As recently as last year, the gig economy’s “independent contractor” business model seemed like an unstoppable force. It started with Uber, but soon spread to food delivery and before long was entering new sectors, such as freight, logistics and healthcare.
"Old fashions please me best; I am not so nice To change true rules for odd inventions."
William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, 1593.
On May 21 Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt introduced a small but potentially significant private member's bill into the House of Representatives.
In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, arguably the finest political theorist of his time, used his famous work The Prince to tease out “means and ends” theory. He concluded that when it came to the exercise of power, a ruler should use any methods available to maintain stability. The means are irrelevant if the ends are positive enough to trump them.
If national unity and harmony are the goals for Australia’s national day, then January 26 is no longer, if it ever was, fit for purpose. It does not meet its objective and, no matter how much it “disappoints” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, we need to re-think Australia Day.
Anyone who had the pleasure of hearing Jon Faine’s dismemberment of the gig economy, as represented by the hapless Brent Thomas, Head of Public Policy at Airbnb ANZ, on ABC Radio last year will never forget it.
It was excruciating. You could hear the air going out of poor old Brent when Faine pressed him on how much tax Airbnb actually pays in Australia, and pressed him and pressed him.
In public debate “the thin end of the wedge” — the notion that once made, any penetration of the status quo will inevitably be followed by something greater — is an idiom invoked almost exclusively in the negative. It is an insufferable refrain of the perpetually fearful, the racist, the homophobic, the xenophobic, the Islamophobic, and the climate change-phobic.
It is one of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s favourite lines.
So declared George Orwell’s allegorical Joseph Stalin, Napoleon the Berkshire Boar, in his 1945 classic Animal Farm. In Australia, we’ve declared war on some inequalities, like those contained in the Marriage Act, while we acquiesce to, tolerate, ignore or accept many others. Just like the animals on Orwell’s Manor Farm, in contemporary Australia, it seems all inequalities are equal but some are more equal than others.
As if it were wrapped in flammable polyethelene (PE) cladding, Uber’s seemingly unstoppable plan for world domination caught fire in London last month; and the blaze might be as hard to extinguish as the inferno that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in the same city in June.
The deadly fire at Grenfell, and Uber’s repeated failings — in terms of vehicle safety, sexual assault, regulatory avoidance and driver exploitation — are both the direct result of under-regulation and multi-layered regulatory and policy failure.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating loved this quote of his long-time mentor former NSW Premier Jack Lang. I was reminded of its currency and utility recently, when I read that the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) had made an (overdue) entrance to the public debate about the costs and benefits of the emerging “gig” economy — let’s be honest, it’s mainly costs.
Shakespeare reckoned that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Old Will is right of course, because whether you call it rhubarb, a rhododendron or a rocking horse, a rose is a rose.
Sometimes though, if enough people use the new name of an old thing often enough, they can convince themselves and others that it is in fact a different thing. Then, having transformed the thing semantically, we can consider it a new thing, and treat it as a new thing. This is nothing new. It is marketing and corporate branding 101 and it does not matter most of the time.