Bill Shorten is being as ingenuous as humanly possible. Sure, he’s a labour movement careerist. Sure, he’s a veteran union organiser and leader. And yeah, he’s been a factional warlord and backroom puppet master for the Labor Party in Victoria and in Canberra. But now he’s facing up to the “hard truths” of Labor’s unhealthy relationship with trade unions. This time he really means it.

Which is more than you can say for the unions.

Most labour heavies wisely kept quiet about Shorten’s reform proposals yesterday. But others couldn’t help themselves. Like Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams on 4BC yesterday:

“Trade unions will fight tooth and nail to make sure they have an influence within the party. Australia is a better place because trade unions had an influence under Labor governments.”

And Rail, Tram and Bus Union national secretary Bob Nanva to The Daily Telegraph, branding Shorten a “mug” for his “thought bubbles”:

“If they view our relationship as nothing more than being a cash cow and finding foot soldiers for them, then ­unions such as ours would be entitled to consider its future arrangements [for donations and affiliation fees].”

Unions have every right to wonder just what they’re going to get for their substantial buck in future. But the smarter labour movement heads know they only have a seat at the big table if the Labor Party gets anywhere near office again. Voters won’t forgive another failed attempt at desperately needed reform.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey