By David Bates

Just in case you’ve missed it, a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is currently conducting hearings into the widespread and systematic corruption in Australia’s union movement.

Disturbing details continue to come to light regarding illegal behaviour that should be of desperate concern to two particular groups within the Australian community:

  • Those lower-paid and hard-working union members who loyally pay their (fairly hefty) union fees every payday; and
  • Australians who believe in the rule of law.

The reasons union members should be concerned are clear: their dues appear to be being spent on a wide range of things that have nothing at all to do with making their workplaces any better, or their society any fairer. Think Craig Thompson MP and the brothels. Think former ALP national president and Health Services Union official Michael Williamson, now serving a five-year prison sentence.

Just in case you missed that: a former national president of the Australian Labor Party is currently in prison.

The reasons why Australians who believe in the rule of law should be concerned are a little more complex, but just as important.

Our democracy is founded – and reliant – upon a shared respect for the law. The problem is, some unionists - and some in the Labor Party - appear to be believe that the law doesn’t apply to trade unions.

If you live in Victoria, you’ll no doubt recall the bitter dispute between the Coalition state government and the nurses’ union (the ANMF) back in 2012. After protracted negotiations, the union eventually took industrial action which included ‘closing’ hospital beds.

In due course, the courts ordered the union to end its industrial action and demanded nurses return to work. Numerous court orders were issued to that effect. If a court ordered you to do something, would you do it? I know I would.

But not the nurses’ union. Some of their members broke the law by continuing unlawful industrial action. In my opinion, they displayed no respect for our courts or for the rule of law.

Imagine what Australia’s unions would say and do if an employer association called on its members to simply ignore court orders that were favourable to unions. They would be outraged. They’d organise rallies in all our capital cities. But it seems it’s perfectly ok for some unions to ignore the law when it suits them.

My message to unionists is clear and simple: respect isn’t demanded, it’s earned. And a lack of respect for the rule of law will get you nowhere, fast.