Governor General: Labor’s Heydon Stunt Stalls In Senate

THE CONSTITUTIONAL FRIPPERY Labor is desperate to pursue in the name of its lawless, thuggy union mates has hit a hurdle in the Senate, as crossbench support for implicating Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in its bid to destroy union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon is proving hard to secure. Even if ultimately forthcoming, the stunt will come to naught: knowing deep down its position is ambit, Labor will not take its “fight” to the Courts.

It is a fairly straightforward post from me this morning, as I am out and about; but one of the issues we have been following closely in this column — ALP attempts, on instructions from its Trades Hall masters, to destroy Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon and/or have his inquiry shut down is meandering further along the path to inevitable stalemate.

Those who missed my most recent piece on the ALP’s crack-brained scheme to politicise the office of Governor-General in its quest to get the lawless, miscreant thugs who face prosecution as a result of Heydon’s Royal Commission off the hook can revisit it here; that article also contains links to other material I have published on this subject, so those tuning into this for the first time will be able to get up to speed with our discussion as well.

I have been reading The Australian this morning, and I note with some satisfaction its report that due to difficulty convincing crossbench Senators to embrace its grimy attempt to trash the independence of the office of Governor-General — a reticence, just for the record, not evident among the sanctimonious Communist Greens Senators, who parade themselves as scions of virtue but who are predictably happy to jump into bed with the ALP on yet another unprincipled outrage — it has been forced to formally postpone tabling its motion to that end until today.

Short of the votes as Labor is, it is also worth noting that Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm — whose decision to abstain from voting on the motion to be tabled by Penny Wong will assist its prospects for passage — is not acting from any desire to savage Heydon or to endorse the insidious vice-regal action Labor seeks, but from a position apparently motivated by a get-square bent against the Liberal Party over a dispute about party registration that is completely unrelated to the matter at hand.

To be sure, Labor may — today, this week, or some other time — convince the Senate to follow it; there is certainly enough anti-government sentiment (and enough unprincipled, opportunistic charlatans on the Senate crossbench) for the ALP to persuade those abhorrent parliamentary squatters that breaking convention and trashing the independence of the Head of State is a good idea, and one that should be indulged in the name of excusing the criminal and corrupt misdeeds of its paymasters at the union movement.

But what Labor obviously thought was a slam-dunk exercise in having the Senate defy and challenge the Abbott government yet again is not a cut and dried as it may have first believed, and anyone interested in standards and decency in government can at least take heart from the minor win that even if it capitulates, the Senate hasn’t mindlessly fallen into line.

There are real issues at play here, as we’ve discussed in the past; for me — setting aside the thoroughly appropriate convention that the Governor-General is above politics — what does it for me is the fact that to do the bidding of union criminals, Labor is trashing its own carefully constructed position on the office of the Governor-General, to which it has remained wedded ever since the Dismissal: that the Governor-General takes advice from his (or her) Prime Minister, and from no-one else.

Gough Whitlam must be turning in his grave: not only would the actions his party is determined to take be anathema to him, but the cause — excusing corrupt and illegal actions — is, based on his own regard for propriety, one he would almost certainly never endorse.

Since we last looked at this matter, the consensus of discussions taking place in the mainstream press and elsewhere is that not only would an “address” from the Senate have absolutely no binding impact on Sir Peter Cosgrove — as we have already discussed — but that for want of some form of words to give effect to a semblance of consideration, Cosgrove would be likely, rightly, to disregard it.

Labor’s defence that Senate “addresses” were common prior to 1931 doesn’t justify this constitutional outrage: 1931 was the better part of a century ago, and parliamentary convention has evolved since that time. (If reviving common practice from that era is such a good idea, then let’s look at abolishing all the fixes Labor made to the Senate in the 1900s too, and revert to the system as originally designed: I bet that won’t fly, allowing conservatives to get closer to control of the upper house as the restoration of the Federation-era system would do).

However the charade of the “address” Wong has been charged with securing in the Senate plays out, the campaign against Dyson Heydon is likely to end right there and then.

Cosgrove, on balance of probabilities (if not in utter certainty) can be expected to ignore the “address.”

And despite whatever bluster consequently issues forth from the ALP and the unions, the dispute over Heydon’s fitness to head a Royal Commission or his “bias” against unions will never see the inside of a Court.

The problem is that not only is there not a shred of evidence to suggest Heydon is in fact “biased” — and the fabricated outrage over a silly mistake made without full knowledge of the circumstances of the Sir Garfield Barwick Lecture does not satisfy that test — but having read Heydon’s opinion in refusing to recuse himself from the union Royal Commission and reviewed it informally with a legal associate, I am also satisfied his reasons are absolutely solidly based in law.

For Labor to go off to Court, should Cosgrove refuse to do its dirty work on behalf of thugs and bastards in the unions who now face prosecution, it runs the real risk that any appeal judge would dismiss its challenge to Heydon’s reasons as groundless.

Were that to happen — with a reinforcement of the original Heydon decision dismissed by another Court which Labor has neither pretext nor reason to attack, and malign, and seek to destroy in public opinion as “biased” — then its argument against the Royal Commission would collapse irretrievably, and it would have no choice but to abandon its filthy mates and masters to the fate they deserve.

And in turn, the vapid, unethical foible Labor had tried would be laid bare before the public, and desperate for community support for its dishonest, jumped-up attempts to save criminals from justice, the ALP — the union hack who “leads” it, the union stooge doing the unions’ work in the Senate, and the entire confected masquerade of uproar — would be shown up before voters as the abhorrent outrage of self-interest it really is.

Much better to rip into the Governor-General; and if Cosgrove ultimately ignores the “Senate” when Wong comes calling on him, that is what it will do. So beholden and obligated to unions and the thugs who face prosecution is the ALP, it is utterly unmoved by the prospect of any damage it might do to Cosgrove’s office.

Labor — as we always say — cares about power above all else, and in this case, it is the power of its dodgy friends to operate outside the law and evade justice that it is concerned with. It is a reprehensible but indefensible reality.

It’s not hard to deduce why Labor is reticent about taking its challenge to Heydon to Court; it is completely baseless.

But in a grotesque way, that aversion to Court — and to having current and former union hacks shuffled through it — is well informed.

The number of recommendations for prosecution arising from Heydon’s inquiry is growing. Those who have been guilty of all kinds of lawlessness are going to have their day in Court: and the ALP, despite noisy outrage and sympathetic coverage in the usual Left-leaning press, will be powerless to stop it.

And that’s a bloody good thing — and the real pay dirt for those, like me, who genuinely care about the restoration and improvement of standards in public life.

 

Clearing Julia: Answers Over AWU Is All That Was Needed

WHILST DUBIOUS of her conduct as a lawyer, the decision by the Heydon Royal Commission to clear former Prime Minister Julia Gillard of criminal wrongdoing fails to surprise; the same can be said of its recommendation ex-boyfriend Bruce Wilson and his crony Ralph Blewitt be charged over the so-called AWU affair. Establishing who did what and who (if anyone) should be prosecuted for it satisfies public interest. Gillard’s past “answers” did not.

Labor people, union people, and Julia Gillard and her cohorts specifically will be cock-a-hoop this evening after the Royal Commission into the trade union movement announced today that it was clearing Gillard of any alleged criminal misconduct in regard to the so-called AWU slush fund affair, and whilst it added that Gillard’s professional conduct as a lawyer was “questionable,” the former PM got off far more lightly than her old flame, who — along with his sidekick and self-confessed bagman — now faces prosecution over what on any assessment was a fraud.

Depending on your preferences and journalistic prejudices (just to ensure the Labor types aren’t left out), there is coverage of these developments from Fairfax, the Murdoch press and The Guardian that readers can access from my website today.

I don’t propose to rehash all the ancient history of the AWU affair, Gillard’s role in it, or that of the two men now facing criminal charges; after all, this matter has held the country in thrall for some years now, and I see little point in pursuing a re-evaluation of these matters now when the reports I have linked (and past issues on the subject, accessible from the site archives to the right of this piece) already lay these facts and events out in great detail.

Instead, I am now going to share the opinion on these matters I have kept to myself to date; and respond to some of those, ranged against my political outlook as they are, who have had the temerity to accuse this column of engaging in an ambit witch hunt against Julia Gillard where the specific matter of the AWU scandal has been concerned.

