The Campaign Outrage Headed To An Election Near You

HOT ON THE HEELS of Victorian Labor’s win at the state election in Victoria on Saturday, emergency services unions are readying to roll out their disgusting new tactic across the country: trialled at Queensland by-elections and refined in Victoria, images of critical response personnel campaigning for the ALP are set to become commonplace. This undignified, indiscriminate abuse of trust for political gain should be outlawed, or ignored.

To fair-minded, decent, everyday people, it probably sounds very reasonable, and very compelling: ambulance workers, firefighters, nurses — and God alone knows who else — doorknocking in uniform to talk to voters about everything that’s wrong with their station, their resourcing levels, their hospital.

And following this up by “staffing” polling booths to continue to disseminate anti-Liberal messages (stories from Victoria of voters being harassed by these thugs into voting Labor notwithstanding).

Alas — in tandem with the vandalisation of Victorian ambulances careening across the state scrawled with anti-Liberal Party slogans — it seems it has been so successful as to egg the perpetrators on.

I have been debating for a few days whether to post on this and have decided to do so, briefly; just like the home truths about the Coalition campaign I published here on Sunday night, someone has to call this out for what it is — and it might as well be me.

The co-ordinated campaign in Victoria to use emergency services personnel in a parallel union campaign alongside the ALP campaign proper has, to me, offended virtually every notion of decency in “modern” political campaigning.

There are those across the spectrum who think the tactic was ingenious: and insofar as trawling the gutter for effective muck to use as political fodder goes, it probably was.

But the campaign tactic initially trialled at a couple of Queensland by-elections before being rolled out in a full state election context in Victoria this year is now set to be used by the unions nationally, and with state elections due in Queensland and New South Wales, it’s not difficult to imagine how many people are going to be hoodwinked into altering their votes based on a reprehensible misrepresentation of fact.

I don’t quibble with the rights of ambulance workers, nurses, firefighters et al to protest against the government, and their grievances may or may not be legitimate, or as represented.

But I think it is an outrage that they do so by defacing government property — the property of their employers, no less — in their uniforms (or some deliberately misleading imitation of them), and with no disclosure whatsoever that they are part of a campaign run by the trade union movement and/or an official ALP activity.

The article I have linked today from The Australian outlines in some detail the methodology used, and is one of the few published pieces of coverage that actually notes fake uniforms have been used; Labor operatives have targeted, in other forums, my “Tory heartlessness” in failing to show “respect” to critical response professions by talking about people masquerading in uniforms, but none of them have ever explicitly denied the practice.

Was it successful? Of course it was. Wildly so. The arrogantly triumphant union leaders are probably right to assert the tactic helped add six seats to Labor’s winning seat tally. Without them, the odious Daniel Andrews would be marooned in opposition, cleaning out his office to make way for a new opposition leader.

But was it right?

Naturally, opinions on this point will vary, and probably according to political allegiance.

But it isn’t a matter of showing respect; in my view, those who participated in this protracted stunt forfeited any right to respect they might otherwise have commanded.

These professions enjoy a rare and privileged position of trust in Australian society, and they have been reduced to the status of a political football by the representative organisations supposedly charged with safeguarding their members’ interests.

It was undignified, for by allowing themselves to be marched around Victoria by their unions in the name of the ALP’s political prospects, these people (or at least those of them who actually belong to the emergency services) have debased the standing of their vocations in the eyes of all but the most rusted-on of Labor adherents, and compromised that privileged position of trust they so rightly enjoy.

It is clearly indiscriminate, for the unions involved have already flagged their intention to do exactly the same thing in other jurisdictions as they have done in Victoria; it logically raises the question of whether the utterances of any of the ambos, paramedics and firies is believable, or even worth listening to at all: after all, what is simply replicated in vastly divergent parts of the country cannot be predicated on the same set of “issues” existing in all of them.

The only commonality all of these jurisdictions have is Liberal governments, and to the extent anyone might argue the union campaign is not/was not indiscriminate, the only evidence available to support such a contention lies in South Australia, where no emergency services campaign was used to protest against a Labor state government earlier this year. (Then again, Labor looked gone for all money in SA, and I don’t think even Labor/union types expected Labor’s rigged electoral boundaries in that state to be enough to save it, but they did).

And incredibly, so obsessed are these emergency services unions with their new campaign toy, they even propose to use it against the Abbott government — which runs one small hospital in Tasmania but employs no nurses, or paramedics, or firefighters, or teachers, anywhere in the country.

