Bullying in Politics
Political bullying or bullying of any kind has always been something I despise. I have always been a collectivist, However, collective goals are best achieved by supporting individuals and by educating people. Intimidation is never a way to achieve your goals. As political economist Professor Robert Reich once observed, “Standing up to bullies is the hallmark of a civilized society.”
If ever a sitting member from one of the major political parties wants to find out who their real friends are, resigning from their party is a sure-fire way to get an answer.
When I resigned from the ALP, while a few loyal friends stayed with me, most party members did not. I was the subject of anger and vitriol from many quarters, but nowhere was I more surprised to receive hatred and horrible attacks, as from my former comrades at the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).
How does one respond to hate mail and death threats? While I remained a passionate supporter of the union movement (unlike several members who remained in the ALP party room) standing up to bullies was the only way I knew, so I delivered the following speech in the house:
Electrical Trades Union
Mr PYNE (Cairns—Ind) (10.15 am): Over recent months I have seen the very worst side of an organisation I once worked closely with, the ETU. Prior to the 2015 election, the ETU ran the `not for sale’ campaign. That campaign supported me on the basis that I would not vote to sell public assets. I never have, and never would, vote to sell public assets. Having remained true to those values, I remain absolutely mystified as to why the ETU has devoted so much time and members’ resources to a concerted and current campaign of hatred and vilification against me, my family and my staff.
Some brief facts on the moral high ground of all the players are: firstly, the ETU campaigned against the ALP Bligh government. I have never campaigned against an ALP government facing election—yet. Secondly, the ALP Bligh government sold public assets. I would never vote to sell public assets. Thirdly, when Stuart Traill was kicked out of the ALP, I supported him as a mate. When I resigned from the ALP, Stuart Traill attacked and vilified me. The ALP even expelled state secretary Peter Simpson for his stance on asset sales. I table these relevant papers.
Tabled paper: A bundle of copies of print outs of social media pages regarding the Electrical Trades Union.
The ETU has subjected my family, my staff and myself to appalling treatment, including the following comments on the ETU page. From Peter Simpson, `Rob is a compulsive liar, a rat and a megalomaniac, end of story’. Other comments include, `Hope he gets run over by a bus,’ `Pyne makes RATSAK seem like a better option,’ `Can you put someone in a wheelchair twice? Hang this grub for treason,’ and, `Time for rule 303 to be applied.’ This was accompanied by pictures of a rat in a wheelchair and an empty wheelchair. People can read it for themselves. I tabled a picture of a new ETU T-shirt printed especially for this weekend. It is printed, `When you rat on your mates it’s a Pyne in the’—expletive—with a picture of my face on a rat’s head and the ETU logo.
Let there be no doubt there are strong links between the ETU and some members of this House. I refer to the members who constantly `like’ and support comments made in this hate campaign by the ETU. I ask those members just for one second to ask themselves how they would feel if they were on the receiving end, how would they feel if it were their wife in tears, how they would feel if their 18-year-old daughter was scared to leave the house. I ask electricians across Queensland how they would feel if their families were treated in this manner.
I call on Bill Shorten and Annastacia Palaszczuk to condemn the ETU’s actions and campaign of hate and vilification. Whether it is against me or against any candidate of any party at the coming federal election, these tactics, language and behaviour of the ETU must be rejected outright. It has to stop. The leadership of the Labor Party, both state and federal, must condemn the ETU’s actions today.”
Bullying and Trolls
While I did not back down, it was clear the ETU would not either. They continued with harassment in the social media and in person. They went as far as getting T-shirts printed which had my head on a rat’s body. I was even followed to a conference I went to in New South Wales. How they justified printing T-shirts and having their members follow me to conferences is something I will never understand. Union money that could have been better spent on organising activities to benefit members.
I drew strength from the fact that everything I did was recorded. My speeches, Bills and most importantly, how I voted in parliament were all a matter of public record. If in the future anyone did bother researching, they would say I had been consistent in all the things I had stood up for during my career. I had been pro-worker, pro-environment, anti-corruption and voted for human rights.
The ETU can account for their behaviour. However, history will show they targeted for removal the first quadriplegic ever elected to Queensland Parliament and arguably one of the few truly progressive MPs to sit in the 56th Parliament. The only conclusion I could draw was that the ETU had a very narrow focus on personalities and had little concern for regional Queensland or the social justice issues of the time.
ALP Members and the clarity of independence
You cannot really complain about bullying from ALP branch members. Personal disputes and factional infighting in the branches is central to the ALP. Anyone who stands for any office, whether a voluntary branch role, or as an MP, knows that beforehand.
Unsurprisingly, there were some people within the Cairns branch of the ALP who never accepted me. Even after I had become the local MP. On a number of occasions I was contacted by the Cairns Post and a journalist would say “a senior source from the Cairns Branch of the ALP has accused you of ‘blah, blah, blah’.”
While resigning from the ALP eliminated any need to deal with ALP enemies, it also lost me the support of a majority of ALP branch members. This surprised me somewhat, as I felt where I had voted differently to the Parliamentary ALP, my vote had been more in tune with what branch members would have wanted. In their defence, I suppose I should have realised they were far removed from how MP’s voted in Parliament.
One of the first resolutions voted on after I left the ALP was “that the Palaszczuk government establish a Commission of Inquiry into the re-emergence of black lung disease in Queensland.”
Once I had read and understood the resolution it was clear to me I would vote for it. For me there could be no other way. Interestingly the LNP also voted for the resolution. I have no doubt this was more from a desire to roll the government then any long-term commitment to working people.
However, history will show the ALP voted against the resolution. I still remember poor Jo-Ann Miller being in tears as she voted. Her own family had experience of this dastardly disease first hand, but she was in the party and had to vote as she was told.
I came to realise that there are good and bad people in the union movement (as there are everywhere in life). Of course, now I can see that this is just common sense. When my eyes were opened by the career politicians with their game playing, back stabbing and often ridiculous behaviour. I started seeing things with much greater clarity.
After leaving the ALP I could make a rational analysis of political behaviour. This was why many ALP members hated me. If my new understanding of the flawed nature of senior party figures was correct, their rose coloured view would have to be wrong.
My new common sense analysis of the ALP challenged their faith in a party they remained faithfully committed to. If I was right, they were still operating on a footing based on emotion and mythology rather than reality.
Perhaps my in-depth understanding of labour history also gave me a different insight to branch members. For example I knew that from much of the 20th century the ALP have not been a friend of many trade unions but had in fact been at war with the Trades and Labour Council (TLC). Nevertheless I learned that in the end, what I really had to do was be able to live with the man in the mirror:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife,
Whose judgement upon him must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in life,
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test,
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But the final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
I could not have remained in the party and voted (even if it was only from time to time) against my conscience and the people I promised to represent. Had I done so, I really would not have been able to look in the mirror. Queensland politics pays well, but nothing is worth that.
Most importantly for me I had ‘stood up’. It does not take much guts to be full of ‘bluff and bluster’ when you are part of a crowd or mob. But I had stood up on my own to threats of violence and intimidation with nobody (other than Jenny) in my corner.
In the Parliament and in the street, I took it all on the chin and refused to be cowered. Politically stupid perhaps, but I knew I had done right and I was proud.
Other Reference Material and Pictures