DO AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENTS EVER DEREGISTER TRADE UNIONS?

No one can have failed to notice that the Federal Government (under new Prime Minister Scott Morrison) has targeted the CFMEU. Some would say this is old news. Certainly, Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash never missed an opportunity to criticise the CFMEU.

Whatever you think of the CFMEU, the fact remains that conservative Australian governments have never deregistered a trade union yet. That distinction falls instead to Labor Governments. Recent examples include the Gillard Labor Government moving against the HSU East Branch (whose secretary Michael Williamson was sent to jail for various offences) in 2012 and more famously the then Hawke Labor Government’s axing of the infamous Builders Labourers Federation in the mid 1980s following a sensational Royal Commission which revealed numerous crimes and appalling conduct. State Labor governments supported the move against the BLF which made its deregistration a fait accompli at the time.

Is it fair to compare the activities of the now vanquished BLF (many of whose officials found their way into the CFMEU as it happens) with the current activities of the CFMEU? That probably depends on your take on the Heydon Royal Commission into trade unions. This writer thinks that while some of the CFMEU conduct was totally unacceptable, it certainly falls short of what the BLF was doing back in the day.

I suspect that the Federal Government will make a major effort to keep the CFMEU on the front pages in order to damage the Opposition leader Bill Shorten. I also suspect that the record of conservative governments in never deregistering a trade union will remain intact for some time to come.