The farce over Dyson Heydon’s links to the Liberal Party has exposed the Trade Union Royal Commission for what it always was—a political stunt aimed against Labor and the unions.
Whether Heydon is removed as Commissioner or not the Royal Commission is seriously tarnished. The spectacle of Heydon himself deciding on whether he was biased only made it look worse. The ACTU is still considering the option of court action to force him to step down.
Dyson Heydon agreed to speak at a Liberal Party event, withdrawing only when news hit the media. But this is only the most blatant example of his conservative bias. He went on the record, speaking at a dinner hosted by the notorious right-wing journal Quadrant, attacking progressive “activist” judges of the High Court in 2002. The speech was widely described as a “job application” to the Howard government for his spot on the High Court bench.
A video of Heydon sneering at the actions of the Rudd Labor government has also surfaced, again speaking at a right-wing event, hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies in 2013.
He is being paid close to $1 million a year to preside over the Commission, according to information published by News Corp.
The Royal Commission has spent most of its time investigating legitimate everyday union activity, and helped to brand it as criminal. The allegations against the CFMEU are a prime example.
Recent hearings have focused on the ACT branch of the union.
The only official issued with a genuine charge, Halafihi Kivalu in Canberra, told the Commission the union had no knowledge of his efforts to extract bribes from builders, nor is there any evidence suggesting the union did know. One of his associates, form worker Tuungafasi Manase, has also been charged with perjury.
But the union has also been referred to the ACCC for, of all things, trying to force employers to sign onto EBAs the union was happy with. It is standard practice in construction to demand that all contractors working on a building site sign onto the EBA, ensuring workers all get paid the same rate. But according to the Royal Commission this is “cartel behaviour”.
The ridiculous blackmail charge against CFMEU organiser John Lomax is similar. He stands accused of getting a building company to sign a union EBA, hurting the company as it cost them money.
There was also a claim of intimidating a Work Safe inspector over allowing work to continue despite safety concerns.
But as ACT Construction Union Secretary Dean Hall pointed out, “The ACT has the worst safety record in the building construction industry by a country mile and the CFMEU and its officers have played a proactive role in trying to enforce and promote an improved and better safety standard”.
In 2012 a government inquiry found the number of deaths in the industry was almost twice the national average.
Standing up for safety on building sites should not be a criminal offence.
In Victoria, police have reportedly taken witness statements with a view to laying charges against CFMEU Secretary John Setka and Assistant Secretary Shaun Reardon for action taken against Boral during the dispute with building company Grocon.
The Commission recommended charges be laid in its interim report in December.
But this was simply an industrial tactic designed to put pressure on Grocon.
Even if many of the charges never stick, the Royal Commission has been used to air any and every allegation against the unions employers are willing to make, generating a stream of anti-union media headlines.
The circus has gone on long enough—this Commission should be shut down.
By James Supple