VACANT LABOR MINDS and others on the Left who bray for the establishment of “a federal ICAC” should be fast to concur with me today, for the Heydon Royal Commission — the nearest thing yet convened — touches federal MPs, national organisations in the unions, and issues of national importance. It has heard allegations of corrupt and criminal misconduct at the union once run by Bill Shorten who, if he refuses to respond now, must quit.
There will be some who read today’s article, and wonder whether I have taken leave of my senses, for all of us know that proper process must take its course when it comes to court proceedings or — in this case — those of a Royal Commission, which in many respects is a judicial forum in its own right.
But so — by virtue of the powers invested in it — is the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, or ICAC: a statutory entity the federal mouthpieces of the Left gaze longingly toward from Canberra, and which since the election of the Abbott government almost two years ago has been an item near the top of their wish list.
Of course, this hankering after “a federal ICAC” has nothing to do with decency, or principle, or cleanliness of governance in the eyes of the Left; on everything from asylum seeker policy to university funding, and from health policy to the federal budget, empty-headed stooges from the ALP, the
Communist Party Greens and even the unions have increasingly found ways of slipping the “need” for “a federal ICAC” into their daily lexicon and media talking points.
Today’s article aims to serve two purposes: one, to revisit the events of the past week and assess the most recent development; and two, to hold the Labor Party (and its supposed “leader” in particular) to their own standards, and to demand that Bill Shorten either immediately answer the allegations that potentially implicate him in misconduct that apparently took place during his time in charge of the Australian Workers’ Union, or — if he continues to refuse to do so — to demand his resignation as opposition “leader” and his replacement by a more credible candidate.
There is a reason for the timing of my rather unorthodox demand of Shorten; two reasons, actually. We will come back to those shortly.
But firstly, for those who haven’t seen the past couple of articles I’ve published, you can access them here and here: these articles detail, in tandem with coverage from the mainstream press that I have linked into them, revelations from the Heydon inquiry into the trade union movement last week that appear — until or unless evidence to the contrary emerges — to have shone the spotlight into practices at the AWU that might euphemistically be described as “dubious” at best, or downright rotten at worst, and it seems that where the Royal Commission was charged with identifying and rooting out corruption and lawlessness in Australian unions, it has found these things in the very union once presided over by Shorten in his past life as a union hack.
Almost exactly a year ago, I published a piece in this column arguing that Shorten — for the good of the Labor Party — must quit; that missive has proven prescient, with all of the potential electoral positives held by Shorten Labor at the time having since all but evaporated, and my warnings of the potential for the Heydon inquiry to explode in Shorten’s face might almost have been written after the event, so closely are matters playing out in this regard.
Yet the point from that article last June I most wish to emphasise again now is Shorten’s value to the ALP — he has none, of course — and as I call for him to either answer the allegations and insinuations now that have been levelled against him and the AWU at the Commission or, again, to resign, the complete worthlessness of Bill Shorten to his party (or, in any other meaningful aspect of public life and governance, to anyone or anything else) is the bottom line in a tawdry political career that never merited his knifing a Labor MP to grab his seat in the first place let alone being permitted to progress as far as it has.
One of my favourite columnists — Piers Akerman, from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — published an article at the weekend that is more or less complementary to the case made in this column where the alleged misdeeds of the AWU and Shorten’s role in them, if any, are concerned, and there are two big take-outs I want to share knowing that not everyone who reads this particular article will also read the one Piers has penned.
One — and in a reflection of virtually every utterance Shorten has made on the AWU since it became the headline feature at the Royal Commission — Piers notes yet again that Shorten “guarantees…that (the AWU) always improved workers’ conditions, full stop” and that insofar as his own role at the AWU is concerned, he “spent every day of (his) adult life representing workers” and that his record “is there for all to see.”
And two, aside from the particularisation of an itinerary if iffy deals done with the imprimatur of the AWU that have already found their way before Heydon, it seems to have been a cause for admiration and extollation among Shorten’s colleagues — Paul Howes and Richard Marles being quoted in Piers’ piece — that on Shorten’s watch, the AWU apparently found new and creative ways to penetrate companies and industries it had never previously reached, and that not only was this a cause for celebration among Shorten’s fellow travellers, but it sounds suspiciously like it was a cause for wonder and amazement, too.
The sheer stoicism of Shorten’s insistence that he can prove himself innocent should be taken at face value, and so should the apparent awe in which his obviously unorthodox methods of what we will call “business development” were regarded by his contemporaries: these seemingly opposed, and perhaps irreconcilable positions, demand clarification without delay.
Clearly, the time for Shorten to give a satisfactory account of himself is now, not in three months’ time when the Commission is scheduled to sit again.
On that point, I do think the Heydon inquiry has committed a public disservice; that the Commission has unearthed widespread, entrenched and rampant oddities in the behaviour of unions is a surprise to nobody not embedded within or deeply sympathetic to the outdated concept of unionism as the present union movement embodies it, but to have allowed that trail to lead directly to a former union official who now “leads” one of Australia’s two major political parties — and then recess for (apparently) three months — is ridiculous.
