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Rift in largest trade union in Australia threatens gay marriage influence in the Labor Party

Members of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) say anti-marriage-equality leaders don't speak for them
National leader of the SDA, Australia's largest union with 250,000 members, Joe de Bryun

A rift between marriage-equality supporting members and social conservative leaders has erupted in Australia's largest trade union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA).

The conflict has potentially far-reaching consequences as the national leader of the SDA is Joe de Bruyn who is hugely influential in the Labor Party and rumored to be the reason Prime Minister Julia Gillard is so stubbornly opposed to marriage equality.

Today a group called SDA Members for Marriage Equality released a statement in response to a Brisbane Times article which says that the Queensland branch of SDA is supporting right-wing lectures by the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty.

The Brisbane Times article also claims SDA Queensland branch secretary Chris Kettter, who is also a Labor Party candidate for the Senate, sacked SDA member Alan Swetman when he questioned the links to the lectures. Swetman had been about to challenge Ketter for his position as branch secretary.

'The union leadership has never sought endorsement from the membership of the union to justify its socially conservative and frankly right-wing opposition to issues such as marriage equality or abortion rights,' said shop steward and convenor of SDA Members for Marriage Equality Duncan Hart.

‘This latest dismissal of a union official attempting to democratically challenge the leadership shows branch secretary Chris Ketter’s contempt for the views of his members.'

In a phone call with Gay Star News Hart called Ketter's actions 'a disgrace' and called for him to resign from his post with the SDA and from the Labor party ticket, a position which Hart said he only acquired through his role with SDA.

'It’s time for openness, accountability and a change of leadership in the SDA,' said Hart.

SDA Members for Marriage Equality was formed in response to de Bruyn's public anti-gay-marriage statements in 2010.

'He was committing the union to campaign against gay marriage,' said Hart.

'Since then we've made it our mission to try to show that the SDA leaders who act like they speak on behalf of their members, the 250,000 members of the SDA, do not represent the members.'

Last year SDA made a anti-gay-marriage submission to the Senate inquiry looking at proposed changes to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage.

SDA Member for Marriage Equality questioned de Bruyn's right to speak for the whole union when there had been no survey on members' views of same-sex marriage.

'Despite repeated requests, the SDA has refused to survey its membership to ascertain their views on marriage equality,' said Hart at the time, Canberra Times reported.

But de Bruyn said he believe the 'overwhelming majority of the members of the union' were against gay marriage.

Last July, LGBT rights activists reported that former prime minister Kevin Rudd had told them that Gillard got her current position through a deal with de Bruyn and that's why she is opposed to marriage equality. Rudd denied the claims from three separate witnesses.  

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