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Navigating New Waters: Together Queensland's Controversial Affiliation with Labor

In a significant move, Together Queensland, a branch of the Australian Services Union (ASU), has recently extended its political affiliations to include its public sector division, encompassing 24,000 members. This decision marks a departure from their historical affiliation limited to about 3,000 private sector members. Previously, these affiliations had incurred costs of approximately $20,000 annually, but with the public sector now included, the financial commitment has surged to nearly $200,000 a year.


This affiliation came into effect in March and was accepted by Labor's Queensland branch, adjusting their membership total to 27,000. However, this move has sparked controversy due to its deviation from the union's internal regulations. Originally, the union's guidelines mandated majority approval for affiliating with any political entity, a rule that was in place since the union's formation in 2011, following the merger of the Queensland Public Service Union with the ASU's Central and Southern Queensland clerical branch.


Navigating New Waters: Together Queensland's Controversial Affiliation with Labor
Navigating New Waters: Together Queensland's Controversial Affiliation with Labor

Despite these requirements, the union's leadership proceeded with the affiliation application to the Labor Party in February, ahead of receiving formal approval for a rule change from the Fair Work Commission (FWC).


This rule change was necessary to eliminate the previous requirement for a majority vote. Interestingly, the rule adjustment was only sanctioned a day after the affiliation was confirmed, indicating a misalignment in the procedural timeline.

The process of changing the rule itself was not without its flaws.


The FWC general manager's delegate, Chris Enright, observed during the approval that the original rule stipulated a "special majority" of 75% from the branch's governing council for any amendments. While the national secretary, Robert Potter, assured that this threshold was met, there were discrepancies in how the changes were documented and presented to the ASU's national executive, raising concerns about transparency and governance.


Affiliating with a political party, especially in the sensitive realm of public sector unions, has always been a contentious issue. This is reflected in past challenges within federal public sector union elections, where candidates have campaigned on the promise of better consultation with members regarding such significant decisions.


Together Queensland's recent affiliation with the Labor Party, therefore, raises several questions about member engagement and the balance between union leadership decisions and member expectations. This episode underscores the importance of transparency and adherence to established procedures in union governance, especially when such decisions have broad implications for membership and union affiliations.


In conclusion, while Together Queensland's move aligns with a broader trend of political engagement by unions, it also highlights the complex interplay between internal governance and external affiliations in the landscape of union politics. This decision will likely continue to resonate within the union's community, potentially shaping future discussions on union governance and political affiliations.

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