FLUSHED AND SMUG over its part in a filthy, reprehensible election campaign that won government for Labor — shredding the reputation of emergency services — the United Firefighters Union has made industrial demands on the state of Victoria of more than $1.5bn, including 30% pay rises over three years. The union wants its 30 pieces of silver for services rendered. Premier Daniel Andrews must pay the wages of sin or risk the wrath of the Devil.
Immediately after it was clear that Labor had narrowly won last year’s state election, I opined in this column that Victoria now had a complete moron as Premier; the conspiracy of events has taken little time to prove the assertion correct, with a labyrinth of poor judgement, incompetence, and sheer unbridled stupidity quickly laid bare as the foundation upon which his odious election victory was built.
There is an old adage that nothing comes of nothing; here in Australia, we like to say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But whichever way you cut it, new Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is about to find out the hard way that everything comes at a price.
In the lead-up to the November election (and in some cases, over a period of years), public sector unions went to extraordinary lengths to help orchestrate the defeat of a first-term conservative government in Victoria, with trade unionists masquerading as nurses, ambulance drivers, hospital orderlies and firefighters taking and making calls in marginal Coalition electorates, doorknocking homes, manning polling booths, and visibly dragging hitherto respected essential service providers into the acrid cesspool of a flagrantly dishonest Labor election campaign.
I say “masquerading” for the simple reason that ample evidence existed prior to polling day that members of other unions with no ostensible connection whatsoever to the emergency services participated, wearing facsimiles of uniforms and fabricated sob-stories of professional mistreatment with which to regale the unsuspecting and the gullible.
Yet at the end of the day and irrespective of the bona fides of their participating “members,” the unions’ contribution to the Labor campaign effort was, as I said, flagrantly dishonest — it relied on the presentation of exaggerated and/or fictitious “problems” said to have been created by the Liberal Party, and perpetuated these for the express purpose of hoodwinking enough voters into a vote for Labor to bring about a change of government.
At the time, the central thread running through Labor’s campaign narrative was that the various voices that “courageously” spoke out against the Napthine government spoke on behalf of all Victorians; for every vandalised ambulance that drove around the state defaced by Labor’s political slogans, for every nurse who called people out of “concern” to discuss their health issues (when they were in fact peddling their own political agenda) and for every firefighter telling the story of shocking conditions and appalling resources, the unifying message was that only Labor could bring Victorians together — and that only Labor could solve these dreadful problems the Liberals, with their “hatred” of public services and their “obsession” with “cruel cuts,” had created.
It was, of course, the biggest pile of horse shit ever passed off as an election campaign narrative in this country (although there has been plenty of competition for that particular mantle, from all sides of the political spectrum, for decades).
But in news that will come as no surprise to anyone with a brain, it now seems at least one of the unions wanted something for its trouble.
Reports emerged yesterday that the United Firefighters Union had served the Country Fire Authority with a list of demands which would inflict a $1.5bn hit to the CFA’s bottom line over the life of a new three-year agreement; the CFA’s Melbourne affiliate the Metropolitan Fire Board is yet to receive an industrial demand from the UFU, but is said to expect this to occur imminently.
The UFU’s ransom note to the CFA demands 30% pay rises for its workers over three years; a ridiculous and totally unjustifiable claim that any CFA employee who works 20 minutes or more of overtime be paid the equivalent of eight hours’ extra pay; various perks such as the refund of tolls incurred in driving to and from work and taxpayer-funded childcare places; and the demand for a series of veto provisions that would, in effect, hand control of this state sector workplace over to the UFU — thus ceding control over the CFA squarely to the union movement.
Prior to the election, anyone with the temerity to point out that these unions were speaking for themselves — not for “all Victorians” — was shouted down; accused of showing “disrespect” to those who perform such vital functions as manning ambulances and fire stations and hospitals, we were told in no uncertain terms that we belonged in the gutter, that our objections showed how out of touch we were, and that the Liberal government we sought to shield from such outrageously deceptive tactics deserved the defeat the unions and Labor were working to inflict upon it.