It is not a cliff-hanger in some arcane weekly B-grade US daytime soap opera; it is a Royal Commission.
As I suggested earlier, Labor types are among the most vocal in calling for “a federal ICAC” and they want it for no better reason than to deflect the Royal Commission currently probing the filthy laundry of their puppet-master brethren at the unions back in the direction of the Liberal and National Parties.
But in truth, even this is flimsy cover for the fact that all they really want is the facility to endlessly refer conservative politicians to anti-corruption investigation agencies to flesh out more of their opportunistic and dishonest waffle that all conservatives are corrupt: the Heydon Commission, in this regard, is merely a fortuitous coincidence for the Left, and if anyone doesn’t believe it they should research the not-inconsiderable effort Labor in Queensland invested whilst in opposition to an endless array of referrals of the Newman government to that state’s Crime and Corruption Commission that led, in total, exactly nowhere.
To date, the Heydon inquiry is the closest thing to “a federal ICAC” that has been constituted; and if Labor and its thuggy mates over at the unions dislike what that Commission is doing, they would be well served to take care in what they wish for: “a federal ICAC” would be free to dig wherever it liked, and anyone who thinks there isn’t a rich seam of shit to mine in and around the ALP — even discounting the unions for a moment — is delusional, totally naive, or a bit of both.
Yet for now, Shorten has been explicitly clear that he will make no comment whatsoever on the matters raised before Heydon until the Royal Commission sits again in September, and there are two very good reasons why this isn’t good enough — and why Shorten, indeed, is a special case for whom some kind of accommodation, and an opportunity to defend himself, should be afforded to him at the earliest juncture possible.
The first comes in the form of an issue that is well known to readers and voters alike: the “original” AWU scandal, involving a slush fund and featuring involvement by another former Labor leader (and Prime Minister) in Julia Gillard; this suppurating sore festered and germinated for almost 20 years before it was finally established that whatever inferences to the contrary might have otherwise been drawn, Gillard had done nothing wrong or at least, nothing that was criminal, even if her actions did cost her her job at Slater and Gordon in 1995.
I raise that issue again now because there is no point in drawing out any process by which Shorten is required to give an account of himself; true, in Gillard’s case, she dodged and weaved and went to inordinate lengths to prevent details about the circumstances peculiar to her from becoming public knowledge when in the end, they did anyway, and whilst a lot of grief was needlessly caused as a result, it is difficult to think even Shorten would find such a wild goose chase satisfying when he knows it would only delay and prolong the inevitable.
And the second reason goes simply to Shorten’s present job, and to the needless distraction the delay would cause not just to the ALP — I’m not so concerned about them, of course — but to governance in Australia generally, as once again the risk of the entire political discourse being diverted into a legal shitfight looms large.
Of course, three months of stout and testy denials of wrongdoing, along with equally resolute refusals to explain himself, would see Shorten become cannon fodder for the Liberal Party, which would probably take the opportunity to tear him to shreds even before Heydon gets him into the witness box.
But whilst that prospect is not an unappealing one — despite my view the Coalition would be well served by keeping Shorten right where he is as a putative election opponent — I nonetheless feel Shorten’s “leadership” of the ALP is terminal anyway, irrespective of anything to do with the Royal Commission, and that he is likely to be overthrown in the next few months irrespective of whether he can distance himself from its probe into the AWU or not.
Just as Arthur Sinodinis stepped aside from the Abbott ministry whilst under investigation by ICAC last year, eventually resigning when it seemed the protracted proceedings were damaging the government, Shorten should do the same thing now; whether he is able to resume the Labor leadership at a later date if found to have no case to answer is a matter for his colleagues, but he isn’t doing anyone — his party, his union comrades, or the Australian public — any favours at all by digging in and stonewalling when there’s a three-month wait for him to put his case.
Shorten is, as of Friday, a required witness at the Heydon Commission: it is therefore safe to assert he is now under investigation by the Royal Commission, just as Sinodinis was at ICAC, and it is proper that he follow the lead Sinodinis’ actions set.
I think that Shorten should confront the accusations against him head-on now: it could be a detailed public statement, rebutting point-by-point his alleged (or insinuated) involvement in the scandals being uncovered at the AWU, with the promise of hard evidence to substantiate any claims he makes now to be produced when he takes the stand in September.
And I think it better that he do it in a forum where his remarks will be on the record, and thus subject to the laws of the land: no parliamentary privilege for this exercise in other words, should Shorten undertake it. It would be in the public interest for any statement by Shorten on these matters to be actionable, and it might even engender some confidence and respect for him among the millions of increasingly sceptical voters his political conduct to date suggests he takes for fools.
But if such a statement is just too much for Shorten and his cronies to stomach, then he must resign; in the circumstances, his position is shaky enough as it is, and for this to drag on for months, unanswered, would see Bill Shorten become the only issue in Australian politics until his interrogation by a Royal Commission and a forensic dismantling of any evidence he produces by its personnel.
This country simply can’t afford the indulgence. And even if it could, based on Shorten’s track record in politics to date, there’s no value to be gained from such an indulgence at all.