A BAD DAY for Labor at the Heydon Commission into the union movement signals trouble for opposition “leader” Bill Shorten and for the puerile oaf seeking to be Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews; for now, allegations made at the Commission are just that — allegations — but the picture they paint belies the most solemn assurances of good faith by the unions. In Shorten’s case, the behaviour depicted is hardly Prime Ministerial in nature.
It was never going to take a crystal ball of any clarity to foresee that from the moment a Royal Commission into trade union misconduct was convened, tremendous embarrassment would be the best the ALP could hope to be exposed to; now, stories are beginning to emerge that paint its federal “leader” in an extremely poor light, and his accident-prone counterpart in Victoria doesn’t fare any better.
It’s a quick post this morning, as I am (and have again recently been) rather pressed for time; even so, my early morning scan of the news portals has drawn my attention to a story being covered by both Fairfax and the Murdoch press through The Australian. Readers are advised to peruse the articles provided in the interests of timeliness today.
To date, I have steered away from providing the kind of running commentary on the Heydon commission that is available in other independent online opinion columns; for one thing, I don’t have the resources (or the time) to attend to the proceedings as comprehensively as others do, and for another, this column aims to provide opinion across a range of issues on foot at any given time, and the Heydon commission is enough to sustain such an enterprise on its own.
But Industry 2000 — apparently an AWU-aligned slush fund described by prominent Labor identity (and state Labor candidate) Cesar Melhem as ” a vehicle to assist like-minded individuals” has the potential to throw spokes into any number of spinning wheels.
As Fairfax reports, this “Industry 2020” fund was selectively generous, writing out cash cheques including $100,000 for candidates contesting elections at the disgraced Health Services Union; cash cheques to a suburban soccer club in Melbourne said to be linked to branch stacking activities within the ALP; cash cheques to factional heavyweights in the ALP including the party’s state secretary in Victoria, Noah Carroll; and “tens of thousands of dollars” transferred to “other slush funds” including one attached to the plumbers’ union, which is aligned to Bill Shorten.
Melhem didn’t dispute the accusation, telling the commission that “in hindsight…you live and learn.”
As for “like-minded individuals,” one has to wonder what the common ground uniting these people might have been.
The revelations cause problems for Victorian ALP leader Daniel Andrews at an inconvenient time, just nine weeks out from a state election; they implicate the head of the party’s organisational wing in scandal at a time when all his efforts should be focused on winning the looming election, and they cast a pall over his parliamentary team by virtue of the fact one of them — Melhem — now finds himself with questions to answer in the context of a judicial probe into union misconduct.
Andrews — already under fire (and deservedly so) for links to the ultra-militant CFMEU, which he refuses to abandon or disown — needs this latest distraction like he needs a hole in the head, given he is already under sustained pressure for his backflip over Melbourne’s East-West Link freeway project: a misstep I believe has probably snuffed out Victorian Labor’s election prospects anyway.*
More question marks over Labor’s suitability and fitness to govern are the last thing Andrews would wish to have to contend with.
But the real meat in yesterday’s sandwich were the revelations thrown up, in the course of this particular line of inquiry, that the AWU — on Bill Shorten’s watch as its state secretary — struck a “deal” with a mushroom farm that allegedly enabled wages to be reduced in return for a series of “unusual” payments being made to the AWU’s own slush fund.
One report I saw claimed the monies — said to be in the order of $4,000 per month for six months — were designed to “ease union concerns” over the company, Chiquita Mushrooms (now MushroomExchange) increasing the size of its casual labour force.
Apparently, the money was supposed to pay for training that would be provided by the AWU. However, the company’s general manager at the time, Stephen Little, said he could only ever recall a single two-hour seminar being conducted by the AWU.
Where this becomes disturbing is the suggestion made to the commission by Little, and apparently not disputed, that the $4,000 each month was “in part to buy industrial peace.”
The reports from the commission of both Fairfax and the Murdoch press also note that the agreement under which these payments were conducted and received were approved by Shorten during his time in charge of the AWU.
If this is true — and time will tell, it always does — then Shorten has some explaining to do.
I don’t find it remotely appropriate that a small-ish enterprise like MushroomExchange should be forced to cough up several thousand dollars each month just to stop the unions instructing their members not to go on strike or otherwise cause industrial anarchy.
And I would be very interested to know whether this kind of arrangement sits happily or not with the criminal code applicable to whatever is the appropriate jurisdiction in which it was struck.
Even if there is nothing illegal in such an arrangement, I’d like to know whether Shorten thinks it’s acceptable that companies should have to pay money to unions to stop the employees they also pay out wages and salaries to from going on strike; and I would like to know what Shorten’s thoughts might be on the notion that having received those monies, a union might then disburse the proceeds in a fashion similar to the slew of cash cheques — and their recipients — that Melhem admitted to distributing from his Industry 2020 slush fund.
And if he does find such arrangements to be acceptable, I’m sure Australian voters would be fascinated to know what his basis is for holding such a belief.
They certainly don’t corroborate vociferous claims made by the PR organs of the union movement to facilitate constructive partnerships between workers and employers.
It comes as no surprise to note — as reported by Fairfax — that Shorten’s office rather drily stated that it had not responded to any specific claims from the commission and that “it would not start today.”
Well, I think that if Shorten believes the type of grubby arrangements heard by the commission yesterday constitute acceptable conduct, it merely underlines his complete unsuitability to hold the office of Prime Minister: although on that score, there are plenty of other grounds that disqualify him from that.
And the day will come when Shorten — as a very senior and pivotal trade union figure prior to his entry to Parliament — will have to start responding to matters raised at the Heydon commission; even now, the commission has only scraped the tip of the iceberg. As everyone in Australia knows, it’s only a matter of time before Shorten himself is called to give testimony: and then he won’t be given a choice over whether he responds or not.
*Daniel Andrews’ announcement last week that he would tear up any contract signed to build the East-West Link if elected Premier — despite earlier supporting the project and agreeing to honour such a contract, citing sovereign risk — is one issue I intended to publish on that time constraints have prevented me from doing. I believe his “quantum leap” U-turn has probably cost the ALP its chance of winning government in Victoria, and I will post the full article if events in coming days make it appropriate to do so.