The Guardian October 24, 2001


Meet the candidates: Geoff Lawler

Problems of the countryside

This week The Guardian interviews Geoffrey Lawler, who is 
standing in the No.2 spot on the Communist Party of Australia's Senate 
ticket in NSW. Geoff lives in the south-western NSW regional centre of 
Wagga Wagga, where he has held the position of Secretary of the Wagga Wagga 
District Trades and Labour Council for the past ten years.

Geoff was born at Scone in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales on 
the June 19, 1950. He describes it as "the day after the start of the 
capitalist war against the People's Republic of North Korea".

He has spent his whole life in regional Australia, commencing primary 
school in Scone, and then moving with his family to Tamworth in the New 
England region of NSW where he finished school and began his working life.

He has been an active member of the Wagga community, volunteering as 
manager and assistant coach for the junior rugby league team, and is 
presently the amateur boxing coach at the Wagga Police Community Youth 
Club.

Guardian: Geoff, can you tell us about your history in the 
labour movement, and how that influenced your political beliefs.

Geoff Lawler: I joined my first union in 1965 and have been a 
member of one union or another ever since.

Communists I met when working on heavy construction sites during the 70s 
and 80s, a period highlighted by the Vietnam War, radicalised my political 
views.

I became a delegate and a Country Councilor for the Building Workers' 
Industrial Union where my industrial and political education continued. I 
played an active role in several campaigns run by the BWIU including the 
winning of the 38-hour week for building workers.

The Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union offered me a position as their 
Riverina organiser, which I took up in March '85. I have continued in that 
position in the amalgamated Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers 
Union.

G: What are the issues confronting the Trade Union movement 
today, and what benefits would CPA policies bring for union members?

GL: The trade union movement has had a more profound effect 
on Australian society than any other movement either political or social. 
Every Australian's day-to-day life has been and still is touched by the 
great social and industrial conditions fought for and won by trade unions.

The trade union movement has fought tirelessly  one seemingly endless 
battle after another  against the employers and capitalist class who had 
all the political and legal resources of the State to call on to defeat the 
unions.

Despite some horrible defeats, lock outs, jailings and police murders 
(Rothbury) and the use of the Australian Army against workers (in the '49 
coal strike and the more recent air pilot's strike) the union movement has 
prevailed. As a result, Australian workers enjoy some of the best working 
conditions in the world.

But much of this has changed over the last 20 years. Unions no longer have 
the high rates of membership or the active involvement of rank and file 
members as they had in the past.

One of the reasons for the disenchantment of workers is the continued and 
unquestioning support of unions for the Australian Labor Party. This means 
that they have been tied to the economic rationalist and pro-big business 
policies implemented by the ALP Right.

Then there has been the active campaign waged against the unions by the 
current Federal government for the last six years. Reith may be scampering 
away into a lucrative corporate retirement, but we must remember that Peter 
Reith's "second wave" of industrial "reforms" is still firmly on the 
Liberal Party's agenda.

Industrial relations have not emerged as a major issue in this election 
campaign, but every worker and trade union should remember that our 
fundamental rights as workers  the right to strike and collectively 
bargain  are still firmly in the sights of John Howard and his team.

Superannuation, long service leave and other workers' entitlements would be 
stripped from awards; pre-strike secret ballots made compulsory; and 
individual contracts would override enterprise agreements.

At this election, the CPA is putting forward a number of policies to 
protect the rights of workers and unions. Among them are:

* The repeal of the Workplace Relations Act, Trade Practices Act, and all 
other similar anti-trade union legislation.

* The introduction of legislation which guarantees the right of workers to 
strike and act in solidarity with other workers.

* The introduction of legislation to establish a government controlled 
scheme whereby workers are guaranteed 100 per cent of their entitlements  
redundancy pay, holiday and long service leave, superannuation and all 
other benefits  in the event of corporate bankruptcy.

* The introduction of a 35-hour week without loss of pay, thereby returning 
to workers the increases in productivity which have already been achieved.

The Communist Party of Australia has always fought alongside the workers 
and trade unions to protect their rights, and we proved our firm commitment 
to the workers during the MUA dispute and the successful campaign against 
the "second wave" industrial legislation.

