Published in the Daily Telegraph, 21 April 2016
It’s reasonably well known that the Rudd-Gillard government burdened taxpayers for decades to come by locking-up-in-legislation massive unfunded spending. What’s less well recognised is how Labor-in-government also sabotaged the broader economy to benefit the unions. The common element is Labor’s determination to make itself the natural party of government by entrenching both social spending and union power.
The previous Labor government committed more than $100 billion extra over the next decade to schools and public hospitals. Then there was another $100 billion extra for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Some of it was justified and most of it was legislated but none of it was funded. That’s why the reforms of the 2014 budget were so necessary and why the Liberal National coalition’s continued commitment to savings is so important.
Still, this attempt to create more institutional and individual dependence on big spending government was just one side of Labor’s political project. The other side was using the levers of government to strengthen a union movement that’s become the Labor Party’s continuous campaign unit.
Bill Shorten feels compelled to oppose the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission – even though it would add at least $5 billion a year in productivity gains – because this is the blood price demanded by the building union in return for the $3 million dollars that the CFMEU has given Labor over the past four years.
Abolishing a tough cop-on-the-beat for the construction industry was the most obvious product of Labor’s dependence on the union movement but there were many others.
Labor’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was designed to make non-unionised owner-drivers less competitive than largely unionised company drivers. This week owner drivers frightened of losing their livelihoods have been protesting around parliament house to have this tribunal abolished. The Transport Workers Union has given well over a million dollars to Labor over the past four years.
The Labor government put an extra $1.2 billion into wage supplements for aged care centres and an extra $300 million into childcare centres but only if they had union-negotiated enterprise agreements. The main union covering these workers, United Voice, has given Labor nearly $4 million over the past four years.
The Labor government passed laws to prevent foreign vessels from competing with highly unionised Australian costal shipping. Despite these laws, the number of Australian-flagged ships in the coastal shipping trade has dropped from 30 to 15 – while costs to businesses have doubled. The maritime union has given Labor a quarter of a million dollars over the past four years.
As well, to help the unions, the former Labor government stacked the Fair Work Commission with former union officials, passed laws deeming non-unionised contractors to be workers, and made it much easier for unions to enter workplaces to recruit new members. Every single one of these changes has imposed additional burdens on businesses and made it harder for them to create jobs.
Every year, Labor receives about $5 million from the unions. Over and above that, there’s tens of millions of dollars that the unions spend every federal election on their own campaigns against the coalition. And there’s the thousands of union organisers who work for weeks and even months as a full-time professional campaign team for Labor candidates.
This gives Labor a permanent election war chest and a permanent campaign army that the coalition can never match. It’s no wonder that Labor is so keen to use taxpayers’ money and the law to stop the decline in union membership.
The problem is not just that this makes the political contest less fair. It also makes our economy less productive. Labor’s measures to boost unionism in the childcare and aged care sectors have put more costs onto government and more price pressure on consumers. Labor’s measures to boost unionism in the transport and construction sectors have depressed productivity and increased regulation. They can all be dressed up as “boosting quality”, “enhancing safety” and “protecting jobs” but they’re really all about protecting the Labor-union business model regardless of the long-term impact on Australia’s efficiency and prosperity.
By losing control of our borders, building over-priced school halls and installing home insulation batts that caught fire, the Rudd-Gillard government became notorious for incompetence and waste. By introducing a carbon tax and a mining tax, it demonstrated its addiction to big government. But just how much lasting damage was done by the worst government in our history is only now starting to become apparent.
But Labor hasn’t learned and would do it all again and more. If the opposition were to sneak back into government after just one term, with only Rudd and Gillard gone from the cabinets that made all these disastrous decisions, our country is doomed to the economic stagnation that now characterises continental Europe.