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The power of religion vs the power of unions

Two pieces of legislation will come before the parliament in the near future.

One is an industrial relations bill to expand the powers of Government to go after both unions and union officials.

The other is some sort of religious freedom bill.

About the same number of people are trade union members as attend church regularly. Both are around the 15% mark.

This government has branded trade unionists as lawless thugs, yet the occupations with the highest union membership are education and training (33%) and public administration and safety (30%).

They talk endlessly about the CFMMEU and the many convictions they have received. The vast majority of these have been for people withdrawing their labour or for union officials entering sites without the appropriate approval.

Which hardly compares to the extraordinary number of allegations and convictions against religious men for child sexual abuse.

When the Royal Commission suggested that priests be compelled to report child sexual abuse disclosed to them in the confessional, they just said no.

A succession of religious Prime Ministers have even hastened to provide references for priests accused of abuse or of covering it up.

The government talks of how unions waste their members’ money on political campaigns.

Yet religious organisations spend an enormous amount on political campaigning without anyone showing concern. If they want more money, they just hand round the plate. Or introduce a rule that you have to give them 10% of everything you earn.

Then there are their profit-making businesses, subsidised by government and exempt from paying any tax.

If they want more public money for their schools, they just exert political pressure via letters home to parents, sermons from the pulpit, and private meetings with government ministers.

They are organised and cashed up and making a significant push to expand their political power. They have a ready-made band of devoted followers accustomed to doing whatever they are told to by the church hierarchy. They are infiltrating political organisations and providing concerted support to religious candidates.

The unions can threaten to down tools if employers don’t do as they say. The churches can threaten eternal damnation burning in the fires of hell.

Unions seek better workplace conditions for their members. Churches seek power and control through fear and indoctrination.

As a primary school age altar boy, my husband was punched in the face by a priest so hard that he hit the wall opposite. This was not done in a moment of rage. It was in the vestry after mass because he had apparently pulled a face at one of his friends.

He then attended a catholic boarding school where physical violence from the brothers was an everyday occurrence.

So who are the bullies and thugs and criminals?

Why is the government, on the one hand, wanting to introduce legislation to allow religious organisations and individuals to be exempt from the laws that govern the rest of us and, on the other, insisting that they need legislation to make union officials adhere to the laws that govern business executives (who btw don’t really seem to be held to any sort of account at all) with the right to expel the whole union if they don’t toe the line.

They want legislation that, on the one hand, protects religious people from abuse and vilification, and on the other, enshrines their right to vilify others as freedom of speech.

It does not fill me with hope when I hear government ministers say they are praying for an end to the problems we face and speaking about miracles.

I would much rather see the collective voice and bargaining power of workers protected than the archaic rituals and superstitions of cults that worship a supernatural being.


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  1. David Bruce

    Bush (1 and 2) started the religious revival in the USA and we seem to be playing “catch up”. The “we lie, cheat and steal”, pompous Pompeo is an avid bible and prayer meeting attendee for members of the Trump administration.

    If the Churches were forced to pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains, then I believe they could be entitled to lobby politicians. Otherwise, completely separate the Church and the State!

    The Alpha movement has a lot to answer for our current predicament.

    With the current abysmal state of high rise construction disasters for residential apartments in Australia, I would be interested to know how the various regulators and governments plan to deal with this?

    The unions have a role to play in preventing governments and shonky private sector operators from killing or maiming their employees in preventable “accidents”.

    I despair our current crop of politicians in Canberra. I am convinced if someone donated a brain there, it would be lonely!

  2. Stephengb

    The intended push to have greater powers to knobbles the union movement is straight out of the Neoliberal Agenda.

    Thank you Kaye, although I ended up feeling very concerned after reading your article, I believe that forewarned is fore armed.

    I wonder what the Labor party is going to do now that they have painted themselves into a corner over John Setka.

    The Labor party have made a huge blunder over Setka. They will be pilliorid if they do not support this anti union Bill.

  3. Freethinker

    No many people and politicians in the opposition cannot see that the government and those faceless organizations that are pulling the strings are using religion, the union movement, coal, and employment as a primary “tool” with the objective of dividing the masses and with that weak the majority to have control above them.
    Since Abbott’s campaign the remove Gulliard the population is more divided, tolerating even unethical and crimes against humanity to satisfy their greed and selfishness.
    I am worried that we are reaching a stage that only when people have lost all their possession of which they are prisoners we will be united by poverty un misery.
    It happens before in other countries and can happen here we do not unite.

  4. Terence Mills

    Going after crooked Union officials hasn’t worked so well for for the coalition or maybe they have been too selective in who they go after : John Setka has been nailed but good old Kathy Jackson has proved to be Australia’s female Houdini in her efforts to avoid our justice system.

