NSW unions challenge NSW Government in the High Court

Unions are collectivist organisations which recognise the value and strength that flows from membership and action. Similarly, unions affiliate to peak bodies like the ACTU federally or, like us, Unions NSW, primarily focused on NSW unions and branches. Some NSW unions, like us, don’t make political donations but many, almost, do.

Everyone will have seen campaigns run by the NSW Nurses, or the Teachers Federation or the PSA about privatisation, staff numbers, beds, class sizes or whatever. All usually damaging television and media campaigns against whichever government may be in charge.

The Electoral Funding Act 2018 was introduced by the NSW Government to restrain unions and other third-party campaigners from participating in election campaigns. Previously, third-party campaigners could spend up to $1 million but the 2018 legislation reduces that limit by half, to $500,000. It also changes arrangements so that if a number of unions combined together, the $500,000 limit still applies. Clearly this is censorship, a political attack against unions participating in an election process and, based upon legal advice, probably unconstitutional and illegal. So it’s off to the High Court.

In 2013 Unions NSW ran a similar case in the High Court securing a declaration that the O’Farrell Liberal Government’s restrictions on political donations by individuals were unconstitutional. Unions NSW has resolved to launch a similar challenge to the 2018 legislation because it squarely targets unions and union members, to gag them and make them less effective in protecting the interests of their members.

The depa Committee of Management resolved unanimously to participate in the funding of the challenge. $5000, to be precise, estimated as our share of the cost of a successful challenge. Or $10,000 if it’s lost. The other local government unions are also supporting the case.

Unions NSW arranged a demonstration of affiliates gagged outside the court when it first came on for directions before the High Court in Sydney on 26 September. The case resumed on 23 October, with the High Court confirming that it will refer the Unions NSW challenge to a full hearing in December, with South Australia the first of several states expected to intervene. Unions NSW has sought an expedited hearing to have the matter resolved before next year’s State election.

You may have already seen media about this important challenge but now you know you have skin in the game.

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