Last week the national conservative media whipped itself into a frenzy over a nurse and midwife code of conduct that reportedly required nurses to declare their “white privilege” before treating Indigenous patients.

As per Media Watch‘s coverage on Monday, the story was (surprise!) a beat-up. The reference is in a new code of conduct’s glossary, and the Nursing and Midwifery Board has issued a statement rejecting claims that nurses and midwives would be required to declare “white privilege” to patients.

The man who has been widely quoted and promoted in pushing this story is Graeme Haycroft, who runs a breakaway nurses’ union in Queensland. The union represents just 2500 nurses (out of 390,000 in Australia). 

But Haycroft’s turn as a staunch defender of workers’ rights is something of an about-face for the former National Party delegate, who has been credited with breaking the shearers’ union in Queensland in the 1990s. 

In a 1992 Age feature on the tussle between graziers and unionists, Haycroft was described as providing non-union labour through his franchise of Troubleshooters Available. Elsewhere in Australia, that group fought and beat unionists at Victoria’s Seymour meatworks before it closed, and — with backing from the National Farmers Federation — won High Court action against two building unions in Melbourne who were trying to remove its workers from building sites. Haycroft was, the report said, “a superannuation consultant, a former member of the Joh-for-PM push and a wearer of the dark blue tie of the H R Nicholls Society” (which is a conservative, anti-union industrial relations organisation). Haycroft has also been a member of the National Party in Queensland, and was chairman of the LNP’s Industrial Relations and Employment Policy Committee (which he quit to start the union).

In 1993, Haycroft spruiked a plan to get unemployed young people in southern Queensland working as contract labour for $3 or $4 an hour, and set up union-free building sites on the Sunshine Coast.

He’s been a semi-regular commentator on industrial relations over the years, especially in his hometown newspaper, the Sunshine Coast Daily, but his presence as a commentator went up a notch in 2007, as the Labor government was spruiking and legislating the rollback of WorkChoices. Haycroft repeatedly argued against the “fairness test” that was introduced on existing Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), and against penalty rates for workers. He made a business of advising small businesses on moving their employees of collective awards onto AWAs.

In 2007, The Australian reported that the Howard government threatened to prosecute employers who took Haycroft’s advice, prompted by an ad he took in the Sunshine Coast Daily claiming he could show employers “how to ‘replicate’ AWAs so they can pass the government’s new fairness test”.

He has dabbled in his own unions before, including referring to himself as the “inaugural secretary of the Private Teachers Professional Association of Qld” in a biography for an article in the LNP’s magazine Dialogue in 2014. That union doesn’t appear to have come to much, with an ABN registered and an empty Google+ page with one follower the only evidence it exists with a Google search.

Last year, Haycroft told former Courier Mail editor and now-columnist Des Houghton there were no party politics involved in his union. “I am philosophically in favour of unions, as it turns out … People have a right to be represented, but I abhor monopolies.”


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey