There was one really interesting aspect of the revelation of the salaries being paid to top ABC presenters, apart from the more obvious ones. The latter group included the amusing sensitivity of the fat cats themselves to the public actually knowing what the public pays in public money to these public employees to perform a public service. Then, the salaries seemed remarkably high for doing comparatively little; how much time does it take to read the news and what do the lucky recipients do for the rest of the day? It was also another example of the developing tendency I wrote about last week, where taxpayers’ money is being siphoned off to benefit selected private interests; thus, Kerry O’Brien’s production company is paid to do a series of interviews of Paul Keating where I am sure the competitive tender process was exceptionally rigorous.
One of the big issues facing Australia is the rigidity of our labour market and how we can loosen it up by allowing workers and employers to enter into contracts between themselves and outside the iron grip of industrial awards. All of the left-leaning cognoscenti are passionately opposed to this reform and the big earners at the ABC have long been missionaries for the centralised award system and against anything that smacks of freedom and individual initiative: just look at how virtually every current affairs programme is given a sympathetic left-wing slant. One of the causes that the Left definitely supports is rigidly fixed award wages designed to drag everyone down to the same level; one of the causes they definitely oppose is wage freedom for ambitious workers and the higher wages and better conditions that it entails for employees who can offer more in return. But when it comes to fat cat lefties lining their own pockets, it is suddenly different; higher salaries and above-award conditions negotiated in a private (and secret) contract are then legitimate, not for the mob of course, but only for the individual employee who has been clever or brazen enough to negotiate his own contract, in other words for the high earners themselves. If they were paid under the award system, ABC fat cats would not be paid $300,000 but, more likely, $70,000. But they are not under the relevant award or indeed under any award. Accordingly, they take for themselves the benefit of a contract they have negotiated that pays many times the award rate and gives better conditions, but only for themselves; when they are doing an in-depth examination of industrial relations on Four Corners, whipping up the lynch mob on Q&A or conducting a penetrating interview with a union official on Insiders, it is back to proselytising for the stultifying award system, but of course only for other people. I hope you are not indelicate enough to describe this dichotomy as hypocritical and as entrenching the financial interest of a few self-centred individuals lining their own pockets at the public expense. Instead, why not join me in congratulating the ABC brass on the high salaries they have negotiated and in urging them to promote more free bargaining on wages and conditions, a process that has done so much for them and could do so much for others.
Last Saturday, I was strolling down Chapel Street and wondering when I will ever be able to afford such smart clothes at such high prices and look like one of the local gilded circle. Ever so slowly there wafted by, like the first rumblings of a gathering storm or the early stirrings of a hoard of locusts, the distant but steady drum beat of an approaching tribe of rebellious natives. Sure enough, there soon emerged an ecstatic group of Hare Krishna chanters and drummers accompanied by 20 or so acolytes beating their cymbals and strumming their tambourines. Having marched south to Commercial Road, they crossed Chapel Street and proceeded north. In their path, however, was an imminent obstruction in the form of a long queue outside Mr Burger, a new establishment selling what we used to call hamburgers, but which are now just ‘burgers’. Actually, the shop was not selling burgers, but giving them away to mark its official opening. The Hare Krishnas advanced, determined that no earthly crowd would deter them from their heavenly mission. But the burgerites stood firm. The Hare Krisha chant grew louder, its message roughly translated as ‘Give up meat, loose women and material possessions and follow us to Nirvana’. For a moment the burgerites paused as if they were really weighing up the competing offers: a good, free meal or eternal life in a sari, with tabouli dips, the stirrings of the tambourine and your best friend a ten-armed monkey. My money was on the burgers and self-interest and, sure enough, by a deft manoeuvre that would make Sun Tzu proud, they suddenly morphed into a phalanx that forced the lentil legion off the pavement and delivered it a crushing blow such that it had to limp back to its ashram.
I thought it a suitable metaphor for modern life: flawed creatures that we are, instant free food, free anything, will always trump sacrifice and long-term devotion to a cause. Self-interest and free enterprise will always trump the blandishments of heaven on earth. I am going to join the Krishnas to strengthen their ranks, but I do not fancy my chances, human nature being what it is and if the battle of Chapel Street is any guide.
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