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Putting dodgy politicians under the same scrutiny as dodgy union officials

When the government decided to spend $80 million on the Trade Union Royal Commission, $17 million of which is going to Minter Ellison, Attorney-General George Brandis’ former employer, its purported aim was to ensure that registered organisations are more transparent and accountable.

The Coalition said “there is clear evidence that the money paid by members to some registered organisations is being used for personal gain and inappropriate purposes.”

Considering the number of scandals pertaining to politicians’ entitlements, the hypocrisy of this statement is astounding.

They want “registered organisations and their officials to play by the same rules as companies and their directors” and for “penalties for breaking the rules to be the same as those apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001.” They have also called for “reform of financial disclosure and reporting guidelines so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies.”

“A dodgy company director and a dodgy union official who commit the same crime should suffer the same penalties. The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations, mainly workers and small businesses, deserve better. They are entitled to the same protections as shareholders of companies.”

But what of dodgy politicians?

Surely the people who hold the highest positions in the land running government business should be similarly accountable to us, the shareholders?

ASIC describes the general duties imposed by the Corporations Act on directors and officers of companies as:

  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties with the care and diligence that a reasonable person would have which includes taking steps to ensure you are properly informed about the financial position of the company and ensuring the company doesn’t trade if it is insolvent
  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose
  • the duty not to improperly use your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company, and
  • the duty not to improperly use information obtained through your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company.

Whether politicians exercise their powers and duties with care and diligence is open to debate and whether their decisions are in our best interests is similarly questionable, but when it comes to the last two requirements regarding gaining advantage, there is considerable concern.

andrew and ginaGina Rinehart wanted the carbon and mining taxes gone. Done.  She wanted special approval to use extra 457 visa workers.  Done.  She wants a special economic zone in the north and government funded infrastructure to facilitate development.  Underway.  She wants company tax reduced.  Coming.  But she doesn’t want anyone to know how much tax she pays in case someone decides to kidnap her.  Done.

And then all of a sudden, not long before the free trade agreement was signed with China, Gina, and several other rich Liberal Party donors, decided to invest in dairy and beef cattle farms – the two big winners from the ChAFTA.

When Kevin Andrews, as Social Services Minister, got rid of gambling reform laws, was he considering the best interests of the people?

When George Christensen launched an attack in parliament on the National Health and Medical Research Council which he accused of demonising the sugar industry through their new food guidelines, did it have anything to do with his family being sugar cane farmers?

When David Leyonjhelm attacks smoking regulations, is he looking out for our welfare or is it because he receives large donations from the tobacco industry?

And what of the ultimate irony of Clive Palmer’s party having the deciding vote on repealing the carbon tax when he had a high court challenge underway and an unpaid bill of $6.8 million?

Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, sanctioned the bugging of another nation’s parliamentary offices to gain commercial advantage for a company who then employed him when he left politics.  There are countless examples of similar conflicts of interest and ‘reward for service’.

ICAC has shown us that many politicians use their position for personal gain and advantage for their friends and donors. The rejection of a federal ICAC by both major parties would suggest that they do not want the same scrutiny that their state counterparts and the unions are getting.

Regarding false statements, the ACCC states that:

“It is illegal for a business to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. This includes advertisements or statements in any media (print, radio, television, social media and online) or on product packaging, and any statement made by a person representing your business.

When assessing whether conduct is likely to mislead or deceive, consider whether the overall impression created by the conduct is false or inaccurate.

Comparative advertising may be used to promote the superiority of your products or services over competitors as long as it is accurate.

Claims that give the impression that a product, or one of its attributes, has some kind of added benefit when compared to similar products and services can be made as long as the claims are not misleading and can be substantiated.”

If you apply that code to, say, climate change, our government, abetted by the Murdoch media, the IPA, and a few other vested interests, are guilty of the most heinous example of false advertising in history.

A recent study by the CSIRO showed that barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural.

“To a substantial degree, when asked, a significant fraction of the public say what they think their preferred party says.”

Obviously, the standards that apply to businesses to be truthful with their shareholders and customers are totally ignored by our government.

When climate campaigners recently took the Dutch government to court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change and ordered the government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years.

The precedent has been set and I, for one, find the idea of Greg Hunt defending his statements about Direct Action against carbon pricing in a court of law, presumably with reference to Wikipedia, absolutely delicious.

 

24 comments

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  1. diannaart

    Corruption is like sex – you need another willing partner.

    Any investigation into Union corruption is not an investigation without ALL participants (politicians AND businesses) being placed under scrutiny as well.

    LNP cannot have cake and eat it too – if it expects unions to be tarnished, then it had better be prepared… what was that saying about only having an RC if the answers are already known?

