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Why TURC is a farce

August 31, 2015

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (TURC) is a farce. It is not hard to prove this.

Proof hangs on a single item: A Royal Commission has been established to do the job existing law enforcement agencies should be doing. It is as simple as that.

For reasons not known to me, the trade unions do not argue my case. They have appeared before the Royal Commission for months, only objecting recently when it was learnt that Commissioner Dyson Heydon had accepted and deferred an invitation to be a guest speaker at a Liberal party event.

Whether or not the event was a Liberal fund-raiser is irrelevant. Commissioner Heydon initially responded by saying he would attend only if the Royal Commission was no longer sitting. At that point he was well aware of the possibility of a perception of “apprehended bias”. He responded appropriately.

The Royal Commission has been set up to drag trade unions and Labor through the mud. There is no doubt about that. “Some mud always sticks” — a well established principle in dirty politics. The Coalition government leader, Tony Abbott, announced his intention to establish a Judicial Inquiry into the Australian Workers Union (AWU) while he was Opposition Leader, just before the 2013 federal election. After gaining government, he announced the inquiry into the AWU would become a Royal Commission and would be extended.

If we go back to Abbott’s days as an economics and law student at Sydney university we find a young man who aggressively attacked student unions across Australia, as a disciple of the extremely reactionary Bob Santamaria, who hated the Labor party, trade unions and practically everything else. We also find Dyson Heydon sitting on the Rhodes Scholarship selection panel and favouring Abbott ahead of at least three Honours students.

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Later in Abbott’s life, as an employee of former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, we find Dyson Heydon sitting on the legal panel that advised Abbott’s “No” case at the Republic Convention.

Heydon was later appointed to the High Court by the Howard Liberal government.

I now return to my original premise. Speaking outside the Royal Commission, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary, Dave Oliver, said any offences committed by trade unions or their officers should be investigated and handled by the State police, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Fair Work Commission.

He’s right. The really important question in all of this is why are these authorities not doing the job they were established to do? Why is it necessary to budget $80 million, so far, and to spend $60 million, so far, to investigate trade unions through a Royal Commission?

This superfluous spending is occurring when the nation is said to be suffering a “Budget Emergency!” and a “Debt and Deficit Crisis” brought on by the previous Labor government, according to Treasurer Joe Hockey. Hockey used this imagined situation to introduce a shocker of a Budget in 2014, which he described as “fair”. He later told a New Zealand audience the Australian economy was not in trouble.

Tony Abbott used the imagined critical Budget and deficit situation to carry out wholesale slaughter of the Labor government’s climate change, environment and other programs, along with a heap of welfare and funding for NGOs considered by some to have a voice capable of criticising his government. Allied with that was an on-going campaign against perceived bias in the ABC — again silencing his critics, but there’s more to it than that.

Abbott admitted the 2014 Budget had gone too far, that his government had to learn how to be “fair”. The 2015 Budget was designed to recover some of his lost political capital, but his personal popularity rating has not recovered since early in 2013.

The Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) Abbott’s government is signing will create great disparity between the wages and conditions of imported workers and those of trade union members. If the trade unions are silenced, discredited or wiped out they will not be able to highlight and campaign against these discrepancies. The big unions are also the main financiers of Labor party election campaigns.

Abbott’s actions are also part of the Liberals’ long-term campaign for lower taxes (replaced in part by a bigger and broader GST) and smaller government, the one depending on the other. The long-term implications of this are not being dealt with by the news media, or anyone else, as far as I can tell.

The government’s implementation of a harsh reconstruction of Australian society and culture is allied to the terms of its FTAs, as well as for ideological reasons.

It was necessary to digress above to point out what the Abbott government has been doing.

Why are the established authorities not dealing with crime and corruption in the trade unions? They are ferreting out and dealing with crime and corruption in corporations, companies and political parties.

It has been put to me by a union member and by a Queens Counsel that the Royal Commission into trade unions is necessary because the various police and other authorities have not been able to gather evidence of crime and corruption in trade unions, or are incapable of prosecuting it. But, clearly, this is a nonsense.

Proof of the nonsense lies in the evidence that has been uncovered and recorded by the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission is an authority, with authority to investigate, just like the authorities mentioned above. The Royal Commission’s investigators have this information in their possession before they put their questions to those who appear before them. They are not relying on their imagination or speculation. If the Royal Commission investigators can do it, so can all the other authorities that are charged with doing it and paid to do it — but are not doing it.

Abbott has an almost life-long hatred of trade unions. A severe warning from one trade union official caused Abbott to walk from his first paid job, in a cement products factory. His government slashes funding left, right and centre to reduce the accumulated deficit but provides $80 million for his war on trade unions.

The Labor party’s shadow ministers, MPs and some trade union officials have said they support the cleaning up of trade unions. No further proof is needed of Abbott’s ideological witch hunt against unions and the Labor party.

The real need is for a Royal Commission to discover why those charged with fighting crime and corruption are doing only half the job.

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