Don the hardhat and grab the Mortein! Workplace health and safety has
become a major issue here at Concrete Warranty Motors. The month kicked
off with a beam falling from the roof and nearly cleaning up one of the
lads. Upon inspection, a third of the shed was found to be termite-ridden
and was closed off for renovation. Before the dust had even settled,
another of the guys was hospitalised after a spider bit him in the locker
room, leaving a badly ulcerating wound. Needless to say, our blue-collar
warriors are more than a little unhappy at the conditions they work under.
Tempers have become very frayed lately, resulting in the dismissal of one
of the longest-serving members.
The manager, who in style and substance bears more than a passing
resemblance to Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired
Boss, unwittingly provided some comic relief. Known as Broccoli (‘coz
he’s smarter than the average cabbage), his ability to talk in circles
is only exceeded by his penchant for wearing more silly hats than an
electioneering Peter Beattie. The monthly "Toolbox" management
meeting is a cornucopia of buzzwords and acronyms strung together with
meaningless platitudes. As one of the Dirty Dozen, our team of truck
mechanics, remarked: "It’s like talking to a revolving door."
Why is it that management seems increasingly unable to relate to, and earn
the respect of, the workforce?
Anyway, Broccoli was more than a little surprised when the lads paid
close attention to his speech this month. The workforce seemed to be
hanging on his every word, and apparently even taking notes. His surprise
quickly flashed to anger when one of the guys leapt up and shouted
"Bingo!" having been the first to fill his card of acronyms and
buzzwords. There is a lesson here – if you can’t talk straight to
those whose respect you desire, then keep your mouth shut.
Why is all this relevant is a column about domestic politics? There is
a simple answer. The workforce has come to see politicians as another
level of management. At best they are aloof, inept and overpaid. At worst
they are greedy, obstructive and corrupt. Elvis, a Vietnam Veteran with
red hair and a temper to match, is particularly disdainful of career
politicians. "Just look at them. They go straight from uni to
politics without getting any real-life experience. They don’t know what
life is about. They’ve never had to struggle to put food on the
table." Old enough to recall the Whitlam experiment, his 30-odd years
in the mining industry amount to more life experience than many of us will
ever know. "Crean and Beazley, just following in their daddy’s
footsteps. Not that the jumped-up budgerigar salesman (as he calls Howard)
is any better!"
I reported last month that the smoko room was quietly against the idea
of war with Iraq. That changed suddenly when Tony Blair put forward his Case
Against Saddam Hussein. They felt Blair put forward a convincing
argument for military action against Iraq. When asked if Australia should
commit forces to any American action against Iraq, the response was almost
unanimous. "Of course we should," said Taff. Lanky and
bellicose, you can always count on the shop steward for an opinion.
"If we don’t fix the problem (state-sponsored terrorism) over
there, Pakistan and then India will be next. Sooner or later it will be on
our doorstep in Indonesia, which will explode like the Balkans did. It is
just a powder keg waiting to go up. We will not be living so smugly when
that happens." The Snowman, so named because that is what our
resident joker resembles, chimed in with "We'd look silly if we didn’t.
After all, we are the 51st state. Little Johnny didn’t do all
that arselicking for nothing!"
However, the West has failed to strike while the iron is hot. Our Welsh
windbag, Taff, accused Bush of dithering. "You didn’t see Maggie
Thatcher fiddling around when the Falklands were invaded. Bush is
incapable of making a decision." The Dirty Dozen now will only
support war with Iraq if UN weapons inspections fail.
I was taken by surprise when the topic of conservation was raised one
day, as it is something very rarely discussed. Penguin (if you saw him in
a suit, you would understand) blames much of our current problems of
salinity, land degradation and prolonged drought on broadacre farming
practices. "You can not rip the guts out of the land for a hundred
years without doing some damage. The farmers don’t even use 90 per cent
of the land they have cleared." The Snowman spoke strongly in support
of wildlife and vegetation corridors through farmland as a way of
restoring balance to nature. Nice to know that your average grubby truck
mechanic is environmentally aware, isn’t it?
I’ve held this column back to capture the reaction of the Dirty Dozen
to the Bali bombing. Suddenly, terrorists have struck close to home,
killing many young Australians. Taff’s words earlier in this column have
proved somewhat prophetic, though I imagine he was thinking in terms of
years, not days. According to Sanjeev, a New Australian who couldn’t be
more patriotic if he had the flag tattooed to his forehead: "They
should get these terrorists, line them up against the wall and shoot them.
The rest will then try to dig their way through the concrete with their
bare hands." Don’t worry; I’m not sure what he means either! The
initial anger and revulsion at the carnage soon gave way to serious
debate. This covered three main topics.
First, the selection of the target was discussed. Some argued that
Westerners were the general target, with the high number of Aussie
casualties not having any real meaning. Others insisted that Australians
were targeted specifically as a retaliation for our involvement in East
Timor and the governments strong support for American policy decisions
regarding the War on Terror. Elvis got people thinking when he said that
the primary purpose of the bomb was to undermine the presidency of
Megawati Sukarnoputri, with the victims being simply collateral damage of
a domestic political agenda in Indonesia. The smoko room took him
seriously, as his experience of the country goes as far as having found a
wife there. Naturally, they have cancelled their own upcoming Bali
Then the debate turned to what Australia’s response should be. One
thing they all agree on: we should not commit forces to the Middle East
when there are such severe problems closer to home. Saltbush Bill likened
the situation to Australia’s
dilemma in 1942, when our commitment to distant wars left Australia
relatively undefended against the Japanese onslaught, recalling former
Defence Minister Jim Killen’s
comment that Australia would be flat out defending Bondi Beach on a Sunday
afternoon. However, no one could offer any ideas as to what action
Australia could actually take. The do all agree with Senator Robert Hill’s
comment earlier this year that "It probably never made sense to
conceptualise our security interests as a series of diminishing,
concentric circles around our coastline, but it certainly does not
now". Going on to lay the unpreparedness of Defence to deal with the
situation directly at Kim Beazley’s feet.
Finally the Dirty Dozen discussed the possibility of terror attacks on
Australian soil. Elvis pointed out that "All the terrorists have to
do is wait one month, and then light a match". They are all in total
agreement with Dr
Rohan Gunaratna that there is a very real danger of attacks upon
Australia, and would like to see the government doing visibly more in
terms of internal security. Indeed, they rubbished the suggestion that
Australia was safe from terror. As our resident Kiwi, Penguin, noted:
"That’s what they used to say about Bali."