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.
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.
Other political journalists could see that it was going to become a big deal over the next few days.
Minutes after the comment, assistant minister to the prime minister James McGrath said it was a disgrace.
Former workplace relations minister Eric Abetz issued a statement saying it was "extraordinary" and called on Labor leader Bill Shorten to condemn the comments.
But McManus also had a huge amount of support, including from her union.
The CFMEU national secretary also pledged his support.
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".
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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