The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) campaign against the China free trade agreement (FTA) sunk to a new low last night after it sent out a series of robocalls criticising Federal Member for Hasluck Ken Wyatt for not attending a debate on the topic.
The ACTU had previously ‘challenged’ Mr Wyatt to debate Australian Workers Union WA branch secretary Stephen Price in Southern River on Wednesday but Mr Wyatt declined following the death of two people close to him, including an immediate family member.
Mr Wyatt said another reason for him declining was that the legislation was still being debated in parliament and negotiations between the government and opposition were ongoing.
Despite receiving a written response explaining why Mr Wyatt had declined the invitation the ACTU continued to publish campaign material advertising the debate including radio announcements, letter drops and a press release.
The evening after the scheduled debate Hasluck residents received a pre-recorded message from ACTU president Ged Kearney criticising him for not attending the event.
Mr Wyatt was angry and disgusted the robocalls had gone out around the electorate, given he had made the ACTU aware that he would not be attending about two weeks prior.
“The unions knew I had declined and they knew my reasons,” he said.
“I can see why people are becoming cynical of the union movement and why union membership is declining, it’s inappropriate to behave that way.
“Unions talk about negotiations, well why didn’t (ACTU secretary) Dave Oliver pick up the phone when he saw I had declined and ask why?
“This is just a political exercise by the union and I don’t like that they’re trying to scare people.”
Mr Wyatt said if the ACTU were serious about employment issues they should have hired someone to call people in the electorate and discuss the issues rather that use pre-recorded messaging.
He said the ACTU also should have contacted Trade Minister Andrew Robb with its concerns rather than launching what he described as a marginal seat strategy.
The debate was part of a national campaign from the ACTU, which saw them target 23 federal electorates.
None of the Liberal or National MPs attended the debates.
“It surprises me because if they are equally concerned about the China FTA they would do a state wide launch,” Mr Wyatt said.
“Fremantle’s got a significant number of people who would be affected by this particularly in the Rockingham area but they didn’t run the campaign out there.”
An ACTU spokesman said the ACTU would have accommodated any request for a change of date had Mr Wyatt asked for one.
“We understand that some MPs had legitimate clashes with debates organised in their electorates,” he said.
“In every case where an MP has asked for change in date to accommodate these clashes, we have accommodated that request for a change in date and we would absolutely have done so for Mr Wyatt under these circumstances.”