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The letter published below is an abbreviated version of what seems to me to be the main question arising from the publicity given to Gillard’s activities in the early 1990s. Put briefly, that question is whether the Fair Work legislation and administration for which Gillard was responsible for creating allows union behaviour similar to or even worse than occurred then. Although denying any direct involvement in the early 1990s union activity, her acquired knowledge of what was happening (as now revealed) should have led her to ensure that any national government implement legislation providing far greater limitations on the power of unions.

Instead, Australia now has a situation in which major companies, such as (to name a few) BHP, Qantas, Asciano, Grocon, Thiess, Coles, Endeavour Energy, Woolworth’s, BlueScope Steel, Cochlear and Aquasure, are not only being targeted by unions to make bargaining concessions in what seems a free for all but where, in some cases, the Fair Work tribunal and administration are saying that they do not even have the legislative authority to respond to union aggression that is illegal.

Minister Shorten’s response is little short of pathetic. Following the damning report by KPMG, he has made excuses for the failure of the Fair Work administration to handle the inquiry into Craig Thomson’s activities when he should have sacked administrative head O’Neill and revamped the staffing with people capable of acting impartially. His intervention in the Grocon case appears to have been largely confined to condemning the CFMEU for circulating pamphlets identifying “scabs” when he should have been urging the police to intervene to prevent the blockade by the union that has been declared illegal by the courts. Such action is needed in one or two other cases too.

The response by the Coalition is almost as pathetic although Premier Baillieu has at least woken from his slumber and called for action to handle the Grocon situation. But by responding to Howard’s call to consider individual contracts, Abbott has missed the boat: he should have been on the spot calling for the existing law, both criminal and fair work, to be observed. There is still time to do that.

Des Moore

Too Much Union Power
(letter published in The Australian, 28 August 2012.)

Julia Gillard’s press conference clearly left unanswered questions about her activities in the early 1990s (“Gillard opens a file on spin”, 25-26/8). But the key problem is that the activities not then in the public interest have seemingly re-emerged with a vengeance under the Fair Work Australia legislation she introduced.

Companies are increasingly subjected to disruption, illegal picketing and blockades by unions and a hefty cessation price is also presumably charged as it was in the early 1990s. The resultant topped-up union funds also appear to again be subject to misappropriations by union officials.

Gillard’s claim that the legislation strikes the right balance when it obviously does not is undermining her own government and deterring investment and employment. While some suggest a royal commission on “governance of trade unions generally”, the need is for immediate action to limit the power and activities of unions.

Des Moore, South Yarra, Vic

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