JUST WHO REALLY PAYS THE BILL?
Bill Shorten had a terrible day at the royal commission yesterday. And it didn’t just leave the Labor leader looking shifty, it also turned the torch on the new breed of union bosses who infest Labor; careerists using union muscle and union cash to get themselves into parliament.
And isn’t that the rap on Shorten? That this former Australian Workers Union boss is all ambition for himself?
Most obviously, of course, Shorten yesterday got caught out pocketing a disguised $ 40,000 gift from an employer that he did not disclose until four days ago. This was a gift that stinks. Shorten, in 2007, was the AWU national secretary when he asked Unibilt, a labour hire company, to make a donation.
There is a critical point about this donation. It was not to help the union but to help Shorten personally.
Shorten wanted Unibilt to pay for a full- time campaign director to help him win the safe Labor seat of Maribyrnong at the 2007 election. The company agreed, and paid the equivalent of a $ 50,000- a- year salary for a Young Labor campaigner, Lance Wilson, to work full- time for months on Shorten’s campaign.
Just why Unibilt would do this is a mystery. Shorten said he didn’t know, and angrily rejected suggestions it was because the firm was about to negotiate a workplace agreement with the AWU, one Shorten would have to approve.
He denied any favours were offered and denied he’d undermined the AWU’s bargaining power by first cutting himself a private deal with the Unibilt boss. But you could hardly be surprised if that boss didn’t figure it might help him get a better agreement if he was sweet with the union leader; might hurt if he wasn’t.
Just what the Unibilt workers would have thought of Shorten’s side deal is academic because it was disguised from anyone casting a casual eye over the books.
Shorten got a union official to draw up an agreement which hired Wilson as an alleged “research officer” for Unibilt when his real job was actually campaign director for Shorten.
Shorten could not explain why this contract stated a falsehood. Nor could he explain why it was later changed to make Wilson falsely seem an employee of the AWU, with Unibilt invoiced for his wages. He’d left those details to underlings, he said.
Shorten said he hadn’t known that after handing over a total of $ 40,000 Unibilt stopped paying the
and union’s invoices for Wilson, leaving the AWU with a $ 12,000 shortfall that it made good itself rather than pass on to Shorten, now celebrating his election win.
But that wasn’t the end of what might seem to some a cover- up. Shorten admitted he did not declare this $ 40,000 gift from Unibilt to the Australian Electoral Commission, as required by law. An oversight, he said. He only became aware of it several months ago, and asked his lawyers to fix it.
Oddly enough, it was only four days ago that Shorten finally asked Labor’s Victorian branch to alert the AEC to the missing declaration, just as the royal commission became aware of the problem. Nothing in that, Shorten insisted. He’d been waiting for documents.
But this donation, while the sexy part of Shorten’s evidence, understates Shorten’s sense of entitlement to union help to get him into federal parliament.
Shorten was shown evidence yesterday that at least three AWU officials worked part- time on his election campaign while he was still the AWU boss.
Indeed, his amended declaration on Monday also disclosed the donation of $ 12,000 from the AWU for “campaign support” and referred to another “benefit” from the AWU of under $ 10,500.
In Shorten’s view, it was good for the AWU to have him in parliament. No wonder he felt entitled to the thousands of dollars that the union he still led poured into getting him the political career he’d craved since he was a boy.
Shorten did a little better yesterday in batting off suggestions he traded workers’ conditions for this favour from Unibilt and for donations to the union from another company, Cleanevent. He claimed the workplace deals he approved were backed by the workers and offered good pay deals. Shorten faces more questioning tomorrow on the most dubious of them, in which he gave away award penalty rates for weekend work for Cleanevent cleaners.
None of what we heard yesterday will of itself sink Shorten. Many Australians don’t think it’s news union bosses are in for themselves or that unions pay to shoehorn their own into Labor seats. But take a deep sniff. Is this behaviour we should accept? A sense of entitlement we should indulge?
Shorten admitted he
did not declare this $ 40,000 gift
Hitler’s Germany, Tojo’s Japan or Stalin’s Russia. We should be careful not to say or do things which can be seen to add credibility to these delusions.” What’s Turnbull’s game? He surely knew the media and Labor would seize on his comments to suggest Abbott was an alarmist who was beating up the terrorism threat for votes.
Sure enough, Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor gloated: “Turnbull effectively suggested the Prime Minister and other ministers … were politicising national security matters.”
This actually sells Abbott short. He is deeply convinced Islamist terrorism is a grave threat to world security, Australian security and domestic harmony, and the steps he’s taken the fight to it are so reasonable even Labor does not resist.
But Turnbull now gives Abbott’s critics fresh reason to sneer.
He cannot be such as fool as to think his comments would not hurt Abbott. And he must also know polls show Labor still solidly ahead of the government. The momentum to Abbott has stopped.
Of course Turnbull would also know that the content of what he said — as opposed to the timing — is hard for Abbott to object to.
Sure, we should not exaggerate the Islamic State threat but, as Turnbull carefully added, we cannot underestimate it either.
Nor did Turnbull directly contradict anything Abbott and Bishop have said.
Which leaves Turnbull actually saying not very much at all, other than that he’s not Tony Abbott — and he’s ready.
QUESTION TIME: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appears before the royal commission.