BILL SHORTEN can whine about the timing of a statement exonerating him from the Royal Commission into the unions, but likely charges arising from dodgy AWU dealings nonetheless render his own position untenable. Whilst Shorten will not face charges personally, frauds uncovered at the AWU occurred on his watch as the head of that union. Decency and common sense demand he accept responsibility, and dictate that he must resign.
If there is one thing that shits me up the wall about modern Australia — and I am sorry to put it so crudely, but it drives me insane — it is the culture of irresponsibility that seems to have taken root in this country; no-one is ever to blame for anything, and when they’re caught, there’s always a reason they should be free of repercussions or consequences.
It is everywhere you look: from dangerous criminals given kid-glove sentences by keystone Courts to elected representatives acting as lawless parasites on publicly funded largesse, and from workplaces and families to those who think the world owes them something, nobody ever wants to take responsibility for their own actions, or to shoulder the blame when something they have been entrusted with running goes arse-up — irrespective of whether they did it themselves or not.
In this vein, the news that Dyson Heydon’s Royal Commission into the union movement has declined to recommend opposition “leader” Bill Shorten face charges over misconduct occurring when he was in charge of the AWU should rightly be a cause for relief in the Shorten camp; and at the very least, it shows conclusively that contrary to the empty bullshit parroted by the ALP and the unions — not least by Shorten himself — the Commission could not and cannot credibly be described as a mere witch-hunt against opponents of the Liberal Party.
If that’s what it was, Shorten would be staring down the barrel of prosecution today, irrespective of the prospects for conviction. He’s not.
Anyone inclined to pay the slightest notice to statements of “outrage” from Shorten, and those around him, over the decision of the Royal Commission to release submissions from the inquiry’s lawyers shortly after 8pm last night (a Friday night, no less) should dismiss the confected fury from consideration; far from deserving sympathy and/or support, Shorten’s faux indignation is worthy only of scorn, and ridicule, and contempt.
Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon directed counsel that submissions relating to matters pertaining to the AWU be lodged by close of business yesterday, and it is a matter of credit to the Commission that it made them public so quickly: and as sure as night follows day, had they been held over until after the weekend, then the cold light of Monday morning would see Shorten raging and blustering about undue secrecy, stalling and procrastination, and flinging more slurs at a completely legitimate and entirely reasonable judicial inquest.
You can’t have it both ways — a point Shorten rarely seems bothered by, whether we’re discussing TURC or anything else.
This column has consistently refused to prejudge Shorten on the question of whether or not he would face prosecution over unlawful behaviour uncovered at the Heydon Commission, and for the record it is a matter for neither celebration nor regret that I relay the fact he does not have a case to answer.
But the idea — before the Royal Commission was ever convened — that the union movement in this country is or was free from entrenched, endemic criminal misconduct is and was a proposition so laughable and so implausible as to be believable only by the extremely gullible and the extremely stupid.
It comes as no surprise that as Heydon has progressed, more and more union identities have been referred to law enforcement agencies for prosecution as a direct result of the misdeeds his inquiry has revealed.
But just about everyone at the ALP and the union movement has gone to inordinate lengths to shout the commission down; to attempt to have it wound up; to slur and defame Heydon personally; and in so doing, to brazenly conspire to see to it that efforts to bring to account the miscreant thugs who have operated lawlessly for far too long are thwarted.
And innocent as he may be — and may now proclaim — nobody has been louder or more persistent in such enterprises as Bill Shorten has been.
Yet as innocent as he might be in the most literal sense — judged against the letter of the law — there remains the outstanding issue of the fact that the Australian Workers’ Union has been shown to rank among the most rotten of all the unions examined by the Heydon Commission.
The buck has to stop somewhere.
The outrage of any union lining organisational coffers at the expense of companies it is charged to deal with — and at the cost of workers’ conditions — using falsified paperwork to conceal the nature of those transactions is an obscenity indeed.
But to do it on the scale that apparently took place at the AWU — with deals totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars in income for that union collected from organisationally unaware companies like Cleanevent and John Holland — is reprehensible.
It seems inarguable that in all of the cases Heydon examined that involved the AWU, some (if not all) of the money raked in by the AWU was paid to purchase “industrial peace:” or, to put it another way, union thugs hardwired to behave like animals and bring anarchy and violence to workplaces (and whole communities and cities) would desist if they were just paid off.
To a layman, the use of falsified paperwork to collect clandestine payments for purposes counter to the nature of the goods and services that are nominally invoiced is a fraud, and where the AWU has been concerned, there appears to have been an awful lot of fraudulent activity going on, based on the disclosures before Justice Heydon.
And whilst I reiterate acknowledgement that Shorten has been excused from any case to answer, the fact all of this occurred during his tenure at the helm of the union (either as the head of its Victorian division or nationally) requires a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” interpretation of events to accept he had no knowledge of what was going on even if that knowledge failed to expose him to the threat of facing charges.
Others can judge for themselves whether such a proposition is credible or not.
And in any case, the buck — as I suggested earlier — has to stop somewhere.
This isn’t a case of an isolated official going rogue, or a one-off incidence of someone doing the wrong thing; the revelations involving the AWU clearly show a repeated and systematic pattern of abuse by that union of selling out workers’ conditions in exchange for large cash payments on invoices made out for goods and services that were never delivered.
Bill Shorten may not have a case to answer before a Court, but in the court of public opinion his exoneration by the Royal Commission cannot, should not and must not absolve him of blame or responsibility for what went on at the AWU when he was in charge of it.
He may not face charges, but the negligence and oversight displayed by such a reputedly diligent and detail-focused union official is unforgivable, and indicatively speaks volumes about how he might fare as Prime Minister if — God forbid — he were to ever achieve that high office.
Anyone in his position in a medium to large private company who failed to notice and remedy such widespread illegal behaviour would, in the wash-up from its discovery, be fired, and whilst Heydon’s Commission has cleared Shorten personally of breaking the law, it has made no judgement on his competence or otherwise, and that is appropriate.
Very simply, however, if Shorten had a skerrick of decency, he would resign the leadership of the ALP on Monday morning.
Even in the absence of charges to answer, he has been shown in a poor light indeed, and he has only himself to blame for that.
He has neither the credibility nor, based on an objective consideration of the union he ran for a decade, the competence to serve in high office.
And it goes without saying that this bullshit artist — a self-admitted lying, scheming, manipulative back-stabber — is unelectable, and is unfit to be Prime Minister.
If Shorten had a scrap of decency about him — nay, if he really was the paragon of virtue those misguided hacks who defend him claim — he would welcome the finding by Heydon’s Inquiry that he has no case to answer; but he would shoulder the ethical and moral responsibility for what went on at his union, on his watch, and he would quit.
The words “ethical” and “moral” do not belong in the same sentence as any consideration of Bill Shorten, and it is with reticence that I place them thus now.
Typically, he will not resign; or at least, not yet.
Excused as he may be for now, there is no guarantee the overall fallout from the Royal Commission will have any other effect than to hit the ALP like a ton of bricks.
The Labor Party remains dangerously exposed to decimation as a result of what has been allowed to happen in the union movement, and Shorten remains culpable for that.
Common sense and decency dictate that Shorten’s career in public life is finished: and whilst he may not resign on Monday, those anticipating his departure seem unlikely to have long to wait.