The construction industry watchdog is trying to ban the display of the Eureka flag, which has symbolised Australian unions for 142 years.
Building giant Lendlease has challenged the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s ban on the Eureka flag and posters supporting controversial union leader John Setka on commonwealth-funded buildings.
Lendlease argued in the Federal Court that union insignia should only be banned if it implied union membership is anything but voluntary.
The Eureka flag was created in the 1850s by gold miners and used at the Eureka Stockade. Since 1878 it has been used to represent Australian unions.
Construction giant Lendlease has challenged the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s ban on the Eureka flag (pictured)
A ‘We Support John Setka’ poster and Eureka flag hang in a lunchroom, which the Australian Building and Construction Commission say breaches the building code
But the ABCC claimed government-funded buildings have an obligation not to show union symbols on company-supplied property.
In court proceedings, the ABCC’s director Robert Dalton said ‘We Support John Setka’ posters breached the code, despite having no union logos, The Australian reported.
Posters supporting Mr Setka came about after he tried to contest Anthony Albanese’s attempt to remove him from the Australian Labor Party.
Dave Noonan, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s construction division’s national secretary, said the ABCC’s position was a misuse of power by a government regulator.
‘We have hundreds of government inspectors going around trying to censor free speech on building sites by banning posters,’ he said.
‘It’s just blatant anti-union behaviour. They want to try and censor the fact that unions exist.’
Mr Noonan said the posters supporting Mr Setka were simply a political opinion held by some employees.
He compared them to hypothetical posters reading ‘I support Mathias Cormann for the OECD’.
Mr Cormann, who quit is finance minister earlier this year, is campaigning to be the next head of the OECD – an organisation fostering economic prosperity and free trade.
Posters supporting Mr controversial CFMEU boss John Setka (pictured with wife Emma Walters) came about after he tried to contest Anthony Albanese’s attempt to remove him from the Australian Labor Party
According to the code: ‘Building association logos, mottos or indicia are not applied to clothing, property or equipment supplied by or which provision is made for by the employer or any other conduct which implies that membership of a building association is anything other than individual choice for each employee’.
The ABCC argued the paragraph is divided into to limbs, broken up by the word ‘or’.
It said the first limb ensures all logos, mottos and indicia are not applied.
The second limb is a separate ban on any other messaging that implies union membership is not an individual choice.
Lendlease said the paragraph represents a single obligation.
The court decision is expected in early 2021.
WHAT IS THE EUREKA FLAG?
The Australian Gold Rushes began in the 1850s and saw a huge increase in Chinese migration Down Under.
In 1861, 38,258 people, or 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, had been born in China. This number was not to be equalled until the late 1980s.
Chinese miners often worked in groups of 30 to 100 men under the direction of a leader, which resulted in their gold digging efforts being very successful.
European miners became jealous of Chinese success, which resulted in violent anti-Chinese protests, most notably the Lambing Flat riots in NSW from 1860 to 1861.
An illustration of European miners attacking Chinese miners in a historic sketch by John Thomas Doyle. European miners became jealous of Chinese success, which resulted in violent anti-Chinese protests, most notably the Lambing Flat riots in NSW from 1860 to 1861
Chinese miners also faced higher taxes, social segregation, publicly-sanctioned racism and were often looted or ‘claim jumped’ by their white counterparts.
The Eureka Rebellion culminated in the Eureka Stockade battle in 1854, which killed at least 22 diggers and six soldiers.
After the Stockade, a royal commission report suggested Chinese immigration be heavily restricted, which resulted in Victoria’s Chinese Immigration Act in 1855.
The gold rush was also a second wave of dispossession for Indigenous Australians, many of whom had already been forced from their land by pastoralists.
The massive influx of diggers onto their land and the ensuing environmental destruction resulted in terrible hardships for the Indigenous population.
Since the Australian Gold Rushes, the Eureka flag has become a national symbol that is associated with unions, the working class, anti-imperialism and republicanism.
The flag itself is blue with a white cross and white stars in the centre and on each point. It is often a candidate in debates about changing the Australian national flag.