Australia : Chris Ketter: the Queensland ALP Senator whose union shopped the lowest paid
While Senators Derryn 'Shut-eye' Hinch, Nick 'Sensible centre' Xenophon and Malcolm 'Empirical Evidence' Roberts, attracted all the attention, ALP Senator Chris Ketter quietly returned to the Senate on the Queensland ticket
behind newbies Murray Watt and Anthony Chisholm, and returning Senator Claire Moore.
Ketter is a creature of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association, (SDA), known as the Shoppies, one of the original four right wing 'grouper' unions in the ALP, a relic of the great Labor Split of the '50s, and the toxic factionalism of the ALP.
The only job Ketter had before entering Parliament in 2014, appears to be the 32 years he spent as an SDA union official. In his 2014 first speech Ketter tapped all the touchpoints of conservative Catholic social action. He told the Senate:
"The Catholic church's official Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 2004 states: 'The Magisterium recognizes the fundamental role played by labour unions … to defend the vital interests of workers.'"
He paid tribute to his grandfather, Federated Clerks Union cold warrior Bill Thornton, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and mourned the loss to the Senate of South Australian Don Farrell, another Shoppies apparatchik who along with Shorten, Feeney and the unlamented Mark Arbib destroyed Kevin Rudd's prime ministership.
Subsequently Ketter has kept a low profile. Since arriving he has asked a total of 22 questions in the Senate, 11 for each year.
Given Ketter's rhetoric about workers' rights and the fair go, it is surprising that retail and fast food workers have been ripped off in a deal brought by their union - the Shoppies - to the Fair Work Commission.
Investigative journalism by Fairfax reporters Ben Schneiders, Nick Toscano, and Royce Millar, with advocate Josh Cullinan, shows the deal fails the 'no disadvantage' test, and some estimate the number of workers affected to be around one million.
The shenanigans of the Shoppies remained unnoticed not only by a number of the nation's largest employers, who were party to the deal: Coles, Woolworths, McDonalds, and Hungry Jacks, but also by the Trade Union Royal Commission. Commissioner Heydon looked closely at the Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU), the Health Services Union (HSU), the Maritime Union (MUA), the NUW (National Union of Workers), the Transport Workers (TWU), the CFMEU, and the AWU, but not the Shoppies.
On the evidence, the Shoppies have failed to meet the basic responsibilities of trade unions, which as Ketter told the Senate, "have upheld the dignity of men and women in the workplace and have carried the spirit of the fair go from the shop floor to the floor of parliament."
The real indignity is that we have yet to hear Ketter call out his union comrades on their failure to prosecute the fair go for the lowest paid workers in the land. Given new-found, nation-wide interest in Adjournment debates, perhaps the next Senate Adjournment debate might be a good time to start.
Dr John Harrison is senior lecturer in the University of Queensland's School of Communication and Arts.