I stood for election for federal vice-president of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance in 2007. Three candidates were endorsed by Christopher Warren, our federal secretary, and other heavies within our union. There was also a fourth candidate — me. The chosen three couldn’t be elected unopposed — and as a result, some $10,000 was spent urging members not to vote for me.

Roll on 2013. There are two nominations for federal president: the incumbent and me. Guess what? Another $10,000 has been spent to urge members not to vote for me, signed by 62 people (none of the 62 signatories to the flyer contacted me before signing), including Warren and branch secretary Louise Connor. It might be legal, but it does seem questionable that paid employees should campaign for one member against another.

Do they know anything about me? A post-graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University? A past editor with Motilal Banarsidass Publishers in India? A senior reporter and arts writer with The Mercury in Hobart? A past Tasmania branch president?

A disturbing trend in our union is the centralisation of power and decision-making at the top. It runs counter to the belief that if unions are to survive there needs to be empowerment of the rank-and-file. Instead, the hierarchy rules, surrounded by hand-picked men and women. They do an OK job and in difficult times, but dissent isn’t tolerated. How do I know? I witnessed it when I was a Tasmania branch president and when I ran for federal office without official sanction.

Our members get weekly bulletins, but nary a mention of an election in the offing, or a call to members to consider nominating for positions. It’s a closed shop

In this election, four people have been elected unopposed for four section posts: federal presidents of Equity, the Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees’ Association, Musicians and Media. And guess what? They all signed the flyer against me. (And, I should add, against an interloper standing for one of the five positions of federal vice-president — a sixth candidate, Howard Marosi.)

We’ve had the same federal president for more than a decade, Patricia Amphlett, a singer, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a real election, with a journalist running for president. I can understand Col Joye and Wendy Harmer signing the petition in support of our current president, but I wonder why Laurie Oakes and Heather Ewart thought I was a threat?

The flyer arrived in the mail the same day as the ballot papers — to “keep our union strong and united”, members must vote for the other candidate.

Rough calculations suggest it cost $10,000 to print and mail. Who paid for it? “This leaflet is paid for by friends and supporters of the Federal Officers standing for election,” the flier says.

In the 2007 election, of 16,361 members, only 9690 voted (and for the record, I missed out on being elected by 142 votes). In the 2010 election there were 16,551 members; just 3180 voted — 19% of us. This year our numbers have dropped to 16,082 — how many will bother to vote?

Chris Warren, MEAA federal secretary, responds:

Patricia Amphlett has been an outstanding federal president of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. She has been a key public and lobbying voice for the interests of all the people who inform and entertain Australia. Within the union, she has played a key role in keeping a group of diverse creative workers together, pulling in the same direction. She’s done this because she’s never adopted the sort of petty snobbery that says one type of member is better than any other.

Her commitment is reflected in the fact that so many other active members in the union support her to continue in that role and agreed to put their names to a letter to other members. Their public statement of support should be seen for what it is: support for Patricia, not criticism of anyone else.

Like all union elections, this election is conducted independently by the Australian Electoral Commission. No union funds were spent in circulating the statement in support of Patricia. Money has been donated by friends and supporters, including at a successful fund-raising function held in Sydney this month.