Flat White

Labor’s macho act with the unions: the gift the keeps on giving

19 June 2019

3:03 PM

19 June 2019

3:03 PM

There are few gifts that Labor could provide the Coalition that would offer such a long-lasting angle of attack and provides an old narrative with a new lease on life. But in the rift between CFMMEU Victorian state secretary John Setka and the newly minted opposition leader Anthony Albanese has managed to give Prime Minister Scott Morrison the political gift that keeps on giving.

During the Rudd and Gillard governments, the two prime ministers made a concerted effort to adequately separate their administrations from the union movement to ensure that if a union became embroiled in scandal their government would emerge relatively unscathed.

Under the leadership of Bill Shorten, the fingerprints of the union movement on the creation of Labor policy became increasingly public, ending the careful separation between Labor and the unions that arguably contributed to two Labor election victories. Considering Shorten was once the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, virtually a parent of the party, the return of more publicly acknowledged union influence over the Labor was perhaps, hardly a surprising outcome.

This tangled web of alliances between the different unions and the Labor party has ensured that current opposition leader Anthony Albanese will face tough questions from the media, every time there is a union scandal or an internal battle between two union leaders, such as the current stoush between ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and Setka.

With multiple unions now threatening to cut off their million dollar donations to a financially struggling Labor party facing a $1.8 million budget black hole after the recent federal election, Albanese is stuck in the middle of a political minefield from which there may be no escape from unscathed.

As the current turmoil centred on Setka continues to evolve and unfold, one thing has been made abundantly clear. Shorten made a sizable miscalculation when he once again allowed the unions to so publicly influence Labor policy, offering future Labor leaders little room to distance themselves when something inevitably went wrong.

In allowing Labor to become even more embroiled in the internal politics of the union movement by attempting to kick John out of the Labor Party, Albanese has ensured that the Coalition have fuel for their anti-union narrative for years to come.

While there’s little doubt the Labor Party room would like nothing more than for this saga to blow over and offer them clear air in which to attack the Morrison government on the proposed tax cuts. It increasingly appears that the saga is far from over, as Setka looks set to fight tooth and nail for his job and position as a member of the Labor Party.

When the next election comes around you can expect the ‘Setka Saga’ to be front and centre in the Coalition’s campaign, ramming home the classic Liberal narrative that the alliance between the Labor and the unions creates serious issues and potential conflicts of interest. By offering the union movement a highly public place within its ranks, Labor has given an early gift to Prime Minister Scott Morrison that will keep on giving for the rest of his term.

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