McDonald’s expose shows the system is broken – but not in the way you think

Last week’s McDonald’s expose in The Age neatly demonstrates the extent to which Australia’s workplace relations system has been compromised by vested interests

But the problems at the heart of the system may not be the ones that first occur to many readers.

Firstly, it is not actually clear that McDonald’s has done anything wrong. According to the Fair Work Commission website, the minimum wage for 16 year olds in Australia is $8.17 per hour, cascading upwards each year with age until a worker turns 21, when the adult minimum wage of $17.29 per hour applies.

According to the articles, most employees had a base rate of pay of $20 per hour. In America, where the adult minimum wage is US$7.25 per hour, or Germany where the minimum wage is 8.5 Euros per hour, this would not be considered a bad deal.

It is also almost triple the hourly rate of $6.94 that unemployed Australians have to live on when receiving the Newstart Allowance.

Given that the employer is happy, the union is happy, the Fair Work Commission is happy and over 95 per cent of employees are reportedly happy, a legitimate question should be asked as to whose business it is to intervene?

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Good news everyone: Uber has been legalised in Victoria

In a mammoth slap-down of government holding back progress, Uber is now effectively legal in Victoria.

As reported on FreedomWatch last November, Nathan Brenner became the first Uber driver in Victoria to be found guilty of driving a hire car without a commercial licence or registration. This ruling effectively made the service as a whole illegal.

However, Brenner refused to commit to not continue driving, and appealed the case.

A County Court judge has now overturned the original ruling, and ordered the Victorian government to pay Brenner’s legal costs.

This is fantastic news for all Victorians, who will be able to continue benefiting from the sharing economy.

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Once again: spending more does not improve educational outcomes

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In classic Labor style Bill Shorten opened the federal election campaign by re-announcing his promise to increase schools funding by $3.8 billion.

However, a report discussed in The Australian ($) last week has once again rubbished the notion that spending more will improve our educational outcomes:

Australia spends $132,945, on average, to educate a student from primary school to Year 10 — double the $66,463 spent on students in Shanghai and 40 per cent more than the $93,630 cost in South Korea, the latest comparative OECD data shows. More than half the students in Shanghai and nearly a third of Korean students top the class internationally in maths — compared with just one in seven Australian students.

One in five Australian students failed the minimum standard in maths in the OECD’s 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), compared with 3 per cent of Shanghai students and 9 per cent of Korean teenagers.

The simple reality is that blindly increasing expenditure, from Rudd-Gillard government’s ‘education revolution’ to the Gonski funding model, has failed to improve educational outcomes.

We need a back-to-basics approach which priorities high quality teaching methods, as well as rewarding capable teachers with performance based pay, if we are going to have any chance of keeping up with our Asian neighbors.

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IPA research reveals the cost of red tape to the Australian economy

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New IPA research by Mikayla Novak and Chris Berg has found that red tape costs the economy an estimated $176 billion per year.

Regulation should improve the manner in which business functions, whether this be by enforcing safety standards and entitlements, or creating a more competitive market. But excessive regulation – that is, red tape – creates more problems than it solves. Employers spend time filling out paperwork when they could be growing their business. Youth and low skill labourers have their hours reduced and struggle to enter the job market as the cost to employ them outstrips the profit they are capable of generating. Rather than create competition, regulation entrenches monopolies and privileges for big businesses that have the wealth and connections to wield political influence.

Advocates of regulation often claim that their rules create a level playing field, but in fact it is the economically vulnerable, such as employees and small business, that red tape hurts the most.

In this sense, cutting red tape will do more than save $176 billion. It will create an environment where new businesses can thrive, increasing the overall wealth creation in the economy and thus giving consumers access to better services at a lower cost, creating a better quality of life for all Australians.

Disappointingly, despite consistent talk of cutting red tape, last year parliament enacted 6,453 pages of legislation over 177 bills, and the government deprioritised significant regulatory reform after repeal bills stalled in the Senate.

Eliminating unproductive regulations will create prosperity for business, jobs for the unemployed and better products for consumers. It is time for governments to begin maximising prosperity, rather than wrapping the economy in red tape for the sake of populist rhetoric and special interest groups.

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Who gifts human rights to the UK?

When British Home Secretary Theresa May called for the United Kingdom to exit the European Convention on Human Rights, the cries of indignation were entirely predictable. Her comments were dismissed as ‘an irresponsible and dangerous strategy’ that ‘will provide comfort to human rights abusers‘. A video sketch starring actor Patrick Stewart swiftly followed. The sketch shows Stewart as the British Prime Minister asking his Cabinet ‘What has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?’

The answer may surprise you. Apparently the European Convention gave human rights to the British people. According to this sketch it was responsible for – amongst other things – the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom from slavery. Before the European Convention it seems that the British people entirely lacked these basic rights and freedoms.

This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the historical foundations of these fundamental human rights. Human rights did not materialise only in modern times with the emergence of supra-national bodies and treaties. In fact, the origins of human rights can be traced well back in history, with key English contributions including the Magna Carta in 1215 and Bill of Rights in 1689.

