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.