    Kaye Lee another excellent piece that like all your work should be front page news across the MSM.

    Done what I can do with Twitter.

  2. Kaye Lee

    We do what we can diannaart. This journey started in 2013 when it looked like Abbott might win the election and it still has a long way to go.

    As the government looks to weed out bribery and corruption in unions it is worth remembering…

    – the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) investigations into Australian Water Holdings Pty Ltd which have resulted in the resignation of the Premier and several Ministers of the New South Wales State Government;

    – the first criminal prosecution under Australia’s laws prohibiting the bribery of foreign public officials of Securency International Pty Ltd and Note Printing Australia Pty Ltd;

    – the Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s (ASIC) civil actions against six former officers of AWB Ltd;

    – the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) investigation into Leighton Holdings Ltd regarding alleged foreign bribery offences.

  3. Mark Needham

    Spot on.
    No politician should receive more than that which is allocated to our Service Women and Men and our Public servants who are in the line of fire, ie Police Personell.

    I am not saying that these people need to be given more, ( ???) what I am saying, is that our politicians need to paid less, in line with what they do and achieve.

    Up ’em Kaye Lee.
    Anonymous

  4. paul walter

    It is a relief that others also grasp the monumental hypocrisy of this RC.

    The mystery is, that more people don’t.

  5. Matters Not

    Leaving aside politicians for the moment and just considering ‘corporate criminals’, in particular in the US. It’s been almost six years since the GFC which cost many, many people their livelihoods, their pensions and lost the taxpayers trillions of dollars. Clearly it was caused by people with criminal intent who made a fortune and yet not one person has been prosecuted.

    Sure some companies were penalised but the individuals responsible are still ‘walking the streets’ with many still in boardrooms or in executive positions. The failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years. Last time I looked there were no corporations in jail.

    Here in Australia we had the FAI/HIH scandal. The merger of which showed moral bankruptcy writ large. The brains behind that scheme has gone on to bigger and better things. James Hardie and the Commonwealth Bank, to name but two here in Australia seem to escape penalty. Take Meredith Hellicar as an example.

    In 2009, Hellicar copped a five-year ban from managing a corporation for breaching her director’s duties by being party to misleading statements about the adequacy of a fund James Hardie set up to pay asbestos victims. … The statement, made in 2001 before James Hardie ran off to the Netherlands, claimed the fund was adequate to meet future claims by the victims. It wasn’t.

    However, after an appeal all the way up to the High Court last year, Hellicar’s penalty was cut, with an end date fixed at April 30.

    Lo and behold, on May 22 the ASIC database records Hellicar as being appointed to the board of Bagtrans Group, which owns transport company Bagtrans.

    No doubt she’ll be most useful at Bagtrans, which specialises in delivering pallets of goods to retailers

    … Of course, there won’t be much applause from the victims of James Hardie’s asbestos. It’s hard to clap when you’re dead or breathing through a tube.

    Hellicar is yet to return CBD’s phone call on Sunday to her home in affluent Sydney beachside suburb Mosman.

    Corporate crooks usually (but not always) get a ‘slap on the wrist’.

  6. Kaye Lee

    ASIC have lost 300 staff in the last two years. They have 25 officers to regulate 30,000 financial planners. ASIC chairman, Greg Medcraft, told journalists at a Walkley Foundation function that “Australia is a paradise for white collar crime.”

    He called for greater penalties saying “Often [in] Australia it’s actually worthwhile breaking the law to do the trade.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-22/australia-a-paradise-for-corporate-crooks-says-regulator/5832538

  7. Kaye Lee

    Why must they continue the lies? Does this government get its advice from the Australian? We now have the new Social Services Minister Christian Porter telling us that the Disability Support Pension is unsustainable – their favourite word. But a quick look at the figures and overall picture shows a very different picture to the rot he is spinning.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-04/jericho-disability-support-pension/6910316

    This political bullshit must stop. There should be consequences for their misrepresentation. If he is genuinely too stupid to understand then he shouldn’t be there.

  8. Florence nee Fedup

    Why would one expect transparency from this mob?

  9. Backyard Bob

    What concerns me more regarding the lies and demonisation of things like the DSP from conservatives – which I fully expect – is that the Labor party doesn’t come out slamming the confabulations. It’s up to commentators like Greg Jericho to do that job for them. Something is not right.

  10. mars08

    @Backyard Bob…. oh dear, you seem to have confused Labor with some sort of opposition party…

  11. Terry2

    I notice that, on the final day of TURC hearings on the CFMEU alleged dodgy payments and dummy invoices paid to the union by Mirvac that a ‘senior Mirvac executive has rejected the allegations’ which had previously been made to the Commission by an ex Queensland employee of the company.

