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Tuesday 26 January 2016

Aye, there's the rub.

Over the past 18 months the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC)  played out on our media like a slow motion Shakespearean tragedy. With all the accouterments of these plays; human vices writ loud and large; greed, duplicity, double dealing, leading to falls from grace and of course piles of bodies. We have yet to see the final body count as we are but midway through the play, but they are already piling up.

In recent days the drama has again come front and center as, rumors have it that, the Turnbull government in order to woo cross-bench support for mooted new legislation, is considering giving these accidental powerhouses of decision making access to the confidential volume(s) of Commissioner Dyson's final report.

Now Labor wants to get into the act and has asked for similar access. Ay there's the rub.

What type of information would be confidential?

No doubt Dyson Heydon (DH) had good reasons to make one volume of his 6 volume final report confidential. What would be good reasons? Admittedly I am only speculating, but I can see at least three, and there may be many more.

1. It names sources.
It could contain the names of sources who have provided information to the TURC. Some of this may have been only been made in exchange for a guarantee of anonymity.  The sources may have been exposed to corrupt Unions in their dealings and may remain in positions that would leave them vulnerable if they were identified.

Sources may be ; -
  • serving members of a Union in senior roles who could lose their position or even worse. Unions have been known to resort to plain old thuggery.
  • employer's who fear retribution from their Unions through industrial action or worse.
  • past or even currently serving MPs, who could face retribution in various forms including loss of pre-selection. 
  • current or past legal representatives of Unions who are passing on client confidential information. The consequences again can be serious.
  • ex Union officials who are appointees to government and semi government authorities. eg Fair Work Australia just to consider an example. I seem to recall a certain Fair Work judge who did give evidence to the TURC. Who knows what else could be under the covers.

In short, sources could come from any sphere that has insider knowledge of Union corruption. Many if not most of these sources have very good reasons to protect their anonymity. Exposure of their names would put them at grave risk of various forms of retribution.

2. Evidence in progress
There may be evidence of Union corrupt dealings not yet in the public domain that DH would like to share with law enforcement authorities, to allow them to act on the evidence before its general release. Such evidence may be vital to ensure success in persecuting offenders but its uncontrolled release by alerting offenders as to its existence may make prosecution more difficult.

3. Cases not covered
No doubt as DH sifted through the vast volumes of material over the 18 month duration of the enquiry he had to select which cases to cover. In this selection he would have come across many instances of potential corruption that needed further exploration. The confidential volume may contain details of potential corruption that required further investigation. Exposure of these could allow the perpetrators to 'cover up' and make prosecution impossible.

Would you trust the keys to your house to a potential burglar?

Now we can return to the question whether to give or not to give the confidential volume to the ALP?

The ALP is wedded to the Union movement. More than Half federal Labor MPs have union origins, and affiliated unions take a leading role in setting ALP policies at the national conference. Quite simply it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between an ALP MP and a Union official. They seem to talk as two faces with one creature.  None typifies this close relationship between ALP and the Unions more than the brothers O'Connor. Brother Brendan is the ALP's Opposition Employment spokesman. Brother Michael is the National Secretary of the CFMEU, which happens to be the Union with the dubious honour of having the largest number of corruption charges identified by the TURC.

Given this close relationship should the government release the confidential report to the ALP? In all good conscience could the ALP be trusted not to leak, accidentally or otherwise, any of the potentially damaging information to its brother the Union movement?

Would the proverbial 'fair minded lay observer' think it reasonable to give the confidential volume on Union corruption to the Labor party? I think not.

ALP must jettison Union ties

I guess this is the pointy end of the problem for the ALP. Its close relationship with the Union movement has made it difficult for it to be seen as an independent judge of Union corruption.

The ALP's dealing with the TURC has been totally irrational. Rather than enthusiastically siding with the workers as opposed to corrupt Union officials, and supporting the TURC, it has done the opposite. It has simply echoed the Unions' repeated calls to stop the TURC  or to discredit the commissioner. Its apparent hysteria and repeated denial of corruption despite overwhelming well documented evidence, seems to be counterproductive. It seems to be 'running a protection racket' for corrupt Union officials against their members.  This strategy is not serving the ALP nor the country. Australia needs two strong, independent, political parties. When Unionism represents under 15% of the workforce how can the ALP justify 50% of its MPs having Union backgrounds.

Isn't it time for the ALP to jettison those close Union ties and really become the party of the workers.

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