AS the Turnbull government proceeds with bills to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and enact Registered Organisations laws to force unions to higher standards of governance, Labor is consumed by incandescent rage opposing them. Populated by those who excuse criminal acts and the lawlessness exposed by a Royal Commission, the “modern” ALP is a cat’s paw for thugs masquerading as a pretender to govern.
The unions — now covering just 15% of the adult Australian workforce, a figure that falls to single digits if applied purely to private enterprise, and even then bloated by virtual closed shops in some industries — are, today, little more than a fringe group.
Yet that fringe group can and does wield far more influence and power than its representation entitles it to; senior union figures sit on the boards of major Australian companies; anyone whose superannuation savings (inadvisedly) sit in an industry fund are channelling money into unions’ and union officials’ coffers; and whenever an elected conservative government even considers doing something the unions disapprove of, their minions bring whole cities to a standstill until brute force and bully tactics force a backdown.
Readers know I am no friend to the union movement, and the sort of lawless behaviour uncovered at Dyson Heydon’s Royal Commission provides some inkling as to why; if an employer (or employer group) attempted half the things that unions have gotten away with in this country for far too long, the unions would see to it that the government of the day — of whatever complexion — shut their businesses down by whatever means legally available to do so.
It takes a certain chutzpah to maintain a position whereby others must be squashed into oblivion at the earliest sign of activity that unions dislike, only to insist that Trades Hall remain unfettered, unregulated and above the law where its own enterprises are concerned: and especially when that freedom is repeatedly abused, the law ignored, and union coffers filled at the expense of both the workers they claim to represent and the wider community they purport to serve.
I’ve been following the goings-on surrounding the Turnbull government’s attempts to pass legislation — already once defeated — to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the accompanying bid to enact Registered Organisations laws that would hold the union movement to the same standards of conduct and governance as the business community, and some additional reading can be found here and here; it seems inevitable the bills will be voted down, which is a shame, for any right-minded person who believes in the rule of law and the principle that it applies equally to everyone has a stake in seeing those bills passed.
Those caveats, clearly, exclude the ALP.
The Labor Party is horribly, horribly conflicted on this issue, even without the government’s bills on the table; millions of dollars flow from unions directly into ALP coffers every year, and its parliamentary ranks (and, notably, a good portion of its MPs’ advisers) are bloated with former union officials as well; its current federal “leader” has been enmeshed with the unions for decades, albeit without the broad respect and community goodwill enjoyed by the Bob Hawkes and Simon Creans of the world; and its official policy on union corruption and criminal misconduct — to the vacuous extent it has one — amounts to little more than a promise to hear no evil and see no evil.
It is in the ALP’s direct interests for the unions to be permitted to do whatever they like, and anyone who believes its mouth-foaming rage against measures to bring the unions into line with reasonable community expectations of decent and lawful behaviour is born from any other “principle” than the need to keep the cash and resources rolling in is delusional.
What makes it worse is that Labor’s charge against the Royal Commission, its findings, and the measures proposed by the Turnbull government in response has been and is being led, in no small part, by its employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor — the brother of notorious CFMEU supremo Michael — and whilst this column does not suggest impropriety on Brendan O’Connor’s part, it merely underlines the point of just how conflicted the ALP really is.
How credible is it to have the brother of the leader of the most lawless union in the country spearheading the attack against measures to bring it to heel?
Labor says bills to reconstitute the ABCC — in its previous incarnation established by the Howard government, and promptly abolished when Labor won office — are “rotten to the core,” and that the ABCC was “hostile” and “coercive” in fulfilling its brief, but of course it would say that: the ABCC existed solely to stamp out the very criminal misadventures the Heydon inquiry found have again flourished in the years since its abolition, and which logic dictates will continue to do so until or unless beefed-up measures to eliminate them are legislated.
O’Connor, for his part, says the mooted laws are “draconian” (and again, he would say that) and claims the Coalition’s intention to restore the ABCC belies a determination “to return to WorkChoices” which is neither true nor a valid conclusion to draw: re-establishing the ABCC was a Coalition policy that was implicitly endorsed at the ballot box in 2013, and in any case, Labor’s true beef with WorkChoices lay in the fact it desperately didn’t want employees to bargain with their bosses directly, as any mass move to such arrangements would render the unions irrelevant to the process (although beyond the handful of industries and silos in which they are dominant, the unions are more or less irrelevant now anyway).
As we discussed on Tuesday in the context of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s threat to call a double dissolution over the bills in question, Labor and the
Communist Party Greens (who also take buckets of union cash, and are just as compromised on this as Labor is) are up in arms over the fact the secret sections of Heydon’s report are to be made available for viewing by the crossbench Senators on whom the fate of the legislation rests, whilst the ALP and Greens will not be provided with even redacted access to those volumes.
