Australia : ACTU votes to support marriage equality and oppose plebiscite
The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ executive has passed a motion in favour of same-sex marriage, opposing a plebiscite and calling for Malcolm Turnbull to allow a free
The motion is the first time the peak union body has expressed a position on marriage equality, after years of strident opposition from one of its largest members, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.
It also passed a motion opposing the community development program, a welfare program with work obligations the union believes discriminate against Indigenous Australians.
The ACTU executive is meeting in the Northern Territory this week before the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off.
On Tuesday it passed the motion stating that “all people in Australia must be treated equally by the law”.
It called on the Turnbull government “to allow a free vote on [marriage equality] thus avoiding a divisive and costly plebiscite and providing an opportunity for our elected representatives to ensure equal rights for all couples regardless of their gender”.
The motion noted the Labor party is committed to ensuring equal access to marriage regardless of gender, that same-sex marriage is supported by 58% of the population, and that the US and UK already allow “the right of same-sex couples to equal recognition of their relationships”.
The resolution noted the marriage equality plebiscite was non-binding, costly and “would in effect result in significant public vilification of a wide range of people, including the children of same-sex couples, and have no more legal standing than an opinion poll”.
The ACTU’s call for a free parliamentary vote and opposition to a plebiscite is likely to give further impetus to calls within the parliamentary Labor party to block the plebiscite-enabling legislation.
The SDA formally dropped its opposition to same-sex marriage at a national executive meeting this month with a motion that stated the union “shall have no position on the matter” and will support Labor members to act according to their conscience on it.
That came from generational change at the largest Labor-affiliated union after Joe de Bruyn retired as national secretary and West Australian senator Joe Bullock stood aside as WA secretary of the SDA when he entered parliament in 2014.
Australian Marriage Equality’s national spokeswoman, Shirleene Robinson, welcomed the ACTU’s support, saying it “reflected the views and values of their members in backing marriage equality and a fair go for every Australian”.
“The members, their friends and families understand that this reform is about people, not politics, and affording every Australian the dignity and respect they deserve,” she said.
“Whatever the path to marriage equality we look forward to working alongside the ACTU to achieve equality for all.”
The motion opposing the community development program authorised the ACTU to use all means at the organisation’s disposal against what it called a “racially discriminatory” scheme.
The ACTU’s Indigenous officer, Kara Keys, said the resolution was “the first step toward a campaign which seeks to dismantle the CDP, and the entire union movement has now committed to this common goal”.
Unions are concerned the CDP allows job service providers to dock people’s welfare and sets more onerous work conditions in remote areas, which disproportionately affect Indigenous Australians.
The ACTU national secretary, Dave Oliver, said: “The union movement cannot, and will not, allow a policy which denies workers their rights and creates a two-tiered unemployment system to stand.
“Unions have pulled together to oppose a policy which is not only racially discriminatory but also attacks rights at work, places downward pressure on wages and downward pressure on wage-paying jobs.”