Labor Party Reluctant To Ditch Union Ties In Victoria

On Friday, Labor’s planning spokesman, Brian Tee, insisted he would not resign his membership of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union if he became planning minister.

This is rather incredible.

Federally, the Labor Party is slowly, emotionally, wrenching itself through reform to separate the party from the unions. It’s long overdue. The relationship hurts both sides.

Yet Daniel Andrews, the man who might be Victorian premier, is against this reform program. Not only that, but he wants to install a CFMEU member in the very portfolio where they could be most damaging – planning.

Nowhere in the country is the relationship between the Labor Party and the union movement as clearly dysfunctional as in Victoria.

Much more than Steve Bracks or John Brumby, Andrews is a creature of the Labor-union nexus; a party man close to the union interests that financially back Labor.

Last week submissions to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption alleged the Victorian CFMEU has committed criminal blackmail, breached Supreme Court injunctions and violated the Fair Work Act, Commonwealth Competition and Consumer Act and the Victorian Competition Policy Reform Act.

John Setka, the Victorian CFMEU boss, has a long history of criminal charges, including for assaulting police.

It’s all very salacious. Yet Andrews’ Socialist Left faction invited the CFMEU back into its power-sharing agreement. He relies on their support. Now the CFMEU gets a say in preselections and what the party’s polices will be.

The Coalition has been trying to put the CFMEU-Andrews connection at the front of voters’ minds. Oppositions are usually risk-averse. You can imagine how much Andrews would like to distance himself from union militancy. It’s revealing that he can’t.

Sure, the Labor-CFMEU friendship is fodder for that most off-putting sort of politics – the politics of talking points and condemnations and press releases. But it does raise serious issues.

So much state government policy has been taken over by Canberra. This gives what is left a disproportionate significance. When we vote for state politicians we’re really only voting on a few issues.

Spring Street can’t set the corporate tax rate. It has almost no control over industrial relations and a minor influence on the level of economic regulation. The quality of our health and education – the centre of Labor’s message this week – is heavily dependent on how much federal funding Victoria receives.

But Spring Street does decide how open the state is to new building projects. So giving militant CFMEU interests a lever over development could have long-lasting effects on the shape of Melbourne, and even the Victorian economy.

Earlier this week it was revealed that two Liberal candidates have been interviewed by the Victorian Ombudsman’s office relating to corrupt donations and planning decisions. Labor is understandably excited. It all sounds very New South Wales.

But Victoria has its own native problems. What will it mean for business when this old union state gets an old union government?