I reiterate my deep discomfiture with even the crossbenchers being shown the secret portions of the report; Justice Heydon marked them as secret with good reason, detailing as they do the identities of brave whistleblowers and witnesses whose damning inside testimony made the exposure of widespread wrongdoing at the unions that were examined possible in the first place, and the crossbenchers — some of whom exhibit a complete disregard for notions of propriety, discretion, or conduct becoming elected representatives — can hardly be relied upon to maintain the secrecy of those pages.
But by the same token, the only conceivable reason for Labor in particular to want access to them is to obtain the details of those witnesses and pass them to union enforcers for “further action:” and this very real risk — not a fantasy, not a game, and certainly not an unreasonable conclusion to draw based on the violent actions of some of the most militant union thugs — is one no Australian of goodwill would countenance taking, and no elected representative of good conscience would ever capitulate to ambit demands for them to do so.
As I said on Tuesday, the issue of allegedly responsible members of Parliament refusing to enable steps to be taken to stamp out criminal behaviour at Australian unions is the central point here, and Labor’s proposed fig leaf of increased fines for breaches (and no ABCC or regulatory regime) simply lacks all credibility.
Take Brendan O’Connor’s brother’s own union as a case in point: it has in recent years ignored Court directives, repeatedly been found in contempt of Court, and thumbed its nose at judicial attempts to haul it into line on account of its militant, thuggish, and occasionally violent activities. Part of this pattern has been a refusal to pay Court-ordered fines and restitution in the wake of its path of industrial anarchy.
Labor’s “solution” of bigger fines (which CFMEU policy seems to be not to pay anyway) is a joke, a kite of contrivance flown before the public in a blatantly deceptive attempt to con voters to believe the ALP is serious about cleaning up the rotten union edifice.
And here’s the rub.
The unions virtually own the ALP; I’m not talking about the historical construct that the Labor Party is the political arm of the union movement, but rather a takeover of one by the other. Labor’s people, to a large and increasing degree, come from unions. Labor money, increasingly, comes from unions. Labor MPs, mostly, do not get preselected in the first place without the explicit imprimatur of the unions. And Labor’s agenda, increasingly, is the agenda of the unions, not one that has any relevance whatsoever in the lives of the great majority of Australians who have no truck with the union movement, for it is an agenda that has little to offer anyone who truly wants to get ahead and improve their lot in life.
To use the vernacular, the unions have got the Labor Party by the balls.
Anyone who wants to see the unions cleaned up and refocused on doing what it says they do on the packet is not going to see any attempt from a Labor government — ever — to clean out the stinking pustules and corrupt filth that have tarnished the image of the wider union movement and contributed to the ongoing rejection of union membership by the overwhelming majority of the Australian public.
Stories of what the unions might have achieved and delivered in years past are irrelevant, for that was then, and this is now; and right now, it is the union movement that is “rotten to the core” — not the measures being pursued by the federal government to weed out the toxic miscreants in their midst.
If the government’s laws are voted down in the Senate, this column reiterates its support for the calling of an immediate dissolution of both Houses of Parliament, and in an election fought over union corruption and criminal behaviour, I think Labor would be in line for a nasty shock when the votes at such an election were tallied.
Right now, by its words and actions, and on account of its iron-clad determination to do everything it possibly can to ensure the legislation before Parliament is defeated — an undertaking likely to succeed, thanks to some of the unprincipled wreckers sitting on the crossbench, who merely seek to damage and/or destroy the Liberal Party (and yes, Jacqui Lambie, I’m looking at you, you toad) — the ALP, whether it comprehends it or not, has shown its hand to the Australian public.
And that, very simply, betrays an ugly picture indeed; “modern” Labor has reduced itself to being an apologist for illegal actions, a cheer squad for the continuation of lawless industrial outrages in perpetuity, and nothing more than a cat’s paw for criminal thugs whose only priority — despite claiming to exist and operate for the betterment of their members — is to advance their own fortunes and interests by literally any means conceivable.
Yet the ALP has the nerve to masquerade as a pretender to govern Australia — a privilege utterly at odds with its determination to shield the crooks it is beholden to from the law at any cost — and with a “leader” so deeply entrenched in the union movement as Bill Shorten is and the signposts of CFMEU control over the Labor Party lying everywhere you look it seems, the charade of Labor’s suitability to hold office in this country is one that should simply be ignored.
An almighty brawl over these laws is likely to end with an election. Its outcome is almost certain to be much different to what the union movement expects.