BILL SHORTEN claims to have “zero tolerance for criminality” but where Australia’s rotten, lawless unions are concerned, he refuses to sanction action to force them to account; it’s typical “Billy Bullshit” doublespeak: designed to appease all comers but in fact devoid of credibility and amounting to nothing. If he persists — defending cronies who should be prosecuted — the consequences for the party he “leads” could be cataclysmic.
Bill Shorten appears determined to embody the very worst stereotypes when it comes to questions of political “leadership:” commit to nothing, be all things to all people, speak with a forked tongue, and rattle on with a lot of rhetoric and jargon that adds up to precisely zero.
And like any truly contemptible politician — who, to paraphrase a certain movie from the 1990s, kisses babies whilst stealing their lollipops — the impression of Shorten being beholden to “special” interests than run completely counter to the national good is impossible to shake.
So it is with the union movement (of which, of course, Shorten is a creature) and the question of what to do with it in the wake of a Royal Commission that has exposed allegations of widespread, rampant and endemic misconduct.
I’ve read an article in this morning’s edition of The Australian, which quotes Shorten as saying the ALP has “zero tolerance for credibility” whilst at the same time stating that he’s not going to “play some dog whistle game” where moves to rein in union misconduct are concerned; clearly, the two statements are utterly incompatible, and the only conclusion that can be drawn from them is that Shorten is prepared to talk the talk when it comes to institutionalised wrongdoing, but action is dependent on that wrongdoing taking place somewhere other than the union movement.
As we often say in this column in consideration of the regrettable Shorten, three into two does not go.
Even in the face of a poll surge that has seen the Coalition rocket ahead of Labor under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, readers know I still suspect this new support for the government is incredibly soft; even so, there are certain constituencies to whom Shorten will remain flatly and irredeemably committed irrespective of his public utterances and/or how little they add up to. The
Communist Party Greens are one such group. Another, rather self-evidently, is the union movement, in all its rotten, lawless glory.
At hand today is the issue — which Turnbull, to his credit, seems determined to force — is the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the re-tabling in the Senate of the Registered Organisations Bill, designed to impose transparency on union officials; and far from these measures constituting an existential attack on the union movement or an ideologically driven assault on organised labour or any of the other histrionic constructs placed on them by the self-interested, the restoration of the ABCC and the passage of the Registered Organisations laws are simple, common-sense responses to the undeniable tapestry of illicit misconduct and alleged criminal behaviour that the Royal Commission into the union movement appears to have uncovered.
Now, Turnbull is threatening Labor — and Shorten — with an election on industrial relations, with the obvious likely outcomes from the Royal Commission used as a pretext to have the measures in question passed at a Joint Sitting following a double dissolution election over the matter, and the question isn’t whether or not Turnbull is playing a “dog whistle game” or not, but rather how long Shorten, masquerading as a sober and decent political leader, can or will continue to piss into the wind against the apparently overwhelming body of evidence being accrued against the unions to which it is beholden.
Interjections from the likes of Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus (also quoted in The Australian today) can and should be freely dismissed; Lazarus’ suggestion that restoring the ABCC was akin to “taking a sledgehammer” to unions because only a small group of people were doing the wrong thing is a little like saying the Criminal Code should be repealed because only a small proportion of the population breaks the law anyway.
Such formulations are, patently, absurd: yet it is precisely this kind of reasoning on which Shorten rests his case for doing absolutely nothing about the violent, lawless, thuggish unions who flout the law with contempt, and who — in no small part thanks to ALP handiwork and obstruction over the past decade — remain just about the only major group in Australia to whom laws around governance, disclosure and appropriate standards of conduct do not apply.
As The Australian notes, even elements within the CFMEU — that bastion of union militancy and seeming incorrigibility where questions of legality are concerned — recognise the need for some kind of overhaul, with national secretary Dave Noonan suggesting there were “lessons to be learned” by his union from the Royal Commission, saying there was a need for “transparency” and “openness,” and whilst maintaining the union line criticising the Commission claimed the CFMEU was engaged in a “root-to-branch review (sic)” of governance procedures.
To differing degrees there is evidence other unions, whilst maintaining the official line that the Royal Commission is a witch hunt, are nonetheless cleaning up their act in response to the matters uncovered before it: Shorten’s own union, moving to terminate a rotten EBA with cleaning company Cleanevent struck on Shorten’s watch as its national secretary, is but one example of this.
And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that if push comes to shove — and Dyson Heydon’s inquiry results in the expected plethora of prosecutions against those in the union movement found to have engaged in criminal misconduct — the decent men and women in union ranks will co-operate not with the tainted scum in their midst that has given the wider union movement such a bad reputation for so long, but with law enforcement agencies determined to root those miscreants out and to bring them to account.
Shorten’s response to these considerations can be seen here.
His problem, paradoxically, is that for now at least, a large minority of voters — as regularly evidenced in reputable opinion polling — are sympathetic to the Labor charge that the Royal Commission is a witch-hunt, a stunt, and a cynical, ideologically driven political exercise contrived to smash the conservatives’ greatest political opponents.
For now, the restored Coalition vote being identified in polls may very well be soft.
But electoral behaviour and voter sentiment is not a phenomenon to be trifled with; seismic changes are prone to appear seemingly from nowhere, even in the face of apparently certain election outcomes. The political efficacy of a birthday cake, 10 days out from the 1993 election, would certainly be vouched for by former Liberal leader John Hewson.
Were the Commission to conclude with a slew of recommendations that past and present union leaders face prosecution, as appears inevitable — and the procession of these thugs through the Courts be played out in full view of the public — the inclination to public sympathy toward the union movement is likely to evaporate overnight, and be replaced by a universal sense of disgust.
In that event, Shorten’s “work” on batting away the impact of the Royal Commission on the ALP will have been for nought, and his party, tarred with the same brush in the eye of the public as the rotten unions being hauled before the Courts and irredeemably tarnished by the association with lawlessness and corruption, is likely to pay a heavy price.
And there is, of course, the small matter of the possibility that Shorten himself may face repercussions from his own time in charge of the AWU, although just like all the other individuals being exposed by the judicial inquiry at hand, we can’t and won’t prejudge that either.
But the bottom line is undeniable: there is a “game” being played all right; it’s not the Turnbull government playing it, just like it wasn’t the Abbott government before it.
This is a very dangerous game indeed, and the only player who matters is Bill Shorten: and unless his words and deeds where the union movement are concerned start to reflect reality then irrespective of what happens to Shorten personally, his party will go down with the lawless filth set to be prosecuted in the not-too-distant future.
For Labor, the electoral consequences are likely to be cataclysmic. A change of leader, and quickly, would be an astute exercise indeed in damage mitigation.