Jun 25, 2010

Mayne: will Gillard’s policy stocktake include union power?

Like with the appointment of a new CEO at a public company, one of the games going forward with Julia Gillard is to assess and track how much of the policy and personnel associated with Kevin Rudd she changes.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

Like with the appointment of a new CEO at a public company, one of the games going forward with Julia Gillard is to assess and track how much of the policy and personnel associated with Kevin Rudd she changes. Someone really should start making a master list of all that was installed by control freak Rudd and then systematically analyse the changes rolled out by Red Maggie, as former Costello spinner Niki Savva described Gillard in The Australian today. For instance, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was widely expected to roll the Howard appointee Maurice Newman as ABC chairman. Alas, Newman was described as “a great suck” and Rudd became his chief defender. Will Gillard continue to protect Newman from Conroy when his first five-year term as chairman expires at the end of next year? Similarly, is Western Bulldogs devotee Gillard a soccer fan and will she follow through on Rudd’s extraordinarily generous financial support for Frank Lowy’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup, especially after our disappointment in South Africa? The very last policy backflip by Rudd came with Wednesday’s pathetic response to the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on gambling reform. Whilst the anti-pokies movement is no longer focused on defeating Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, running candidates to help deliver his seat of Melbourne and the sixth Victorian senate to the Greens, the only party with a decent anti-pokies policy, is now being actively considered. However, it remains unclear whether Gillard will stiffen up the policy response and implement the all-important $1 pokies bet limit as recommended by the Productivity Commission. Pokies are arguably the greatest social scourge in Gillard’s working class seat of Lalor, but it is not known if she cares. At least Rudd declared he “hates” the pokies before failing to do anything meaningful. Lalor takes in the local council areas of Wyndham and Melton where working class people, many of them vulnerable females, lost $79 million and $42 million respectively on the pokies in 2008-09. Australians are the world’s biggest gamblers in per capita terms and Victoria has the most lethal pokies in Australia. Indeed, while those walking past Gillard’s Werribee electorate office yesterday were trumpeting her achievements to visiting media, just down the road is The Werribee Plaza Tavern which is notorious for being Victoria's highest gambling losses venue with $10 million dropped by largely struggling Labor voters in the six months to December 2009. This venue is run by the other Mathieson in Julia’s life, pokies billionaire Bruce on behalf of Woolies, and is where a WWII veteran left and was held up just prior to ANZAC Day this year. Its creation offends every law of good planning and Woolies wants to make it bigger. Whilst Gillard’s extraordinary political skills were on display with a near flawless media blitz yesterday, the biggest downside risk is that she’s a left-wing ideologue who doesn’t understand the realities of fiscal discipline, business success and productivity driven by workplace flexibility. If Gillard really isn’t in the thrall of ruthless factional head-kickers then she should use her unprecedented authority to finally move on the most powerful special interest group of them all: trade union control of Australia’s dominant political party. The unions control the ALP through the guaranteed 50% of the vote they have at party forums regardless of how many million ordinary Australian voters join the party. This is the most egregious gerrymander in democratic Australia and makes Rupert Murdoch’s two-class voting system at News Corp look positively benign. The execution of Kevin Rudd -- a known critic of union driven factionalism, branch stacking and preselection deal-making -- is the ultimate example of that union gerrymander at work. The 200,000 plus Australians who work for Coles and Woolworths would have no idea how their employers’ closed shop arrangements with the SDA empower people like Senator Don Farrell who can then team up with other union heavies such Paul Howes. It was the 28-year-old AWU national secretary who announced the knee-capping of a popularly elected PM live on Lateline two nights ago. Go on Julia, prove your independence from the factional bovver boys by modernising the power structures of the most union-dominated major political party in the world.

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7 thoughts on “Mayne: will Gillard’s policy stocktake include union power?

  1. Allison Finley-Bissett

    The labor party is the political arm of the trade union movement… personally I have no problem with workers through their union controlling the labor party… just as I am sure big business has no problem in controlling their political arm the liberal – national parties.

  2. Gavin Moodie

    This piece is misguided for several reasons.

    First, while it is true that the ALP remains the industrial arm of the labour movement as Allison observes, Mayne greatly overstates the unions’ influence over the ALP.

    Labor’s Fair Work Act 2009 is only a modest rebalancing of industrial law in favour of employees, the Model Work Health and Safety Act is mostly a national version of Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act rather than NSW’s stronger provisions, and the ALP has retained the secret inquisitorial powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission which are hated by the unions.

    Secondly, the most pressing issue for the reform of the ALP is branch stacking (which is also a problem in the Liberal Party), not unions’ block representation.

    Finally, the appropriate time to reform party machinery is in opposition, not in government when the electorate rightly expects the governing party to concentrate on national affairs, not on internal organisation.

  3. Allison Finley-Bissett

    Too right Mr Moodie, and personally I think it is a shame that the Unions don’t have more influence, especially in relation to the current industrial legislation in the federal arena. The labor party would be a far superior party if every parliamentarian had a core commitment to the tenets of unionism, unfortunately these days the parliamentary arm is crawling with non believers. No doubt due to those branch stacks… 🙂

  4. David

    Me thinks Mr Mayne you are stirring the pot. The question is why?

  5. Barbara Boyle

    I imagine such reforms( branch stacking and disproportional union representation) will be high on the PM’s to do list.
    Already I can Hear the news grab: ” Former occupiers of Sow Stall have developed wings and might use them to levitate and move through the air””

  6. Bob the builder

    Stephen, I agree with the gist of what you say, but you’re mistaken on a few basic matters. Rudd wasn’t popularly elected, he was elected by the electors in his electorate. People may have ‘felt’ they were electing him, but they weren’t (unless they were in his electorate). Secondly, the union representation is via the members – ‘working Australians’ – of the unions, so it’s not as if it comes form some self-appointed, unrepresentative power. In effect, these days, members don’t have much say or involvement in their union, so in reality the factional thugs do exert a lot of influence, but there’s nothing intrinsic in that, it’s just a result of our depoliticised society. The structure of the Labor party is open and accessible, so there’s no deceit involved – if an elector doesn’t like it, they don’t have to vote Labor.
    The less formal, less visible, power behind the Libs/Labs/Nats is corporate – I think that’s far more of a scandal than the rump worker’s movement having a big say in arranging the deck chairs.

  7. Paulg

    Stephen, how do you propose any PM could do something about poker machines? A referendum, maybe, take away their Centrelink payments perhaps? Maybe a Super profits tax on mining to reimburse the States for lost revenue? I mean get real. Ever read the constitution Stephen?

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