Allan Fels: a ghost from the past

Published: 11 May 2009

Paddy Crumlin, MUA National Secretary slams former ACCC chief for anti-union cruscade

As always there is no shortage of the great - and the not so great - keen to rent a writer to get their thoughts in print.

Robert Lindsey ghosted the autobiography Ronald Reagan: An American Life; A.E. Hotchner the autobiographies of Doris Day and Sophie Loren and Britney Spears recently advertised for someone to help create content for Twitter and Facebook.

Now Allan Fels, one time chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has Fred Brenchley, one time editor of The Financial Review penning a bit of union bashing on his behalf.

This time it was the CFMEU Fels was getting stuck into, while defending the indefensible - the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

In 1998 it was the Maritime Union. Fels and the ACCC demanded $7.5 million in damages against the union. As part of our settlement Patrick Stevedores footed the bill. But it wasn't long before Fels struck again, taking the union to court over the a dispute re the cleaning of ship's holds in 2001. The out of court settlement was another hefty bill.

So it was little wonder that when Fel's latest tirade featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin thought he'd give a bit back. Problem was the letters editor, with seemingly little regard for journalistic ethics, balance or right of reply, refused to consider the letter.

For the record, we publish the letter in full below. Meanwhile we all wait with bated breath for Fels and Brenchley to join Britany Spears on Facebook.

Limp expose

Allan Fels and Fred Brenchley's opinion piece on union donations on Seven Days May 4, 2009 ("Time to end donations for political favour") smacks of a limp expose by a well-renowned union bashing tag team.

Unions operate in the interest of the workers they represent, canvassing, lobbying and prosecuting the case for and always servicing and supporting those interests. This support is not indistinguishable or exclusive of larger considerations and responsibilities including supporting a healthyand competitive economy and being the stakeholder in a vibrant industrial and political democracy based on a sustainable dialectic.

Fels and Benchley build a spurious case of union conspiracy by selectively quoting one branch official from the many construction unions tirade against the Australian Building and Construction Commission The official's off-the-cuff comments in the media no doubt were driven by the frustration of representing workers subject to an extraordinary set of political and judicial power - equivalent to a virtual star chamber.

They were powers invested in it by a government proven to be unequivocally opposed to any form of organized labour and prepared to go to almost any method to divest unions of their legal and civil rights.

Mr Fels was one of the spear throwers of the Howard Government's union obsession and Mr Brenchley one of the clarion callers.

The MUA was at other historical moments the focus of their ire. In one first hand experience I met Mr Fel's when his ACCC was prosecuting my union over an instance of so-called illegal industrial action on the waterfront involving a small group of Australian waterfront workers who also had been ignited by frustration against the use of third world subsidised labour doing the job they had done in this country for generations.

The use of this foreign labour was economically enabled by the international shipping industry's penchant to avoid taxation and any form of labour regulation by registering the vessels in countries like Liberia. The Howard Government enacted regulations to facilitate this exploitation in the local domestic shipping industry.

When I asked Mr Fels why Australian workers were being prosecuted under the banner of Fair Competition by the ACCC and not the corrupted industry they were protesting against, his response was that all of the complaints he had received were in regards to the workers' actions other than ours. These complaints were largely from the International Ship Owners that were exploiting the Howard Government's prejudicial regulatory settings. Our request for the ACCC to act on the anti-competitive nature of those settings fell on deaf ears.

The MUA accepted that these small number of workers had broken a political and unjust law and paid up a large amount of money accordingly.

Mr Fels should spare us his bleeding heart of democratic accountability and transparency by unions in the political process or alternatively apply the same critical rigor to many of his own professional contributions.

The offending article can be read at:





Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney