OK starting off this one with a heap of disclaimers to set the tone ;-)

  • I am not in a Union, nor affiliated with a Union. In fact the last time I was in a Union was at the age of 18 with the old Saturday morning, Thursday night casual work, I’m now 47 so you do the maths.
  • I’m not a member of the ALP, nor affiliated with them. I do have friends who are in the ALP, though I also have friends who are in the Greens & LNP, hell even a family friend who is a Nationals Senator.
  • I have no legal experience whatsoever, the following is just what I took as pertinent from my ‘reading’ of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) Final Report.
  • Yes, I need to get a life.

Now that we have that out of the way...

I have found this report to be one of most bizarre reading experiences I have ever had. It is full of contradictions and most definitely style over substance in my opinion.  I realise that Tony Abbott set this up and there have been all sorts of suggestions for him doing so:

  • Ideological - to destroy Unions
  • Harm to Julia Gillard
  • Harm to Bill Shorten & enhance chance of Abbott retaining Government at next election
  • Set up pretext to start rolling out Industrial Relations reforms
  • Set up pretext to bring back Howard’s Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC)
  • Ammunition to muzzle Unions at a future election

Actually the list goes on...

Before we go any further, in case you have only been watching TV, you might not be aware that “Counsel assisting did not press for adverse findings against Bill Shorten“ (see item 289 of Volume 1 Introduction)

Even before old mate Dyson Heydon got pinged for agreeing to speak at a Liberal gig, you would have to be a pretty hard-core Liberal supporter to not be suspect as to the reasons why so much money would be spent on a Royal Commission to address issues that quite frankly can already be addressed by existing criminal and regulatory procedures, whilst at the same time squealing ‘Budget Emergency’?

TURC has cost us the taxpayer $45,905,000, but wait there’s more. That figure does not include funds paid to the Australian Federal police in relation to the taskforces, so hell knows what the ‘real’ cost to the taxpayer is. It is also worth noting that George Brandis is extending this taskforce for another year, so that will also increase the cost here. Sort of sad that we have spare cash for continuing to chase Unions, though have to cut funding for Indigenous, Women, Domestic Violence, Homeless etc. Community Legal services, coz, you know, budget concerns SIGH! That is a rant for another day...

For this squillion dollar investment, we received a report compiled in 6 volumes, one of which is confidential - so we don’t get to see what we paid for there – and 45 referrals to authorities just as the Fair Work Commission, various State Police Forces, various State Directors of Public Prosecutions and other Governance organisations.  

Contrary to what is inferred on the front pages of our newspapers, not all of these referrals are Union people or Union entities, there are also Business people and Business entities referred as well (you will have to go final pages of ‘REFERRALS’ to find them).

TURC has found wrong doing in the Union sector. It would bloody want to. You would have to be worried if this much money, effort and resources came up empty? I’m not glossing over any criminal behaviour, it should always be prosecuted, though at a minimum of $1,000,000 per referral it is not exactly value for money. Remember we don’t know what the Police Task Force costs are, so that per referral cost is way higher in reality.

What distresses me is how this is now being set up as a Unions vs Government type of thing, with the Government trying to infer that they are just trying to protect workers. I have to say, Senator Cash is not exactly real persuasive arguing that case, but anyhow I digress... I can honestly see this turning into a nasty class war as the background for the next election. Worse, it will be based on a report that quite frankly has very little substance and is more inclined to rely on the ‘vibe’ (see Standard of Proof 123-128) This area includes statements like:

123. As was noted in the Interim Report, the concept of onus of proof does not apply in a Royal Commission. From this it follows that, strictly speaking, neither the civil standard nor the criminal standard of proof applies either.

or one of my favourites:

128. In other words, whether or not expressly stated, every finding in this Report and the Interim Report: (a) is based on evidence received by the Commission and those matters which are so notorious as not to require proof or which are part of the ordinary experience of daily life; and (b) has been made only after due and careful regard as to whether the evidence adduced in the Commission has sufficiently established that finding, taking into account matters such as the seriousness of the finding, the inherent likelihood or unlikelihood of the fact the subject of the finding, the gravity of the consequences, and the perception that members of our society do not ordinarily engage in fraudulent or criminal conduct.