My personal opinion of Julia Gillard, for what it is worth — and which I have never previously condensed into a single sentence — is that she is a highly intelligent but not particularly pleasant individual who has repeatedly demonstrated appalling judgement and surrounded herself with idiots, incompetents, and sycophants who have egged her on when counsel sought from them ought to have restrained her.

I would emphasise that “intelligence” and “judgement” are not the same thing, and that the description provided has been shown time and again over many years, sometimes in ways and concerning matters Gillard would have preferred not to have become public, to be very near the mark.

Whilst I could never be certain, I have always been fairly sure that where the so-called AWU slush fund was concerned, Gillard probably did nothing illegal, and in outlining my (admittedly rather jaundiced) reasoning I must stress that I am not accusing Gillard of anything other than poor judgement: and a deep-rooted self-obsession that probably always meant she was always going to stop herself crossing that line no matter whose interests might have been served had she done so, or compromised had she not.

This ex-lawyer (and “ex-lawyer” would be an appropriate description, for she will never practise in that profession again) was shrewd enough and sharp enough, I believe, to have always known precisely what she was doing and — most of all — whether or not it was legal.

I think it was inevitable, given the company she was keeping at the time, that Gillard would become entwined in the AWU fiasco; agreeing to undertake certain work for Wilson, whom she was in a relationship with, made it inescapable.

But the real misdemeanours Gillard committed were against her profession, not the law: it is the reason she was summarily dismissed from Melbourne-based Labor law behemoth Slater and Gordon, her professional reputation in ruins, and in need of a fresh career (which the Labor Party helpfully provided).

There seems to be a clear distinction between standards of professional practice (which, for example, have elicited revelations that Gillard failed to open a file at Slater and Gordon for the work she did establishing the quaintly named AWU Workplace Reform Association) and the flagrant commission of a criminal fraud, which Wilson and Blewitt now face possible charges over.

I think Gillard always knew how far she was able to go, in helping out her lover, without compromising herself legally; and whether or not she was fully aware of the activities and conduct — actual or intended — of the AWU WRA (which we will probably never know), there was always a limit to what she was prepared to do whilst ostensibly providing every possible support for her boyfriend.

In other words (and irrespective of whether it was a conscious position), Gillard’s legal career could be sacrificed for Wilson, but her criminal record was sacrosanct.

I have not spelt this out previously for the simple reason that such an opinion, with official enquiries continuing, would have been inappropriate, and in even saying what I have this evening I am not going to elaborate much further: after all, whilst charges against Wilson and Blewitt appear likely, those matters too remain on foot.

But even the highly restrained comment that this column has expressed to date has drawn accusations that I have leapt, in the spirit of a free for all, into a boots-and-all witch hunt against the former Prime Minister which I have not only repeatedly denied, but which were completely untrue and unsupported by any objective analysis.

I might not think very highly of Gillard, but I have never accused her of being a crook; and whilst I think the way she has handled herself has been tacky, intentionally misleading and fairly grimy, this in itself does not necessarily constitute a breach of the law: and I never said it did.

I concede that others who are allied to the Liberal Party, or opposed to the ALP and/or Gillard personally, may have suggested otherwise. But I am not responsible for those elements, their words or deeds; and for every cretin who has come to this site seeking to prosecute “the fight” on Gillard’s behalf, I simply say you picked the wrong target here.

And those who have stated that I “must account” for those who have made unfounded allegations of criminal misconduct against Julia Gillard, the response is equally blunt: no, I don’t.

This entire episode has been extremely distasteful, and what I will say is that by the way she handled it, Gillard herself perpetuated the speculation and rumour-mongering and (dare I say it) the witch hunt against her: holding press conferences “to answer questions” that then fail utterly to meaningfully respond to a single specific question — as Gillard did when still Prime Minister — smacks of being just too clever, contrived and conniving, and far from drawing anything to a conclusion, Gillard’s tactics merely prolonged her own discomfiture.

Issuing proceedings against anything on two legs with a job as a journalist who dared question her integrity (which Gillard also did) is the tactic of the bully, not the innocent; leaning on media outlets to silence discussion of the AWU matter merely aroused public suspicions that Gillard had something to hide.

Innocent or guilty, these further illustrations of poor judgement again underscore the point.

But in all the years I have followed (with great interest) the allegations that have swirled around Gillard over these events, I always thought she was too smart to overstep the line into the realm of breaking the law in furtherance of any scheme cooked up by Wilson and/or any of his thuggy mates.

Perhaps Gillard, and all her old buddies in the ALP and the union movement, should reflect that a lot of grief could have been avoided over this if the stonewalling tactics and other suspicious behaviour had been dispensed with, and the hard facts of events surrounding the AWU WRA been disclosed when those matters first became subject to inquiry and investigation in the public interest.

It would have necessitated abandoning the “maaates” whose hands really were dirty, to cover the arses of those whose weren’t.

But with the Heydon commission seemingly having got to the bottom of the matter once and for all, that is what has belatedly happened anyway.

Wilson and Blewitt are set to be prosecuted, and Gillard is safely out of it.

And whilst the Commission seems justified to question the way Gillard conducted herself as a lawyer, that was always likely to be the end result.

 

Mushroom Principle: Royal Commission Creeps Closer To Shorten

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.

 

Skewered: Why Bill Shorten Is A Dead Man Walking

A POLITICAL MISTAKE of the most rudimentary kind has rendered Bill Shorten’s “leadership” of the ALP as good as finished; with growing indications of corruption and criminal misconduct in various sections of the union movement, Shorten — despite a smattering of chest-beating rhetoric — has sided with the unions over decency. The events seemingly set to spiral out of control around him as a consequence will terminate his political career.

Late last week, I posted an article discussing the need for the ALP to jettison its formal links to the trade union movement if it were to again prosper as a force in Australian politics; at the end of that piece — and no, it wasn’t an afterthought — I left readers with this final point in relation to what seemed at the time to be a “clever” and tackily-contrived formula articulated by ACTU president Ged Kearney to appear tough on the issue of union misconduct, but advocate an approach to it that if pursued would drastically reduce the effectiveness of any attempt to deal with it. In full, it read

“With the union movement staring down the barrel of a Royal Commission into corruption and other alleged criminal misconduct, calls from the likes of ACTU president Ged Kearney — in effect, to allow such matters to be dealt with by Police — should be ignored. Stretched state Police forces do not have the capacity to investigate such matters as thoroughly or systematically as a dedicated, properly-resourced judicial inquiry with sweeping powers and terms of reference, and Ms Kearney knows it. Calls of this nature are a red herring designed to divert attention from the problem, not to deal with it, and only add to the impetus for such an inquiry to be instituted at all.”

It seems Kearney’s comments registered on my political radar for good reason, as readers will shortly see.

Confirmation yesterday that Labor “leader” Bill Shorten would commit the ALP to oppose both the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the establishment of a royal commission into corruption and criminal misconduct in the union movement as a whole is tantamount, to put it bluntly, to Shorten having signed his own death warrant.

Coming as it does in the wake of the Health Services Union scandal still playing out before the courts, and the AWU “slush fund” scandal that may yet see former Prime Minister Julia Gillard charged — and after allegations of kickbacks, bribery and death threats involving the CFMEU emerged last week — Shorten’s position appears to be one of denial.

Allegations and instances of misconduct of this kind are like fungus, or cancer clusters: where there is one there are usually others; already there are several visible to the public eye — and that’s before anyone has even scratched the surface.

It is increasingly evident even to lay observers of public affairs that far from a few isolated instances of wrongdoing by individual unionists, the entire movement is racked by a rotten culture that requires a root-and-branch overhaul to clean up.

This column has been a vocal advocate of a royal commission into the union movement; not to shut it down, but precisely because such an overhaul is required: and as I mentioned in the passage from last week’s article, for a problem of this apparent magnitude only a properly-resourced judicial inquiry is capable of conducting such a thorough and systematic audit of a movement whose reach still extends very deeply into this country’s affairs of business, industry, and governance.

Shorten — clearly mindful of the influence the union movement wields over the ALP, and probably determined to shield his mates from what they might construe as a vicious Tory onslaught against them — has squibbed it, choosing the soft option of a lot of talk and minimal action rather than throwing in his lot on the side of accountability and scrutiny in any constructive or meaningful sense.

