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Ged Kearney’s candidacy shows the relationship between Labor and the unions remains mutually beneficial

Ray Markey writes in The Conversation (16.3.18) about the continuing close association between the union movement and the ALP, suggesting that there are advantages for unions in terms of access and policy influence by having former officials as MPs.

‘Former Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney is facing an uphill battle to retain the federal seat of Batman for Labor at Saturday’s byelection. While ACTU officials entering parliament as Labor MPs is a well-trodden career path, Kearney’s predecessors usually stood for safe seats.

‘Bob Hawke (who was ACTU president between 1969 and 1980) became Labor leader and prime minister in 1983. Simon Crean (president 1985-90), Martin Ferguson (president 1990-96), Jennie George (president 1996-2000), and Greg Combet (secretary 2000-07) all left the ACTU for parliamentary careers.

‘Almost half of Labor MPs generally have had union connections, and many have been senior union leaders at state or federal level. The Liberal and National parties routinely argue the career path from senior union leader to parliament demonstrates how much the unions influence the Labor Party.

‘There are undoubtedly advantages for unions in terms of access and policy influence by having former officials as MPs. However, this influence can be overestimated. Unions frequently complain that former officials develop broader perspectives in parliament, because the party needs to balance competing political and community interests to be effective in government.

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