It was 2007 and the union movement was dying. Its membership had continued to fall, it was ignored by the Howard Government and it faced a real existential threat. The people of Australia could imagine a future without unions.
The Howard Government, however, made two strategic errors. First (and most importantly) was to allow unions to keep their principal funding source: the superannuation guarantee and industry superannuation funds. Second was the development and implementation of Work Choices, at that time a bridge too far for the Australian people.
Poised with a stake over the heart of the union movement, the Howard Government blinked. It should have (and could have) severed that vital funding source, and set superannuation policy on a path of transparency and acting in the interests of members. The building and construction industry is the proper way in which to examine the industry superannuation fund. Heavily overweight in illiquid and untraded property trusts, this is the tool in which money is siphoned into the union movement. Unions are nothing but fiefdoms, so putting favoured union leaders as trustees on superannuation funds provided a high and reliable additional source of income which is not disclosed.
Unfortunately the Howard Government did not act against that; it also did not act to promote competition in the market for retail superannuation funds which consistently gouged members with exorbitant fees, well above equivalent fees overseas. Usually when one observes excessive fees, it is due to an insufficiently competitive environment.
The union movement found their champion in an unlikely person, Kevin Michael Rudd.
Rudd ostensibly hated the union movement – indeed he acted to expel some of the worst thugs. What genius to have the seemingly mild Rudd as Labor leader, knowing that he could be pushed out of the way when convenient.
So victory was achieved in November 2007 and the union movement never looked back.
Today, the Gillard Government is embedding the union movement in the Government. Still with few members, the union movement has had a resurgence because of the re-regulation of the labour market, and now the additional proposed anti-discrimination laws.
Who needs members when (a) there is a reliable funding source from the superannuation industry and (b) the unions have become an integral part of government through legislation?
Effectively key union officials are permanent members of Cabinet, dictating the course of government policy and government spending.
This relationship between union leaders and governments is much closer than under Curtin and Chifley, when the union movement had significant numbers of members. It has also occurred when the stench of corruption from the HSU and AWU suggests that it is rife throughout the union movement.
We have mortgaged our future on a number of unelected and grasping men (yes, they are mainly men) in key union positions. They are forcing through policies that will inflict significant damage on the Australian economy. Our economy may have significant advantages, but no economy can resist the damage that these bad policies are inflicting.
The Gilliard Union Government is acting in the interests of the few and against the interests of the many. In that sense, it is merely a small version of the Mugabe kleptocracy. It is damaging the standards of living of the Australian people.
In the 2007 election campaign, the Coalition warned of the risks of the union movement running Australia. This has now come to pass.
Hopefully Tony Abbott has picked up that stake, and stands ready to drive it through the heart.
I have a dream that one day the union movement will be no more. That workers will be unshackled and able to enjoy the fruits of their labour without some union official extorting a share.