Does Scott Morrison really want to go there with the CFMMEU? Deregister a union for a deleted tweet? That makes News Corp’s holy war against Yassmin Abdel-Magied for a deleted Anzac Day post look positively restrained. A social media-based industrial relations policy, to go with “fair dinkum power” (the official new term for dispatchable power, to distinguish it from unAustralian renewable power), and the flag lapel pin to remind people of how he reminds himself he’s on voters’ side: the eccentricities of Morrison’s vision for Australia are mounting up.
The government has long attacked the CFMMEU, as it is now, over its “bullying” and “intimidation”. Former industrial relations minister Michaelia Cash even argued this deterred women from entering the construction sector, saying in 2016:
The toxic culture of bullying and intimidation caused by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is a huge turn-off for women wanting to enter the industry. It is hard to imagine any parent wanting their daughter to go into this industry when they are confronted with images of CFMEU bullying and intimidation.
New industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer echoed her predecessor yesterday, attacking the union’s “thuggery” and “intimidation”. But problematically, within hours O’Dwyer was also talking to 7.30 and saying about her own party, “there’s no question that the Liberal Party can and should do better when it comes to getting more women into Parliament and we need to do a lot better at keeping them there when we actually get them there”. And then this about the leadership crisis:
I’ve had conversations with many members of parliament, both male and female, and it is clear to me that people were subject to threats and intimidation and bullying. But that isn’t just over the course of the last week. There are some people who have raised concerns about elements within the party organisation …
O’Dwyer went on to say she was “a little bit disgusted” by the reaction with the Liberal Party to Julia Banks’ statement announcing she was leaving politics. Reckon the Morrison government is in a strong position to go after the CFMMEU over “threats and intimidation and bullying”? Or over deterring women from participating in an industry?
Of course Morrison and O’Dwyer could always launch a royal commission into the CFMMEU. Once inclined to dismiss royal commissions as a waste of time, Morrison has now begun to realise their merits. Except, wait, we had a royal commission already and its most prominent result was nine abandoned or failed prosecutions of CFMMEU officials, including the debacle of a failed prosecution of the offending tweet author John Setka for blackmail. Or they could set up a bespoke construction industry watchdog — except the government did that already and appointed someone to head it who broke industrial relations law. Or they could set up a bespoke anti-union regulator — oh wait.
Seeing a pattern here? Every time this government goes after unions, it blows up spectacularly in its face. It dreams big — of destroying the CFMMEU, of convincing voters that Bill Shorten is a crooked union boss in the thrall of crooked union bosses, of delegitimising the “union run” industry super sector (O’Dwyer’s former role) — but the reality is courtroom humiliation and ministerial bungling.
And all for what? To rein in wild inflation in construction costs caused by a rogue union? Wages in construction in the last three years, despite the residential building boom, grew 10% slower than private sector wages. To lift disastrous productivity growth? Construction was above average in productivity growth in the last decade.
And while John Setka was publishing and deleting an idiot tweet, the CBA and NAB were being forced to admit to multiple examples of misconduct even as they participated in a financial industry reflex of denialism of criminality to the banking royal commission.
Morrison can deflect to the CFMMEU all he likes. But the bullying and intimidation is right there in his own party. And criminal conduct is on display every day of the royal commission hearings. He’s strangely unexercised about those. Maybe he should get off Twitter.