The Courier-Mail


Dyson Heydon continuing to preside over the TURC is not the most desirable outcome for the ALP, writes Dennis Atkins

- Dennis Atkins is The Courier-Mail’s national affairs editor.

TRADE union leaders had two preferred outcomes from their legal assault on Royal Commission­er Dyson Heydon and ended up with what they thought was second best.

In their dreams, unions wanted Heydon to not only recuse himself but force the Government to shut down the inquiry into corruption and other malfeasanc­e in the affairs of industrial organisati­ons.

They are happy to settle for having Heydon stay in the job, believing he has been compromise­d and his commission’s findings tainted.

In the longer game, the unions might not get what they’re wishing for.

Anyone who thought soberly about Heydon’s approach to the law should have expected his ruling – argued, as it was, on strict legal grounds with every word parsed to within an inch of its life.

It might not match the view in the street where people probably don’t get the nuance between an ostensibly independen­t legal figure and a dinner organised by an arm of the Liberal Party and how the latter cannot infect the behaviour or reputation of the former.

This means unless a judge of the Federal Court feels like letting his freak flag fly and slaps Heydon down in any appeal or injunctive motion – highly unlikely if the unions go down that road – the royal commission­er is as good as glued to his seat.

Likewise, if the Labor Opposition goes ahead with its historical and harebraine­d idea to have the Senate petition the GovernorGe­neral to sack Heydon, that won’t make first base either.

The bright sparks in the ALP who are considerin­g this can be thankful Gough Whitlam has passed away as he’d probably take it as an insult.

Whitlam did more to demonstrat­e the illegitima­cy of the Senate or anyone else usurping the constituti­onal duty of the head of state to act on the advice of either the whole Parliament or the executive. For modern Labor to mock the lessons of 1975 is gobsmackin­g.

So Heydon will stay and get on – as he did yesterday – with his rock-lifting inquiry into some of the darker corners of trade union activity.

The ACTU, affiliated unions and the Labor Party will protest long and loud – and many will agree with them – about the commission being a political stitch-up but if the revelation­s about some unionists continue public opinion might take a broader view.

There have been aspects of the commission’s inquiry that were unnecessar­ily political and occasional­ly inexplicab­le. The pursuit of Julia Gillard was unwarrante­d and a fruitless endeavour while the treatment of Bill Shorten – so far – had moments that looked bad for Heydon.

The questionin­g of onetime Health Services Union boss Kathy Jackson – subsequent­ly revealed as having misspent $1.4 million of members’ funds – was incurious and kindly instead of the forensic work being done in other courts.

The work of the commission grinding on yesterday saw Heydon and his counsel assisting Jeremy Stoljar probe deeper into the activities of the Constructi­on Forestry Mining and Energy Union in Canberra.

Corrupt behaviour, thuggery, intimidati­on and cartel-like operations are common in the ACT and the CFMEU links to the local Left wing ALP branch are being examined and questioned.

The kind of dodgy deals


between unions and employers revealed when the commission looked into the Victorian branch of the Australian Workers’ Union have been known about in ACTU and Labor circles for decades but ignored.

The protests by the ACTU about unfair and biased treatment from the commission would have greater strength if the peak body had taken union governance and allegation­s of malfeasanc­e and wrongdoing more seriously over the years.

The ACTU has no record of being proactive in acting against unions. The corrupt operations within the HSU in two states were revealed by the media and followed up by the police and Fair Work.

Disaffilia­ting the HSU was the least the ACTU could do.

Likewise, the ACTU has known about the way the CFMEU – along with some other militant unions – conducts itself in bargaining and on worksites but has never taken action.

This is why the ongoing work of the Heydon royal commission – with all its faults – will mean more downside than upside for the union movement and a Labor Party with which it’s intertwine­d.

There was something for everyone in this week’s ruling by Heydon about his own conduct.

The Government was able to say the unions were trying to hide corruption, helped by their Labor allies, while the ACTU could declare the commission was tainted and compromise­d.

The longer game might settle less in favour of the unions. Australian­s have no tolerance for rorting and corruption.

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