tip off

Rundle: Ricky Muir, a closet lefty unionist in revhead clothing

Tony Abbott hoped he’d be able to beguile the oddball crossbenchers in the Senate, but revelations about Ricky Muir’s unionist past could prove a sticking point.

When the dust settled after the election last year and it became clear that the Senate had turned out to be, well, interesting, there was a widespread belief that it was a triumph for the Right and a disaster for the Left. The Greens had lost balance of power to a motley crew of micro- and pseudo-parties, most of which appeared to be from the oddball side of the Right. The new government cackled silently as a coal baron’s pet party, together with a libertarian and a “Family First” former Liberal, took the balance of power.

That hasn’t quite worked out as they planned — the Palmer party has positioned itself well to the Left of the spectrum on social services, David Leyonhjelm introduced a same-sex marriage bill, and everyone rejected the GP co-pay in its current form.

But perhaps the greatest surprise was Ricky Muir, the “revhead” whose major act to date was to save the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Indeed, it seems even less likely that Muir is the reliable right-winger of their imaginings, with the Senator revealing that, during his years as a saw miller, he was a member of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy UnionĀ  — the union that the Abbott government is currently trying to bust and eventually deregister. Muir was not only a member of the CFMEU — he was a shop steward for it at the East Gippsland saw mill he worked at for a number of years, before his election to the Senate.

Muir hasn’t been going out of his way to advertise his CFMEU connections — it appears in none of the profiles of him published at the time of his election — but he doesn’t try to hide it, either. He confirmed to Crikey that he had been a shop steward for the Forestry division of the CFMEU for around two years in the 2000s, when he worked for the Gunns mill in Heyfield, East Gippsland, now owned by Australian Sustainable Hardwood. Muir says he put his hand up to be shop steward during a round of EAs negotiations, “to support and help his colleagues”, and that his fellow employees had had “concerns around entitlements”.

The news that Muir is a former bruvver won’t come as welcome news to the Abbott government, which has had the CFMEU in its sights for some time, running a witch-hunt in which the union is slated for standard business practices — establishing strike funds, dealing with dodgy corporate builders on behalf of the members who worked for them, and the like — which are constructed as inherently criminal activities.

Of course Muir was a member of CFMEU (Forestry), and the attacks are on CFMEU (Construction), and there are times when there has been no love lost between the two groups. But the government’s current onslaught is against the CFMEU in toto, and may generate a solidarity that the union could not create itself.

Muir has praise for the union, saying that they were supportive and there was “good communication when it was needed, and they provided training” for the role. Muir says that there was “generally a good relationship” between employers and union — but sources in the CFMEU say he’s being polite. “That wasn’t a friendly place,” said one official. “It would have taken some commitment to be a shoppie there.” Muir is more circumspect about the current government attacks on the CFMEU (Construction), saying that “like all unions, they have their place” — which suggests that he would not look favourably on the government’s ultimate aim, that of deregistration. “Individuals must be accountable for their actions,” he told Crikey, which all suggests that he doesn’t want the union as a whole hung out to dry.

This union history might well be something the Coalition would have wanted to know in planning its lines of attack — for the proposals the government is making, as regards re-establishing the ABCC, would make it easier for employers to deny building and other workers their entitlements such as RDOs and penalty rates. With Muir sitting in a useful swing position — if the government can get the support of PUP senators, plus right-wingers Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm, then Muir becomes their potential sixth crossbencher — treatment of his former union may well become a saw-point.

10
  • 1
    Liamj
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha ha…
    Tip for LNP strategists - believing News Corpse propaganda should be left to the mugs who vote for you. You need to do some actual homework & thinking all on your own, because the Sun Kings churnalists don’t, and he wouldn’t allow it into print if they did.

  • 2
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    one of the few high-tech industries that Australia has a huge comparative advantage in, in areas like solar power” is a strange statement. Australia certainly has an advantage compared to others in using solar power, but there’s nothing high-tech about installing it. All the ‘high tech’ currently involved in solar is mainly in the manufacturing, which is done in China and, decreasingly, Germany, irrespective of the Australian market.

  • 3
    MJPC
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Guy, you have made my weekend. Poor old Cap’n Abbott he can’t take a trick but we are off to another undeclared war now, so that will fill the papers for another few weeks and give him a few votes till it goes to cr*p.

  • 4
    Jeff Richards
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Ha Ha. I hope he puts a boot into the good for nothing Abbott government,

  • 5
    Russell
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    So who was it who were so quick to demonise Ricky, David Leyonhjelm and the PUPs as being “right wing” anyway? Not the Guy’s beloved inner city Greens and the left, surely!

    It’s just class prejudice and elitist conceit that labels everyone and everything the working class actually vote for as “right wing.” It’s lazy and ignorant.

    Most workers couldn’t give a toss about the issues which now excite Guy’s version of the left so much like gay marriage. But will be ironical that a “right winger” gets the one thing they so dearly want through parliament… (is it the only thing?)

  • 6
    JennyWren
    Posted Friday, 29 August 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    If you think about it russell, your very statement 20 years ago would’ve been risable. Working class voting right wing? Unthinkable!

  • 7
    Ian
    Posted Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    If some of the working class do vote for the LNP I would suggest that much of the reason would be that Labor and union leaders have let them done repeatedly in the past.

  • 8
    RobS
    Posted Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    You made a good point Russell. Most lefties wouldn’t have expected a motoring enthusiast to be interested in the RET and many wouldn’t have taken the time to read his resume, even if it was publicised.
    But then you accused “the left” of labelling “everyone and everything” and you did the same with your comment about Gay marriage and your snipe at “inner city Greens” like they are all the same.
    “Lazy and ignorant” were your words..
    There’s an examination of “class” in The Monthly by Tsolkas you might find worth a look if you’re interested in the relationship between class and conservatism and “the Left”..

  • 9
    Ian
    Posted Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Russell, There were dozens of parties standing for the senate in WA. Most had names that indicated some single issue goal, for instance the “Sports and Recreation Party”. The only way to get a handle on what these people’s real political stance was, was to see where they placed their preferences. In most cases the Libs were placed ahead of Labor and Labor ahead of the Greens.

    Obviously in the circumstances it would be logical to assume that these parties were right wing inclined.

  • 10
    Helen Razer
    Posted Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    good

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