    Somebody somewhere has got to answer the question soon as to how our Kath has been able to escape justice and evidently avoid repaying the $1.4 million to the Health Services Union as ordered by the Federal Court in the 2015 civil case.

  5. John Lord

    Kaye. I think it is 8% of those who profess to be Christians who attend church at least once a month. And the 15% giving you refer to is actually 10% and is called a tithe. This is based on a scripture that talks about giving 10% of the harvest. There are many who dispute its use for that purpose. Mainstream churches treat any giving as a gift. In my experience the charismatic churches seek money like it’s going out of fashion.

  6. Ill Fares the Land

    It might seem dramatic, but in my view, what has been happening in the US, the UK, Turkey, Hungary and elsewhere is happening in Australia. Not in quite the same way, but the end game is the same or similar – more power for the ruling leader or corrupt “ruling class” being entrenched even further and put out of the reach of challenge or even dissent. The LNP hands out a promise of charity to highly-paid workers (who all think they DESERVE a tax cut because they’re out there having a go and being quiet Australians) as a distraction to allow it to afford religious institutions freedoms to discriminate that are not available to the rest of Australia. The idea is to convince people that the government, Morrison specifically, is looking out for us and while he has us stupefied or asleep, the LNP quietly implements it agenda to seize even more power and to protect that power.

    Perversely, despite the apparent “power” and “influence” of unions, wages for workers have stagnated and in real terms are scarcely higher than in the 1980’s. Union memberships have steadily fallen and the majority of workers are now not part of any collective bargaining mechanism.

    Yet, apparently, unions still have too much power in the eyes of the IPA, no sorry, confused that three letter acronym with the LNP. One has to assume that the only acceptable unionist is a former unionist and the IPA, sorry, the LNP, wants unions banished altogether.

    Strangely though, the banking royal commission uncovered numerous examples of banks mistreating, cheating and abusing their power over customers. But I must have missed the shrieking of the LNP and the Mighty Morrison, defender of the quiet Australians who were too distracted “having a go”, demanding tougher regulation on banks. Instead the banks plead “mea culpa”, promise to be better and have the silver tongued liar, Anna Bligh spruiking how the banks have seen the light and will now act only in the interests of their customers. I am slagging Bligh because pre-Royal Commission she was; “nothing to see here”, but after the royal commission she’s all about bank executives plunging headlong into the well of high moral standards and coming out dripping with goodness and a willingness to put customers before profits.

    Then there is the obsession with repealing the “medevac” legislation, despite the fact that NONE (not one, zip, diddly squat) of the skyfalls threatened by Dutton and Morrison at the time have even remotely come to pass. And behind the scenes Labor is pissing in its own pocket – is Australia doomed or what?

  7. Peter F

    Kaye, I do hope that the fires of hell aren’t fuelled by coal.!!!!!!!!!

  8. wam

    My memory is of the actu sally copping flak for saying that she supports unions breaking or defying unjust laws. Has it become easier for unions since 2017???
    The unions could get together and fix their wages to the @^@^@@ independent pollie pay rises. That would bugger the pollies.???

    The religions are just as fixed. When talking to a religious person bring up who is the god of the bible . Is it the god of Abraham??
    Is he a jew like Jesus the god of the christians or the god of Abraham’s son like the muhammad till gabriel gave him the qiran.? All the same same?? Wow that gets a reaction of horror.

    But these are, even dumber that me, rabbottian christians who refuse to believe their god,(the man who forgives men who kill women and children but sends gays, drunks and fornicators to hell, who abrogates his absolution duties to men who molest children both boys??? and girls) is the same god who pimps virgins for the men of islam who kill men women and children.
    The jews are just happy lording it over women.stealing land from and terrorising Palestinians and scummo’s mob also have weird beliefs about women and miracles??.

    There will never be peace and tolerance till women realise god is not a man. He/she/it did not make men superior.above the neck. It is unlikely that Australian culture will embrace such a idea of looking at women above the neck. Australian have, under the guise of ‘mates’ been animals after all and, as such, we need to get our haploids together.

  9. RosemaryJ36

    Now that Labor has 3 years to prepare for another election, it must stop being Mr Nice Guy, backing every Coalition policy, but without being a monstrous hate monger like Abbott.
    It did not need to vote for the tax legislation. It could have abstained.
    It should not work with the Coalition on a religious protection bill. It should oppose it, tooth and nail BUT it must oppose it with positive policy options which ensure the separation between politics and religion.
    It needs to present a vision, perhaps more modest than Whitlam’s but one which cares for the people who need care.

  10. Keith Thomas Davis

    I’m a strong Union supporter. I’m also a Survivor of childhood sexual abuse whilst under the untender care of the Catholic Church. Your article nails it both ways!

