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In the context of today’s WA Senate election,  and with the Royal Cn about to start, much attention continues to be paid to union power and its implications. The sudden emergence of  anti-Labor comments by Labor’s very own leader in the WA Senate team (and said to have been a friend of Abbott’s!) must have some adverse effect on Labor’s vote. Although not published in the Fairfax press (and not mentioned in any ABC news that I heared), Bullock’s comments were published in the West Australian as well as The Australian. 

Shorten is to make a statement on Monday on unions’ role in the ALP but there is no indication so far that he will go further than allowing citizens to join the ALP even if not a member of a union. Would that make any difference to union involvement in the ALP?



Joe Bullock outburst divides Labor

Article by Andrew Burrell published in The Australian, April 5, 2014

LABOR enters today’s crucial West Australian Senate election divided over the behaviour of its renegade lead candidate, Joe Bullock, who has been forced to apologise for comments attacking his running mate and undermining the party.

Senior Labor MPs told The Weekend Australian yesterday they feared that the deeply ­conservative Mr Bullock would resign from the party to sit on the crossbenches after he arrived in Canberra, a move that would boost Tony Abbott’s ability to pass key legislation.

Mr Bullock, who is on friendly terms with the Prime Minister, was embarrassed by The Aus­tralian’s publication of comments he made at a Christian gathering last November that he had ­personally voted against Labor, whose members he described as “mad”.

Late yesterday, on the final day of campaigning for the ­re-run Senate election in Western Australia, the right-wing union powerbroker sent an email to all Labor members to apologise for his comments.

“I am writing to apologise for the offensive remarks I made last year, which have been widely reported in the media today,” he said.

“I have the utmost respect for Labor members and our supporters and share your concern for the interests of working people in this state and this country.”

Labor MPs scrambled to defend Mr Bullock publicly, but ­privately admitted it was impossible to disendorse him only a day before the election.

Several of the MPs predicted he would be ostracised in the federal caucus if, as expected, he wins a Senate seat today.

“Canberra is a very, very lonely place,” said one federal Labor MP from Western Australia.

“If Joe is ostracised by everyone in the Labor Party, then he can’t have any impact (and) if that means sitting on the cross-benches, he will give that ­consideration.”

Another MP said: “I don’t think he’ll do a (Mal) Colston and do a formal deal with the Libs, but I do think it’s possible that he will sit on the cross-benches.”

The final make-up of the new Senate to sit from July 1 will be decided at today’s re-run election but the Liberals will need the support of some members of the cross-bench to pass any legislation that is opposed by Labor and the Greens.

The Prime Minister yesterday seized on the “division and dysfunction at the heart” of Labor’s Senate ticket, saying the revelations were “proof from deep within the Labor Party that (it) is simply not up to the job of ­government”.

On the campaign trail in Perth, Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop questioned why voters should support the Labor Party when its lead candidate did not.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese defended Mr Bullock as “a colourful character” who had spent his career standing up for working people as a union official. Other federal MPs said Mr Bullock’s 30 years in the union movement made him an ideal candidate for the Senate.

Bill Shorten continued to stand by Mr Bullock’s candidacy. Earlier this week, the Labor leader described the union boss as “exactly” the sort of person the ALP needed to represent workers in parliament.

In an extraordinary speech to a Christian function in November, Mr Bullock said the Labor Party needed conservatives in parliament or else it would follow “every weird Lefty trend that you can imagine”

He praised Tony Abbott as “potentially a very good prime minister” and said he had convinced him to join the Liberal Party while they were friends at Sydney University in the 1970s.

Mr Bullock also launched a stinging attack on his ALP running mate in the Senate election, Louise Pratt, accusing her of canvassing votes against him and questioning her sexual preference.

Senator Pratt said yesterday: “Joe and I are members of the Labor Party for good reason. We’ve got a lot more in common than we ever had that’s different, and that’s because we both want to champion the rights of ordinary West Australians.”

In his email to Labor members, Mr Bullock said he had “enormous respect” for Senator Pratt. “I’m confident that with the support of us all she’ll be returned to the Senate tomorrow,” Mr Bullock said.

