Federal Election 2019: ACTU puts Greens ahead of Labor on Higgins how-to-vote cards

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An army of unionists could help the Greens steal the seat of Higgins from under Labor's fingertips at Saturday's federal election, after the Australian Council of Trade Unions broke with tradition to back the minor party in how-to-vote cards to be handed out at polling booths.

The inner-Melbourne seat held by retiring Coalition cabinet minister Kelly O'Dwyer is expected to be a tight contest between Labor and the Greens if Liberal candidate Katie Allen's primary vote falls below 45 per cent, making it a key focus in Bill Shorten's fight to secure the seats needed to form a majority government.

Sally McManus shas agreed to let ACTU volunteers hand out how-to-vote cards putting the Greens first in Higgins.

Sally McManus shas agreed to let ACTU volunteers hand out how-to-vote cards putting the Greens first in Higgins.Credit:AAP Image/ Joe Castro

But left-wing activists concerned that Mr Shorten may not go far enough on climate change and industrial relations are lobbying the ACTU to increase its support of the Greens, which backs lower emissions targets and more radical workplace reforms.

The ACTU will print two sets of how-to-vote cards for Higgins, one placing Labor - traditionally seen as the political arm of the union movement - in the number one spot, and the other placing Greens candidate Jason Ball first, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have confirmed.

It is understood activists have requested the ACTU take the same approach in Macnamara and Kooyong - two other Melbourne seats expected to be on a knife-edge - but its leadership has instead opted not to hand out in those seats.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said in a statement that the union peak body's campaign was focussed on "changing the laws for working people".

"This means electing people in the lower house who support these changes as well as changing the Senate," Ms McManus said.

Greens MP Adam Bandt, who holds the seat of Melbourne and is the party's industrial relations spokesman, said a Labor government without a strong Greens presence may leave activists disappointed by Mr Shorten's workplace law reforms.

"In 2007, working people helped changed the government but then got stuck with bad laws when Labor kept large parts of John Howard's WorkChoices," Mr Bandt said.

Greens candidate for Higgins Jason Ball campaigns with Melbourne MP Adam Bandt.

Greens candidate for Higgins Jason Ball campaigns with Melbourne MP Adam Bandt.Credit:Eddie Jim

"Greens in Parliament won't just help change the rules, we'll make sure Labor doesn't backslide again."

The ACTU's multi-million dollar Change the Rules campaign is pushing for sweeping changes to Australia's industrial relations system, including pattern bargaining rights to allow workers to strike across industries - but Mr Shorten is under pressure to restrict this to low-paid industries.

The rift within the union movement over Greens' preferences extends to North Queensland, where Ms McManus has defended her decision to place a Katter's Australian Party candidate ahead of the Greens on how-to-vote cards in a marginal coal seat.

The ACTU angered some left-wing activists by putting the Greens fourth in Capricornia, behind KAP and the Democratic Labour Party, prompting outcry from some concerned about climate change and demanding broader strike rights.

They're also placing Greens candidates third or lower in how-to-vote cards in the Queensland seats of Dawson, Flynn and Herbert.

Ms McManus deleted a tweet labelling a union member's criticism of the how-to-vote card "ridiculous" on Wednesday.

She said voters in individual electorates faced "different issues (that) local people give a higher priority" and that the ACTU was "encouraging people to vote for the parties who support change on those local issues".

KAP's leader, Firebrand MP Bob Katter, said his party would fight for "decent jobs" including through opening up the Galilee basin for coal mining, and oppose the use of 457 visas to import cheap labour.

The ACTU has poured millions of dollars into its campaign to throw out the Morrison government and change Australia's workplace laws.

The ACTU has poured millions of dollars into its campaign to throw out the Morrison government and change Australia's workplace laws.Credit:AAP

The ultra-marginal seat of Capricornia has been the subject of a campaign by the powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union demanding that all North Queensland candidates support the controversial Adani coal mine to deliver jobs to the region.

In the nearby seat of Dawson, Labor candidate Belinda Hassan - who made headlines in April when she appeared to indicate a future Labor government could review Adani's federal approval - was the victim of an alleged attempted arson attack this week.

Ms McManus said Labor was the only party with a viable chance in most of the lower house seats where the ACTU was campaigning.

"We are confident that an ALP government will deliver a fair go for working people," she said.