Friday, October 19, 2007

SPIN DOCTOR: Unionists are everywhere... amongst Coalition MPs

The Workplace Relations Minister says the role of unions is “essentially over”. Speaking on AM yesterday Joe Hockey said that while trade unions still had an important safety-net role in some industries, overall Australians were choosing not to join them “because they see them as irrelevant to their lives”.

But not irrelevant to politics. Australian voters elect trade unionists in spades.

Joe Hockey’s Coalition colleague, the Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is a former head of the doctor’s union , the Australian Medical Association.

The Training Minister Andrew Robb used to head the Cattle Council and later the National Farmers' Federation. Both collected dues and lobbied on behalf of their members as do unions.

The Health Minister Tony Abbott was an active member of journalists union, where he once adjitated for a strike.

The Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull worked at Sydney’s fruit markts while at university and one day stormed into the office of the Trades and Labour Council demanding that it find a union to represent him...

As he told the Canberra Times in January: “I think I had been sacked or I was having some problems with my employer so I went down to the Trades Hall to ask for help. Barry Unsworth listened with a modest amount of interest and said, you should see another Trades Hall official Bob Carr.”

Other Coalition MPs were student union officials, among them Joe Hockey himself who was President of the Sydney University Students Representative Council (as had been Tony Abbott), Gary Humphries who ran the ANU Students Association and Peter Costello, who was General Secretary of the Monash Association of Students.

It could be argued that being a student union official isn’t the same as being a trade union official - but not by the Coalition. It’s television ad refers to Julia Gillard as unionist because she was president of the National Union of Students.

(Peter Costello said Wednesday that she was also a union lawyer and an organiser for the Socialist Forum. In fact she worked for a law firm that took briefs from unions, as did Peter Costello. Costello himself organised for the Social Democratic Students Association of Victoria.)

And Julie Bishop, among heaven knows how many other Coalition Ministers, was a school prefect – elected to represent the interests of her fellow students to those in authority.

In fact, come to think of it, that’s what member of parliament do. No wonder so many former trade union officials and former student unionists get into politics - on each side of the house.

The Coalition ads do more than acknowledge that fact (and the fact that there are more ex-union officials on one side than the other). They say that Labor’s unionists are “anti-business”.

They can’t mean the ex union official Bill Shorten who is about to enter parliament and last year borrowed his mate Richard Pratt’s private jet to rush to the Beaconsfield mine.

Nor can they mean Australia’s most popular Prime Minister (and former union leader) Bob Hawke who was virtually family to the business leader Peter Abeles.

In office Labor’s former union officials haven’t been particularly pro-union. Bob Hawke sent in the military to break a pilots’ strike. Ben Chifley did it to break a coal miners’ strike. The Coalition has never done it.

The sharemarket doesn’t seem to think Labor’s (ex-union) Ministers would be anti-business. It’s been pushing shareprices higher and higher as the election date, and the expected Labor victory gets nearer.

Last night the share price of BHP Billiton closed at an all-time record high.