisions -- it just pours out, 700 pages of things stipulating how you can behave." Yes, this aspect of the "workplace relations system," has perplexed me. Because under the scheme, at the same time worker rights have been reduced, government interference in private businesses has actually increased!

Freeman also said that creating jobs in a modern economy is not done by lowering wages for the most vulnerable workers. Rather, he said, "You need to improve the quality of skills, ability of firms, and workers who are key assets, to work together to make better products." I couldn't agree more.

Update: Sharing my passion for truth-in-advertising, I see where a street artist has further improved upon the Australian government’s advertising slogan (above, right).