At last September’s election, Labor won two of the six seats, alongside three Liberals and Palmer United Party candidate Zhenya Wang.

In a recount, Senator Pratt and Mr Wang were replaced by Greens senator Scott Ludlam and the Australian Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich in claiming the last two seats. The High Court declared the election void after it emerged during the recount that 1370 votes had been lost.

In his speech, Mr Bullock said he would rather be expelled from the Labor Party than vote in support of issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

Mr Bullock told the dinner: “Oddly, one of the main barriers identified (in a recent survey) was that people felt that by joining a political party they were morally bound to vote for it.

“Of course, that’s not true: in the ballot box you can vote for whoever you like. And I do.”

“Just because you’re in there and fighting the good fight within the Labor Party, doesn’t mean you’ve got to vote for them.”

The revelation of the remarks came after The Weekend Australian reported last week that Mr Bullock had told several former colleagues that he had never voted for Labor.

Yesterday he said he had only voted against Labor in 1975, when Gough Whitlam lost power following the dismissal.

In the speech, Mr Bullock also attacked the Labor Party as being out of touch with the concerns of ordinary voters.

“The problem the Labor Party has is this: when the Labor Party … says to voters, ‘Trust us, we have your interests at heart’, the voters don’t trust them. And the voters are right.”

Mr Bullock said he believed unions should continue to play a central role in the ALP.

“Compared to the membership of the Labor Party, which are mad, the unions in the Labor Party provide the common sense ballast that directs the Labor Party,” he said.

The comments were made at dinner organised by the Dawson Society, a Christian group, on November 6 last year.

Shorten to distance Labor from unions, but not by much

Article by Phillip Coorey published in the Australian Financial Review, April 5, 2014

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce plans on Monday to loosen Labor’s ties with the union movement.

However, sources said the Labor leader would not try to change the 50:50 rule that dictates which delegates are sent to the party’s key decision-making forum, the national conference.

Mr Shorten’s announcement will coincide with the start of the Abbott government’s royal commission into the union movement, an exercise Labor feels is aimed at inflicting political ­damage on the opposition and its leader, a former Australian Workers Union national secretary.

For some weeks, Mr Shorten has been speaking of the need to broaden Labor’s appeal to new demographics such as farmers and small business.

He has lamented that Labor has only 44,000 members and says it should be 100,000. As prime minister, Julia ­Gillard set the party a challenge to substantially grow its membership but it fell well short.

Mr Shorten has proposed a simple joining procedure that can be done online and on Monday he will announce the removal of the provision that someone must be a union member to join the ALP.

This requirement is set at a state branch level but rarely enforced. Sources say removing the requirement will be symbolically important.

The national conference, which is held once every three years, is attended by delegates sent by the states.

According to the 50:50 rules, 50 per cent of the delegates sent by each state are chosen by affiliated unions and the other 50 per cent by the state sub-branches.

In 2002, Simon Crean severely wounded his leadership of the ALP when he took on the unions to reduce what was then 60:40 to 50:50.

The NSW branch has agreed to a trial in which a proportion of the delegates it sends to national conference will be directly elected by the rank and file members. Mr Shorten is expected to encourage similar moves by other state branches.

Senior frontbencher and Left factional boss Anthony Albanese reiterated his view on Friday that the national conference should be opened right up with a substantial proportion of delegates directly elected.

“Our links with the union movement are very important, those connections with working people,’’ he said.

“At the same time, I have a view that we need to empower the Labor Party membership through more direct elections just as we did in what was I think a very successful process that myself and Bill Shorten engaged in, in the leadership campaign.

“The membership should have a direct say in all of our public office pre-selections as well as electing our delegates to the ALP national conference and to the policy making processes.”

Rein in union influence in ALP, says Bob Hawke

Article by Stefanie Balogh published in The Australian, April 5, 2014

BOB Hawke, Labor’s most successful prime minister and the ACTU’s most recognised former leader, believes union influence in the ALP is “out of proportion’’ as the party debates how to broaden its appeal beyond its industrial base.

Mr Hawke, who built the success of his government on its ­ability to deal with the unions through the Accord, now joins two other former ACTU leaders — Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson — in urging Labor to embrace reform.

