It’s a poor return on investment when the brightest idea your well-paid construction watchdog executives can produce to improve workplace safety is a ban on the Eureka flag.
It was reported this week that Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) executives pocketed a 14 per cent pay rise last year, while the agency’s staff averaged pay rises of just 1 per cent.
Figures released by the ABCC under freedom of information laws show one senior executive’s pay jumped from $199,000 to $222,500 and two rose from $185,000 to $210,000 in 2016-17.
Incredibly, the ABCC’s seven senior executives now all earn $210,000 or more.
And what do we get for these large sums?
The ABCC, acting at the behest of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s LNP, has implemented a ban on union symbols from construction companies tendering for government work – a ban that includes the Eureka flag.
The ABCC released new guidelines last month announcing a ban on “images generally attributed to, or associated with an organisation, such as the iconic symbol of the five white stars on the Eureka Stockade Flag”.
It also bans “mottos” and union names, symbols, “signs, markings or indications,” and most bizarrely “phrases that express an organisation’s guiding principle”.
The Eureka Flag is possibly the most Australian symbol of all. It is a symbol of when the underdog, the oppressed, and those under attack from undemocratic authority came together collectively to stand up for their rights and the rights of their mates.
The LNP has failed to appreciate the irony in banning its display, or the anger generated from handing out generous payrises to executives who unquestioningly do its bidding.
The Eureka Stockade – and the flag – represents the birth of a particular Australian camaraderie; a belief that we look out for not just our own interests but realise that when you touch one, you touch all. This is what makes the Eureka Flag so cherished not only by the union movement, but all Australians.
This ban on the freedom of expression by workers stands in stark contrast to the efforts by Malcolm Turnbull and the LNP to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to ensure their friend Andrew Bolt can freely suggest pale-skinned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are undeserving of assistance.
They did this portraying themselves as true liberal defenders of “freedom of speech” and “the right to offend”. Yet, they have moved to ban expressions of solidarity from workers.
It’s a pity that the effort the LNP currently expends on attacking unions is not directed into delivering decent, stable government.
The LNP knows what it is doing. This is deliberate, premeditated and systematic. It is attacking the freedom to belong to a trade union; freedom of speech; the freedom to stand up for yourself and your mate in the workplace; the freedom to protect your safety at work and the safety of those you work with; and the ability to stick together in order to improve wages and conditions.
This is another clear signal that the system is broken and it is taking away the power of ordinary Australians to work together to change the rules.
Ros McLennan is General Secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions.