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Union dominance a danger: PM

Andrew West Industrial Relations Reporter
October 15, 2007

JOHN HOWARD began the election campaign hammering the message that 70 per cent of Kevin Rudd's front bench once worked for unions, but union leaders believe his statements will only remind voters of the Government's unpopular industrial relations policy.

In raising the possibility of Labor governing federally and in every state and territory, the Prime Minister said: "Add to that a federal government, 70 per cent of whose members would be former trade union officials, and we would have a distinct lack of balance."

Labor's shadow ministry has two former ACTU presidents - Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson. Mr Rudd's deputy, Julia Gillard, was a partner in a law firm specialising in labour law.

But the ACTU president, Sharan Burrow, pointed out that 16 of the Government's 30 ministers were lawyers, including the Treasurer, Peter Costello, and the Education Minister, Julie Bishop, who represented employers against workers, while others, such as the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, were officials of employer groups.

"This is just a diversionary tactic," Ms Burrow told the Herald. "Mr Howard, whose legacy is job insecurity and income insecurity for working families, is trying to demean the good name of people who have spent part of their lives as union representatives. Unionists are also teachers and nurses and tradesmen …"

Ms Burrow predicted even tougher workplace laws if the Government was returned, citing a secret speech by the Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, to the conservative H. R. Nicholls Society, in which he said the Government should use the election to seek a mandate for more workplace changes. "This is evolution, not revolution, and there is still a long way to go," Mr Minchin said last year. "Awards, the IR Commission, all the rest of it …"

The Unions NSW Secretary, John Robertson, said the Government's scare campaign against unions contradicted the latest poll evidence. The 2007 "State of the Union" survey found that despite low levels of membership, 83 per cent of people believed unions were a valuable institution.

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