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Tag Archives: royal commission into union corruption

Dyson Heydon is an honourable man, says you know who

What is notable in the impassioned defence of Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Christopher Pyne (what’s he do again?) is the choice of descriptors such as eminent, esteemed, distinguished, above reproach, honourable . . . the list is long, but you get the idea.

While Dyson Heydon may well enjoy some or all of those qualities in certain aspects of his life and personality, we ought to know by now that such attributes in no way preclude their bearer from undesirable and even unethical actions, neither do they make those actions any the less heinous.

We know this from the frequent exposure of esteemed, respected, eminent, irreproachable, honourable men (sorry, but they are overwhelmingly men) who are publicly revealed to have a darker and more dangerous side, from the eminent legal and political members of pedophile rings, to the growing list of globally renowned entertainers who’ve sexually preyed on women and children, to the irreproachable religious leaders who’ve succumbed to worldly temptations. You think we’d know by now that the words eminent, irreproachable, distinguished, honourable and so on mean, unfortunately, absolutely nothing when used in defence of men of achievement who’ve been outed as alarmingly two-faced.

And yet Abbott et al seem to believe that the increasingly desperate enunciation of these linguistic accolades will put Dyson Heydon beyond accountability, in much the same way as Abbott’s description to the court of the convicted pedophile Father Nestor as a virtuous and upright man was intended to distract from, or at the very least ameliorate, his crimes. These blokes make mistakes but they are essentially honourable men, so come on. Yes. Indeed.

It’s beyond belief that Dyson Heydon, given his experience and eminence in his profession, could be unaware that he is required to be free of all political allegiances. If by some oversight he was unaware of the nature of the Liberal Party invitation to give the Sir Garfield Barwick lecture, rumour has it that Attorney-General George Brandis was also invited to the same event some time back in April. Surely he noticed that looming conflict of interest? No?

Indeed, did no legal personage in the ranks of Liberal lawyers grasp the ethical implications of a Royal Commissioner heading an investigation into trade unions and the Labor party simultaneously giving the keynote address at a Liberal party fundraiser? Because if they are that thick, how are they making a living?

The collapse of institutions once respected and even revered has eroded popular faith in the perceived trustworthy and honourable nature of authority, simply because it is authority. Too often those who wield the power of authority have been shown to have abused that power and we are increasingly disillusioned. Or perhaps we’re on the road to a more healthy realism and self-responsibility. Like believing in the sky fairy, trusting a man because he is eminent in his profession, no matter what his field, is, sadly, a loony and outdated idea. It belongs in the era when a man’s word was binding: how many centuries ago was that?

Besides, if Abbott found Nestor virtuous and upright that tells us everything we need to know about his capacity for good judgement.

This article was first published as ‘But he is an honourable man . . .’ on No Place For Sheep.


Opaque and irresponsible

Tony Abbott promised to “restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you”.

This is a reminder of just a few of the stories that put pay to that hollow pledge.

They began their era of accountability by denying Freedom of Information.

Freedom of Information

“An attempt by technology media outlet Delimiter to retrieve the ‘Blue Book’ incoming ministerial briefing of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull under Freedom of Information laws has failed, with the Federal Government as a whole appearing to standardise around interpreting its rights as blocking such documents wholesale.”

“The first Abbott government budget will see the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) closed, and its functions assigned to other government agencies. This back-to-the-future move is likely to make it harder and probably more expensive for long suffering FOI users.

The budget shows that the FOI review function will be transferred back to the AAT from 2015 with the Attorney-General’s department responsible for overseeing the Freedom of Information Act and issuing FOI guidelines. In essence Attorney General George Brandis will be expected to drive the decades-long effort to change the culture of secrecy to one of openness and facilitation of access to information.”

The next step was to gag ministers and employees.

Keeping Ministers in check

Prime Minister Tony Abbott admits that he has ordered all ministers contact his office before speaking to the media, saying his government needs to speak with a ‘‘united voice’’.

On Wednesday, an email leaked to the Australian Financial Review, Mr Abbott’s senior press secretary, James Boyce, informed ministerial staff that all requests for interviews, right down to ABC local outlets, must be vetted by Kate Walshe who has taken over leadership of communications in Mr Abbott’s office.

In the leaked email, Mr Boyce wrote: ”All media co-ordination and requests should go through Kate first. This covers all national media interviews on television, radio and print. This includes any ABC local radio or ABC television interviews, the Sunday program, Sky News, and metropolitan print media longer-format interviews, etc.

“With any regular appearances on shows such as Sky AM Agenda, they should first have been coordinated through Kate at least the day before.”

