O’Farrell gags your voice

"At the heart of the Coalition's aims is a cynical attempt to stop unions running robust campaigns ..." - Mark Lennon
“At the heart of the Coalition’s aims is a cynical attempt to stop unions running robust campaigns …” – Mark Lennon

The Your Rights At Work campaign would have been banned under new laws passed by the NSW State GovernmentThe Coalition State Government is not only attacking nurses’ pay and conditions, such as ratios, they have also passed laws to silence your voice.

Amendments to the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act, passed last month, severely restrict the rights of unions to pool resources and run campaigns under a collective banner. The government says the aim of the laws is to restrict political donations to individuals.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon says the NSW trade union movement is “aghast” at this prospect: “Individuals do not win justice in the workplace, nor do they effect broader political and social change. That is the role of a movement,” he says.

Freedom for the rich, shackles for Union

Under the new laws wealthy individuals will now be able to donate up to $14,600 per year to the Coalition (by contributing to the Liberals and Nationals), while at election time they can self-fund “third party campaigns” on the Coalition’s behalf to over $1 million.

Organisations (such as unions) however, will be banned from making donations to other bodies (such as the ACTU or Unions NSW) for running electoral campaigns.

The law would prevent unions campaigning against a bad law or a bad government decision if it “promoted or opposed a party” or “influenced voting in an election”.

Mark Lennon says this effectively means “we will live in a society where mining magnates can purchase media companies or blanket advertising, but the political voice of three million working people will be drowned out”. He says that in what is “a clever piece of political subterfuge”, the O’Farrell Government has “managed to lump the likes of trade unions and community sector organisations in the same pile as tobacco companies and property developers”.

YRAW would be illegal

Mark Lennon says a good way to understand the impact of these laws is to measure what their impact would have been on the Your Rights At Work campaign.

“Faced with the most profound attack on workplace rights since the inception of the Australian Commonwealth, working people, their unions and other community organisations banded together. We made advertisements, held rallies, knocked on doors and began a vibrant community discussion about how we thought our workplace laws should be constructed.

“But under the laws recently passed in NSW, that campaign would have been impossible. A key feature of Your Rights at Work was the capacity of peak bodies such as Unions NSW and the ACTU to play a coordinating role, in terms of message and strategy, but also in the marshaling of funds and people. Understanding that this was an existential threat to workplace justice, the peak bodies applied levies to their affiliates. Under these new laws that would be illegal.”

Mark Lennon says the changes in the electoral laws are blatantly party partisan to entrench Coalition power.

“At the heart of the Coalition’s aims is a cynical attempt to stop unions running robust campaigns that challenge the conservative orthodoxy. These laws have nothing to do with some idealised, abstract notion of individual political liberty. They have everything to do with tying the hands of the political organisations of working people.”