Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra
The Conversation

In his first days as leader Anthony Albanese has taken two decisive actions to reset Labor’s relationship with the militant Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.

Reshuffling Labor’s frontbench, he removed responsibility for industrial relations from Brendan O'Connor, whose brother Michael is the CFMMEU’s national secretary. This was always a huge conflict of interest, but one that Bill Shorten as opposition leader declined to address.

Then this week Albanese moved to turf out of the ALP the union’s Victorian secretary John Setka, whose behaviour over a long period has been notorious. Albanese had Setka’s party membership suspended, and he flagged he’ll ask for his expulsion at next month’s ALP national executive meeting.

Under Shorten, the CFMMEU had what many regarded as a special position. The union formed part of his base, and protected and helped him when he needed numbers.

Albanese has had no such relationship, and he repeatedly emphasises that he’s come to his position without any deals or obligations.

That has made it all the easier for him to take on Setka, who should have been called out a very long time ago.

The trigger point Albanese used was a report that Setka had denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, in remarks he made at a meeting of the union executive. Setka was talking about charges he’s facing of using a carriage service to harass a woman – he has already said he’ll enter a guilty plea. He was reported to have told the union meeting that Batty’s work had led to men having fewer rights.

Albanese was well aware the Setka affair was about to become a lot uglier in coming days, and the ALP needed to shake him off.

Read more: View from The Hill: A soft reprimand from one hard man to another

Setka’s initial fightback took the form of appearing hand-in-hand with his wife at a news conference, in which they said they’d been to hell and back and people should lay off them.

Setka denied he’d denigrated Batty, a denial quickly backed by a couple of officials at the meeting. This potentially complicated the situation for Albanese (who insisted he’d checked out the report) in the event of Setka fighting the expulsion move.

But precisely what he’d said or not said about Batty became fairly irrelevant once ACTU Secretary Sally McManus weighed in, meeting Setka on Thursday to tell him he should quit his union position.

McManus, incidentally, believed Setka’s denial; she too had checked out the report, and was satisfied “he never said anything to denigrate Rosie Batty”. Rather, she argues he should quit as an official because of his behaviour (which she stresses she can’t comment on in detail for legal reasons) and the damage being caused.

For the union movement, the Setka affair goes to the heart of its strong pitch against domestic violence, and its credentials in championing women’s rights. The ACTU currently is led by two women – its president is Michele O'Neil – making it even more imperative to match words with actions.

“There is no place for perpetrators of domestic violence in leadership positions in our movement,” McManus said in her Thursday statement.

“We have already put on record the union movement’s values and our principles regarding family and domestic violence.

"We also believe in equality for women and know that instances of violence against women are not just unacceptable, they stand in the way of achieving equality.”

She told the ABC the Setka issue was “about the broader reputation of the union movement, and I think it means that we are in a position where we can’t continue to advocate in the way we want to on issues while John Setka is the main story”.

McManus, who consulted widely with union leaders in taking her stand, is reflecting the position of a number of important unions, such as the Australian Services Union, which represents those who work in domestic violence services and the SDA (the “Shoppies”), which has many female members.

Read more: Why the Israel Folau case could set an important precedent for employment law and religious freedom

Unsurprisingly, Setka says he won’t resign, and he has the backing of Victorian branch delegates, making it uncertain how things will play out.

It’s a safe bet the ALP executive will back Albanese’s expulsion move – not to do so would be an inconceivable repudiation of his leadership.

With her authority on the line, McManus’s gamble is that as the story unfolds, Setka will be more isolated and will eventually step down or be forced to do so.

Asked whether the ACTU could disaffiliate the union if it would not get rid of its rogue official, McManus said this wasn’t something that had been thought about. She pointed out it would be a very serious course to take over one official.

But one thing the ACTU has been thinking about is the ammunition Setka is giving the government for its fresh push to bring in tough legislation – the Ensuring Integrity bill – to crack down on unions and officials that break the law.

Among its provisions, the legislation would “allow the Federal Court to prohibit officials from holding office who contravene a range of industrial and other relevant laws, are found in contempt of court, repeatedly fail to stop their organisation from breaking the law or are otherwise not a fit and proper person to hold office in a registered organisation”.

Read more: To protect press freedom, we need more public outrage – and an overhaul of our laws

The bill was before the last parliament; it was opposed by Labor, and there wasn’t sufficient crossbench support to pass it.

But now the government is hot to trot. Assuming Labor continues to oppose, the question will be whether the government can get it through a Senate likely in general to be easier for the Coalition than the last one was.

It would come down to the votes of One Nation and Centre Alliance. One Nation would be on board. Centre Alliance would want changes that applied equivalent provisions to misconduct in the corporate sector.

If the union movement can’t deal with its Setka problem, the government’s argument, and its hand, certainly will be strengthened in its battle for the bill.

As one union man put it succinctly, “John Setka has bought the naming rights to the Ensuring Integrity legislation”.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-the-battle-to-stare-down-the-defiant-john-setka-118803


The Conversation


Scott Morrison Virus Announcement

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. Keeping Australians safe - that is the priority of our Government as we deal with what has been an emerging situation with the coronavirus. Each and every day there a...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament

Mr Speaker, when we meet in this place, we are on Ngunnawal country. I give my thanks and pay my respects to our Ngunnawal elders, past, present and importantly emerging for our future. I honour...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Alan Jones

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.    JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Business News

Having a mentor is a must to take your business to the next level

Kerstyn Walsh will have the chance to meet her business mentor, LA-based wedding planner to the stars, Lisa Vorce, which will be game-changing for growing Kerstyn’s business Kerstyn Walsh, a self-emp...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Is Hiring a Corporate Lawyer for Your Company Necessary?

Alternative online legal services like LegalZoom, Incfile, and Rocket Lawyer provides young and budding entrepreneurs access to legal help at a much affordable price without having to hire or meet a l...

Joe Curmi - avatar Joe Curmi

Top 5 Green Marketing Ideas for Your Eco-Friendly Small Business

According to studies, about 33 percent of consumers prefer buying from brands that care about their impact on the environment. This is good news for anyone running an eco-friendly business. It’s a...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith


Travelling With Pets? Here Is What You Should Know

Only a pet parent can understand the dilemma one experiences while planning a vacation. Do you leave your pets at home?  Will you get a pet sitter or someone to take care of them while you are away?...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Be a Smart Frugal Traveller

You are looking through Instagram, watching story after story of your followers overseas at a beach in Santorini, walking through the piazza in Italy, and eating a baguette in front of the Eiffel ...

News Company - avatar News Company


Graduation is the stage of life when a student receives the rewards of hard work of years. It must have taken sleepless nights and tiring days to achieve the task. Now, as you have received your cov...

News Company - avatar News Company