The war of words in the upper echelons of the Electrical Trades Union has jacked up a notch, with Communication, Electrical & Plumbing Union chief Peter Tighe declaring war on Victorian rival Dean Mighell’s support for Bob Katter’s Australian Party.

This morning, Tighe parlayed Katter’s recent statement that former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was “not corrupt”, into an attack on Mighell, who donated $50,000 to Katter and gave a rousing address littered with dropped Gs to a party convention in Brisbane last month.

“Unfortunately, with the ETU’s Victorian branch secretary Dean Mighell throwing very public support behind his ‘mate’ Katter, we have to make it very clear that the union as a whole does not support this very badly tainted politician,” Tighe said in a statement.

“The vast majority of ETU state branches want nothing to do with a confirmed climate change denier like Katter. He is an advocate of uranium mining in Queensland, which would ultimately see uranium transported from Mount Isa in the west through to the ports in Townsville.”

The CEPU — an umbrella union that includes the ETU’s state branches — has taken Mighell to the Federal Court in an attempt to enforce a decision of its national council to ban him from leaving his home state to campaign under the ETU banner. It follows a bitter election battle last year where the NSW-based Tighe was challenged by Mighell loyalist Howard Worthing for control of the national union.

In 1985, Katter was an MP in the Joh government that sacked 1200 workers during a SEQEB strike and denied them benefits. But time has healed those wounds and Katter has recently embraced the anti-privatisation agenda of his Victorian comrade.

In his speech, Mighell added a disclaimer saying that he did not speak for the ETU in Queensland — helmed by Peter Simpson — although he did don an official ETU long-sleeved shirt at the podium. Katter has previously addressed the Victorian ETU with a union logo attached to his trademark Akubra.

Mighell’s branch is not formally aligned to any political party, despite donating $225,000 to the Greens in 2010 to help send Adam Bandt and Richard di Natale to Canberra. According to the AEC’s Periodic Disclosures site, it donated $331,000 to Labor in the 2010-11 financial year, even though it formally disaffiliated at the start of that period.

Mighell told Crikey that Tighe was trying to curry favour with Labor in order to secure a well-paid job in the training sector.

“The problem is with so many unions is that they become welded to the ALP … but we’re an independent union and put our members’ interests before political careers.

“As I understand it Peter Tighe is trying to ingratiate himself with Labor because he’s relying on them for an appointment for a high-paid job in the training sector … I don’t know why he’s f-cking carrying on like this,” he said.

Tighe said that suggestion was “f-cking absolute shit”.

“I wish [former ALP boss] Bernie Riordan would f-cking give me a job, because I’m yet to see all these f-cking offers role in the door,” he explained. “Dean has got the shits with Peter Simpson and the shits with us generally after we carried a national council decision well over 12 months ago stopping interference in another state by another branch without that branch’s permission.”

Tighe noted that Katter’s Queensland election campaign director is Luke Shaw of “Friends of Joh” fame, “a man that played a part in Bjelke-Petersen not having to face trial on perjury charges.”

It seems the ETU’s National office is sometimes content to back other elements of Katter’s agenda. The February edition of the ETU’s national magazine acknowledged Katter’s support in pushing for the further dismantling of the Australian Building and Construction Commission beyond the legislation passed by Labor.

Last year, Mighell was successfully elected as a director of the Victorian branch of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. He remains popular among his band of Victorian blue-collar supporters.

Peter Fray

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