Describing any royal commission into union corruption as a witch-hunt, Shorten has made the unsubstantiated and in any case ridiculous claim that in calling for a royal commission, the Abbott government had undermined the work of law enforcement agencies.

The “law enforcement agencies” Shorten has alluded to are none other than the Police — the same Police who Kearney anointed as her preferred inquisitors into union wrongdoing — and just in case anyone hasn’t yet spotted the pattern, Labor frontbencher Penny Wong yesterday also called for Police to investigate any allegations of criminality within the union movement.

With no disrespect to any Police force in Australia (or to any member of those forces), Police are adept at investigating specific complaints or allegations of wrongdoing, and recommending charges be laid if a brief of evidence warrants it. It is not their role to conduct comprehensive forensic investigations into complex, multipolar entities such as the union movement: any such endeavour requires a formal inquiry.

In this sense, the advocacy of leaving it all up to the Police is one of those “smart answers” that Labor is well known for that aren’t really all that smart, or clever.

Leaving it all up to the Police means that a few isolated allegations may be investigated — namely, those already in the public domain — but the balance of probabilities dictates that anything else is likely to go undetected purely as a result of the sheer lack of resources Police forces have to undertake such sweeping investigations.

In other words, “leaving it all up to the Police” is as good as hedging a bet that most of the problem won’t just disappear — it’ll never appear to begin with.

The problem with this kind of approach being deployed by Shorten is that the buck has to stop somewhere for it, and in terms of the Labor Party, it stops with him as its “leader.”

Shorten has been making a lot of fierce-sounding noise about “taking a zero tolerance approach” to union corruption, telling The Age today that ”no one, it doesn’t matter who you are, can support corruption for breaking the law…there should be zero tolerance of any criminal activity, in trade unions or corporate Australia.”

The problem is that “leave it up to the Police” is a classic case of words not matching actions.

Shorten has an additional problem, too, in that public opinion appears to be on the side of Prime Minister Tony Abbott — not Labor or the unions — in accepting the need for a thorough cleanout of the union movement on account of what is already known thus far.

But Shorten simply doesn’t get it.

He has tried to lash out at the Liberal Party in a classic change-the-subject foray into irrelevance, pointing out the Liberals took a donation from tobacco firm Phillip Morris prior to the last election. Even if it were relevant, tobacco companies (and their money) are still legal enterprises in this country. The kind of alleged criminality in the union movement is not.

He has tried to brush off suggestions the ALP is too close to the unions generally and to the likes of the CFMEU in particular, despite that union being at the epicentre — for now — of the allegations of misconduct to date. But again, public opinion would seem to sit at odds with such a suggestion, and in any case, Labor has failed to put any distance between itself and any of the unions that have so far been linked to criminal deeds.

And in all of this there is a message: a message to the unions generally, but implicit in that message to the perpetrators of any misconduct within them, that Labor — and Shorten as its “leader” — will do nothing to harm them, and in fact do everything to protect them from the long arm of the law Abbott will shortly extend in their direction — silly rhetoric about “zero tolerance,” utterly devoid of backbone or meaningful intent, notwithstanding.

What this is likely to mean is that when Abbott’s royal commission gets going, and as the dirty laundry hidden deep inside the union movement Shorten loves so dearly is aired and paraded in public view, there won’t be a thing he can do about it.

The voting public — apparently ready to accept the need for such an inquiry to occur — will be indiscriminate in linking every adverse finding from it to the ALP; Shorten will have no defence whatsoever, having rigorously refused to support it in the first place.

Readers should be under no illusions: any royal commission into the union movement is going to reveal a tapestry of criminality unprecedented in the country’s history, which is one of the reasons Labor politicians controlled by unionists and the unionists themselves are so bitterly and savagely recoiling at the prospect of one.

Shorten — far from presenting his credentials as opposing whatever nasties the unions are accused of — has left the ALP completely defenceless by refusing, as its “leader” (and a creature of the union movement to boot) to lend his imprimatur to cleaning those same unions up.

Shorten — politically — is a dead man walking, and by the time the commission presents its findings, his career will be well and truly finished.

