On the demerits
The government’s union-busting legislation is in the balance
Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie is now in the excruciating position of deciding whether to follow through on her repeated threat to vote for the government’s union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill if rogue Victorian CFMEU secretary John Setka did not resign. With rough details of an extremely harsh demerit-point system now out in the public domain, and a vote in the Senate expected as soon as tomorrow, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the rights of workers to freely associate and organise are now in Lambie’s hands. It would take a special kind of vindictiveness to punish 1.6 million union members – most of whom have nothing to do with the CFMEU – for the sins of one official. To put it another way, Setka and the CFMEU may have called Lambie’s bluff. If so, it’s a very high-risk strategy.
In a short, poorly attended press conference in the Senate courtyard today, ACTU president Michele O’Neil and secretary Sally McManus explained why the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which singles out unions for deregistration, was unacceptable. “Where is the demerit-point system for politicians and political parties?” asked McManus. “Where’s the proposal to shut down the banks, like the Commonwealth Bank, who’s been found guilty of criminal behaviour? … Where’s the proposal to shut down Domino’s Pizza, or George Calombaris’s empire? … All of those organisations that have engaged in shocking wage theft – those same breaches of the same laws could have a union shut down and its leaders sacked.”
Asked whether there may have been a better outcome if Setka had stepped down, McManus said: “That’s the whole point isn’t it? The government wants to keep focusing on one person. Think of it this way: if you can deregister a union, it’s not one person, it’s every single official [who] goes. So I reckon that this is an absolute distraction.”
The federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Annie Butler, said her members were concerned that under the proposed demerit system a handful of minor transgressions by volunteer officials could add up quickly and lead to the deregistration of an entire union. In comments that were no doubt directed at Senator Lambie, Butler said that the Mersey Community Hospital near Devonport “was only saved by the action of nurses in that area. That hospital could come under threat again, and this bill will stop them doing anything about it.”
Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter last night denied [$] claims that the laws could be used to deregister unions for minor civil breaches of workplace laws, saying that this would only occur if a union or registered employer organisation was found by a court to have committed a criminal offence. But the ACTU is flying in the dark until it sees the final legislation, and O’Neil complained there had been no briefings or information from the government.
The government needs the support of three out of five crossbenchers, to pass the legislation. Senator Rex Patrick toldRN Breakfast this morning that, while some details were still being worked through, he and Stirling Griff for the Centre Alliance would support the legislation, leaving the government one vote short. The ACTU had not been able to meet with Centre Alliance – Patrick is still upset over union threats and advertisements targeting the party – but did meet with Lambie yesterday. The ACTU says that meetings with One Nation senators about the bill have been productive, and that the ACTU has had the opportunity to outline to the senators that “the bill would hurt all unions and all workers in Australia”.
Today, Sally McManus urged the crossbench senators to stand up for ordinary working people. “We need our unions in Australia. All workers need unions. If we do not have a strong union movement, wages will go backwards, we will end up with a completely insecure workforce, and employers will get away with absolutely whatever they want. We are the balance. We are the fairness. We’re now asking them to stand up for ordinary Australians and oppose the shockingly titled Ensuring Integrity law.”
The Morrison government has to be careful that when the insider debate about the Ensuring Integrity Bill is over it has not resulted in the kind of ideologically motivated, union-bashing legislation that plays well with the Liberal base and in the conservative media, but could fundamentally alienate millions of Australians when they realise their rights at work have been eroded… again.
“In the past, when we as a community have confronted issues of national tragedy and crisis, such as we did after Port Arthur, we have come together as a nation and acted. We had a national firearms agreement within 11 days. How dare you suggest that our country is beyond the ability of rising to a similar challenge. How dare any of you suggest that, in this moment, at this time, it is appropriate to be prosecuting a piece of legislation with the aim of propping up coal. You are no better than a bunch of arsonists – borderline arsonists – and you should be ashamed.”
Greens senator Jordon Steele-John, in a debate on the government’s “big stick” energy legislation, backs the party’s deputy leader Adam Bandt’s proposal for a National Climate Agreement, comparable with the response to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
“It’s not our country any more, they’re not our institutions any more, it’s not our government any more. As wider society continues to decay we [will] encourage the speed and ferocity of the decay, we [will] politically represent ourselves and our interests, we [will] bleed the old beast dry, taking from it all its useful people, its resources and health until all that is left in what used to be Australia is a dying carcass weak and crippled by its own hypocrisy.”
The number of times that Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie declined to answer questions about who was responsible for watering down the wording of the draft dairy code of conduct from expressly prohibiting the practice of retrospective price drops for dairy farmers to allowing it under “circumstances beyond reasonable control”.
“Australian taxpayers have a right to know if any significant amount of taxpayer money is being given to entities with tax haven links. They have a right to expect that Australian government procurement will take into account international taxation issues. This law will achieve these objectives, and the information that flows into the public domain will inform policymakers and public debate about further measures that may be required to strengthen Australia’s efforts to combat multinational taxation avoidance.”
“Recent years have seen an ever-increasing flood of images wash over us that can’t help but symbolise the treacherous fragility of systems – political, environmental, planetary – we have previously accepted as inviolable … Consciously or not, Civilization: The Way We Live Now, an international survey of contemporary photography at NGV Australia, conjures such images as a kind of shadow narrative to what is actually presented on the gallery wall.”
“Baumbach, known American chronicler of the mess inherent to long-term relationships has the rare ability as a writer/director to set about presenting two sides of a story, and to actually do so. Here, he’s at his peak with career-best collaborators Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Rough and smooth sidle alongside each other, bottle up and explode.”
“There is a link between an unbending regime of ‘compliance’ checks in Australia’s social security system, the poverty many of its subjects face and the cost of mental illness. It was established last week, by none other than the federal government’s own economic advisory agency, the Productivity Commission.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie is now in the excruciating position of deciding whether to follow through on her repeated threat to vote for the government’s union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill if rogue Victorian CFMEU secretary John Setka did not resign. With rough details of an extremely harsh demerit-point system now out in the public domain, and a vote in the Senate expected as soon as tomorrow, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the rights of workers to freely associate and organise are now in Lambie’s hands. It would take a special kind of vindictiveness to punish 1.6 million union members – most of...