Heydon’s decision to continue is correct
THE furore surrounding trade union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon has been a triumph of innuendo over substance, and should now be put to bed once and for all.
It has been a messy distraction from the work of a commission conducting an exhaustive and long-overdue investigation into the corrupt conduct of sections of the trade union movement in Australia. To have the process derailed at this late stage – the commission is scheduled to deliver to the Government its final report in December – would be a travesty.
The reaction of the union movement and the Labor Party to news that Mr Heydon had initially accepted but then decided not to attend a NSW lawyers’ function with Liberal Party branding was as over the top as it was shrill.
Shock, horror, senior judicial figure agrees to address a group of lawyers? Or as Mr Heydon put it: “How does agreeing to give a public address to a gathering assembled by the chairs of two lawyer branches indicate support which enables an inference that one of the offending characteristics (of apprehended bias) exists?”
Labor and the unions have been trenchantly opposed to the commission from its inception, not because of any bias, but because their sometimes murky dealings are in the crosshairs. What better way to thwart it than to smear and nobble the inquisitor?
Mr Heydon is a legal mind of impeccable credentials and vast experience. The former professor of Law at Sydney University (the youngest ever to achieve the position), Queen’s Counsel and High Court judge is – like his judicial peers – more than capable of putting aside any personal views, conducting a hearing and testing evidence on its merits.
The confected hysteria over his speaking engagement at the annual Sir Garfield Barwick address is simply an attempt to distract attention from the very real heat that the inquiry has applied to sections of the union movement, its links with the Labor Party and also the past conduct of Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Never mind the murky dealings, standover tactics and allegations of outright fraud that have been unearthed so far, instead attack the man bringing these instances of malfeasance to light.
Never mind that the commission’s work has so far seen about 30 people referred to various agencies for possible criminal charges and some 50 breaches of civil and criminal law identified.
Never mind that the commission’s interim report found that the powerful, Labor-affiliated CFMEU sometimes “acts in wilful defiance of the law”, as well as detailed evidence of death threats, extortion and blackmail.
For Labor and the unions, smearing the messenger and distracting attention from unsavoury dealings is far more important than actually confronting the cancers within their own ranks.
As Mr Heydon stressed yesterday, the terms of reference for the royal commission “seek not to destroy unions or obstruct their purposes, but to see whether they have been fulfilled and to see how they might be better fulfilled in future”.
Australia’s two million union members should be aghast at the outright fraud in the Health Services Union, and numerous instances of thuggery, slush funds and possibly criminal behaviour uncovered by the commission elsewhere, and welcome its work in helping to clean up the wider movement. Unions may actually end up stronger, more accountable and representative of their members as a result.
Mr Heydon has made the right decision to continue with his work.