JUST WHO RE­ALLY PAYS THE BILL?

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

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.

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