 

 

Union Corruption: A Royal Commission Is Needed

THE GUILTY PLEA by former ALP National President and Health Services Union head Michael Williamson to fraud charges totalling almost $1 million is a pivot point in a sea of enquiries into union corruption; the development strengthens calls for a Royal Commission into the union movement.

It’s hardly something to rejoice in the streets about given the gravity of the offences, but Michael Williamson’s guilty plea to fraud charges represents a welcome development in the plethora of criminal investigations into union figures that have been on foot for some time.

And considering the official pursuit of Williamson began with him trying to make off with a volume of incriminating documents as the HSU’s offices were raided by Police last year, Williamson might have even saved the taxpayer a little time and expense in the process.

Even so, criminal investigations are continuing into the Australian Workers’ Union (and specifically, the role — if any — of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her associates) with fraud Police undertaking an exhaustive forensic examination of allegations criminal misconduct occurred at that union during the 1990s.

There is also a criminal prosecution against former Labor MP (and ex-HSU official) Craig Thomson underway, relating to the alleged misappropriation of monies from the HSU during and after his time at its head.

Rumours and allegations of union corruption, bastardry, thuggery, criminal misconduct and other unsavoury goings-on have been rife — and well-known — for many years.

Occasionally something comes of them and someone is prosecuted, but for the most part they remain just that: rumours.

It is also true that as the law stands today, unions and their executives are not subjected to the same rigorous protocols of governance and disclosure as registered companies and their directors are: a situation that must be remedied as an urgent item of business for the new Liberal government.

It stands to reason that for every crook who is caught doing the wrong thing that there are others who get away with it; indeed, for the dodgier types in this world to become crooks in the first place it’s a reasonable bet that they give in to the temptation because others set a first-hand example in how to get away with it.

Clearly, it is not possible to legislate against stupidity, nor regulate people and institutions to the point they are impossible to rort; it is incumbent upon those who hold positions of responsibility to be accountable, and for this to occur a relationship of trust must exist — even if such relationships are, from time to time, abused.

The charges to which Williamson has admitted guilt are the result of such an abuse of trust.

The Thomson matters remain before the Courts and the investigations into the AWU are yet to be concluded, so it is not possible to comment on those specifically, although it is not necessary either.

Based on the development yesterday in the Williamson matter — and with an eye on the mass of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that has accrued over time (to say nothing of silenced whistleblowers’ complaints) — it is reasonable to assert that what is currently in public view represents the mere tip of the iceberg.

This column openly and unreservedly endorses the establishment of a Royal Commission into the union movement in Australia, with sweeping terms of reference to investigate every aspect of unions’ operations, their financial affairs and governance, and any evidence of misconduct or criminal behaviour by their officials.

Nobody is advocating the wholesale disbanding of the union movement, although sometimes I think it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

But those unions — and union personnel — with nothing to hide will have nothing to fear; indeed, coupled with a regulatory review to bring the standard of governance into line with that enforced upon the corporate sector, continuing unions would operate in the knowledge that their organisations, moving forward, were scrupulously clean and corruption-free.

Nobody suggests for a moment that new Labor leader Bill Shorten is remotely connected to any of the so-called revelations uncovered at the Health Services Union, so I insist readers take the remarks in the following paragraph as written.

I simply make the point that as the new leader of a party enmeshed with the union movement — and a very senior union figure prior to entering Parliament as the head of one of the unions being investigated at present — it would be shrewd for Shorten to offer the government bipartisan backing for such a Commission, with reasonable assurances in return that it wouldn’t degenerate into a witch hunt.

Australians generally — and union members particularly — must have confidence that unions are clean, well-administered, and corruption-free.

Far from selling his mates down the river, Shorten could claim credit for facilitating proof of the integrity of his beloved trade union movement if he offers constructive co-operation, rather than seeking to obstruct the government from establishing the enquiry it promised in its campaign to win office.

But as much as these considerations cast a pall over the union movement, so too do they affect the ALP.

Williamson wasn’t just a union man, he was the National President of the Labor Party, and that — with his status as the newly-minted Labor leader an exciting but unchartered reality for him to contemplate — should give Shorten something else to think about as well.

 

Royal Commission: Child Abuse Inquiry A Blast Of Good Sense

The announcement today by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a Royal Commission into child sex abuse is a long-overdue blast of good common sense; The Red And The Blue wholeheartedly endorses its establishment, and trusts no stone will be left unturned by its eventual Commissioner.

