UNION memberships from some of the lowest paid workers in Queensland were used to fund the living expenses of Labor’s candidate for Mundingburra, Coralee O’Rourke, for two months leading up to the state election.
Mrs O’Rourke ( right), now a minister in the Palaszczuk Government, was an employee of the powerful left- wing union United Voice between December and February, despite performing no core tasks for the organisation.
At the time, Mrs O’Rourke was still employed as director of Amaroo Early Childhood Centre and had taken unpaid leave from that position.
Mrs O’Rourke yesterday refused to say how much money she received from United Voice, or why she didn’t take paid leave from the childcare centre. It is understood the union also pulled two of its employees from normal duties to work full- time on Mrs O’Rourke’s campaign and that of then- candidate for Thuringowa, Labor’s Aaron Harper.
It comes after the head of United Voice, Gary Bullock, boasted that his union “supported” seven successful Labor candidates, calling them “United Voice MPs”. Mrs O’Rourke made no apologies for taking the union’s money, saying she was employed as a “campaign organiser”.
“It is not unusual for unions to support candidates ... and for candidates to be employed by the
union during the campaign period,” she said.
“United Voice represents local working- class families, who suffered under three years of the LNP’s harsh cuts,” Mrs O’Rourke said. “It’s no surprise that unions wanted to throw their support behind the ALP to get rid of Campbell Newman and the LNP.”
United Voice represents low- paid workers including early childhood educators, aged care workers, teacher aides and cleaners.
Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said the payments raised serious ethical questions about the influence of unions on the new Labor government. “What we’ve got here is unions basically employing people for the sole intention of being their puppet in government,” he said.
“It’s an ethical issue and an issue for members — the average hardworking union member who is not interested in the politics of their union and is hardly aware of what actually happens with their hardearned dues paid to the union.”
In her maiden speech to Parliament, Mrs O’Rourke thanked “those at United Voice who got behind my campaign”. United Voice state secretary Gary Bullock, who earlier this year called on United Voice- backed MPs to honour their commitments, confirmed Mrs O’Rourke was an employee of the organisation for the two months leading up to the election.
“United Voice is committed to seeing real working people given the opportunity to serve in Parliament to represent the people of Queensland so we are proud to have supported a range of candidates at the recent state election,” he said.
A senior Labor source said unions employing candidates directly was highly unorthodox. “There’s nothing illegal about it. But it does raise serious ethical questions; when you are employed by an organisation there’s normally an expectation you owe them some kind of service,” the source said.