14 Feb 2010, Comments (12)

How do you Sleep while your Butts are Burning?

Author: Helen

Yes, I’m looking at the Australian Liberal party, who have gleefully piled onto Peter Garrett and called for his resignation over the Insulation scheme debacle (which is predictably being called Insulationgate), but don’t seem to know that their arses are on fire.

Now, sure, I’m predisposed to like the guy. But let it be known I’m not particularly keen to fight Garrett’s corner as a minister in the Labor government. I’m the Voter who Cannot Love*, after all. He, like Julia, has broken my heart over environmental and Arts policies. No, I don’t think parachute-in celebrity politicians are necessarily a good thing, and I also think he’s overfaced. He was given too much responsibility, too quickly. The fact that every right wing hack was automatically programmed to hate him was just icing on the cake.

Should he move aside into a less demanding portfolio to gain more experience? Should he sit down and have a big think about whether the realpolitik of the Labor tent has negated his entire life’s work on environmental issues? Yes and yes. Should he stand aside because his position has become completely untenable and he’s electoral poison? Or because, in some quaint and symbolic way, in the Westminster system a Minister is required to fall on his or her sword for the actions of other people? Probably. But should he stand aside, or be sacked, because he bears some kind of moral responsibility for the four workplace deaths that have happened since the inception of the insulation scheme? That is such a pack of horse hockey I’m unable to contain my rage.

Gosh, it’s touching that the Liberal party has suddenly discovered workplace deaths in the building industry. When they were in power, those despised Unions were constantly trying to tell them. About forty people a year, more or less, die in Australia every year. Are the other thirty-six people who died in Australia in the last year chopped liver, just because they don’t come with a Ministerial scalp? I don’t hear any outrage in doorstop interviews about them.

The four people (some of them boys) died for the usual reason: because their employers ignored occupational health and safety practice (as well as ordinary common sense). The employer of the worker who died in October could possibly claim ignorance about the metal fasteners used with metal foil insulation close to wiring. The others couldn’t, because Garrett didn’t do nothing: he moved to ban the fasteners in November. Two more workers died as a direct result of the employer ignoring a new regulation which Garrett himself had put in place, as well as one from heat stroke, again the employer’s responsibility. To quote one commenter, the responsibility to run a safe workplace lies with the employers.

Now we have the Liberals shouting that Peter Garrett should have micromanaged the scheme to the point of overseeing every employer, perhaps, I don’t know, climbing into every roof space himself. This is the same Liberal party mainly composed of people who see every government regulation as a slippery slope to socialism. This is the Liberal party whose constituency is business groups which oppose industry regulation as “anti-business”.

These are the people who claim to espouse a doctrine of individual responsibility, but because it suits them at the moment, they’re willing to abandon that. “If you don’t like my principles, I have others”, I guess? See Also, the invisible hand of the Market sorting things out? When push comes to shove, this incident has shown that they really know it’s a crock.

So, Libs, if you want to claim your prize Ministerial Scalp at the prize desk, I think you should have to fess up that the despised unions were right all along and that government oversight of private industry is totes necessary (and that at the moment you’re calling for government micromanagement on a scale hardly known except in command economies). Also, that conservatives are for Individual Responsibility, except where you can blame something on someone you don’t like.

Also, that your arses are on fire.
*Just like Chilly, the Elf who Cannot Love.

Comments (12)

  • Chris Grealy says:

    Not completely sure that metal fasteners were to blame for all of the electrocutions. I’ve heard it reported that some foil was laid over live wires with faulty insulation.

    But to blame the Government for this is just stupid, that is to say, par for the course for the Coalition.

  • bri says:

    I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought the Liberal Party was losing the plot over this one! I don’t understand how they can blame Garrett when it is obviously the employers lack of care that has bought about the deaths of these young men.

  • Oh please don’t let me get started about how I have lost all respect for this man. I do agree with your point but that’s how politics work. Can’t oust him for all the reasons he should be but scalp him on a red herring. Or at least attempt to.

