The TUC has intervened in a row over the appointment of the new secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) urging foreign secretary Dominic Raab not to support the Australian candidate Mathias Cormann, the former Australian finance minister who is being touted to take the job.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said she was concerned that Britain was preparing to vote for Cormann, who has a reputation for defending Australia’s mining interests, and on opposing urgent action on climate change and for his support for the anti-union agenda in Australia.
She said Cormann’s appointment would set back the fight against poverty and the climate crisis. O’Grady also said it was time for a woman to take on the leadership of the organisation.
There are four candidates still in the race to lead the OECD including the former EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem and the Greek academic and former education minister Anna Diamantopoulou, who has a track record of fighting poverty and tackling the climate emergency.
Whilst Britain has not formally declared its preference, the TUC said said there was speculation that Dominic Raab was lining up to support Cormann. It is also speculated that French President Emmanuel Macron may support Cormann.
Labour’s Emily Thornberry has written to Boris Johnson seeking assurances that Britain will not back Cormann, highlighting his climate record as “one of denial, inaction and deeply retrograde steps on issues like emissions trading, carbon pricing, and fossil fuel investment.”
In 2011, Cormann publicly celebrated after his government repealed carbon price legislation in 2014.
As a senior minister in the Liberal government, Cormann also attempted to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
In Australia there is mounting criticism of him for his tour of Europe to drum up support for his candidature.
The newscom.au website reports that the Australian defence department was forced to reveal why taxpayers paid for Cormann to travel to Europe in a luxury air force jet, with an entourage of nine people including his personal “flying doctor” at a time when thousands of Australians remain stranded in Europe.
The jet is said to cost $4,000 (£2,200) for every hour it is used — and was on permanent standby.
The Australian defence department said the medic was on hand to “manage any risks to the successful and safe execution of the mission. A medical officer was deemed necessary for this task.”
It is reported that Cormann’s travel itinerary included Canberra to Perth, to Oman, to Turkey, to Denmark, to Germany, to Switzerland, to Slovenia, back to Switzerland, then Luxembourg, to Belgium and then to Spain.
Aussie PM Scott Morrison said that the threat of Covid-19 was the reason he was given the plane, saying: “I mean, there really wasn’t the practical option to use commercial flights in the time we had available because of Covid.
“I mean, if Mathias was flying around on commercial planes, he would have got Covid.”
Cormann talked up the importance of pursuing a “green recovery with an increased reliance on renewables” while on his European tour despite being a senior figure in an Australian government that has openly questioned the science of climate change.
Andrew Dettmar, the president of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, warned that Cormann is from the right of the Australian Liberal Party.
“He supported John Howard’s anti-union ‘Workchoices’ legislation in 2007, even though everybody in the Liberal Party knew by then it was a disgrace.
“In his maiden speech Cormann said any proposition to remove workplace agreements and hand workplaces back to the tyranny of union bosses will ‘put a stake through the heart of the Western Australian and the national economy. We cannot let this happen’.”
Cormann was referring to individual contracts of employment known as Australian Workplace Agreements which were abolished, by Labor, the following year.
“In the same speech Cormann said the Howard government redefined the role of government, embracing markets, reducing tariffs, reducing government ownership, liberalising Australian workplaces and tax reform, promoting competition including in the government sector, shifting to a work-focused welfare system and putting stability back into macroeconomic management.”
Detmarr continued, “These were the values which informed his practice as Finance Minister under Tony Abbott (now a UK government adviser on trade), then Malcolm Turnbull and finally Scott Morrison.
“Cormann opposed gay marriage; he undermined Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister and supported the disgraceful and extreme right wing Peter Dutton to do so.”
Cormann oversaw the decimation of Australia’s foreign aid budget, which has been cut by 28 per cent to an all-time low of 0.2 per cent of gross national income.
In 2019 Australia ranked 19th among the 29 OECD development assistance committee member countries on the generosity of its aid.
The main focus of Cormann and his government’s agenda has been on personal income tax cuts for the wealthy and attempting to cut the corporate tax rate, while promising further attacks on those requiring welfare, on the trade union movement and the ability of workers to get a fair wage.
As a senior minister in successive right-wing governments in Australia which have overseen attacks on workers and trade union rights, Mathias Cormann clearly isn’t suitable to be the head of an organisation whose goals are to “shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and wellbeing for all and finding solutions to a range of social, economic and environmental challenges.”
By Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary
- This comment first appeared in the Morning Star