Mathias Cormann's miscalculations were once again exposed as the Morrison Government lost its Ensuring Integrity Bill in the Senate, writes William Olson.
ACTU SECRETARY Sally McManus paid tribute to unionists for their tireless work and campaigning as the controversialEnsuring Integrity Bill (EI Bill) was defeated in the Senate on Thursday (28 November).
But in reality, for the Labor Party and Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke, as well as for the unions, it took a perfect storm of their efforts combined with a series of tactical and strategic miscalculations by Liberal Party leaders to bring about this result.
McManus expressed a high volume of gratitude to unionists to defend the rights of fellow working people against a piece of proposed legislation that would have systematically stripped Australian workers of their rights over time, along with weakening the overall effect of the union movement via acts of deregistering unions and ejecting union officials.
McManus said in a statement released by the ACTU:
'Workers from all walks of life made the case to the Senate crossbench about why the Bill was bad for workers, jobs, wages and Australia.'
The Bill was consigned to defeat when – after Coalition and Labor senators voted along predictable partisan platform lines and the Greens voted with Labor – the most volatile factor in this whole campaign occurred, producing the most unlikely of results. Crossbench senators Jacqui Lambie, One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts collectively stunned the whole of the Senate chambers to side with Labor to bring about a 34-34 stalemate tally.
And a draw is not a win so the EI Bill could not be passed.
So how did this happen? Especially given several factors suggested the Bill was a foregone conclusion?
It had appeared that the Bill would be passed due to the following:
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison, author of the Bill Attorney-General Christian Porter and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann were convinced that they had the numbers to pass the Bill;
- Lambie had been so adamant and forthright for weeks and months that she would vote in favour of the Bill (unless CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka did not only depose himself from membership in the Labor Party but also from the controversial building trades union); and
- Hanson worked with the Coalition to put forward a whopping 11 amendments to the Bill — apparently making it more palatable to One Nation for passage.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Cormann, the principle Coalition bean-counter, was convinced that he had the numbers in a crucial, history-changing vote, only to discover that he didn’t. He has form in that.
The miscalculation by Cormann was far from the Liberals’ lone ineptitude in a campaign that they were determined not to lose. Likewise, Lambie wasn’t the only parliamentarian using Setka’s name as a driving motivator. Porter – in order to push the Bill within Parliament and sell it to the public, mentioned the hulking union figure’s name and the CFMMEU on several occasions, in an attempt to paint a picture of the extent of alleged union corruption. And this also backfired.
Instead, McManus and those within the ACTU evoked the union movement’s time-honoured, “Stronger together” mantra to rally the foot-soldiers and voice opposition to Porter’s attempts at divisive positioning.
McManus told members across the ACTU’s 38 affiliated unions:
“Without your efforts and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of working people across Australia, a law designed to hurt the rights of working people would now be law...
Working people have stood up against an attack on democratic rights and won.”
The fact that union members successfully mobilised their efforts to lobby and defeat the Bill wasn’t lost on Porter. And if Porter, in his roles as Attorney-General as well as the Government’s Minister for Industrial Relations wasn’t already frustrated at the unions’ victorious efforts, then he was clearly perplexed at the about-face from Hanson and Roberts.
In a doorstop question and answer session in Adelaide, not even 24 hours after the result, Porter said:
“The ultimate decision here is do you take the side of the hardworking Australians who want to be able to turn up to work without being intimidated by the CFMEU thugs, or do you take the side of the thugs? Now very sadly at the end of the day after weeks of negotiation, One Nation sided with the thugs.”
It is often said that politics makes strange bedfellows, perhaps none more so than in this momentary alliance between One Nation and the ALP.
For Hanson, it wasn’t about the legislative changes she and Roberts submitted in their 11 proposed amendments, but rather what they were unable to change, that brought about their votes against the Bill.
Hanson has attempted to show a dedication to working people in her Queensland electorate and across Australia throughout her career. After the vote, Hanson released a statement, clarifying a fear of the supposed threat that unlimited powers of the Registered Organisations Commission would possess if the EI Bill passed, equating that with the corruption of banks within rural circles.
“We have seen the highly questionable behaviour of administrators, liquidators, receivers and managers exercise unlimited powers on their appointment by the banks...” Hanson said. “Under no circumstance was I going to unleash their unlimited power and zero accountability on Australian unions or other registered organisations.”
As for Lambie, she may have felt justifiably jilted that the Government rejected her late suggestions for amendments to the Bill. And it may have been something as simple as that which caused her to lose support for the Bill, despite the last several months of public posturing.
While McManus was praising the resilience of those in the union movement to defeat the Bill, Porter was insisting in its defeat that it still possesses life:
“I will bring it back in the form that it ended up in, in the Senate to my party room next week, and we will pursue it again.”
The form “that it ended up in” – in Porter’s words – would include the One Nation amendments and continue to be pitched to the likes of Hanson, Roberts and Lambie.
Porter’s stubbornness to meet the Morrison Government’s agenda on industrial relations reform, while being at loggerheads with the union movement’s existence, shows that the fight is far from finished. However, Labor and the ACTU can show that the voice of the people on these issues is with them.
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