    I kind of like the idea of him being demoted to Minister who crawls into roof spaces. But alas that’s just my sick little fantasy.

  • Bwca Brownie says:

    “Are the other thirty-six people who died in Australia in the last year chopped liver, just because they don’t come with a Ministerial scalp? I don’t hear any outrage in doorstop interviews about them.”

    another Ace thank you Helen.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks all!
    Please note, 36 is an approximate figure – for the exact number you’d have to consult WorkSafe. Again approximate: for work-related deaths as a whole, the figure is more like 150!

  • Kath Lockett says:

    I’ll start off by admitting that I’m predisposed to liking ‘ol PG and realise that whether we like it or not, there’s always huge concessions to be made when you’re dealing with one of the two major political parties.

    But you’re dead on re the sudden interest by the Libs in four workplace deaths. I’m just hoping that the ‘Tiser and Herald Sun readers out there can see it for what it is – empty bluster from a party utterly out of touch with the people. Otherwise we’ll be forced to suffer another photo opp of the Mad Monk running out of the sea in his speedos…

  • faithh says:

    Great post. So hypocritical for the Libs to splutter about workplace safety. If they had their way all workers would be expendable resources to be consumed in the course of running-a-business.

  • Bernice says:

    In need of a brain anaesthetising radio afternoon, I go to listen to some Liberal Party hack, demanding, demanding in full outraged mode, that Garrett get off his arse, and climb, yes climb into those roof spaces to see which ones have been turned into giant toasters.

    FFS – I thought the whole problem was sending poorly or non-trained people into a work situation where they are likely to meet with some accident or another. But obviously not – as Helen points out so beautifully – this whole thing is just about point scoring. So Julia, when are you going to raise Kevin Andrews’s obvious responsibility for all those holders of 457 visas who have been injured or killed when forced to perform work duties without adequate training, safety equipment or precautions? To quote Mr Andrews from 2007:

    “Well, if employers do the wrong thing, if they abuse the process in any way, then they will be banned. And what that points to effective monitoring and an effective policing of the scheme.”

    Funny how that line was good enough then but now – well there’s blood in the water, and Abbott is going to use it for political gain.

  • Armagny says:

    Or get Andrews for all the victims of refoulement.

    Helen, your post was a refreshing counter argument.

    I for my part think that beyond the decision to join the ALP, subsequent events have been almost beyond his control, in particular because (and this may be a personal compliment to him) Garrett seems to lack the kind of sharp political instincts that win friends and influence in Canbar.

    Rarely for me, I had doubts about him joining the ALP. In particular I thought environment was a terrible choice of portfolio (it was always clear they weren’t running big progressive polities there), even more so when climate change got excised.

    But then Bob Brown effectively shut the door on him after the initial decision. A mistake I think, the Greens and Garrett would have been political assets to each other.

    I feel deep sympathy for him now, a genuine good person who made the call he did I’m sure in the belief that he could get more done, who is now floundering under the weight of cognitive dissonance…

  • Chris Fryer says:

    I’m really not a fan of Peter Garrett, but I find it difficult to understand why the Liberal party would choose to press this particular button.

    Actually, I do understand. The Liberal party thinks the average Australian is so stupid that they will be influenced by this ridiculous argument. But I don’t think that I’ve even met one person who thinks Peter Garrett did anything wrong.

    I just hope the Liberal party isn’t right…a mad monk, budgie smuggling Prime Minister… how delightful.

  • armagny says:

    I think members of all parties that have seats in either house of parliament regularly treat voters like they are stupid enough to buy dumbed-down and transparently self-serving arguments.

    I think this is partly the fault of the voters themselves, and the key faultlines in the polity at present.

  • Angie says:

    I totally agree with your post and was having this discussion with a friend just today.

    Am not Peter Garrett fan in his current incarnation, but there are several levels of responsibility for this tragedy before we even get close to him. Employer, regulatory body, department, political advisers and then minister’s office and minister.

    As you rightly pointed out, it’s a work place issue more than anything. Where are the dodgy employers? What’s happening to them over their massive failure?

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