Union Leaders Discuss This Year's Federal Election at National Conference

Leading voices from the labour movement have discussed their views ahead of the upcoming federal election, talking up the close ties between unions and the ALP.

However, they also warned that support for the ALP shouldn’t be taken for granted but took aim at the Greens for their likely deal with Malcolm Turnbull on Senate reform.


ACTU Campaigns Director Sally McManus said the public is awake to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and that the issues of jobs would be central to the election campaign.

The ACTU will be focussing on target seats, including places such as Cairns, Townsville and Geelong. 

The story of the Portland Five continues to resonate with the voting public, with TV ads hitting screens this week 

“The Australian people are awake to Malcolm Turnbull,” McManus said.

"Portland was a malicious act to destroy jobs; it’s a powerful story.

"Let’s fundraise to get that story on TV ads elsewhere, lets protest outside Coalition MP’s office, let’s take the jobs embassy around the country.”

Meatworkers from Cairns, shipbuilders from Williamstown and Newcastle, car workers from South Australia and CSIRO workers from Canberra have all joined the Portland and CSL Melbourne crews at the Jobs Embassy.

“Why is it that there have been one million temporary work visas issued when there are 800,000 people unemployed?” McManus said.

“All we need to do is convince 1,500 undecided voters in each target seat."

RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva said "We’re still the largest social movement in this country and they can’t take that away from us.


“When they say we’re no longer relevant, I call bullshit."

However, Nanva said the ALP shifting away from what the community thinks we stand for is madness.

"It’s in the name: Labor. There shouldn’t be any doubt that Labor stands for working people."

“We must stand for fairness and equality.”

Nanva said inequality has been rising since the Whitlam era.

“Seven Australians now have the same wealth as 4.6 million Australians,” he said.

"The gap is growing, moving towards a US-style epidemic."

AWU National Secretary Scott McDine said the days of union secretaries calling head office were a thing of the past.

"We need rank and file engagement wit the branches and the members go directly to Canberra to directly engage with politicians,” he said.

“That’s how we approached the domestic gas reservation policy – Reserve Our Gas.

“That’s how we need to engage. We need to work through the community and branches to send our message.

"Conservatives win some battles but they won’t win the war."


ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks congratulated the MUA on its Aussie jobs campaign.

"You’re leading the way,” he said.

"Everyone is aware of what the government is doing to erode the jobs of Australian seafarers."Hicks said the ETU was a leading light on the fight against the China FTA.

"People were concerned about their kids future and than you to everyone in this room because everywhere we went there was an MUA flag.

Hicks said the Greens have done a deal with the Turnbull Government to lock out 25 per cent of Australians from having their say through Senate reforms which are currently before the Parliament.

“We're lobbying the cross bench, we’re telling them when it’s not in their interests of our members,” he said.

"The Greens; I say shame on them."However, unions need to be cognisant of the fact that 10.8 per cent of people under 35 are in unions, while the percentage for people over 55 is much higher.

"We need to change that. It’s all about credibility,” Hicks said.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon said the panel was a good example of right and left unions coming together to stand as one to make a difference in this country.


"This has to be the fundamental thing,” he said.

“But what is the change we need? We are angry because things aren’t right.

"This Government and any future government needs to know we are fighters and we’re going to fight back."

AMWU National President  Andrew Dettmer said it’s one thing to criticise but we need to organise.

"There is a feeling within the ALP that unions will back the ALP no-matter what but that is not the case,” he said.

 "Disagreement is not disrespect or disloyalty but we are now under 900,000 manufacturing workers for the first time since the early 1980s.

"The TPP might have been signed by Andrew Robb last month in Auckland but it is not yet ratified – far from it."

MUA National President Christy Cain

"We never joined the Labor Party to be sheep,” he said.

"We saw that we need to be politically active, industrially active and legally active - they all go together.

"We need to get rid of the imposters who never stand up for us – like Gary Gray and Martin Ferguson.

Cain said that at last year’s ALP National Conference many members said : "Don’t expel Martin, he’s our hero!

"Now he wants to take away penalty rates from our lowest paid workers!" 

Cain said the MUA has gone from two delegates at the WA ALP Branch Conference last time around, to 42 delegates now.

“It’s the golden rule – organise, organise and organise again,” he said.

"We need politicians that are going to march with us and the only way we’re gonna get them is that we join the ALP.

“We want a wharfie in the seat of Fremantle."