Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon will today reveal whether he will continue as head of the trade union royal commission after he was embroiled in a conflict of interest scandal.
Many would expect I would have little sympathy for Heydon, and that I would take the view that this is a political witch hunt lacking legitimacy.
Many would suggest that I would bag out the royal commission and its findings at the first opportunity.
All true, but let me give a few reasons. And these reasons are not because the royal commission would shine a negative light on the Labor Party or the union movement.
I have no truck with the exposure of corrupt officials whether they be in the corporate sector (Alan Bond, Rene Rivkin, Christopher Skase to name a few), the Liberal and Labor parties (both blessed with an array of corrupt MPs from all around the country), or the union movement (Kathy Jackson, Craig Thompson, Michael Williamson, again to name a few).
However, I believe it is the role of the police to scrutinise the activities of these entities, not a politically motivated royal commission.
Most people when asked, would see a royal commission as a court, since they are usually headed up by a retired judge, usually a retired Supreme Court and occasionally a High Court judge. But royal commissions are not a judicial entity. They are an instrument of the Executive.
Interestingly, police are also an arm of the Executive but have autonomies enshrined in their legislations and conventions surrounding their operations.
The use of royal commissioners, appointed by the Governor General, to undertake investigations and exposures is a blunt political instrument.
They have no power to sit in judgment, no power to fine or jail. They only have recommendatory powers to the government that appointed them. They name and shame and refer matters to the police for investigation. They are thus, by definition, a child of a particular political persuasion.
The trade union royal commission is a brilliant case in point. It is charged with bringing into the public limelight shonky practices, illegal activities and corrupt behaviours of a particular sector of the community.
It has no remit to investigate both sides of a transaction. For example, take the issue of bribery. It takes two to tango. Only the union movement is being investigated over suggestions of bribery. Yet the giver of the bribe is not being scrutinised.
Neither is the corporate sector, the biggest bribers of all time, under the microscope for bribery, predator practice, price collusion, corrupt practices, intimidation or similar issues. The blue tie sector is getting off scot free.
The union movement is a cohort dedicated to the benefit of its members. Most unions for example, don’t particularly care when issues arise outside their brief. Unions are answerable to their membership. If that membership has a problem it can go to the police for action. Since when did the PM receive an invitation to check into the CFMEU on behalf of its members? And the AWU?
What right does the PM have for such scrutiny? Is he a member of a union? I bet not. So the activities of shonky union bosses affect him not in the least.
If a company is feeling pressured by a union, or is being asked to take part in corrupt activities, it should enlist the aid of the police, not the PM.
I guess in summary, I think the issues of shonky practice on both sides of the bargaining table should be matters for the police, not made into a political football.
If a royal commission is to be created, let it investigate something in the general public’s interest, not just those of a few.
But perhaps the PM thinks that the police and the myriad DPPs are incompetent and can’t do their job.
Any observer, polarised or not, would have to agree that there is a smell of bias inherent in Dyson Heydon accepting an invitation to speak at the Liberal fundraiser.
I was interested to read that his excuse after saying he wouldn’t give the lecture, was that he had overlooked that it was a Liberal Party sponsored event.
Would he give Mr Shorten any latitude if Bill was to say, “Well, Your Honour, I guess I just overlooked the matter”, would he have extended the same latitude to the union officials? No! He sent in the police to raid the CFMEU offices.
If His Honour does not recuse himself, he has not conducted himself according to standards he, himself, set. If he does recuse himself, he will be branded as a Liberal agent in the scurrilous smear campaign he was charged with heading up. He can’t win this one.
What will happen to the royal commission in either case? If he doesn’t go, the whole process is confirmed to be shonky and political. If he does go, the evidence collected thus far will be tainted as full of bias.
Like the man said: You have to be like Caesar’s wife, beyond suspicion of reproach. His Honour and the whole shebang have failed this man-in-the street test.