Comment: Postal Survey

Rebecca Schneider

It has been 13 years since the Howard government changed the Marriage Act to explicitly disallow same-sex marriage, and this postal survey might be the way Australia finally changes the Act again. If the overall result is yes, the Government follows through and lets a bill be debated in Parliament, and enough MPs follow through and vote yes. It doesn’t need to be this complex.

In Germany recently, there was a one-week turnaround between an acknowledgement that the issue need to be resolved, and the passage of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage – the law will come into effect on October 1st. On October 1st, Australia will be 20 days in to a 57-day survey period to determine if majority public support exists (a question already answered in the affirmative by opinion polls from all sides of politics many times over the last few years).

It’s true that this postal survey will – if it survives the two High Court challenges – probably provide Australia’s first real political pathway to same-sex marriage. It’s probably true that without this, the law wouldn’t change at least until the 46th Parliament in 2019 or later. However, there’s a point where even if it is the only politically feasible way to same-sex marriage, it isn’t worth it.

The absolute hatred and vitriol that the LGBTI* community would be exposed to throughout a debate is very real, and already happening. It’s targeted, misleading, disgusting, and dangerous, often with no actual connection to the notion of same-sex marriage, and often denying the humanity of LGBTI* people altogether. It’s true that this doesn’t stop without the postal survey, however the survey intensifies the opposition.

No person, whether they’re young or otherwise, whether they’ve been dealing with the hatred that gets thrown at LGBTI* Australians for months or decades, deserves to have voices like that amplified against them. There is a way to argue against same-sex marriage without being cruel, but it doesn’t take much to predict the ‘no’ campaign won’t do that. They’re calling themselves a silent majority. They aren’t silent, we know who they are. We know their arguments. We know they’re hurtful, and upsetting, and misleading. We know that giving them a reason to push those arguments even further into the public arena is harmful to LGBTI* people.

This postal survey shouldn’t happen, but if it does, we know what the debate is going to look like. That’s why it’s so important that – even if we think the whole idea of a postal survey on minority rights is ridiculous and offensive – those in support of same-sex marriage vote, and campaign for others to vote, yes. Boycotting the survey won’t make the worst opposition disappear, and nor will supporting LGBTI* people. However, support does so much more to help reduce the impact of harmful debate than silence.

Rebecca is a second year Law/Political Science student.

Immigration Changes: Supplanting or Supplementing Australian Jobs?

Ashish Nagesh

It is easy to turn our mind to why the 457 visa was created in the first place. To fill skill shortages in the Australian workforce. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently announced several changes to the 457 visa scheme and added criteria to citizenship. Many claim that under the veneer of this incentive is a xenophobic agenda. e Australian community has responded with vehement criticism of the changes. e government has cracked down on the skilled migration system intended to supplement the jobs of Australian workers and not supplant them.

The changes made are twofold. The first change is that the 457 visa would be replaced with two additional visas. Anyone with an occupation on the short term skilled occupation list (STOL) are eligible for this visa. e second change involves the medium and long term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL). The list of skilled jobs on this list comprises of 657 occupations, of which many have been culled. On a positive note much of the nation’s blacksmiths, cricket umpires and marine farmers can breathe a sigh of relief that the skilled occupation list cut did not go further. In regards to the occupations on the list, cooks were the most popular occupation upon which 457 applications were made, amounting to 6,770 applications.

Despite these changes, many argue the Australian dream for migrants has been replaced by the age old rhetoric used by politicians such as Turnbull and Julia Gillard of putting ‘Australian values and jobs rst.’ e reality is, too o en there is exploitation amongst various occupations in the workforce, and a saturated workforce in teaching and journalism has experienced an oversupply in labour. Misuse of the visas results in downward pressure on wages and what we are now seeing is Australia caught in a wage recession. It is Australian workers and students who are increasingly unemployed due to an oversaturated job market where many 457 visa holders overstay their visas.

Thee important question to ask ourselves is how these changes will affect the legal profession. There are two perspectives through which this can be answered. Jobs like intellectual property lawyers, conveyancers and legal executive roles will be cut from the list. Law is becoming a heavily saturated market with demand greater than supply. Law graduates from Australian universities will struggle to fond jobs where lawyers from foreign countries are working under MLTSSL and STOL visas. Foreign law graduates will compete for jobs against Australian graduates who can apply under the previous conditions and obtain permanent residence a er graduating.

