Marriage equality and Joe de Bruyn's Shoppies Union

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Joe de Bruyn's arch conservative Shoppies Union appears to be holding the ALP back from embracing marriage equality (amongst other things) ... but what do the members think?

More conservative than the conservatives, powerful SDA union leader Joe de Bruyn is defying his own members' views in holding the Labor Party back from embracing marriage equality. Peter Wicks reports.

THERE HAS BEEN DEBATE both inside the Labor Party and out over marriage equality lately. A subject that has once again been pushed to the front of social policy debate, this time by Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek.

Plibersek would like to see the ALP embrace marriage equality as a part of its ideology of equality and opposition to discrimination of any kind.

For some MPs, however, the issue of equality in marriage is something they feel needs to remain a matter of conscience. This probably comes as a surprise to those who mistakenly assume that MPs are elected to represent the views of the majority of their constituents, no matter how that fits in with their own.

There has been an avalanche of MPs in the past who oppose marriage equality, largely due to their own religious affiliation, claiming to have come to their position after community consultation. Those critical of that view have often claimed that the consultation process involved must have been anything but widespread, given the overwhelming public support for marriage equality.

One of those MPs who claimed to have relied on community feedback for maintaining his position of opposition to marriage equality is Liberal MP for the electorate of Mitchell, Alex Hawke. More on that later.

Weighing into the debate now is the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) or Shoppies Union as they are often called.

This union, widely regarded as a lead contender for most pissweak union award, as far as members are concerned, is, however, one of the countries largest unions and, as such, has some significant sway in the Labor Party. It can use its proxy voting power and its control over the members that are in their positions due to those proxy votes, to maintain the Union’s leadership position of opposition to same-sex marriage.

Recently, Fairfax reported on the Shoppies Union’s need to pay Coles and Woolworths up to $5 million to prop up the union's membership, in a manner that sounds not dissimilar to branch stacking.

This practice would seem have a similar motive to branch stacking — a means to inflate your voting numbers to achieve an objective.

The Fairfax article also went into the outspoken unions lobbying efforts into the Labor Party’s position on marriage equality. Positions that would appear to be conflicting.

Fairfax reported:

'National SDA president Joe de Bruyn insisted that, while the union had never polled its members on the issue, they agreed "absolutely" with the union leadership on same-sex marriage.'

I’m sorry Mr de Bruyn, but since when did you have supernatural powers?

Assuming that your membership is somehow different to the approximate 70 per cent of the public that is widely believed to be in favour of marriage equality would certainly seem more than a touch arrogant.

Joe de Bruyn, in speaking for his members, is making a huge assumption and we all know what assuming makes of people.

Earlier today, I thought I’d do what Joe de Bruyn doesn’t want to do or couldn’t be bothered doing, I went out and asked a few “shoppies” myself.

I chose a shopping centre that would more than likely be of the highest opposition to marriage equality due to its location. That shopping centre was Rouse Hill, a GPT shopping centre.

I figured this would be high in opposition towards marriage equality for a number of reasons:

The results of my survey surprised even me.

I spoke to a total of 138 “shoppies”. Of those, I spoke to three who chose not to disclose their views, with two being undecided.

There was also one who said that, for religious reasons, she did not believe same-sex marriage was right, however she believed that god is the only one that can make any sort of judgement, so believed that people should be free to do whatever they like as they will be judged later.

All in all, a total of six people were opposed to marriage equality, while 126 were in favour of doing everything possible to ensure marriage equality for all.

That equates to a figure of 91 per cent of shoppies, in one of the country’s most conservative areas, totally opposed to the position that the SDA’s Joe de Bruyn is taking on their behalf.

Many I spoke with voiced anger and frustration at their Union's misrepresentation of their membership.

Indeed, 26 of those surveyed also mentioned that they were Catholic after I mentioned religion; of those 26, only one was opposed to marriage equality.

Several pointed out that it seemed ironic that, as a debate was raging over the morality of marriage equality, Channel 9 was soon air a programme called Married At First Sight.

I don't know who is more delusional: Alex Hawke or Joe de Bruyn, but I do know both have clearly set out to misrepresent those who trust them to represent their interests.

In a world where people marry for money, family pressure, accidental pregnancies, reality TV programmes and even to get ahead at work, and couples divorce for all sorts of reasons, such as infidelity and, all too often, domestic violence situations, is it too much to ask for a world where two people are allowed to marry each other because they love each other?

Clearly, that’s a world Jo de Bruyn does not want to live in.

Let’s hope someone shows him the door.

Peter Wicks is a Labor Party member and a former NSW ALP State candidate. You can read more by him at Wixxyleaks, or on Twitter @madwixxy.

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