    Then there was this in yesterday’s Crikey :

    “Questions regarding the credibility of a leading source of allegations against CFMEU official John Setka have raised questions for the country’s three major media organisations, which relied heavily on his testimony.

    In January 2014, Melbourne developer Andrew Zaf was in the front pages making allegations that, in the 1990s, he had been pressured to supply a free roof to then-still-rising CFMEU leader John Setka.

    Zaf was the subject of a joint 7.30/Fairfax investigation spear-headed by The Age’s Nick McKenzie, and he appeared on the front page of the Herald Sun, in a story by Carly Crawford and Stephen Drill. Setka has always denied the allegations Zaf made against him. But many in the union movement say the fact that Zaf was willing to put his name to them was a key justification for the $80 million Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. Less than a fortnight after Zaf went public on 7.30, then-prime minister Tony Abbott made the announcement.”

    It doesn’t look as though this campaign to get the unions is working out too well ; but then there is always Kathy.

  12. Backyard Bob

    mars08,

    @Backyard Bob…. oh dear, you seem to have confused Labor with some sort of opposition party…

    I think I was more confusing them with some sort of progressive party, but yeah …

  13. Matters Not

    Then there was John Lomax

    John Lomax, an official with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and former Canberra Raiders player, has been formally charged with blackmail in the ACT Magistrates Court.

    Lomax was one of two CFMEU officials arrested over blackmail offences on the sidelines of the royal commission.

    A further associate was arrested on a charge of misleading the commission.

    All allegations will be dealt with in the next month

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-05/john-lomax-charged-with-blackmail-in-act-court/6673432

    Charged and arrested. A really, really ‘bad bugger’.

    But wait:

    The Office of ACT Director of Public Prosecutions has written to defence lawyers to notify of their intention to offer no evidence against Mr Lomax when he next appears in court.

    The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said the defence would seek costs and indicated Mr Lomax could sue for wrongful arrest

    … was the prized scalp in a number of high-profile arrests during Canberra sittings in July.

    Dear oh dear! They got it wrong!

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/prosecutors-to-drop-charges-against-cfmeu-official-and-former-nrl-star-john-lomax-20151001-gjz3bh.html

  14. Kaye Lee

    The credibility of the witnesses that Stoljar is trotting out leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.

    One of the star turns in the early stages was Lis-Con, a concreting contractor employed on major infrastructure jobs in Queensland including the Brisbane Airport Link tunnel.

    Counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar, portrayed Lis-Con at the hearings as a company “forced out” of Queensland by a thuggish union campaign.

    A simple internet search shows that Lis-Con was, at the time, in a protracted dispute with the Queensland Government over an alleged $5.2 million underpayment of payroll taxes – which the company claims had nothing to do with it exiting the state.

    And the company has also been subject to allegations of gross worker exploitation – migrant workers housed two or three to a bedroom, on couches and on the floor in “Lis-Con houses”; workers systematically underpaid; subjected to bullying, intimidation, standover tactics and unsafe work practices; hired as sham contractors; paid in ways that illegally sidestepped visa requirements; and told that if they joined the union, they’d get the sack.

    Lis-Con companies were also three to four months in arrears in superannuation payments and owed workers close to $650,000 in unpaid entitlements.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-22/long-why-is-no-one-questioning-the-turc-narrative/6868102

  15. Kaye Lee

    From the same article….

    Back in Canberra, weeks after the arrest of John Lomax, new light was shed on the conduct of aggrieved local builders who’d been feted at the commission.

    Photographs of serious safety breaches on building sites were presented in evidence. In cross examination, builders put up their hands and conceded wrongdoing.

    One had already confessed to losing his scaffolding license for a period after an apprentice was injured on one of his jobs in 2013 and, more recently, to being issued with a prohibition notice because of serious safety hazards.

    To put this in context: Canberra’s construction industry has one of the worst safety records in Australia.

    A report three years ago, commissioned in the wake of three fatalities, found its serious injury rate was 31 per cent higher than the national average and its long term injury performance 50 per cent worse than most Australian jurisdictions. On average, a construction worker in Canberra gets injured every working day.

  16. Wun Farlung

    All of the sordid allegations, nothing of the defence is reported.
    I found out the charges against John Lomax were dropped via email from CFMEU.
    Barely a murmur in the MSM as opposed to the cameras at the ready when he was arrested

  17. Rossleigh

    Yep, but as we heard when the AWB scandal erupted, corruption is the only way to get things done in some countries… They just didn’t say that Australia was one of those countries!

  18. Kaye Lee

    People smuggling is bad unless it is the government paying them to land somewhere else.