Why does this matter? It matters because we all too frequently treat these regional and international human rights treaties and bodies with excessive reverence and fail to acknowledge the historical traditions they are building on. The European Convention didn’t gift human rights to the United Kingdom. Nor should it be the final word on human rights.

It is entirely fitting for the United Kingdom to think about their broader European involvement at the same time as they are approaching a referendum to decide whether or not to remain within the European Union. A treaty should never be beyond scrutiny or criticism, and should never be held up as either the first or last word on human rights.

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So much for the “Freedom Commissioner”

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Less than three years after the Coalition government appointed Tim Wilson as the “Freedom Commissioner“, Attorney-General George Brandis has now appointed someone from an organisation which has repeatedly been on the wrong side of debates on freedoms, and public policy more generally.

This is just some of what the Public Interest Advocacy Centre – led by the new Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow – has said in recent years:

Freedom of speech:

PIAC has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act…

‘Freedom of speech is a crucial human right but so too is the right not to be vilified on the basis of your race or ethnicity. Serious race-based insult, offence and humiliation can be deeply wounding and threatens important aspects of Australia’s liberal democracy,’ said Edward Santow, PIAC’s CEO.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders:

PIAC generally supports the proposal for a statement of values or recognition, which appropriately recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution… PIAC submits that constitutional protection is imperative to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians against racial discrimination.

Freedom of religion:

We oppose, in particular, the granting of blanket exemptions to churches and religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws.

Suing Coles for its “discriminatory” website:

“Ms Mesnage relies on a screen-reader to use the internet. Like many people who are blind or have a vision impairment, she has had ongoing problems using the Coles website to do her shopping since 2008,” PIAC CEO, Edward Santow said.

Pro Bono Australia News reported in October 2014 that after negotiations with Coles failed to bring about a solution, Mesnage brought legal proceedings against the supermarket chain under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

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Sanity prevails: Evangelical Union at USyd won’t be deregistered

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The University of Sydney Union has abandoned their plan to deregister the Evangelical Union.

Faith-based societies at the University of Sydney were facing deprivation of monetary resources and access to campus facilities over their requirement that members be Christian.

However, in a big win for freedom of association on campus, the union announced in a media statement today that faith based clubs and societies would be able to decide the conditions of their membership:

After long and thoughtful consultation with our religious communities on campus, the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors resolved at the April Board Meeting to amend the C&S Regulations to allow faith based declarations as a condition of membership and Executives of faith based clubs registered under the USU C&S program.

The Board has listened to its members and acknowledges the importance of such declarations to some of our faith based clubs and societies.

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Western values under attack? Not just a European problem

Western values are much in the news at the moment, notable in the newly enhanced relationship between Europe and Turkey. Europe it appears is willing to make significant concessions towards Turkey in a bid to resolve their refugee crisis, particularly as uncontrolled migration has subjected Europeans to increasing fears over security, the unproven ability to integrate newcomers and the financial implications of housing and welfare provisions for upwards of one million people in Germany alone.

The decision to co-opt Turkey as the prime mover in halting people smuggler routes into Greece has always been a curious one, especially as it appears to handover border security for Europeans to a nation with fundamentally different understandings of freedom and notably a core freedom: freedom of speech.

Underlying the new European-Turkey partnership there are deep questions for all western societies. Is this another case of the western world with an obsessive desire to remain open and tolerant having negotiated away the very values which ensure that this is possible? Recent experience with Turkey suggests that Europeans not only made financial concessions, but more importantly “values” concessions including the freedom of expression.

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Venezuela: A modern socialist catastrophe

A typical Venezuelan supermarket with empty shelves: price controls have lead to massive shortages

A typical Venezuelan supermarket with empty shelves: price controls have lead to massive shortages

The situation in Venezuela is going from bad to worse.

A once relatively prosperous nation has succumb to the worst failings of a socialist system.

Joel Hirst, a Venezuelan living in the United States, has written an extraordinary blog post on the latest from his birth country:

Tonight there are no lights. Like the New York City of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, the eyes of the country were plucked out to feed the starving beggars in abandoned occupied buildings which were once luxury apartments.

They blame the weather – the government does – like the tribal shamans of old who made sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of an intervention.

There is no food either; they tell the people to hold on, to raise chickens on the terraces of their once-glamorous apartments.

There is no water – and they give lessons on state TV of how to wash with a cup of water.

The money is worthless; people now pay with potatoes, if they can find them.

Doctors operate using the light of their smart phones; when there is power enough to charge them. Without anesthesia, of course – or antibiotics, like the days before the advent of modern medicine.

The phone service has been cut – soon the internet will go and an all-pervading darkness will fall over a feral land.

Venezuela’s impending collapse is directly linked to the policy failures of Hugo Chavez and his socialist successor, Nicolás Maduro.

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96 people who think section 18C should be reformed

The IPA has long argued that section 18C is a restriction on freedom of speech, and that it should be repealed. And we’re not alone – we’ve compiled a list of 96 prominent individuals and organisations who have publicly argued that section 18C goes too far.

The list even includes many figures on the left that believe section 18C catches conduct that should not be subject to legal sanction, including The Age, David Marr and Jonathan Holmes.

Read the full list for yourself here.

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