Yesterday, Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey claimed that by the time the election is over the ACTU and the Labor Party will have spent nearly $100 million campaigning against the government’s industrial relations laws.

Can he be right? Labor described the claims as nonsense, but their industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard wasn’t willing to go into specifics.

“It’s not for me to name a figure but of course it’s well less than the $55 million spent by the Howard Government on its propaganda,” she said.

The government’s egregious WorkChoices ad spend has failed to convince punters – and been a negative in its own right.

But just how big is the union campaign against WorkChoices? It seems to have been overlooked.

Right now, there are 21 people employed full time to target 21 marginal electorates in the lead up to the election.

Here’s a snapshot of the money, manpower and strategy behind a very savvy PR campaign, according to Evan Langdon from the ACTU’s marginal seat campaign.

He says Your Rights at Work have placed:

  • six people in Queensland (12 government seats held by less than 10%)
  • five in NSW (14 government seats held by less than 10%)
  • three in SA (five government seats held by less than 10%)
  • two in VIC (10 government seats held by less than 10%)
  • two in WA (two government seats held by less than 10%)
  • two in Tasmania (two government seats held by less than 10%); and
  • one in the Northern Territory (one government seat held by less than 10%)

“The campaign coordinators are doing grassroots – letterboxing, door knocking, street stalls etcetera – campaigning throughout the electorates,” says Langdon.

“Based around informing working families of their rights at work and challenging the local Coalition MPs’ support of John Howard’s unfair laws.”

That’s a very substantial campaign.

The vast majority of unions have imposed special levies on their members to fund the Your Rights at Work campaign over and above existing activity.

Then you can add the resources available to 60 Labor Members of the House of Representatives, let alone the 28 Labor Senators – free to campaign in any seat across their state that takes their fancy.

Does that all add up to $100 million?

It’s virtually impossible to get any information to do formal arithmetic with, but it all adds up to big trouble on the ground for the government in the marginals in the lead up to the poll.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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