Numerous times, I have demonstrated the dishonesty of Murdoch ‘ruperters’ in their rabid support of the Coalition government despite it being the most incompetent, corrupt government I have ever seen in Australia. However, I rarely comment on some of their ‘columnists’ because those like Miranda Devine, Chris Kenny, Greg Sheridan are so bizarre in their outlook, and so divorced from reality, that I wouldn’t know where to start.
One from whom I usually expect a better quality of comment is Peter Van Onselen. However, he either has lost touch with reality, or was under instruction to do a ‘kill Bill’ story. His latest effort is entitled ‘Unions flex their industrial muscle in countdown to likely ALP victory’, and it is a diatribe against the influence of unions, especially the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union (CFMMEU). He states that this union “has the ear of” Shorten and that there “hasn’t been nearly enough scrutiny of the actions of this militant super union, nor the likely increased power and influence it will wield when Shorten becomes PM”. Van Onselen’s story states that, in the dispute between the Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT) and CFMMEU, the PKCT will be forced to cave in because the CFMMEU will have the ear of Shorten when he becomes PM3.
The PKCT dispute started when the company attempted to scrap the current enterprise agreement. In response to this, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU; ‘Maritime’ was added recently), took protected industrial action to fight this scrapping. In response to this, PKCT locked out about 60 workers. The Union called on PKCT’s five shareholders (Tahmoor Coal, South32, Centennial Coal, Wollongong Coal and Peabody Energy) to intervene in the dispute. It seems that the reason for this was that PKCT had to cut costs as they were forecast to only process 5.1 million tonnes per annum, down from 14 million tonnes4. The enterprise agreement was agreed at the height of the coal boom in 2012, and in April of 2018 the Fair Work Commission terminated the enterprise agreement believing it was so generous it could place PKCT’s future in jeopardy. The commission gave the union 12 months to negotiate a new agreement, and what upset the union was PKCT’s insistence that a job-security clause be deleted. The union suspected that PKCT was planning mass sackings of staff so it could employ casuals through labour hire companies. While the enterprise agreement was very generous, PKCT signed it, despite it supposedly being ‘diabolical for management’. That was before the coal price collapsed5. In that situation, of course it would be workers’ wages and conditions in the sights of cost-cutters. Where do you draw the line of an enterprise agreement affecting the future viability of a business? You can avoid paying award wages if you engage labour hire companies, can’t you?
In 1975, after the dismissal of the Whitlam government, Fairfax management issued a letter to all staff urging “fairness, balance and professionalism” in their coverage of the forthcoming election. This was very much unlike the behaviour of The Australian. It became a ‘propaganda sheet’ and became a ‘laughing stock’ according to some of its journalists, as “you literally could not get a favourable word about Whitlam in the paper. Copy would be cut, lines would be left out”. It was so bad that 109 journalists from the Murdoch ‘newspaper’ went on strike. It would be good to see such principles in operation these days, but I will not hold my breath. Murdoch has employed nutters or has cowed his journalists. There would be no strikes for journalistic integrity at The Australian these days.
This silly little ‘kill Bill’ story will be only a small stain on Van Onselen’s extensive list of published work, but a it will be a stain nonetheless. It seems as if he has believed all the drivel put out by conservatives and their pals in business: that unions are thugs, criminals and are only out for power and self-aggrandisement, and given half a chance would destroy the economy. He seems to have forgotten that a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption gave rise to criminal convictions against eight individuals. Then there were the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. These demonstrated institutional misconduct and monstrous criminal activity on a level against which everything pales by comparison. Van Onselen or his publishers need to keep things in perspective.