What does Peter Dutton have to say to the changes and what powers does he have? The Migration Act 1958 confers upon him the powers to amend the visas and their criteria. Thinking back to Public Law, he employed his ministerial power granted by the Australian Constitution and stipulated in the statute (The Migration Act(Cth) section 505)) to set the criteria for visa applications. Dutton embedded Australian values in the heart of the visa application, inserting questions which both incite controversy and demand immigrants to assimilate to Australian values. New laws will mean skilled migrants will have to live in Australia for four years as permanent residents before they are eligible to become an Australian citizen. e threshold of the citizen test has increased and the duration of the four years will incentivise and provide families the opportunity to engage with Australian culture and values to before they become citizens of the country.

Engaging with Australian values is not clear cut but here are some of the new questions raising immense debate, that will be added to new visa applications.

• While it is illegal to use violence in public, under what circumstances can you strike your spouse in the privacy of your own home?
• Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?

Are these questions poignant and pandering to an agenda? Many people call it Dutton’s attempt to win back support from parties such as One Nation Party. Nevertheless, many Australians see these changes as representative of core Australian values to end domestic violence and achieve equitable education, and those who oppose these should frankly not be permitted to become Australian citizens.

The process becomes more difficult, with an added stand alone English test which is increased in difficulty and becomes a tedious process for those migrants who have already completed an English test such as the IELTS before acquiring their permanent visas. Hence, it is redundant to impose another English test on top of this. The changes will ultimately have an adverse impact on many occupations which currently employ 457 visa holders and have not been warned of the sudden changes; they will now have to re-evaluate their business goals and position.

Perhaps there has been an overreaction in the media to sell news and turn this into a sensitive debate. Despite some minor flaws with the implementation of the new visa changes, it should be welcomed by the Australian public, as cracking down on wage exploitation and increasing the agenda for Australian values is key to our nation. The 457 visa should not be ‘an easy passport to obtain Australian jobs.’ e changes will still allow Australian businesses such as the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations to nurture local Australian talent, whilst gathering overseas talent to complement the talent already employed.

The Australian government recognises the need for skilled workers and those with foreign experience, without which businesses cannot remain competitive on the global stage. e new visa program will empower businesses to to selectively recruit the best and the brightest skilled migrants to supplement our workforce, rather than supplant Australian jobs.

Is Trump Reagan?

Guy Exton

Trump supporters love to compare the current President to President Reagan. ey may have a point.

On the surface, the lives of the current and former President are remarkably similar. Neither were career politicians, Reagan was a B-grade actor and Trump a C-grade television host. Reagan was the oldest President in history – before Trump was elected. Both were Democrats before being elected as Republicans, and both even used the slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Dig a little deeper, and the seemingly perfect similarities that Trump supporters love to in ate begin to buckle. Reagan was Governor of California, President of the Screen Actors Guild and increasingly ideologically charged throughout his career before running for the Presidency. e closest Trump got to politics before he took the plunge in 2015 was to claim that Obama was born in Africa – because, you know, he’s black. Reagan was born into a Democratic family before evolving into a Republican. e current President has been a member of the Republican, Independence and Democratic party. If you’re American, that’s all of them.

Recently in his rst solo press conference as President, Trump casually declared that his 306 vote win was “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.” It was not. anks to the press – and the 1st amendment – a reporter was quick to rebut that “In fact, President Obama got 365… and George H.W. Bush 426.” Despite Trump’s glaring ignorance and impressive ability to lie, he was right about one thing: Ronald Reagan’s massive win. In 1981, Reagan won 44 states, 489 electoral votes and the popular vote by 8.5 million. Skip forward to 2016 and President Trump loses the popular vote by 2.5 million votes. One of the biggest di erences between the two men is their popularity – and honesty about it.

Despite this massive margin in public approval, it is surprising that Trump will probably have far more power than Reagan ever did. For all 8 years of Reagan’s Presidency, the House of Representatives was in Democratic hands. e pedigree of the 1980 Republican was considerably to the le of today’s bunch. Compare this to a radically conservative House, Senate and White House that Trump gets to play with. Trump has already had the opportunity to appoint another conservative to the Supreme Court bench, and with two liberal justices hovering around the 80-year-old mark, Trump may have an opportunity to create a 2:7 liberal to conservative ratio. For all Trump’s talk of his ability to negotiate, he won’t have to use it nearly as much as Reagan did.

