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Leading article Australia

Labor and the unions

8 December 2012

9:00 AM

8 December 2012

9:00 AM

The factions, the faceless men, the rorts, the slush funds, the bagmen, the gravy train, the powerbrokers, the bully boys, the hookers and so on. Not a good look. When Labor signed up for life membership of the union movement, they were sold a pup.

As certain union bosses and factional chiefs sink under the weight of their bloated self-interest, they risk dragging Labor’s brand down with them.

It was the unions who, in a rare display of unanimity, financed the slew of misleading adverts that demonised WorkChoices. Although it was Mr Howard and Mr Costello who foolishly allowed a variety of arguably vital workplace reforms to be bundled under one brand name, the upshot has been that a raft of individual workplace initiatives are now politically out of bounds.

The most productive balance between workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities should be a legitimate topic for debate. No longer. Now the mere mention of that poisonous phrase is enough to see Coalition MPs scurrying for cover and government lackeys crowing from the rooftops. Our enterprise economy and culture are the poorer for it.

Forget Ms Gillard’s claptrap about our economy being ‘one of the seven wonders of the world’. So too was the Colossus of Rhodes until an earthquake brought it down. With two quarters of sluggish growth and a vanishing boom, our economy is top-heavy, tilted against business, innovation and opportunity in favour of unions and handouts. Should another economic tidal wave engulf us, it too risks toppling over.

As Scott Prasser writes on page vii, the pathway to success in the Labor party requires a union-affiliated background. Ex-union hacks dominate caucus, creating the very ‘factions, affiliates and interest groups’ that earlier this week John Faulkner accused of enabling ‘arrogantly corrupt behaviour’. He wants such factions abolished.

Because few members of the government have successfully travelled the
normal learning curve of a private sector, wealth-generating job, Labor’s so-called progressive thinking is corrupted by assumptions that fester within the union movement. Big business is immoral. Small business is irrelevant. Employers are rotten. Self-interest equates to the national interest. Money grows on trees (or in back gardens.)

As Trevor Cook, a former public servant with the Federal Department of Industrial Relations, wrote on The Drum last year: ‘For the ALP to separate from its union base, a generation or two of powerful union officials would have to vote against their own career prospects.’

Or as Mark Latham pointed out in these pages: ‘The ALP has become a virtual party, its grassroots crushed by the concentration of power in the hands of union-based factional chiefs.’

‘Reform or die,’ says Sam Dastyari. But it’s doubtful the current Labor party has the guts to break free.

Stephen, a word in your shell-like

It’s easy to confuse principle and ideology. A commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, for example, is a principle. An intense dislike of Rupert Murdoch and the news media that he owns is an ideology.

Or alternatively, the notion that people should have access to information via whatever technologies are available is a principle. The idea that the state knows what is best for you, and should be able to control it, is an ideology — and a dangerous one at that.

The Australian Financial Review reported this week that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is currently in Dubai (along with the usual swollen contingent of bureaucrats, of course) where he will, finally, be put in a position of having to reconcile his ideology with his principles.

At issue is the freedom of the internet. Says the Fin: ‘A revised United Nations treaty is set to introduce regulation concerning the internet for the first time, including proposals attributed to the Russian and Chinese governments that would wrest control of key internet bodies from the US government.’

The internet in the hands of the United Nations. God help us!

‘Australia wants to make sure that any amendments to [the treaty] do not… fundamentally change the way the internet operates,’ Senator Conroy said.

Quite right. Having just splurged billions of taxpayers’ dollars on the NBN, the senator surely recognises that such a treaty would render it worthless.

Yet only last week, Senator Conroy was attempting to push through regulations that would, in the same manner, ‘fundamentally change’ the way our free press operates, simply to appease those on the left who wish to silence Murdoch.

Stephen, forget the ideology. Stick to the principles.

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