At the time of writing, the exact specifics of the pending Royal Commission remain uncertain; as is so often the case in politics — or in issues and/or events connected to it — the situation seems very fluid and developing.

Nonetheless, this column is happy to throw the weight of its support behind the initiative — which is essentially bipartisan, as Tony Abbott has committed the Coalition to support it without qualification — as Australia makes one seriously big attempt to deal with an issue that is a social and moral pox upon the national house.

Indeed, that pox — and the culture of silence it festers and fosters — is a disgrace, and today’s announcement is a triumph and just reward for childhood advocates such as veteran Melbourne broadcaster Derryn Hinch, and Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston.

It pleases me greatly that the terms of reference for the inquiry appear to be very broad: focusing not just on the Catholic Church (although God knows that house is far from clean) but on a wide range of organisations and sectors, from “state services” to the Scouts to school sporting groups and so forth.

I hope it includes past and present parliamentarians; the judiciary; and also that it takes seriously the issue of child abuse in the home, whether by a parent, sibling, family member or friend.

In other words, absolutely no holds barred.

And it is also highly satisfactory that those who have covered up instances of child abuse or otherwise obscured the rendering of justice upon the perpetrators of sick crimes against kids will also be hauled before the Commission.

The Commission will integrate and align with various state-based inquiries, and will not impede police investigations or compensation claims. It is to be hoped, also, that a Special Prosecutor (or similar) is assigned to the Commission, giving it the power to prosecute individuals or groups found to have cases to answer arising from its business.

The only real qualifications I have on my support are that a) it isn’t simply a merry free-for-all witch hunt, in which people are baselessly accused out of malice; and that b) in cases where ambit and baseless accusations are made, Commonwealth support is available to wrongly accused persons to pay the costs associated with defamation actions against their accusers.

I think these are two eminently sensible considerations, and hardly those of a naysayer.

Ominously, though, the first words of dissent have come from surprising — and unsurprising — quarters.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was quoted from a statement to Fairfax Media as saying that there would be a case for a Royal Commission if present inquiries found ”institutional resistance” by the Catholic Church or if more resources were needed to deal with these matters.

Sorry Kevin — “institutional resistance” is the game the church has been playing on this issue for decades. Simply stated, for the Catholic Church, time is up.

The Age also quoted Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University and prominent Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan, who cast doubts on the Commission, saying ”It’s so broad that it risks being counterproductive,” and claiming it could take three years for the Commission to report.

I say, as doubtlessly do many, many others, that if it takes three years to do the job properly and thoroughly (and to get it right the first time), then it takes three years.

The Murdoch press in Melbourne featured a survivor of child abuse in a Catholic school, Peter Blenkiron, who hit out at claims by Catholic Cardinal George Pell that victims received justice when the church apologised to them, saying simply that no victim he knew ever felt like they got justice from the Church.

Pell, for his part, has made the welcome declaration that “We shall co-operate fully with the Royal Commission.”

Overwhelmingly, however, the response around the community has been supportive, almost ecstatic — as it rightly should be.

I was never subjected to sexual abuse as a child, although I do know people who were; quite aside from the fact I find the entire concept morally abhorrent (to the point I can almost justify kiddie molesters being subjected to a more informal smack around if the Courts won’t oblige), it is these people, along with the stories one hears of so very many others, that make it just as personal an issue for me as it is for them.

And not least because I’m a dad too — I have one little girl and another child coming soon, and if anyone touched them, it wouldn’t make it as far as Court.

I do not intend to talk through the actual political implications of today’s events, other than to reiterate my support for Gillard’s announcement and to reiterate recognition of Tony Abbott’s immediate and unqualified support for it.

Today’s announcement belongs to the victims — past and present — of the sexual abuse of children, to the families and friends who have supported them, and to the ceaseless fighters like Hinch and Johnston who have fought valiantly and for many years to see precisely this outcome.

But I will say this: to the paedophiles out there — and, unfortunately, there are a few of them around — I hope you’re all absolutely frightened shitless now.

There isn’t anywhere left to run and hide.

And that’s how it should be.