Mr Hawke said the question of Labor’s relationship with unions had always been important, and in “those earlier days the relationship made sense because the membership of trade unions was pretty pervasive and for the ­unions to have the degree of involvement they did was understandable seeing that the Labor Party had come out (of it)’’.

“But I think, and I say this as a man who loves the trade union movement, enjoyed my time as the president of the ACTU enormously, the influence of the trade unions is out of proportion now,’’ he told ABC Classic FM yesterday.

Mr Hawke joins the growing chorus agitating for internal Labor reform to broaden the party’s appeal by scrapping the rule that requires members to ­belong to a union.

He said Labor should “always retain its link (to working people) but not exclusively’’, adding “unless the party is seen as governing in the interests for all, then it won’t work’’.

Bill Shorten has flagged abolishing the rule that party members and candidates must be union members, and is expected to unveil his plans on Monday in Melbourne.

Up to one-third of applications to join the party are rejected each year because they are not union members.

The internal debate comes at a difficult time in the party’s history. It is consigned to opposition federally and in every state apart from South Australia. The Abbott government has also ordered a royal commission into alleged union corruption.

Mr Hawke said corruption “should be rooted out and those involved punished’’.

But he hoped the royal commission would pay heed to the “enormous contribution that the Australian trade union movement has made to the quality and character of this country’’.

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare, who is seen as part of a ­future Labor leadership team, also backed the push to broaden the party’s appeal, saying “most people aren’t members of unions anymore and I think the party needs to change to reflect that’’.

“My view is that people who vote Labor should be able to be members of the Labor

Party and the rules are structured in such a way that doesn’t allow that at the moment,’’ he told Sky News.

“It would make me a better member of parliament if I was ­selected not just by Labor Party members but by Labor Party voters in the hundreds and the thousands.’’

Sydney inner-west Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne, who is contesting the seat of Balmain as part of the NSW Labor’s community preselections before next year’s state election, said “momentum for far-reaching reform of the Labor Party is becoming unstoppable’’. “We need comprehensive, not cosmetic, change,” he said.

CFMEU builds $3m fighting fund

Article by Ewin Hannan published in The Australian, April 5, 2014

THE nation’s biggest construction union is setting up a multi-million-dollar war chest to finance an aggressive counter-offensive against the Abbott government and to try to rebuild its battered public image.

Ahead of the royal commission into unions starting next week, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union has decided to ask an estimated 75,000 financial members of its construction division to contribute $20 each annually to the fund. If all financial members pay, the levy will generate more than $3 million in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the CFMEU’s construction division, revealed that John Agius SC, who was counsel assisting the Howard government’s Cole royal commission into the building industry, had agreed to represent the union at the upcoming royal commission.

Mr Noonan said the money from the fund would be used for paid advertising and community campaigning designed to ­promote the union to the community while highlighting the Coalition’s attacks on workers.

“This levy is all about establishing a financial capacity to defend the union against the attacks which are coming,’’ Mr Noonan told The Weekend Australian.

“It’s not about paying lawyers’ bills; it’s not about paying fines. This is about us ensuring that we are properly resourced to tell the union’s story, to explain to the community directly what the union is, what its values are, and how we advance not only our members’ interests but the interests of their families and the broader community.

“We also make no apology for the fact that in doing that we are going to criticise ... the Abbott government and its attempts to undermine wages, conditions, job security and safety for our members and all workers in Australia.’’

Mr Noonan acknowledged the union’s image had suffered as a result of assaults by the government, and the media publishing claims about alleged improper conduct, including supposed links to crime figures and bikie gangs.

He said the government’s campaign to “smear and denigrate’’ unions had been made easier by the conduct of former Health Services Union officials Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson.

“I am not going to hide from the fact that when you have high-profile cases like the Williamson and Thomson cases,’’ he said, “people are rightfully scandalised about that sort of behaviour.

“It makes it easier for the enemies of the union movement to attack it, and that sort of indefensible corruption is part of the whole story that had led to this royal commission.”

The Cole royal commission focused on the allegedly unlawful conduct of unions and cost taxpayers an estimated $66m.