  11. Wobbly

    Has anyone noticed the explosion in proselytising that is now aired on commercial MSM television? Christian that is. I remember the member for Menzies, cardinal Andrews once indicated, as the minister for social services that he wanted to include a rule that anybody on one of the income support welfare benefits like Newstart and definately not the pension, was required to attend church every Sunday to continue receiving money from the government.

    If it was fake news, okay. But I have a horrible gut feeling that your gunna come across a lot more of this propagandised bullshit in the very near future. We are not only in danger of becoming a one party fascist state politically but our secular status as a nation is just as much under threat or even more so. What’s next, forced scripture classes in public schools just to get a pittance of funding. They already flaunt schools secular codes by openly proselytising now. Religion is just another form of fascism.

  12. Terence Mills

    You are going to see the normally silent cohort of age pensioners rising up as letters are still going out cutting pensions based on a bizarre theory of deeming that is never fully explained and which evidently doesn’t take into account contemporary economic conditions or interest rates.

    Pensioners who generally keep their saving in easily accessed term deposits are going to find that they will be receiving zero interest into the future and may even be charged by banks for the privilege of holding their savings.

    The worrying thing is that financial advisers are pushing retirees and pensioners into the share market which can be akin to taking your money to a casino !

  13. Freethinker

    Spot on, Terence!

  14. Zathras

    Retirees moving to the share market?

    The number doing so has increased but it’s also due to the revelation that they can get their hands on some of that “free money” via franking credits.

  15. Mr Shevill Mathers

    Kaye, As always, yo make many valid points. Personally,I want freedom from religion and a total separation of church and state. However, give our PM’s religious beliefs etc. I do not see this happening any time soon People in Australia are allowed to follow their beliefs, however, it does not give some religious enthusiasts the right to malign others or condemn non believers. Government involvement is giving this topic far more oxygen than it should.

    Your sentence below, is how in general terms, I have always seen both Unions and Churches. in the case of Churches it stems so far back in time- the high priests of the day got to sample all the forbidden ‘fruits’-it was always do as I say, not as I do. Look at the wars, torture, death and sexual abuse ( pedophilia and genital mutilation) perpetrated in the name of whatever religion, it is so conflicting and contradictory, so hypocritical in many cases.

    “Unions seek better workplace conditions for their members. Churches seek power and control through fear and indoctrination.”

  16. Terence Mills


    I was amused to hear that an adherent of the Pastafarian faith [belief in the flying spaghetti monster] has insisted that if other religions are allowed to have their driving licence photo taken with their particular religious headgear, then Pastafarians should be allowed to wear a colander on their heads.

    Sounds fair enough, but will it be written into the religious protection legislation ?

    Got to keep smiling !

  17. Yvonne Robertson

    I agree with the general tenor and examples given here and would add that the outsourcing of tasks previously handled by the government like job service provision for example, have seen many of the churches enriched beyond anything the 15% might contribute in handing around the plate. Engagement with that particular organisation (job service) is not even voluntary, should you find yourself unemployed. My bet is that the particular practice of Sunday donation is more ceremonial than anything. Successive governments have allowed the tax free status of churches along with their roles in providing aged care, child care, unfettered provision of education and training – even invading gymnasiums to provide strength classes for seniors with government subsidy and no need to feed anything back in terms of taxation on monies earned. It’s what has kept the churches afloat as their numbers dwindle.

    Compare this with unions which work for the betterment of their members in terms of increased wages and conditions. What do churches really provide in terms of the betterment of their members as opposed to members of their hierarchy? One thing the government and media never seem to acknowledge is the number of deaths caused by cowboy operators which the CFMMEU seek to prevent in their so called militancy. They’re committed – lives depend upon it.

  18. Kaye Lee

    Great comment Yvonne.

    As at 6 June, there have been 64 Australian workers killed at work in 2019.

    In 2018, the preliminary data show there were 157 Australian workers killed at work, compared with 190 workers in 2017.

    Remind me again how many Australians have been killed by murderous asylum seekers and how much we spend on promoting this fear?

    I remember when the Commonwealth Employment Service used to actually hook you up with jobs rather than impose fines.

  19. Anarchy rules

    With declining union membership comes wage stagnation and lost of benefits such as penalty rates. Capitalism works by always having a pool of unemployed to enforce labour discipline .the powers to be know that full employment leads to their strangle hold on power evaporating ,where capital would have to compete against itself for existing labour instead of the system we have now where labour competes against itself for existing capital .Unionism readdresses this inbalance by uniting labour in a collusion of shared interest instead of cutting each others throats to remain employed . Sadly with ever more declining union membership capital will increase its stranglehold on power.

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