G: Having spent your life living and working in regional 
Australia, can you tell us what effect John Howard's policies have had in 
the countryside?

GL: The past 6 years of Coalition Government have been 
devastating for rural areas. There has been a reduction in Government 
services to the countryside. Offices have been closed and services cut.

"Competition policy" has forced hundreds of farmers off the land. The moves 
offshore and corporate failures have seen thousands of jobs disappear. 
Urgently needed land and water conservation projects have only received a 
fraction of the funding they need.

The Coalition's policy on Telstra is clear  they are determined to sell 
off the rest of Telstra as soon as politically expedient and this would 
immediately worsen the chances of the countryside getting the 
communications services it needs.

The Labor Party has given a commitment not to sell any more of Telstra 
"during the next term", but we must remember that it was Labor which began 
the process of privatisation in the first place when it privatised the 
Commonwealth Bank.

The CPA believes that Telstra should be taken back into FULL PUBLIC 
OWNERSHIP. It is the only way that services to people in rural Australia 
will be provided on the basis of need and not profitability and that the 
jobs of Telstra workers in regional areas will be secured.

Health care is another area of concern  and rural Australia has been hit 
very hard. There have been closures and amalgamations of hospitals. People 
often have to travel hundreds of kilometres for essential services like a 
visit to a GP or a simple x-ray, when it all used to be available in the 
local town.

But there is a huge pot of gold  $2.5 billion a year  that is being 
redirected from our public health system and used to subsidise private 
health care for the more well off. Much of this money ends up as profits 
for the private insurance companies.

This money is desperately needed to provide GPs, hospitals fully staffed 
with nurses and other health professionals, diagnostic clinics, and quality 
aged care facilities for rural Australia.

An example of how the Coalition is killing rural Australia is to be seen in 
the application of "competition policy" to the dairy industry just over one 
year ago. This was done with the co-operation of State Labor Governments.

The devastating effects predicted have now been confirmed: 16 per cent of 
dairy farms in NSW have disappeared; milk production in NSW has dropped by 
5 per cent; and the price paid to farmers for their product has dropped 
from 53 to 28 cents per litre.

However, the price paid by people in Sydney for a litre of milk has risen 
33 per cent in the last two years.

So who benefits from this so-called competition?

We have gone from a system where farmers worked more co-operatively, 
receiving an equal and guaranteed income for their product; to one where 
the big supermarket retailers and agribusiness corporations  who are not 
interested in competition at all  are able to monopolise the market and 
dictate prices.

The CPA has consistently opposed privatisation and deregulation. In 
addition we encourage the cooperative movement to cover production, 
marketing, processing and the procurement of farm equipment.

A restructuring of the home market for agricultural products would 
encourage grower co-operatives and grower-consumer markets, cutting out 
unnecessaary middlemen.

The Federal Government must protect farmers against exploitation by 
agribusinesses and the monopolies. It should guarantee stable farm prices 
which ensure that the costs of production are covered. The prices of farm 
equipment and fertilisers and chemicals should be controlled.

We have a number of other policies the aim of which is to ensure a viable 
economy for farmers with a standard of living not less than that available 
to those in cities.

G: Rural and regional areas  especially in NSW  have 
traditionally been the stronghold of the National Party. What chance does 
the CPA stand of attracting votes in these areas?

GL: Everything John Howard has done to rural Australia has 
been achieved with the full support of the National Party MPs, which proves 
that they no longer represent rural Australia, but rather the agribusiness 
corporations, often foreign owned.

And we see the Nationals being punished for that, with massive swings 
against them in the last NSW and the QLD State elections. Most of those 
votes went to independents and minor parties including One Nation.

Many oppose privatisation and deregulation and we need to get the message 
out that that is the stand of the CPA too. Furthermore, our other policies 
would go a long way to transforming the situation for the struggling 
farmers and their families. They would really lift the prospects for 
country towns as well.

This is why it is so important for the CPA to stand a Senate ticket. It 
gives everyone in NSW an opportunity to vote for progressive candidates 
with policies that benefit the vast majority of people wherever they are  
the working people on the land, in country towns and in the cities.

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