Members of a number of unions rallied outside Brisbane Magistrates Court on May 26 in support of Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Queensland and Northern Territory branch secretary Peter Simpson, who was facing charges under the Transparency and Accountability Act.
Introduced last September, the law requires unions to conduct a ballot of all members before spending more than $10,000 on political campaigns and to publicly declare all expenditure (either on a union website or the Industrial Commission’s site).
The law is a direct attack on the right of unions to campaign in the interests of members and the wider community. It is ideologically driven and designed to muzzle unions as a dissenting social force. Protesters outside the court wore black and muzzles to highlight this intent.
The ETU is the first union to be charged under this anti-union law. The ETU has been a consistent leader in the campaign against the privatisation of public assets, being carried out by both Labor and Coalition governments. The union has also actively campaigned against other laws to restrict civil liberties.
The prosecution said the union failed to produce documents required by an inspector and failed to publish required financial documents.
Simpson told supporting unionists that the ETU had made all information publicly available. All documents were available on a website registered with the ETU called opposethesefacistlaws.com.
Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams told protesters: "It's very ironic today in that we have a government trying to persecute unions, trying to stop unions from speaking out," he said.
“Just last week they passed legislation which will result in people being able to donate huge amounts of money to political parties without that being known.”
This was a reference to new electoral laws which raised the threshold of disclosure of election donations to political parties from $1000 to $12,400.
The passage of this law caused LNP MP Chris Davis to resign from parliament. He said he would “never have stood for parliament” with such a platform. Davis had been sacked as assistant health minister weeks beforehand. A byelection will be held in his North Brisbane seat.
The magistrate has reserved her decision on Simpson's case.