Mr Noonan said the union was better placed for this royal commission compared with the Cole royal commission when there were divisions within its ranks. He said the royal commission was not just an attempt by the ­Coalition to destroy the CFMEU’s reputation but part of a strategy to impose the same restraints on unions and workers that existed under WorkChoices.

“The Abbott government is approaching this in a staged and tactical manner,’’ he said.

“I think the intent is to utilise this royal commission to damage the reputation of unions and ­potentially impose legislative and financial shackles on unions that make the job of representing workers and advocating for social justice for working people much harder.”

He said any attempt by federal or state governments to seek deregistration of the CFMEU would be vigorously defended. The union also did not support severing ties with the ALP, he said, and stood by its position that union members should have a ­direct vote in ALP elections, including preselections.

Mr Noonan said the union took a hard line against corruption and any officials proven to have taken bribes would be removed from the organisation.

He defended the union’s conduct during the Grocon dispute, saying this week’s $1.25m in fines imposed on the union were a “heavy price’’.

He said the union had an obligation to look after its members’ rights, wages, conditions and ­safety. “You want to do that within the law but from time to time, trade union activity and organising has fallen outside the legal framework, and that’s been the case since construction workers won the eight-hour day in this country and a long time before that,’’ he said.

“When you have laws which are oppressive, which are designed to lessen workers’ safety on jobs, to do away with workers’ internationally recognised rights to union representation and collective bargaining, it’s very hard to work within that framework.’’

CFMEU must act on bad apples: MP

Article by Mathew Dunckley published in the Australia Financial Review, April 5-6, 2014

Kate Lundy signed up as an organiser in the construction union following one of its lowest moments – the de­registration of the scandal-ridden Builders Labourers Federation.

Senator Lundy, a former labourer and the only member of the federal Labor caucus to hail from the construction division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), believes her time working at the union, largely dealing with asbestos, was highly formative. It is the reason she went into politics.

Now she is worried that recent events, such as the record multimillion-dollar penalty from a Victorian court over the Grocon protest, are again undermining the union.

“There is such a strong negative perception developing. It distresses me to see the union tarnished in this way. It may or may not be deserved, [but] it reflects on the whole union and I don’t think it’s a fair reflection on many of the officials and organisers,” she said.

“Like a lot of things, the alleged behaviour or behaviour of a few bad apples should not spoil the whole barrel.”

Senator Lundy said it falls to the union itself to repair that perception.

Penny Wong is the other member of the caucus with a CFMEU heritage but hails from the forestry and furnishing products division rather than construction.

Federal opposition industrial relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor is also brother of the union’s national secretary, Michael O’Connor.

This is not a strong representation for a union which boasts 100,000 members and net assets of more than $80 million just in its state construction division branches. In fact, the national branch of the CFMEU is not formally affiliated with the federal Labor Party.

“We are not joined at the hip to the Labor Party,” said the CFMEU’s construction division national secretary, David Noonan.

“Parliamentary politics are important but they are not our priority.”

Mr Noonan declined to comment on Senator Lundy’s comments, but he conceded the Grocon decision will hurt the union and not just financially. “Of course we will suffer a reputational cost as well,” he said.

But he added that Grocon workers were entitled to feel angry that the union would have no role in selecting safety officers.

Major headaches for the opposition

The high-profile scandals involving the building union have prompted consternation from some in the Labor Party, but Mr Noonan says he is not convinced the controversy hurts Labor.

On public polling, Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews could well make history at the November election, taking Labor back into office after one term.

But the CFMEU is causing him major headaches. The government used Monday’s Grocon judgment to attack Labor relentlessly in Parliament last week.

One of Mr Andrews’s frontbenchers, Brian Tee, is both a CFMEU member and the party’s planning spokesman.

“The Liberal Party will always try to wedge Labor and the unions, it is as natural as a dog wagging its tail,” Mr Noonan said.

“I don’t think too many people decide their vote of that issue quite frankly.”

He gave short shrift to former Labor leader and ­Australian Council of Trade Unions president Simon Crean, who called for the union movement to take on the CFMEU.