How the worm turns.
All of this creates a major headache for Daniel Andrews, who might have been clever enough by half to navigate an election campaign, but who is fast being revealed as completely and hopelessly out of his depth as “Premier” of Victoria.
As of yesterday, the UFU has demanded $1.5bn and effective control of the Country Fire Authority.
A similar demand — in financial quantum and effective control — will seemingly hit the MFB within days.
The ambulance union won’t pose a headache for the Andrews government, striking a deal less than a week after the election that is almost identical to one its leaders agreed to on a handshake with the Napthine government but reneged on prior to signing, a month from polling day, for the fairly obvious reason that it could do another month of damage to the Liberal Party it so clearly detests by refusing to co-operate.
But the nurses will want their pound of flesh early in the Andrews government’s term; having been right in the thick of the election campaign action, there is no reason to think the demands of their unions will be any less outrageous than what we are now seeing from the UFU.
The Health Services Union is likely to want a cut of the action for non-nursing staff it represents in hospitals, too, and this is likely to hit the state budget every bit as hard as the rest of the ambit pay claims now being presented as reimbursement for “services rendered to the state ALP.
All of this comes before the CFMEU — that militant, violent union so deeply intertwined with Victorian Labor’s and Daniel Andrews’ political DNA — even steps into the ring to press its claims for favours.
And it’s fairly clear that far from his solemn pledges of sober economic management and sound stewardship of the state budget, Daniel Andrews will shortly be facing cumulative wage demands of five to ten billion dollars over three years: ambit, yes, indefensible, certainly; but even if those claims end up being settled on half the money sought, the impact on Victoria’s finances will be disastrous — and set the state right back on the path to the early 1990s and the mess made of it by “legendary” ALP premier John Cain, who was forced from office in disgrace.
The problem, of course, is that the unions have got Andrews by the balls.
The Premier now faces an invidious choice: to capitulate to the ridiculous demands of the unions that arguably shoehorned him into the Premier’s office on a lie, doing untold damage to the state in the process; or to bite the hand that feeds him, and tell the unions — as they surely should be told — to fuck off, and to tell their stories walking.
In short, Andrews must pay the wages of sin, lest he risk facing the wrath of the Devil.
If Daniel Andrews didn’t see this coming last year — as he was accepting all the “free” help on offer from his union mates to get rid of the hated Tories — then he really is too stupid to be Premier of Victoria, as this column (and hundreds of thousands, if not millions) of Liberal voters in this state suspected all along.
The invoice for 30 pieces of silver has landed on the Premier’s desk; irrespective of whether he pays up, it is likely to cost him very dearly indeed.
It’s not as if this is the only primed explosive Andrews will have to defuse quickly, either; some of Labor’s election commitments are undeliverable and some — on Transport — are yet to see the light of day three months after his solemn election-eve declarations that they were “shovel ready.”
And whilst the subject of money is on the table, Andrews is simultaneously facing another searing choice: to legislate Victoria out of the contract to build the East-West Link — effectively ripping off the companies contracted to build it — or to cough up the $1.2bn in compensation the contract (which Andrews solemnly claimed in opposition “wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on”) obliges the state of Victoria to pay as the price for abandoning the project altogether.
Either way, it’s hardly an auspicious start, and this column will rigorously scrutinise the Andrews government and hold it to account: I do not believe Victorian Labor has any mandate in office to do anything other than not build the East-West Link, and so incompetent is the ALP that even that election promise will cost the state — monetarily and in terms of road congestion, pollution, lost jobs and lost productivity — for decades.
The complete moron now ensconced in the Premier’s suites in Treasury Place is showing his stripes. Already, the poor judgement and incompetence that characterises his government has become impossible to defend or to explain away, even for Labor’s most seasoned — and fork-tongued — of spinmeisters.