Senator Jacqui Lambie speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House.
Senator Jacqui Lambie (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

There is something deliciously ironic in naming a bill “ensuring integrity”, knowing that it will create the most obscene mud bath of finagling and posturing in the Senate yet seen.

The first-order absurdity of the bill’s name — it is due to hit the upper house next week — barely needs commenting on. It is the usual deal: state power applied to the internal management of unions, while none of the same is extended to corporations.

The right will argue that corporations are subject to a “fit and proper persons” test. Yeah, right. Given what we know about what the banks, power companies, supermarkets and everyone else can get away with, the nature of the Ensuring Integrity Bill — which would use any malfeasance whatsoever by a union leader to penalise its entire membership — is clear.

It’s simply another iteration of anti-combination laws that have been pushed since the 19th century. The parties that trumpet the cause of “small government” can only keep capitalism spluttering along by using the state to regulate and micro-control the free association of workers.

Building on the neoliberal anti-strike, anti-worker platform they received, with gratitude, from the Gillard government, the Coalition is preparing for the possibility of a coming slowdown and the ensuing anger and militancy that might result.

Standard issue Coalition. Standard issue One Nation, too, with Pauline “Poujade” Hanson missing another opportunity to move deep into Labor territory, by cleaving to her small business base. The woman should get an OA for her services to destroying the right, from the inside. She gives Antifa a run for its money.

Centre Alliance? Its members should oppose, but they’re basically the old South Australian “Liberal Movement” about nine iterations down the road. One accepts however that “Mildly Centre-Right Blokes” would not have the same ring as Centre Alliance, so there we are.

Thus it comes down to Jacqui again. The last senator elected in the smallest state, her base the equivalent in number to the occupants of two cars going to a party in Sydney’s West, she now proposes to decide the immediate and long-term future of Australian unionism on the basis of the position of one leader of one state branch of one union, John Setka of the CFMMEU.

Setka has been convicted on one charge of abuse using “a carriage device” — i.e. a very shouty, insulty phone call to his wife Emma Walters — and nothing else. The conviction specifically excludes any notion of threats (which would have been a more serious crime). Setka was convicted of calling his wife — they are now reconciled — a “fucking Aussie dog”.

The other accusations against Setka — that he was (gasp!) possibly critical of Rosie Batty — should, even if they were relevant, be taken with a pallet of rock salt; disinformation as part of a torrid internal struggle in the CFMMEU, between the Lin Baoyi Group and the Red Wind faction. (Sorry, I misread my notes. Between a bunch of Croatians in Thomastown, and the Essendon Irish).

That Lambie has even factored all this into her now familiar public musing/butoh theatre performance of decision-making is disgraceful beyond disgraceful of course. You want to support a law saying no union leader should ever be convicted of anything?

Sure, though it’s an anti-worker, pro-corporate law. But to make it about one person, demanding their resignation, is star chamber stuff, against the spirit of disinterested and universal legislation applying to all citizens equally. It’s a corruption of what a Senate should be, something with the cheap air of banana republic junta politics about it.

It is also, of course, staggeringly hypocritical. Lambie was subject to years of bullying, rumours (of malingering) in her fight to gain compensation from the military, labelled as a rorter and a benefit cheat. Perhaps not best to pass laws and judgement on rumour and innuendo about a controversial figure?

If you’re going to hold the entire Australian union movement to ransom for rumoured malfeasance of one member, then it would seem that the Senate elite and their families get special treatment and consideration denied to the rest of us.

On a gender basis, the logic is cracked. The CFMMEU has presided over the entry into the building industry of women en masse, for the first time. They’ve just been fined $50,000 for action against a site that wouldn’t provide a women’s toilet. Focusing on Setka’s alleged malfeasance is simply to adopt the agenda and imperatives of bourgeois white professional feminism, uninterested in class issues, and objectively now on the political right.

Finally, if Lambie is purporting to represent the non-elites, and Tasmania, and especially northern Tasmania, then hobbling union power is a hell of a way to go about it. The target isn’t the SDA, a miserable company union that sells out its largely female workforce time and again; it’s a union that ensures that people with an average or spotty record in formal education can still get good, high-paying jobs.

Lambie represents a state, many of whose schools still only go to year 10 for godssake. Northern Tasmania depends on the maritime and fishing industry of Devonport and the coast. Voting up the bill in any form would be a betrayal of people who voted for Lambie to represent them.

Even considering it has been such a betrayal (God help us if it’s some cunning plan by the Australia Institute, which aspires to run Lambie). Do your job as a senator and make good laws based on the best interests of the people who need representing.

If not, what’s left of the CFMMEU will hopefully organise from Devonport outwards to turf you out next time. In the interests of ensuring integrity.

Peter Fray

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