Hidden under this pile of di erences, however, lies an unambiguous similarity.

Republicans like to focus on the theory and romance of Reagan rather than the fact that 7 million additional people became homeless under his administration, that he lost a surplus and created a de cit of over $USD 1 trillion, he traded arms for hostages with Iran or the fact that taking a more aggressive stance with the Soviet Union was a 50/50 between victory and obliteration.

Perhaps in that respect, Trump is most similar to Reagan: his supporters are remarkably willing to overlook reality and fact, and believe in the man they want to see.

Guy Exton is a second year Arts student, studying politics and history. As a Political Cartoonist and regular columnist for Woroni, Guy focuses on the world of international politics with Trump in charge.

Citizenship Cancellation: a new chapter in Australia’s fight against terror

Dan McNamara

With the threat of terror continuing to greatly affect international relations, state powers worldwide are scrambling to increase border protection and counterterrorism mechanisms. This article will consider the effect of the recent power granted to the Immigration Minister to cancel the citizenship of dual citizens.

2017 has been a symbolic year for international efforts against terror. With ISIS still holding significant landmass in Iraq and Syria, coupled with sleeper cells and propaganda regimes worldwide, the pressure is on for domestic decision-makers to protect their own borders. Australia, despite being geographically far-removed from Iraq and Syria, is still threatened by the efforts of this terror organisation. It too has had a fair share of terror-related incidents, namely in the Lindt Café Siege of 2014, where two civilians were killed during Man Haron Monis’ standoff with special forces.

Naturally, counter-terrorism measures have been at the forefront of much political discussion, and the spectrum of responses has been large. Notably, the travel ban instated by US President Donald Trump has been met with an immense backlash due to its rash implementation. This policy was not supported by the US Supreme Court who, at present, continue to block proposed revisions to the policy.

In Australia, a country whose immigration policies are considered to be some of the strictest in the world, also legislate in light of the current international political climate. As a firm ally of the US who are a leading figure in the fight against ISIS, a concern for both countries alike are the implications of having home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East.

One individual that has caught the attention of the media in Australia and worldwide is Khaled Sharrouf. Born to Lebanese immigrants to Australia, Sharrouf gained widespread attention from his prominent featuring in ISIS propaganda videos, as well as an image depicting Sharrouf and his sons holding severed heads.

With individuals like Sharrouf in mind, the Federal Parliament passed the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Act 2015 (Cth). Under this amendment act, the powers to cancel citizenship covered those who:

  • have been found guilty of making a false or misleading statement in relating to their citizenship application;
  • have been convicted of an offence against either an Australian or foreign law; and
  • have either been sentenced to death, or a term of imprisonment for 12 months or more;
  • have been convicted of a serious criminal offence and has been sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment at any time prior to becoming a citizen;
  • have gained citizenship either through migration, or third party fraud; and/or
  • the Minister is satisfied that it would be contrary to the public interest if the person remains an Australian citizen.

Prior to the passing of this legislation, only those who were convicted of serving in armed forces of a country Australia was at war with could have their citizenship cancelled, a power which was never carried out.

Earlier this year, the citizenship cancellation power was used on Khaled Sharrouf, considered by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to have satisfied the abovementioned criteria. Widespread attention was gained from this decision, with a spectrum of responses by media outlets and individuals alike.

Yet, at present, Iraqi armed forces continue to reclaim Mosul, a city which was once the headquarters of the ISIS regime. In the slow but steady diminution of ISIS’ hold in the region and beyond, the focus will largely shift to the return of foreign fighters to their countries of origin/citizenship. Inevitably, this power will continue to be used in Australia, having a general bilateral support in both the upper and lower houses of Federal Parliament. The implications of the discretionary nature of the use of the power will likely come into play, and contribute to a new chapter of Australia’s legislative fight against terror.

Dan is a final year Arts/Law student, who takes a particular interest in the paths decision-makers take in legislating against terror organisations

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Penalty Rate Changes


It is estimated that 800,000–900,000 workers, will be impacted by the Fair Work Commissions’ (FWC) decision to reduce weekend penalty rates by 25%-50% (depending upon the industry) over the next 5 years. While there is highly persuasive evidence offered by the Productivity Commission and businesses showing this decision will increase employment and economic activity on Sundays, the adverse impact upon many low-income individuals and families cannot be ignored. The arguments for and against the decision are at times hollow, and overly politicised. This article attempts to avoid this debate, but to consider why many employees are so reliant upon penalty rates, when often they don’t work for workers. Ultimately, penalty rates have become the inflexible standard, and not the low minimum conditions they are intended to be.

