Just days away from the 3 month mark since Campbell Newman and his LNP mates crashed into power, the face and the future of Queensland have changed. Some commentators, including this one, likened the new Premier’s approach to that of corrupt conservative Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen. It was a brave call, an early call, and now, from beneath a grimy layer of cynicism, I’m willing to admit, a naïve call.
Meanwhile, Premier Newman is in good form. He will surpass the notoriety of Sir Joh faster than Alan Jones can summon the Prime Ministerial Chaff Bag. Already we have seen the end of the Premier's Literary Awards, the EnergySmart Initiative, the Sleeman Ski Jump, the entire Climate Change department, the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities, state-sanctioned civil partnership ceremonies and more.
The Campbell Newman Abyss has claimed the careers of a handful of very senior public servants, and there's a quivering mess of exposed nerve endings formerly known as 200,000+ Queensland public servants waiting for their lives to resume. Expect up to 10% of them to be offered the opportunity to pursue their careers elsewhere. Remember, Queensland has no upper house and almost no opposition. Premier Newman and his crew can do whatever they want to do, and they are, without oversight.
Today, Premier Newman has announced to Parliament that his latest whim is to restrict trade unions from being associated with political parties.
Before I pose the obvious questions, like whether the LNP Government will distance themselves from other interest groups looking to barge or buy their way into positions of political influence – the Tobacco Lobby, Clubs Australia, Menzies House, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Farmers Federation, and the Australian Christian Lobby - I should probably know a little more about the relationship between Australian trade unions and the ALP.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, Trade Unions are classed as ‘Associated Entities’, which means nothing to most of us. The AEC defines Associated Entities as
· Is controlled by one or more registered political parties; or
· Operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political parties; or
· Is a financial member of a registered political party, or on whose behalf another person is such a member; or
· Has voting rights in a registered political party, or on whose behalf another person has such voting rights.
Examples of associated entities include '500 clubs', 'think tanks', registered clubs, service companies, trade unions and corporate members of political parties. Associated entities may be:
· Companies or incorporated associations;
· Trusts, including charitable foundations; or
· Unincorporated associations, societies, groups or clubs.
Fair enough. Under this official definition, trade unions are definitely Associated Entities of the ALP, with both financial and voting relationships. It's those relationships, those bonds reaching back to the earliest days of Federation, that Premier Newman wants to dissolve.
Why is Campbell Newman is concentrating this attack on the trade unions?
It's exactly the same reason why Gina Rinehart is after control of Ten and Fairfax. They want influence. They want power. They want to silence dissenting opinion, whether from the trade unions or the media, and they want to drive their personal agendas. Gina Rinehart is buying her stake via the media, Clive Palmer is buying the loyalty of a political party , and Campbell Newman is trying to disarm what's left of the Opposition, by stifling both the political heft and the flow of money from the unions to the ALP.
But make no mistake; there is conflict ahead: the Queensland Public Service will not take well to forced job cuts. The Together Union – formerly the QPSU, which was an entirely satisfactory name, by the way – is mobilising already. Teachers were meeting in Brisbane just a few hours ago, and the LNP Government should expect a lot more meetings, gatherings, protests and displays of public action in the coming weeks and months.
In fact, we should not be surprised if this move against the unions backfires. The LNP won Queensland by such a terrifying majority, it's fair to conclude that many of Queensland's nervous public servants voted for them. They might not be union members now, but if their jobs are threatened, where do you think they'll turn?
And what does it matter whether the trade unions and the ALP are joined at the hip? Despite two decades of creeping to the right, the ALP is still the closest thing Australia has to a workers' party. If the unions can drag the ALP back to the left, where it should be, they might just regain the respect of the voters who deserted them months ago...and if they can't bring Labor back to its base, they will find another way to be heard.
Mining magnates and media barons have much in common with conservative political leaders. They are not of this world: they are independent and ego-driven and measure their worth by the value of the deals they make.
For the workers whose jobs are threatened, and the unions that represent them, and the writers, the environmentalists, the LGBT community, even the ski-jumpers who've already lost out to Newmania, it won't matter who owns Fairfax, or who's got a paywall. It's about people. Political parties exist as organised groups of people with similar ideologies. So do trade unions, lobby groups, and churches and in the end, the abyss is hungry.
It's life, Queensland, but not as we knew it.