Mr Noonan ridiculed Mr Crean as a “dud”, the least popular Labor leader in history and for his role in an aborted leadership tilt against then prime minister Julia Gillard. “He called a coup and nobody turned up,” he said.

Companies including Grocon, Lend Lease and Watpac lashed the union’s conduct this week and some Labor figures are fed up.

“I don’t like what is happening at the union,” said one Labor figure. “It seems to me that some kind of intervention is required.”

Some inside the party feel that the Victorian Labor Party will not move against the CFMEU because of the financial support it can offer in an election year.

HSU boss Michael Williamson paid Mark Arbib $60k for consultancy

Article by Brad Norington published in The Australian, April 5, 2014

FORMER NSW Labor powerbroker and senator Mark Arbib was paid more than $60,000 by the now jailed Health Services Union boss Michael Williamson for a six-month consultancy between leaving his job as the party’s state secretary and taking a seat in federal parliament.

Williamson authorised the payment of four cheques to Mr Arbib totalling $61,600 when he employed him between January 2008 and July that year.

The revelation that Williamson hired the influential former party secretary and national convener of the ALP’s dominant Right faction comes a week after the disgraced union chief was sentenced to five years’ jail for defrauding his low-paid members of almost $1 million.

At the time of hiring Mr Arbib, Williamson’s corruption was not publicly known, and payments made to Mr Arbib were legal transactions recorded in the HSU’s accounts. But the job Williamson gave to Mr Arbib is an indication of the patronage and power network that operated between the ALP and its key trade union backers, and how Williamson may have used that network to further his own political ambitions.

Nine months after Mr Arbib entered the Senate, Williamson was elected unopposed as ALP national president. He had already been a NSW and federal party vice-president when Mr Arbib ran the NSW head office.

As NSW ALP secretary, Mr Arbib took a prominent role in toppling Kim Beazley and backing Kevin Rudd as federal Labor leader for the 2007 election. He later became disenchanted with Mr Rudd and was one of Labor’s “faceless men’’ involved in the Labor PM’s political execution in 2010.

Mr Arbib backed Julia Gillard and was a senior minister in her cabinet, but he quit politics abruptly in February 2012, just hours after Mr Rudd’s unsuccessful first attempt to reclaim the Labor leadership.

Mr Arbib, who now works as a senior executive for James Packer’s Crown casino group, confirmed to The Weekend Australian that he was employed by Williamson after he left the NSW Labor secretary’s post and won a Senate seat at the November 2007 election.

Before taking up his seat, he was doing some work for stockbroker Bell Potter when Williamson hired him in January 2008 to help devise a strategy for a looming industrial dispute with the NSW Labor government.

One source told The Weekend Australian: “In the end, the dispute didn’t end up happening.”

Mr Arbib never set foot in the HSU’s Pitt Street office in Sydney while working for Williamson. Current HSU officials have no recollection of seeing him, and were not aware he had been employed until advised by The Weekend Australian.

He received four cheque payments including GST for his six months’ work: one in January for $8800, followed by three more in March, May and June — each for $17,600. The last cheque, on June 30, 2008, was the day before he formally entered the Senate.

Asked about his HSU employment, Mr Arbib said there were “zero allegations of impropriety” against Williamson then, and he had no other financial relationship with the HSU or any other union. “I was employed for around six months by the HSU in 2008 before I entered the Senate,” he said.

“As a former union organiser and campaigner, I was hired to provide advice on industrial disputes the union was facing and campaign strategies they could employ on their members’ behalf. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate about the position, I was not a party officer and was only a senator-elect.

“I made it clear when I took on the role that I would not engage in any lobbying activities for the union and I did not.”

Mr Arbib added: “I never had any other expenses or claims during the period.”

Expenses, and credit cards in particular, have become a sore point in the Williamson-HSU corruption saga because Williamson and his mistress, Cheryl Rose McMillan, as well as Williamson’s protege, the convicted former HSU national secretary and Labor MP Craig Thomson, were given credit cards by the printer of the HSU’s magazine.

Thomson used a separate, HSU-issued credit card to pay for prostitutes and make ATM cash withdrawals.

Mr Arbib and Williamson were close factional allies who knew each other well from their days on ALP federal and state executive bodies.

