John Setka has accused Labor of abandoning its commitment to the working-class, writes William Olson.
JOHN SETKA RESIGNED from the Australian Labor Party last week. Whether the well-known union figure resigned before he could have been expelled from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) – “jumped, or be pushed”, in the parlance of slang – remains a matter of some considerable debate. However, the main point of what he said to defend his decision politically may have raised some thoughtful eyebrows.
“I cannot continue to be a member of the Labor party while Anthony Albanese is its leader,” proclaimed Setka in a statement issued on Wednesday.
In further defending his decision to end his 15-year personal and professional affiliation with the ALP, Setka added:
Mr Albanese is selling out Australian workers and turning his back on the values that underpin both the party and the union movement. Under his leadership, the Labor party has lost its spine. Worse still, it is in danger of losing its soul.
Mr Albanese claims I have brought the ALP into disrepute. Notwithstanding my flaws, nothing has hurt the ALP’s reputation like Mr Albanese’s leadership over the past five months.
Setka will continue in his role as the Branch Secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU) in Victoria and Tasmania for the foreseeable future, despite facing pressure from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to resign from that post as well.
He has also questioned the direction of the ALP under Albanese.
For Setka, the recent decision by Albanese to side with the Liberal party over the Australian free trade agreements with Hong Kong, Indonesia and Peru was perplexing, questioning his own identity in the ALP.
“I ask Mr. Albanese, what has happened to a Fair Go for all Australians?” quipped Setka.
“These agreements are a disaster for Australian jobs and living standards. Talk about sending a signal to unions and workers on where the party stands.”
In essence, Setka questions whether the ALP under Albanese has remained faithful to its core principles. Five months ago, Albanese assumed the Party’s leadership after Bill Shorten failed to supplant Scott Morrison as Prime Minister in last May’s Federal Election.
Since then, the voice of the public and even from some within the Party – and not just that of Setka’s – have held the view that the party has drifted from the centre-left towards the true centre of the Australian political spectrum, if not crossing that imaginary line towards slightly conservative politics altogether.
No matter how one feels individually about Setka – as a union leader, his tactics within the CFMMEU, his outspoken nature, or about the actions surrounding his personal life – he possesses a list of transgressions against him and his reputation that is as lengthy as the day is long.
However, he may have touched a political nerve as far as Labor goes.
While Albanese and Labor may view Setka’s resignation as a bit of a victory – the Party was in the middle of plans to expel him as of last Friday anyway – a deeper analysis of Setka’s words may reveal a deeper truth about the ALP and the current directions of its core values and key campaigns that may require actions stronger than normal damage control.
Issues surrounding the protection of penalty rates, injecting funding back into TAFE to aid as a viable option for learning skills and trades, ensuring that public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS won’t be cut and putting a halt to unfair labour-hire practices would be viewed as key campaigns shared by the union movement that Labor can attack.
Each of those campaigns surround actions undertaken in the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Coalition governments since 2013, and in Albanese’s defense, six months on the job isn’t enough time to reverse six years of damage and demolition. His job of leadership in opposition is evolving as a work in progress, some would say, and being a party in opposition means they are unlikely to get any of its own acts of legislation passed.
But according to Setka, Labor has much more to answer for, and is showing a lack of accountability in doing so.
“It has, in record time, abandoned its own policy platforms that were geared at restoring employee bargaining power, standing up for a progressive tax system, properly funding education and abolishing the undemocratic, anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission.”
So no matter what you think about him personally, his tactics, his actions, or what the future may hold for John Setka, he has done something most people would call out as "dangerous": calling out the proverbial"‘white elephant" in the room that the ALP is losing its way. That it may be out of touch with the Australian public and more importantly, the working-class.
This may be the "blind squirrel theory" about finding the acorn in action, or even knowing that a broken clock being right twice a day, but Setka deserves credit for holding the ALP to account on its core values and campaigns, even if it means removing himself from the party, or even the CFMMEU from being a key donor to it.
Political spectrum lines between the key parties are being blurred to the point in which the Australian Greens Party currently views itself as the true party in opposition. Maybe Albanese needs to heed the warnings of Setka and take a cue from the Greens to actually do what an opposition party is meant to do: oppose and stand up to block key pieces of Coalition legislation.
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