Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption 2015

Unfortunately this is not question time but statement time, so I cannot ask Senator Lines some questions or get answers. But I would still like to put some rhetorical questions on the record.

I listened to Senator Lines, and she was saying that it is unacceptable for Justice Heydon to accept an invitation to a Liberal Party organised event. The question I would ask Senator Lines is: if it is such a scandal for that to be accepted, why was it okay for Justice Kirby to deliver the Neville Wran lecture in 2008, organised and established by the Labor Party? Why was that okay while he was a sitting, serving High Court judge? Why was it okay that Michael Kirby addressed the Society of Labor Lawyers while he was on the New South Wales Court of Appeal? Why was it okay that Mary Gaudron, also as a High Court justice, addressed the same body? Why was it okay that Michael McHugh, while he was on the New South Wales Court of Appeal, addressed the Society for Labor Lawyers? Why was it okay for ACT chief justices and chief magistrates to address the same body? Why was it okay for Justice Jeffrey Spender, while he was on the Federal Court, to similarly address the Society for Labor lawyers?

What we have here is blatant hypocrisy from the Labor Party, and we have that hypocrisy because this is not about Justice Heydon and not about this particular event. What this is about is a desperate ploy from a desperate union movement in hock with a desperate political party to distract attention from the disgraceful conduct of union members and officials exposed by this royal commission. It is all a distraction technique.

I am a father of four kids and I know distraction techniques well. When you do not like what your children are doing, when you do not like if they are crying or whingeing or behaving badly, you distract them. You try to distract their attention and put something else in their face or do something like that. That is exactly what the Labor Party are trying to do here because they do not like what is going on down there at the royal commission. They do not like what is happening so they are trying to distract attention from it, at great cost to the Australian people and to good public policy in this area.

I have not seen the Labor Party introduce or state that there is a matter of public importance about the conduct of union officials while I have been here. This time in our chamber is a time for opposition and minor parties to state what they view are the important issues facing the public and we can debate them in this chamber during this time. I have not seen the Labor Party put up one matter of public importance about how it is important that union officials be subject to high levels of propriety and good conduct. I have not seen the Greens either put up motions to discuss and debate the conduct of union officials as they have been exposed in this royal commission and in other fora in the last few years.

What is the bigger issue here? Is it an issue that we seem to have organised crime involved in our trade union movements? Is that an issue? It has been something the assistant commissioner of the Victorian Police Force has stated to the royal commission? I do not know the assistant commissioner of the Victorian Police Force but I imagine he is of good standing. He has alleged that there are examples of organised crime and criminal conduct in our trade union movement. My question to the Labor Party is: is that an issue? Do you think that is a matter of public importance? Do you think it is a matter of public importance that we may have organised crime in our trade union movement? I certainly do. I think that is an extremely important issue for the public to know about and to debate but it is not something the Labor Party want to expose.

Does the Labor Party think it is a matter of public importance that the royal commission has exposed that some CFMEU officials, in particular Mr Brian Parker and Mr Darren Greenfield, have been exposed as being involved with Australians who have subsequently ended up fighting for ISIS. Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar were both involved with the CFMEU. Is that a matter of public importance? Apparently not, according to the Labor Party because they have never brought that forward in the time available to them in this chamber. Is it a matter of public importance that the CFMEU regularly and consistently disobeys the law on construction sites particularly in Melbourne? Is that a matter of public importance because we know recently in disputes, particularly with Boral and other construction companies in Melbourne, that the CFMEU has disobeyed court orders and has continued to engage in unlawful conduct. Is that a matter of public importance? I think it is a matter of public importance when trade unions do not obey the law but it is not something the Labor Party seems to want to discuss.

Does the Labor Party think it is a matter of public importance when the private details of 300 construction workers are leaked by an industry superannuation fund to the CFMEU? Is that a matter of public importance? Is it a matter of public importance when John Setka makes vile and insistent threats to other people in his role with the CFMEU? Is that a matter of public importance? I reckon it might be. I also think it might be a matter of public importance when people are arrested for unlawful conduct and we know at least four people have been in the royal commission so far and that criminal charges have been recommended against at least three of the most senior officials in the CFMEU. I reckon that might be a bit more important than an event organised for lawyers for lawyers to speak at. I think all of the conduct might be a little bit more important, but that is not something the Labor Party wants to bring into this chamber to debate. It is not something they are willing to have exposed and that is why we have this desperate attempt to distract attention from this disgraceful conduct and that is the only way you can describe this conduct. It is absolutely disgraceful. It should be condemned by every member of this chamber and I think in their heart of hearts it would be but for political reasons it is not something the Labor Party want to talk about.

I did say at the start of my contribution that—surprise, surprise—Labor Party lawyer groups have organised similar functions where sitting judges, including sitting High Court justices, have spoken.

Senator Conroy:  "Not while they are prosecuting cases."

That has happened on multiple occasions, through you Chair to Senator Conroy. I do not think that is such a bad thing. It is not my idea of a fun night out. I am not a lawyer and sometimes being in a political party with many of them I get sick of listening to them, to be honest. But if that is what knocks your socks off, if you want to listen to a justice of the High Court or some other lawyer, go for your life. I have no problem with that and I have no problem with people joining political parties in our country, be it that they join the Labor Party or the Greens or some of the minor parties. I do not have any problem with Australians joining political parties. Indeed, I would recommend and argue more Australians should join political parties because it would be a great thing if more people took an interest in the future of our country.

Whatever your views are, it is a great idea to join a political party and to get involved in the battle of ideas. Some of those ideas do circulate around matters of the law, although that is not my particular kettle of fish—I think that is the wrong metaphor but I cannot think of the right one. It is not what floats my boat, talking about the law. If that is what people want to do, they should go for their life. The Labor Party have done it many times and that is great. One of the most important things about this last week's debate is that clearly judges and other senior legal officials in our community will be less likely to accept invitations to such events after this stunt from the  Labor Party and the multiple stunts they have had in the last week. It will be less likely that events such as this will be organised in the future and I think that is unfortunate. I think it is unfortunate that fewer people will in future be able to go to these events, that fewer senior legal officials will want to discuss and provide their experience and wisdom to the members of political parties and our democracy will be weaker for that effect.

I did listen also to Senator Rice earlier mention that in her view this was a politically motivate commission. Senator Rice, through you Chair, whatever your thoughts are on why the royal commission was established, there is no doubt that, having been established, it has exposed serious misconduct which needs to be followed up and I am sure will be followed up. The calls to shut it down are completely out of proportion and reveal that the real reason behind why we are having this debate is that they want to cover up this corrupt behaviour.

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