Penalty rates were first implemented to compensate workers on weekends for missing out on church and other family commitments. However, church attendance is almost a third of what it was 50 years ago, now at 15%. Considering Australia’s current diversity, it seems natural that individuals would have different lifestyle priorities existing throughout the week. Why then is Sunday still held in such high regard? Many people, who study, play sport, travel, and care for family members, may do so on days other than Sunday. For example, there is a higher cost for a university student to work on a Monday when they have class, than on a Sunday when class is off. For families, a parent may wish to work on a Sunday morning, while the other parent supervises young children. This may be far more convenient and cheaper than working a weekday afternoon shift, and requiring expensive child/afterschool care. While yes, the university student may have assignments or social commitments on Sunday and both parents may want to go to church as a family or fulfil other commitments, these rudimentary examples show that Sunday, for many people, may not be the most inconvenient day to work. For many individuals working penalty rates, but not forgoing a valuable personal commitment, their penalty rates effectively are higher wages, at a very convenient time.

Currently approximately 80% of the over 2 million workers paid at the ‘award only’ (meaning 10% of employed Australians are on minimum conditions and wages) are either casual or part-time employees. This 80% includes people explicitly impacted by the reduced rates, who receive the minimum wage, but also hundreds of thousands of weekend workers employed subject to an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). These are essentially employment contracts negotiated between employer and employee groups outlining an alternative award. These must pass a ‘better off overall test’ in comparison to the relevant award, as decided by the FWC. Coles, McDonalds and many other large companies’ employees are subject to these conditions, with many already not allowing penalty rates, or be it to the full extent as provided at award. As these conditions are based on the award, upon expiry of the EBAs they will almost certainly be re-negotiated down closer to the latest, lower conditions, as has been alluded to by an opposition spokesman. These employees are not paid primarily with reference to their contribution towards revenue or their value adding to the company. Nor are they paid in relation to their forgone family time, or childcare payments, or other emotional and personal costs incurred when working. With 10% of Australian workers sitting on bare minimum conditions, and many not much better off on EBA’s it is clear that this award wage is now the standard.

It is this standard which is often a business’s first resort in determining what wages to pay, particularly lesser skilled workers. As all businesses operating on weekends have unique cost structures and revenue levels, it is impossible that the FWC’s industry specific awards are an accurate representation of an employer’s true value of hiring a worker. Currently, for businesses where the cost of hiring an employee on the weekend at the award is too high to benefit the business, they will either hire less, the owner will operate the business alone, or not open at all. For these businesses, they may only be able to afford penalty rates on busier days during the week. Businesses however, where the same cost is much lower than the award, can afford to pay employees more, but largely don’t. These businesses are under no legal obligation to pay higher than the minimum, and in these predominantly larger firms, bargaining power is skewed towards the employers, so why would they pay more?

This lack of equal bargaining status means employees are unable to negotiate more personalised conditions. For example, what day their penalty rates should be during the week to truly capture the cost of working at inconvenient times. Or with a more equal bargaining position, feel confident to request that pay be (even only slightly) more related to value added and effort put into the business without fear of being dismissed or rostered on less. The inability of Australia’s current labour market system to facilitate such negotiation has led to this standardisation of the award.

As an employee’s capacity to effectively bargain diminishes, the less their wage represents a product of true personal cost and contribution to a business, and their pay rates will decrease down to the minimum. This, among other factors, is one of the reasons so many people are effected by the FWC’s decision. As they sit on minimum conditions, when the conditions fall, it is only natural their wages follow.

Businesses cannot really be blamed for this however. For most, their primary purpose is to make money, and why would they pay more than they had to at the minimum wage? This is unless there was pressure by an employee reasonably requesting (not extorting) for greater pay or more personalised conditions. As outlined, minimum wages, and rigid penalty rates either advantage or disadvantage both employees and employers. If our Industrial Relations system was able to foster such negotiations, the standard of employment conditions would be lifted well above the minimum, lessening the impact of shocks, like the FWC’s decision, upon some of the lowest paid workers in Australia.