Unions defend Australian democracy

I don’t find many positive things to say about Australian trade unions, but full marks to them for standing in the way of an anti-democratic and anti-competitive deal between the major political parties to nobble their ‘third party’ opponents.

The precise content of the deal being negotiated between government and opposition has not been revealed, but from The Age‘s report it includes bans on union and corporate donations and

the legislation would also have severely limited third-party advertising campaigns such as the one the ACTU ran against WorkChoices at the last federal election.

Understandably, the unions were not at all happy about this and appear to have vetoed the proposal within the ALP. As one ‘source’ says:

‘What happens when Tony Abbott goes to the next election with a WorkChoices policy, and the unions can’t run an advertising campaign against them?”

The Liberals, stung by the scale of the anti-WorkChoices campaign, have clearly announced their desire to deal with their union opponents using election law. While I generally support labour market deregulation, the anti-WorkChoices campaign was a healthy part of the democratic process, not a flaw to be remedied. WorkChoices was an attack on the union movement, and clearly unpopular even before the anti-WorkChoices campaign got into full swing. In a democracy, any organisation in civil society should have full rights to do everything they can to defend themselves. And the Australian people should have full rights to support organisations that represent their policy views.

When businesses get together to fix markets to suit themselves it’s a crime. I can’t see why we should view political cartels any more favourably than corporate cartels. The political party dealmakers belong on the ACCC shame list.

10 thoughts on “Unions defend Australian democracy

  1. Ok, I dont fully follow how its the big parties ganging up – are you saying that a move to public funding tends to entrench the existing parties?
    I can see your point, I often think its a shame the way the Liberal democratic party have to struggle – it is extrodinarily difficult to break through in politics. (I’d vote for them if they were going to do something about global warming)


  2. Relyer – Yes, the cartel behaviour has two main aspects. First, public funding is biased towards existing parties as they know that they will get a large handout after each election, while newer parties need to be more cautious. When public funding is combined with a ban on union and corporate funding, as proposed, it makes it harder for newer parties to start or do well as the biggest donors are taken out of the equation.

    Second, controls on third parties makes it harder for other organisations to challenge a major party. The WorkChoices example is the more prominent case of this, but this could severely effect GetUp!, conservation groups, and business groups.


  3. I’m not quite sure why labor would go for this.

    Most corporates donate to both sides. But most of the large “grass roots” activist groups are on the left. Unions, GetUp, Conservation, etc…

    I suppose the problem for labor is that lots of those groups are more likely to support the greens.


  4. M – I think the difficulties both parties are having with fundraising is an important factor behind the public funding push. The difficulty with banning organisational donors from giving to political parties is that it will displace political activity into issue movements and organisations, leading to pressure for secondary bans on them. But really the fundraising difficulties of the parties is not a public policy problem; to the extent that they are unsuccesful we’ll see slightly less party propaganda during election campaigns. This may make party HQs uncomfortable, but the rest of us can be grateful for small mercies.


  5. There just seems to be a big clash between the right to free speech and campaign finance laws. To me its clear though that foreign donations should be banned.


  6. No, it is not at all clear that foreign donations should be banned. I explained here why the thinking behind this idea is xenophobic and muddled, and the bill giving effect to it is even more muddled than the concept.


  7. Well said Lib!
    As Hayek said, we have to be prepared to put up with a lot of things that we don’t like to enable a pluralistic society to function. The Workchoices campaign was bogus and potentially destructive for productivity and employment in future but that is not a reason to make it illegal.
    Strikes are quite different BTW.


  8. Andrew I suppose this might seem like an odd question, but why is fundraising so important to the big parties?

    I thought it was a relative rather than an absolute issue. As long as Libs have roughly equal money to Labor the absolute amount shouldn’t matter.

    If there is to be increased public funding based on votes then there should be a box to tick that says “Don’t want to support financially”.


  9. M – There is a lot of work involved in fundraising. Much easier just to get a cheque from the AEC. As you impliedly note, public funding further entrenches compulsory voting in Australian politics.

    The Libs think they have more to gain from this than Labor. The major corporates increasingly donate fairly evenly to each side or don’t donate at all – a trend I expect to continue due to smear campaigns against donors and shareholder resistance. The unions will however continue to fund Labor.


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