...so notorious as to not require proof...” I don’t know about you, and as I said, I’m no legal type, but for that much money, I’m wanting more than just a ‘notorious’ vibe?

We also see many news reports that feature the following: “louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts.” It makes for a great front page and sounds really sensational. Old mate has this in item 10 if you are interested in reading the whole hyperbolic paragraph. What is not mentioned is that the esteemed legal eagle does not actually back up that assertion with any pesky facts of the same magnitude? In this same item 10 is where we also have the “small tip of an enormous iceberg” comment that media are loving to toss out, again, not backed up with much evidence.

If I’m paying millions to a former Judge to conduct a Royal Commission, I’m expecting a bit more than just sweeping assertions and hyperbole in a final report? Hell, if that is what the Government wanted they could have just gotten one of their favourite News Ltd opinion writers to do that for them for the cost of a few dinners and a better paying Communications gig.

The below is a good example, it does not even make sense?

8.    This conduct has taken place among a wide variety of unions and industries.  Those responsible have ranged in seniority from the most junior levels to the most senior.  Many State Secretaries have been involved.  Of course what has been described is not universal.  It may not even be typical.  But you can look at any area of Australia.  You can look at any unionised industry.  You can look at any type of industrial union.  You can select any period of time.  You can take any rank of officeholder, from Secretaries down to very junior employees.  You can search for any type of misbehaviour.  You will find rich examples over the last 23 years in the Australian trade union movement.

Shorter old mate:

“dodgy behaviour with unions is everywhere! Everywhere I tell you! Everywhere!!
“um maybe not all of them”
“Yep it is, it is all of them are dodgy, years and years of dodgy!!”

That does not even make sense? Yet we have paid a fortune for ‘assertions’?

Anyhow... I could continue but even I’m over it now. All I would say is if you don’t have time to read the #TURC report for yourself, please keep an open mind as to the agenda’s of those who are reporting it so sensationally.

Yes there are some Union people who should be pinged legally. Hell, I’m the first one to complain about Union influence in the ALP – ala Pratt losing Senate spot to the odious dinosaur Bullock & Singh losing hers to another Union type in Tasmania – but having said that, it really is no different to the various business and lobby groups that donate to and influence the Liberal Party. Yes, I also feel that the Unions should clean themselves up to ensure their position in the Industrial landscape can’t be abused, though again, it should also be an imperative for the likes of the financial services (eg CBA, NAB, Macquarie, ANZ alleged Financial Planning scandals) to do the same. It should also be noted that 7-Eleven was not the only Big business who is alleged to have ripped off workers as well and that should also be looked at if we are going to be looking at Industrial Relations or using TURC assertions as the basis of looking at Industrial Relations reform?

The Union bogey-man being portrayed is serious over-kill. In fact, I’m pretty sure that any Industry that had a spotlight on it and squillions of dollars spent in trying to find dirt would result in dirty hands. It’s human nature. Wrong doing in ANY industry should always be reported and to be perfectly frank, after reading this report, I’m no wiser as to whether the Unions are any worse or any better than any other Industry?

FUN FACT:  TURC’s Volume 1 – Introduction and Overview contains the word “may” 127 times

The Unions ‘may’ not be perfect. Big Business ‘may’ not be perfect. Some Union heads ‘may’ need closer scrutiny. Some Big Business practises ‘may’ need more scrutiny too ;-)

I guess what I’m urging with the above is don’t get sucked into a class war, this is what the political types are wanting, for their own base political purposes and it just demeans us all.

Noely Neate
Article By
Noely Neate
Talks too much on Twitter
Professional desk jockey
comments powered by Disqus