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People Are Freaking Out Because A Union Boss Said It's Sometimes OK To Break The Law

"... when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it."

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The new boss of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Sally McManus has said she's fine with breaking some laws, when those laws are unjust and unfair.

#ACTU boss @sallymcmanus: 'I believe in the rule of law ... But when it's unjust I don't think there's a problem wi… https://t.co/DYSWClh8p6

On her first day in the job McManus was challenged on ABC's 7:30 by host Leigh Sales about the recent activity from construction union the CFMEU.

Sales started by asking McManus whether she believed in the rule of law and whether she'd distance the union movement from the CFMEU.

Eventually, McManus said that when laws were unjust, it was OK to break the law.

Here's the full transcript:

SALES: Do you believe in the rule of law?

MCMANUS: Uh, yes

SALES: Given that, will the ACTU consider distancing itself from the CFMEU which has faced 118 separate legal proceedings where it’s either broken the law, or acted in contempt of court?

MCMANUS: There is no way we will be doing that. I’ll tell you this, the CFMEU when they’ve been fined, they’ve been fined for taking industrial action.

SALES: Illegal industrial action

MCMANUS: It might be illegal industrial action according to our current laws and our current laws are wrong. It shouldn’t be so hard for workers in our country to take industrial action when they need to. Quite often these workers have stopped work because a worker has been killed on a building site. And know this, that union gets fined more than the companies that actually kill workers. So Grocon got fined $330,000 for killing five workers and the CFMEU got fined even more and I just think that’s totally wrong.

SALES: Yet nonetheless we live in a country where there are laws established by a parliament that all citizens are expected to abide by. So regardless of whether you agree or disagree with those laws, you said you agree with the rule of law.

MCMANUS: Yeah I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right, but when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.

The ABC's Insiders host Barrie Cassidy was shocked at the comment, asking how long it would take for McManus to take it back.

New ACTU secretary says she will decide what laws the unions will obey - what laws are fair and what are unfair. How soon will she recant?

There's a difference between agitating to change laws and disobeying them. So individuals decide for themselves? Th… https://t.co/DyJeYzMTzq

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Other political journalists could see that it was going to become a big deal over the next few days.

I can't believe she said that! https://t.co/exqGN5PnfW

New ACTU head, Sally McManus, told #abc730 she believes in rule of law except where laws are "wrong". Coalition will pounce ASAP on that.

Minutes after the comment, assistant minister to the prime minister James McGrath said it was a disgrace.

This is why Labor and the unions are a threat not only to workplace safety (ABCC) but the entire economy. What a di… https://t.co/lY59uJTn0p

Former workplace relations minister Eric Abetz issued a statement saying it was "extraordinary" and called on Labor leader Bill Shorten to condemn the comments.

Top union boss says it’s okay to break the law #politas #auspol https://t.co/7AYqMRMt6w

But McManus also had a huge amount of support, including from her union.

Unlike many others, @sallymcmanus negotiated Leigh Sales mines without resorting to weasel words, just composure, facts & principles #abc730

The CFMEU national secretary also pledged his support.

It's how we go the vote https://t.co/Hs4eXNZWfF

And several people claimed McManus was talking about the famous phrase adopted by Martin Luther King Jr., "An unjust law is no law at all".

Looks like we're about to have an ill-informed debate based on two well accepted but alternate views as to what constitutes the Rule of Law


Mark Di Stefano is a Media and Politics Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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