By JR on Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Labor Party's campaign in next year's federal election has been dealt a serious financial blow in Queensland.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is changing electoral donation laws so that unions will no longer be able to give money to political parties unless the donation is approved by a secret ballot of members.
Mr Newman says he decided to act after he saw a media report that the ALP was considering increasing its union affiliation fees by 40 per cent.
"At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, we think it is terrible that hard-working union members should have to be hit by a large increase in union fees to go to a particular political party," he said.
"What we are proposing is an arrangement where once a year they would put their proposals for the next 12 months to the membership, have a democratic secret ballot and to get that signed off by the members. "Surely that is fair and reasonable?"
But the proposal has outraged Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk and the state secretary Anthony Chisholm, who says there are more than 20 affiliated unions.
"Sure, we mightn't have the money, but we'll have the people power on the ground, which is the traditional strength of the Labor Party," Mr Chisholm said.
"If you are going to go down this track you have to have a real good look at whether companies, without reference to their shareholders, should be able to donate money to political parties," he said. "We need a level playing field."
Mr Newman acknowledged the argument. "I think that's a fair point but all I say is that corporations do have to answer to shareholders at annual general meetings," he said.
"Frankly, what the unions are saying is a bit disingenuous and self-serving. "We've seen terrible, terrible things going on, it is alleged, in the Health Services Union where money has been totally spent on all sorts of spurious things. "I don't think the unions have a leg to stand on in making that comment."
Labor was considering increasing the affiliation fees as a way to raise funds ahead of next year's federal election, which will be fiercely contested in Queensland.
But Mr Newman says that was not his concern. "This is not about the federal election or the next state election or council elections," he said. "This is about the democratic rights of union members to actually have a say where their money is going and to not just automatically support a political party."
The Coalition government in New South Wales recently enacted donation laws which forbid unions and corporations from making any political donations, and only allow individuals to contribute a maximum of $2,000 a year.
Mr Newman would not reveal if he had plans to follow suit. "I'm certainly not ruling out other reform to election funding arrangements in Queensland," he said.