    Using your position to obtain advantage for yourself or others is bad unless it’s Sophie Mirabella who needed a gig to fill in the time until she took back her rightful place screaming abuse in parliament – and didn’t that go well – or Tony Abbott’s daughter in need of a scholarship and to have your course accredited.

    Using insider knowledge for advantage is bad unless you are Mal Brough or Arthur “I don’t recall” Sinodinis in which case you deserve promotion.

    Double dipping is immoral fraudulent rorting if done by anyone other than a politician.

    Spending funds on dubious expenses is fine and dandy if you are a politician unless you are Craig Thomson or Peter Slipper.

    Naming, shaming, and showing film footage of welfare cheats, shoplifters and teenagers suspected of being terrorists is necessary. Naming and shaming corporate tax cheats will not be tolerated.

  19. Kaye Lee

    A Sydney restaurant owned by Tourism Minister Andrew Robb and his family is being promoted by a government-funded $40 million, 18-month Tourism Australia campaign that targets 17 key global markets to sell the Australian “foodie” experience to the world.

    The Robb family restaurant, Boathouse Palm Beach, is showcased on Tourism Australia’s “Restaurant Australia” website, which was launched in May, as the “ultimate day trip destination” just an hour from Sydney and the “perfect place for a relaxed family outing”.

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/governments-free-plug-for-tourism-minister-andrew-robbs-family-restaurant-20141022-11a0y5.html#ixzz3qWAwVrf6

  20. stephen Bowler

    Ok – all stuff that I believe on face value – so what do we do.

    How do we bring this stuff to those that suppprt the corruption of the free marketeers, the individulist follows of Ayn Rand, Thatcher and Reaganomics.

    They believe not even the facts supported by evidence.

    And as stated what about this current opposition that increasingly looks incapable of any cross examination of matters which we see from above as being fairly easy to discover.

    The way I see it, there is probably 6 months to the next election, is it better for us to vote for an insipid Labor party or go Green and hope that they form a coalition with that insipid party.

    I cannot see the way ahead – so so pissed of with what is happening in the twilight of my years!

  21. diannaart

    Along with an inherent inability to face reality – AKA basing decisions on facts, those at the top refuse to utilise something as basic as a dictionary, of course I was thinking of the ordinary, mundane dictionary such as the Oxford. People in power use a different dictionary:

    Nepotism

    Definition
    Practice of appointing relatives and friends in one’s organization to positions for which outsiders might be better qualified. Despite its negative connotations, nepotism (if applied sensibly) is an important and positive practice in the startup and formative years of a firm where complete trust and willingness to work hard (for little or no immediate reward) are critical for its survival.

    http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/nepotism.html

    Kind of like using the bible to justify anything and everything, the selection of a dictionary is just as useful particularly in sidestepping any twinges of conscience or guilt.

  22. Kyran

    Slightly off topic, but in keeping with the notion of double standards. An article on the ABC site seems to replicate the Thompson/Jackson saga in many ways. Not the least of which is the use of criminal law verses civil law in seeking remedy.
    It pertains to the Groote Eylandt Aboriginal Trust (GEAT), and the story of some $34mil that has ‘gone missing’. An elder, Rosalie Lalara, has already pleaded guilty to misappropriating $500k and there is a separate case regarding the spending of $5mil, the details of which are not clear in the article. It appears to be a criminal case. There is a third action against her civilly relating to an allegation she spent $1mil at a casino.
    The rest of the money?
    The trust was put into administration in 2012 and Jacqueline Lahne, interim operations manager says;
    “She believes non-Indigenous businesses who preyed on the trust received a large percentage of the missing millions.”
    The article is ambiguous as to what, if any, action will be taken against them or if they have even been identified.
    But wait, there’s more. Whilst the trust’s book keeping left something to be desired, it did have oversight from corporate Australia.
    “In a separate case, three international companies employed to give financial and legal advice to GEAT’s trustees are now being sued.
    In a civil case in the Darwin Supreme Court, GEAT is alleging KPMG, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and Minter Ellison failed to detect numerous “irregularities” in the trust’s operation in the 18 months that $34 million was spent.”
    Lalara is already in jail. I’m tipping no one else will be incarcerated and the bulk of the money will never be found.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-04/groote-eylandt-trust-fund-what-happened/6905600

    Advance Australia fair, indeed. Thank you Ms Lee. Take care

  23. philgorman2014

    We urgently need a Federal ICAC system, by which I mean a central judicial authority with full investigative powers and courts in every state. No matter how much it costs it would pay for itself rather quickly if it has sufficient powers to reign in political, corporate and union corruption.

    Unfortunately the LibLabNat Musical Chairs Coalition are the last people in Australia who would willingly agree to such a system of accountability backed by criminal sanctions.

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