In other words, this should be seen for what it is: a grubby but brilliantly executed exercise in using community trust to advance the Labor Party, and I think that’s reprehensible.

But it isn’t the individual nurses, ambos and firies who come in for a bollocking: it’s their unions, and those of their members who did not participate in this stunt are as entitled to be outraged as the ordinary voters who have been duped.

I think there ought to be some legal bar to emergency services personnel campaigning in uniform against the governments that hire and pay them: let them join protests as private citizens in civilian dress by all means of course, but what now seems to be a new “normal” in ALP politics needs to be clamped down on firmly and quickly.

Beyond that, everyday voters should simply recognise this for what it is — ALP propaganda — and filter it from consideration accordingly.

As campaign tactics go this one is inexcusable, inappropriate, and pretty much beneath contempt.

If you live outside Victoria and you wait long enough, then next time there’s an election on, this charade will arrive near you.

But only if the government in office there is a Liberal one.



9 thoughts on “The Campaign Outrage Headed To An Election Near You

  1. Yale, well done on putting the effort into calling out what is a disgraceful abuse in trust by tax payer funded workers… this issue gets the air time in aunty and Fairfax but only to help market the dirty game rather than question the bias.

  2. Reblogged this on Iain Hall's SANDPIT and commented:
    Why on earth are the ambos and fireies allowed to use work vehicles for such activities is what I want to know along with the abuses you cite in your . as usually comprehensive article there is the other part of teh tactic namely create a pretext for industrial action in the lead up to the election and then sing loud and long that the evil Tories can’t or won’t fix the problem.
    Its enough to make anyone hot under the collar Comrade Yale

  3. If these public servants wish to be members of a union, so be it. However that’s where it must stop. Government facilities, equipment and vehicles can not be used and representation in uniforms or as ambulance officers or nurses is way out of order. It must be stopped now. If they want to represent themselves as private citizens that is their choice, but not in uniform.

  4. As a recently retired vic police member I to agree with this article. I found it very tacky and unprofessional to see emergency vehicles used as political slogans. Despite past pay disputes with the govt of the day no police member ever considered this form of lobbying. Might I add that these emergency services already enjoy better conditions than the average copper on the street

  5. Yale, I’m really p@ssed off about this. I’m in the CFA in a Metropolitan Brigade. (CFA covers half of metro Melbourne). In the electorate I’m in there were people who looked like MFB firies at the polling booth, though it is a CFA area. Now I realise they were probably not firies at all, but people pretending to be firies. Union stooges in fake uniforms(?) purporting to speak for all fire services. Currently emergency services staff are held in very high regard by most of the community. I hope this isn’t the beginning of the end of this high regard. I agree, legislation should put a stop to this, but with Labour in power now there is no chance of this happenning.

    • Mach2, the complicating factor these unions leverage to their advantage in defence of the tactic is that some of those in the fake uniforms are real emergency services personnel, and the directive from management that facsimiles had to be worn rather than actual official uniforms seems to have had the unintended consequence of igniting a free-for-all in who could be stuffed into one of these party suits and marched around to do the ALP’s bidding.

      Even so, I think your anger (and that of a lot of your colleagues who were unsupportive of the campaign and/or the ALP) is well placed. I would go as far as to say elements of the tactics and strategies used bordered on the fraudulent. I think you are right: Andrews isn’t going to legislate against his own union masters. And in Queensland, the outcry (from the usual quarters) that would follow Newman rushing legislation through Parliament in January would make it counterproductive.

      Precisely how this is dealt with I’m not certain right now. But you are dead right about one thing – as long as Labor forms government the unions will retain the freedom to keep doing this. It will be interesting to see what they try on in more hostile territory in NSW, where despite its troubles the Coalition appears headed for a comfortable re-election win, even if a swing of 7-10% against it becomes part of that story.

  6. Dear Yale,

    These tactics were first trialed in NSW by the Unions at the 2013 Miranda by-election. On the same weekend, the Blue Mountains fire raged.

    One of the Liberal Party volunteers (a female in her early 70s) was monstered and intimidated by these heroic ‘firemen’, who surrounded her and chanted how Barry O’Farrell wanted to close fire stations. The Blue Mountains fire created the perfect backdrop of heat, smoke, fear and anger among voters, when in reality, the real heroes were fighting fires on the day – not intimidating Liberal female volunteers.