The HSU’s NSW branch under Williamson was a key financial backer of the NSW ALP, and Williamson could not have risen to his position of NSW party vice-president without Mr Arbib’s support.

The Australian revealed last month another connection between Mr Arbib and Williamson: Mr Arbib had shared an apartment in Canberra with Williamson’s daughter Alexandra. He was a senator, she worked in the office of then prime minister Gillard.

Mr Arbib told The Weekend Australian he paid his share of rent for the Canberra flat directly to Ms Williamson’s bank account because, as far as he knew, the lease was in her name and she had rented the flat before he moved in.

The Weekend Australian has confirmed the apartment was owned by a Canberra resident with no known connection to Ms Williamson or Mr Arbib.

Before working for Ms Gillard, Ms Williamson had a job in the office of then NSW treasurer Eric Roozendaal, who was Mr Arbib’s predecessor as NSW party secretary.

Mr Arbib, a former federal sports minister, insists he had no role in securing Ms Williamson’s job with Ms Gillard after she left Mr Roozendaal’s office or any role in helping Ms Williamson secure her current job with Football Federation Australia.

Mr Arbib was the ALP’s NSW general secretary from 2004 to late 2007, after serving as Mr Roozendaal’s party deputy.

Williamson had been the all-powerful secretary of the HSU’s NSW branch for 12 years when he hired Mr Arbib.

Secret talks with extremist group

Article by Philip Dorling published in The Age, April 5, 2014

Australian officials have been secretly authorised to hold talks with an offshoot of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist group, despite the organisation being subject to United States and United Nations sanctions because of its links with terrorism.

Confidential guidelines for Australian diplomats, released under freedom of information, allow contact with Indonesian extremist group Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), established by former Jemaah Islamiah leader Abu Bakar Bashir who was sentenced to 15 years' jail in 2011 for his role in organising a terrorist training camp.

The US and the UN Security Council listed JAT as a terrorist organisation and imposed sanctions on its leaders in March 2012 after two suicide bombings by members in Java the previous year. The US State Department said the organisation, which is thought to have between 1500 and 2000 members, robbed banks and carried out other illicit activities to buy assault weapons, pistols, and bomb-making materials.

Australian officials are prohibited from contact with a wide range of Islamic terrorist groups, notably al-Qaeda, which masterminded the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US and Jemaah Islamiah, which engineered the 2002 Bali bombings.

But current Foreign Affairs Department guidelines allow officials to meet, ''on a case-by-case basis'', with a number of extremist groups that engage in violence and include terrorists.

The department refused to comment on any contact Australian officials had made with Indonesian extremist groups. A department spokesperson said the Australian embassy in Jakarta maintained contact with a wide range of Indonesian organisations, ''in accordance with established guidelines for the work of Australian diplomatic posts''.

JAT is not listed as a terrorist group under Australian counterterrorism laws, and the guidelines, approved in August 2013, say that contact with JAT members is permitted provided officials proceed with ''extreme discretion'' and ''make clear our resolve to counterterrorism and urge the group to renounce all violence''.

Former Foreign Affairs officials confirmed to Fairfax Media that the Australian embassy in Jakarta - including diplomats, defence personnel and Australian Federal Police - had had ''intermittent'' contact with JAT activists ''for a number of years''.

Australian and Indonesian security analysts are warning that terrorist threats in Indonesia are rising with the return of extremists who have fought in Syria's civil war. Foreign Affairs justifies contact with JAT and other Indonesian Islamist extremist organisations on the grounds that such groups are ''rarely monolithic or exclusive''.

Its guidelines note that JAT's membership has ''significant overlap'' with other extremist groups, including the Indonesian Mujahideen Council, also founded by Abu Bakar Bashir; Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which has orchestrated mob violence; and Front Pembela Islam, which has attacked Indonesian Christians.

At meetings with these groups, Australian diplomats are ''required to make clear our position that these groups should behave in accordance with Indonesian law'', the guidelines say. They are to avoid contact with JAT members known to be members of Jemaah Islamiah. The guidelines were classified ''protected'' and ''not distributed widely'' before declassification in response to a Freedom of Information request by Fairfax Media.

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