Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Smoko: Iraq, paternity leave and the Democrats - what's the difference?

By Ern O'Malley - posted Sunday, 15 September 2002

It’s time for smoko again. Your correspondent from Concrete Warranty Motors (repairs guaranteed until the vehicle leaves the driveway), Ern O’Malley, has been less than ubiquitous this month, having spent the first week or so laid up with the 'flu. Upon his return he found the workshop embroiled in a heated industrial dispute between management and the labour hire contractors. More on that later. One negotiating session was so acrimonious that Saltbush Bill likened it to a Democrats' party-room meeting.

Speaking of which, the Democrats leadership crisis finally caused comment at smoko, mainly in response to the political cartoonists in The Australian and The Courier-Mail. The Dirty Dozen are fairly evenly divided in their criticism of Meg Lees and Natasha Spot Destroyer (as the former Democrats leader is usually called). The new leadership contenders have failed to even register any interest here. The Snowman killed conversation at smoko by asking: "If Aden Ridgeway becomes Prime Minister, does he have to say Sorry?" No one had an answer to that!

At first the Dirty Dozen were rather mute on the subject of war with Iraq, though you get the feeling they are quietly against it. They did have much to say about the overblown media coverage of September 11th. By the 10th they'd had enough, skipping over articles that referred to terrorism. On the 11th, the special 9/11 supplements of the newspapers were thrown into the bin without even being opened. Taff let fly with several minutes of invective against the media in general, in particular how little attention was paid to the terror faced by individuals daily in other parts of the world. Penguin agreed, accusing the Americans of "having made this mess through their own foreign policy, and then expecting the world to chip in and help clean it up". Elvis declared "the Septics must take us for mugs!" Sanjeev raised the theoretical possibility of conscription, should the war turn ugly, asking the under-35s among us if we would go. The general response was "(insert expletive here) no. I’m not fighting Little Johnny’s war!" though one young bloke was keen. To this, Elvis, a veteran of two tours of Vietnam, could only sadly shake his head. "You’ll learn, young fella, it’s nothing like the movies."


With new dad Penguin having been counselled by management for taking too much leave, it was an easy task to raise this month’s On Line Opinion topic of family policy. The all-male smoko room consider paid maternity leave sexist. What they support is a set amount of paid parental leave per family that can be used by either or both parents as the need arises. Some fathers, both current and prospective, wish to play a greater role in their child’s upbringing and feel the current workplace structures prevent them from doing so. There was even some talk of using job-sharing arrangements to work fewer hours and facilitate a more family-oriented lifestyle.

The Queensland Premier’s plan to ban police from taking any industrial action whatsoever enraged the Dirty Dozen, some of whom live in Peter Beattie’s electorate. "He’s a bloody dictator!" shouted Taff, who then went on to compare Beattie to Robert Mugabe. Saltbush Bill said: "They should change the name of the state to Petebeteland. He runs it like a tinpot little African one-party state". Penguin challenged anyone at the table to name the Deputy Premier, only to be met with blank faces and several seconds of stunned silence. No one had a clue (except yours truly, who chose to feign ignorance). "There you go. It isn’t a one-party state, it’s a one-man state."

Penguin, our resident Kiwi, often sits there observing our political discussions with a wry grin on his face. When asked about this, he replied: "I love Australian politics. There’s so much backstabbing, infighting, corruption and bitching. We just don’t get any of that in New Zealand. It’s bloody good entertainment just to sit up late at night and watch Question Time. I just love it."

But industrial relations has been the dominant topic in the past few weeks. Taff, our stereotypical pommy shop steward, has naturally led the charge on this. He accuses employers of taking advantage of labour hire to oppress the worker and reduce wages through aggressive tendering. "What they have done is consistently drive down wages by using labour hire where they should be employing full-time staff. It’s nothing but a rort!"

Penguin, who was previously very anti-union, agrees: "They are creating a second-class workforce. You are now getting a situation where there is inequity between labour hire and permanent workforces on the same site."

The employer’s response of "What do you expect us to do? Cut our margins so you can have more money in your pocket?" was met with howls of derision.


It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Labour hire has grown to become a major part of the workforce, taking advantage of the Howard government’s reforms to our system of industrial relations. Could this result in an increase in militant union activity as more labour hire contracts are awarded to the cheapest bidder? We shall have to wait and see.

See you next smoko.

*The Deputy Premier of Queensland is Terry Mackenroth.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Ern O'Malley works in a mechanical repair shop in NSW. Of course, this is not his real name.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Ern O'Malley
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy