Ex­clu­sive Gov­ern­ment warned of ‘new ger­ry­man­der’ over al­liance


A FOR­MER top union of­fi­cial and suc­cess­ful state trea­surer has warned the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment is too close to the union move­ment – de­scrib­ing the re­la­tion­ship as the new pol­icy “ger­ry­man­der”.

As the Palaszczuk Gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day de­fended order­ing its public ser­vants to help re­cruit union mem­bers as no big deal, re­spected La­bor re­former Michael Costa said the or­gan­i­sa­tions had too much say in La­bor. He said the party was now dogged by “a ger­ry­man­der in favour of the unions”.

“Union in­flu­ence in the La­bor Party ... needs to be re­duced to re­flect union par­tic­i­pa­tion or rep­re­sen- tation in the broader work­force,” said Mr Costa, who ran the labour move­ment in NSW be­fore be­com­ing trea­surer there in 2006.

The new “com­mit­ment to union en­cour­age­ment” was is­sued late last week by the Pre­mier’s Depart­ment af­ter lob­by­ing by the same union bosses who were re­cently re­vealed to be boasting about the in- flu­ence they wielded within the new Gov­ern­ment.

Pre­mier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk yes­ter­day said: “This is about free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion.” But Op­po­si­tion industrial re­la­tions spokesman Ian Walker said it was a “step too far” for the mod­ern-day public ser­vice, when fewer work­ers were union mem­bers.

A FOR­MER top union boss and suc­cess­ful state La­bor trea­surer has called for less union in­flu­ence in the party, say­ing the move­ment has a skewed hold over the party.

Ex-NSW trea­surer Michael Costa said La­bor was now dogged by “a ger­ry­man­der in favour of the unions”.

The La­bor stal­wart made the com­ments as Pre­mier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk and her Cabi­net col­leagues yes­ter­day in­sisted their move to re­quire public ser­vants to re­cruit new union mem­bers was noth­ing new.

The qui­etly re­in­stated “union en­cour­age­ment pol­icy”, re­vealed yes­ter­day in The Courier-Mail, was blasted by Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott as “de­liv­er­ing for the unions”.

“I’m al­ways dis­ap­pointed when any gov­ern­ment gov­erns for one sec­tion of the com­mu­nity rather than ev­ery­one and this is a gov­ern­ment here in Queens­land which was elected on union money and on union cam­paign­ing,” he said.

Mr Costa said there should be a level play­ing field within the work­force, adding that his com­ments were rel­e­vant across the board and not just to Queens­land.

“Gov­ern­ments shouldn’t ac­tively dis­cour­age union­ism, but they shouldn’t ac­tively en­cour­age it ei­ther,” he said.

“There needs to be a re­duc­tion of union in­flu­ence in the La­bor Party.”

The Courier-Mail can re­veal union bosses played a role in push­ing for the pol­icy, which will boost membership. It comes at a time its num­bers within the public ser­vice are flag­ging.

It also comes just weeks af­ter The Courier-Mail re­vealed key union bosses were boasting about the in­flu­ence they now wield within the new Gov­ern­ment.

The an­nual re­port for the To­gether Union, one of the big­gest public sec­tor unions, shows its membership num­bers have fallen to about 28,000 peo­ple, from more than 38,000 in 2012, its low­est level since 2006.

To­gether Union sec­re­tary Alex Scott ad­mit­ted to the union play­ing a role in dis­cus­sions around the union en­cour­age­ment pol­icy.

“We asked them to con­sider reis­su­ing the depart­ment pol­icy to make it sim­pler as well,” he said.

“We ar­gued it was a legal en­ti­tle­ment ... it’s help­ful to have it as part of the depart­ment pol­icy.”

But Mr Scott said it re­flected a clause within ex­ist­ing en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing agree­ments, which New­man gov­ern­ment laws had made un­en­force­able.

Shadow At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ian Walker said the pol­icy saw bal­ance tip in favour of unions.

“There is a role for unions but it shouldn’t get to the point where the Gov­ern­ment … be­comes their de facto re­cruit­ment agency,” he said.

Queens­land Coun­cil of Unions boss John Bat­tams said his or­gan­i­sa­tion played no role post-elec­tion in ne­go­ti­at­ing for or dis­cussing the pol­icy, but had raised it be­fore­hand.

“The role we played was to get the com­mit­ment be­fore the elec­tion. We just ex­pected it to hap­pen and it did,” he said.

“A Gov­ern­ment keep­ing com­mit­ments shouldn’t be coloured as pay­back.”

He said there were more than 100,000 public sec­tor work­ers who were union mem­bers.

Depart­ment of Pre­mier and Cabi­net direc­tor-gen­eral Dave Ste­wart has been charged with en­sur­ing all other di­rec­tors-gen­eral put the pol­icy into ef­fect.

Ms Palaszczuk said the pol­icy had been in place for a decade be­fore for­mer pre­mier Camp­bell New­man.

There needs to be a re­duc­tion of union in­flu­ence in the La­bor Party For­mer La­bor trea­surer Michael Costa

NO CHANGE: Pre­mier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk says pro­mot­ing union membership is no big deal.

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