BILL SHORTEN’S TESTIMONY at the Royal Commission into the unions resumes today, but on a purely political level yesterday’s showing by the Labor “leader” is enough to irretrievably compound the damage he’s already inflicted on himself in the normal course of business; even if legal, voters will view the revelations as further proof of a deeply untrustworthy figure who would govern in his own interests and to Australia’s deep detriment.
I should emphasise at the outset that I make no judgement whatsoever on any legal liability Bill Shorten might or might not face as a result of his appearance at the Heydon inquiry this week; my remarks pertain to the political consequences of that investigation only.
And I should like to note, for the benefit of those whose instinct might be to engage in a little pedantry, that whilst I have summarily written Shorten off multiple times in the past — most recently here and here — the various activities and antics that have generated those judgements are cumulative; this column maintains that Shorten is as transparent as a pane of clear, clean glass, and that the only thing he stands for is himself. I think Shorten long ago revealed himself as an unelectable troublemaker who can’t be trusted.
Yesterday’s revelations will have only clarified that perception in the minds of voters.
The revelation, for example, that a now-defunct labour hire company — Unibilt — paid Shorten’s AWU $40,000 that in turn was used to fund the wages for Shorten’s campaign manager in the seat of Maribyrnong at the 2007 federal election has every appearance of a grotty, grimy, cumbersome arrangement irrespective of whether it was legal or not.
That appearance is only hardened by the accompanying revelation that disclosure under the requirements of the Electoral Act was only finalised on Monday, two days prior to Shorten’s Royal Commission testimony.
Labor types and Shorten sycophants made a great deal of noise in social media yesterday, arguing that late and/or updated declarations of donations are not unique and are, on the face of it, quite legal, and perhaps in this case a similar sentiment applies.
But the fact this particular arrangement — hidden from public eyes for almost eight years — only came to light, by Shorten’s own admission, after he had “received papers from the Royal Commission” smacks of a desperate fix-it job and an attempt merely to stay one step ahead of the pack, and hardly suggests the disclosure would have been forthcoming were it not to be aired in the context of a judicial inquiry.
Rightly or wrongly, Shorten’s denials of any knowledge of the now-notorious enterprise bargaining agreement between the AWU and Cleanevent that ripped workers off will ring even hollower than they already have.
The explanation that it was possible for “mature people” to negotiate an enterprise agreement on the one hand, whilst the company (Unibilt) was busy proffering cash to fund the union official’s campaign for a seat to Parliament, is a nuanced story that sounds too clever by half and will I think be regarded dimly in the electorate.
More ambiguity was cast on the arrangements that saw Cleanevent paying the AWU for membership fees on behalf of its employees, with the notion they could “opt out” by virtue of ticking an obscure box at the time of their employment will do little to dispel public perceptions of an unhealthy and arbitrary relationship between the AWU and the companies it dealt with on Shorten’s watch as head of that union.
And those who paid the proceedings at the Commission any attention at all yesterday would have been disgusted by Shorten’s apparently selective, total losses of memory, and as one wit on Twitter quipped, he exhibited flawless recall of not committing an assault against a young girl 30 years ago that he was accused of last year, but couldn’t remember key aspects of his dealings as a union executive over a period spanning decades.
It is this kind of public sentiment Shorten is merely hardening through his utterances in the witness box — even if it is found he has no case for prosecution to answer.
His wont to variously lecture to the Commission and attempt to implicate Tony Abbott in his testimony was not merely out of context, but inappropriate: and whilst the natural instinct of any cornered individual facing serious allegations is to fight, Shorten yesterday showed all the hallmarks of a man prepared to say and do anything — to anyone — in order to get his own arse out of the sling.
In fact, this propensity to say and do anything to anyone — literally — follows a pattern with Shorten, and coming so soon after the ABC’s expose into Labor’s years in office — The Killing Season — yesterday will have done little to alter the perception that Shorten is no more than a treacherous grub concerned solely with his own survival and his own advancement.
Coming soon after 3AW broadcaster Neil Mitchell outed Shorten for lying over his role in the leadership coup against Julia Gillard, it isn’t a look Shorten can afford to perpetuate.
I will be keeping an eye on what goes on at the Royal Commission today, and will post again tonight, time permitting.
But if yesterday is anything to go by, Shorten is unlikely to do himself any favours no matter what Heydon confronts him with: and whilst it’s entirely possible something truly apocalyptic may be aired today, the simple fact is that in the eyes of voters, all these proceedings serve to do is to worsen the damage to an already-unviable “leader” whose political stocks were destroyed by his own handiwork long before he was called to appear before Heydon.
“Billy Bullshit” had a bad day yesterday. Today’s hearing arguably offers him little respite.