    My daughter in law and her husband, normally both Liberal voters, were caught up by the fire unionists claims that the evil O’Farrell Government planned to close fire stations: they both changed their vote at the last minute to Labor. A week later, both were shocked to find out that they were duped by unionists in old uniforms.

    One of the heads of the NSW Fire Brigade attended the booths and identified the ‘fireys’ as off duty unionists and that the uniforms weren’t current, However as they were off duty, there wasn’t much that could be done to stop them on the day. The unionists were emboldened by their success at Miranda and later they were overheard by locals in a pub, boasting how they’d roll the tactic out at all marginal polling booths.

    They achieved their goal with a swing to Labor of 27% and Barry Collier won the seat.

    These same tactics were reported on blogs – not the newspapers – and took place at the by elections in Queensland.

    As the NSW elections loom in March 2015, I’ve already seen professionally printed corflute signs appear in our suburb reading ‘SAVE OUR FIRE STATIONS’. They are designed to look handwritten using a white background with a black font that looks like handwriting. They’re the same style as the unauthorised ‘BRING BACK BARRY’ signs that we saw before the Miranda by election. No authorisation or identification appears on the signs.

    Last weekend, a female friend (small stature, in her 40s) was also the victim of union intimidation and tactics when she handed out how to votes in her electorate near Brighton in Victoria. She was so upset and un-nerved and said she’d never seen anything like it. The unionists flooded the entrances of the polling booths and stood over and around her. There were rugged ‘firemen’ and she was totally intimidated. Hers was not an isolated experience and as these tactics become more widespread, volunteers are feeling very nervous.

    I think Campbell Newman and Mike Baird will have to make public announcements before the election to expose these dirty tactics, warning voters that if they’re polled and followed up by a call from a nurse/teacher/firefighter, that it’s the unions are behind the campaign to elect Labor. And if they’re confronted by fire fighters and ambulance drivers at polling booths, get the warning out that these people are unionists working for the Labor Party. That, coupled with signage at the booths pointing out unionists, plus large, young volunteers to support the female volunteers may help to expose these tactics.

    Bill Shorten also needs to be asked how much he knows about the union tactics as he would certainly be aware of what’s going on. He has questions to answer.

    • Hi Annie, sadly the matters and anecdotes you relate are nothing new to me, and I share your frustration and anger. As a long-time member of the Liberal Party I am acutely aware that I have a vested interest in blasting these tactics, but as I said to another reader in response to his comment I believe they border on being fraudulent — to say nothing of the distress they cause in instances where people are physically threatened and/or harassed. There were stories of these kinds of things happening last weekend during polling in Victoria.

      I’m also sure that if my party tried this stuff, the righteous anger from the Labor Party would be explosive in response.

      These tactics, by the way, are a lift from the Barack Obama/Democratic Party playbook; whether Barry Collier or the grubs in Queensland pioneered them here is to some extent irrelevant. The bigger problem is that this now appears the “new normal” for Labor, which — flushed with its success in Victoria last weekend — is now quite open about its intention to roll them out anywhere and everywhere. Including in a federal election context, despite teachers and nurses and paramedics and firefighters having precisely zero to do with politics and/or governance at the federal level.

      After all, there’s no point letting something totally inappropriate get in the way of a bleeding heart campaign predicated on hijacking the better sensitivities of swinging voters.

      I think this needs to be nipped in the bud, but doing so could prove more damaging than letting them do their worst. Newman (rightly or wrongly) already has a reputation for authoritarian action. Baird could probably do without drawing the attention to this when he’s on track to be re-elected. And federally, erecting regulations around this sort of thing could simply help fuel the “everyone hates Abbott” narrative Labor and the unions seek to perpetuate.

      Abbott has other problems, methinks, and I will be publishing to that effect in the small hours. Rest assured, however, I am disgusted by the emergency services campaign. Some ALP people I know have ripped into me (privately) for failing to “show respect” to these professions that they say they deserve. In my view, the thing that has not been shown the respect it deserves is the intelligence of the average voter. But then again, if you’re the ALP, you don’t care about such niceties. The voter is a means to an end, and is stupid. This kind of campaign embodies that mentality perfectly.

  7. Yale, how dare you! You must show respect for those uniforms. In fact, all people should show respect for those uniforms.

    To that end I propose the laws be changed to that effect and like police, it become a crime to impersonate them. surely nobody could complain about that? Unless they were intending to impersonate emergency services personnel for some purpose?

    People should also remember that those who put people in uniform at polling booths for political purposes have never had the best interests of the population in mind. Is green the new brown?

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