Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DAY THREE: Are 70 per cent of Labor's frontbench really former union officials?

John Howard says Yes.

AAP: Mr Howard said "of course" the government would point out in its new ads that 70 per cent of Labor's frontbench were former union officials: "It's not negative, it's not dirty, it's not personal, it's true.

But that's not the way Katharine Murphy tallies things up in today's Age...

How many unionists does it take to make a front bench?

MARK Twain wasn't a noted expert on the ratio of former trade union bosses per square metre of Labor front bench, but he once warbled on rather helpfully about lies, damned lies and statistics.

Here's one stat doing the rounds: 70 per cent of the ministry in a Labor government would be former trade union officials, John Howard told ABC radio on Monday.

So, are 70 per cent of Labor frontbenchers former trade union officials?

Not exactly. It's 60 per cent on my count. But Reality Check is a fussy old pedant.

She insists the organisation actually needs to be a union. She says being a volunteer doesn't make the cut.

Why do the numbers differ?

Coalition numbers include Julia Gillard, Kim Carr and Jan McLucas. Sorry, but Julia's stint as president of the Australian Union of Students is out: it is a lobby group for precocious would-be pollies in training wheels. Carr and McLucas volunteered as, respectively, a shop steward and secretary of the Cairns Trade and Labour Council. As they say on TV game shows: bi bong, you're out!

Hissy fit alert: the sequel.

At the risk of serious outrage now, a close look at the list confirms most frontbenchers have been no one very important in their union. Only a handful have run their organisation or been a person of influence. Kim Carr is a case in point.

Carr's position was branch president of the Technical Teachers Union. Impressive sounding, but according to him, this equalled unpaid shop steward.

OK, so maybe it's not 70 per cent, but aren't the main players from trade unions?
Most of the key decision makers on Kevin Rudd's front bench (Rudd himself, Gillard, Swan, Smith et al) are not former union officials.

Does John Howard's general point still stand, despite the clear evidence of exaggeration?

Yes. Compared with the rest of the community, there is over-representation on the front bench of people with trade union ties. The basic point is valid. But Kevin Rudd argues that this trend will be countered by new faces heading for Canberra in this election.

We'll see if he's right on November 24.

Two extra points from me:

If Julia Gillard is an ex-trade union official, isn't Peter Costello also an ex-trade union official. He was President of the Monash Association of Students.

And anyway - wouldn't about 70 per cent of the Liberal frontbench be former lawyers?

What would you rather? A government of former lawyers (completely unrepresentative of the population), or a (similarly unrepresentative) government of former union officials?