Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes has branded union officials found to be corrupt as “traitors”, saying they need to be cut out like a cancer.
Mr Howes used a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday to weigh into the issue of alleged corruption and misconduct in the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, involving links with outlaw motorcycle gangs and criminals.
“Any union official proven to be engaged in corrupt or criminal behaviour is a traitor … to our members they have betrayed, to our cause they have dishonoured and to our future they have undermined,” he said.
The union movement should be “ruthless and uncompromising” when it came to even a suggestion of impropriety.
“If we turn a blind eye, if we ignore any pocket of dishonesty, it will grow like a cancer,” he said.
“It is my job – and the job of every union leader – to cut that cancer out.”
Those engaged in an “immature, Sopranos-style tough guy fantasy” were also unwelcome in the movement.
“We must never confuse strength with thuggery. Being a strong unionist is not about how many bikies you know,” Mr Howes said.
Mr Howes said he agreed that Australia’s industrial relations system was dragging the economy down, but only because it was changed so often at the whim of the two major political parties.
“We’re not being dragged down by the detail of any particular raft of industrial relations legislation,” he said.
“Australia is being dragged down because we’ve had far too many of them.”
Since Mr Howes became a union official in 1998 there have been eight different IR frameworks.
“We seem to accept that industrial relations can be treated like a backyard game of totem tennis,” he said, pointing the finger at Labor and coalition governments.
“We need a circuit breaker.”
He called for a “grand compact” in the spirit of the Hawke government’s accord of the early 1980s – to bring all players together to create a system with the potential to last up to two decades.
“A bitter, all-out war between labour and capital will not end with productivity gains.
“The federal government needs to realise that its primary role is actually to take a few steps back and to use that perspective to start fostering harmony and co-operation.”
He urged business to get on board with the idea.
“Together we can agree to never whinge to the umpire again,” Mr Howes said.
The union boss, who is also on Labor’s national executive, told the press club his party needed a new vision.
“It wasn’t right for the last six years – and it is not right now for an opposition – to death ride the government of Australia.
“Instead, Labor needs to show Australians a big picture … and take business with us.”