Serious tensions within Australia’s largest trade union threatened to boil over this week, with members of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) accusing union leadership of stifling support for marriage equality within the organisation.
Last week a Fairfax article tied the SDA’s Queensland branch to the conservative lobby group the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, with the union helping organise Ambrose Centre lectures for its younger members urging them to take conservative positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.
The article also claimed that SDA Queensland Secretary Chris Ketter sacked union member Alan Swetman when he raised concerns over the lectures. Ketter, who is a Labor Queensland candidate for the Senate, was just about to be challenged by Swetman for his position as branch Secretary.
SDA Members for Marriage Equality (SDAMME) convenor Duncan Hart has called for Ketter and other conservative SDA leaders, including National Secretary and Treasurer Joe de Bruyn, to cease attempting to dictate the opinion of members and release internal polling figures they claim show “overwhelming” opposition to marriage equality.
“If Joe de Bruyn bases the SDA’s opposition to marriage equality on research he has done then the members of the SDA have a right to see this research. The position of such a key union on such an important issue must be transparent – there is no room for secrecy,” Hart said.
Hart also claimed in a statement that SDA leaders had “never sought endorsement” from members to justify the SDA’s socially conservative stance, and that such a lack of consulation was reflective of “a lack of democracy” in the SDA.
“They don’t care about the views of their members and they’ve never tried to communicate with them over 17 years. They’ve never told members about elections or allowed them to have a voice,” Hart told the Star Observer.
Hart and other members of SDAMME are calling upon Ketter to resign, for Swetman to be reinstated and for “fair and democratic elections” within the SDA.
An SDAMME protest rally will be held on Thursday, May 30 outside the Fortitude Valley offices of the SDA. Ketter’s office and the Ambrose Centre were contacted for comment but failed to reply by deadline.