Social Media Gag

On Sunday, Samantha Maiden reported that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had issued new social media guidelines that included a clause instructing employees that there “is an expectation” to dob in colleagues if they see them do anything on social media that might contravene the code of conduct. Such things included being “critical or highly critical of the Department, the Minister or the Prime Minister”.

The new guidelines made it a contravention of the code if anything you did on social media “could be perceived” as “compromising the APS employee’s capacity to fulfil their duties in an unbiased manner”. While this was particular to comments made about “policies and programmes of the employee’s agency”, it could be applied to other matters. “Such comment does not have to relate to the employee’s area of work.”

Raids to confiscate damning evidence in a case before the International Court were the next step.

Timor l’Este

“A lawyer representing East Timor in its spying case against Australia says his office has been raided by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Bernard Collaery says a number of agents seized electronic and paper files on Tuesday afternoon from his law practice in Canberra.

He says the agents identified themselves as working for ASIO and the AFP, and would not show his employees the search warrant because it related to national security.

East Timor will launch a case in The Hague alleging the Australia Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) covertly recorded Timorese ministers and officials during oil and gas negotiations in Dili in 2004, allegedly giving Australia the upper hand.

Mr Collaery also says a key witness in the Timorese case – a former spy turned whistleblower – has been arrested in a separate raid in Canberra.”

Next on the list…muzzle the ABC and journalists (unless you are Andrew Bolt).


Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stepped up his criticism of the ABC, accusing the national broadcaster of being unpatriotic in its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks and asylum seeker abuse claims.

Mr Abbott also questioned the ABC’s newly established Fact Check unit, saying he wanted the corporation to focus on straight news gathering and reporting.

“A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s,” he said in an interview with Ray Hadley on Sydney radio station 2GB.

“I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but its own and I think it is a problem.”

Brandis’ National Security plans.

The attorney general, George Brandis, would decide who would be prosecuted under a controversial new provision in national security legislation designed to head off a homegrown Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden.

The reforms proposed by the Abbott government are intended to make it easier for the peak spy agency, Asio, to monitor computers and computer networks. They also contain provisions which create a new offence punishable by five years in jail for “any person” who discloses information relating to “special intelligence operations”.

The broad wording in the proposed anti-leaking provision has prompted some leading criminal lawyers, the journalists’ union and media companies to warn the change could criminalise not only the initial disclosure, but any subsequent reporting of Snowden-style intelligence leaks.

An explanatory submission by Brandis’s department to the new JPCIS inquiry makes it plain that it will be the attorney general who decides who will be prosecuted under the new provisions.

We don’t want no stinkin’ accountability…

Open Government Partnership

THE Abbott government is reconsidering Labor’s pledge to sign Australia up for a major international transparency and citizen engagement initiative.

Australia was expected to formally enter the Open Government Partnership this month, joining 63 other nations in rolling out action plans to make their governments more open and accountable to the public.

Boys Own meets the bastard child of Secret and Magnificent Seven.

Operation Sovereign Borders

The current management arrangements for Operation Sovereign Borders have little to commend them. They confuse accountability and provide scope for too much buck-passing. Their only obvious virtue, if it can be called that, is that they provide a veneer of military respectability for what, underneath, is an unedifying spectacle. And it has given employment to former major-general Jim Molan, who apparently had some hand in designing the operation’s ”concept”. Molan says he is, of all things, the operation’s ”troubleshooter”. It would be interesting to know how many targets he’s hit thus far, with what effect and at what cost.

In general, the provision of information on the operation’s workings and the public accountability about it fall well short of reasonable expectations. Some restrictions on operational grounds will be necessary but blanket bans on fessing up about all ”on-water matters” are absurd. It’s the equivalent of the ridiculous notion in sport that ”what happens on the field of play, stays on the field”. If current habits were to be extended to under the water, on the land and under it, and in the air, the accountability shop could just about be shut up.

UN denied access to offshore detention camps

Inspectors from a UN working group say they were denied access to Nauru after an initial invitation from the Nauruan government to investigate conditions in the detention centre.

The group’s leader Mads Andenas told a New Zealand radio station access had been cancelled, with the Nauruan government citing “practical reasons for it not being suitable, practical for us to come”.

Professor Gillian Triggs blamed the Abbott government for blocking the visit.

“Behind this is the Australian government pulling the strings in relation to who denies the UN access, but it’s just outrageous to deny the UN,” she told Fairfax Media.

“It’s an astonishing thing to do, to deny the very groups that are set up to monitor these matters globally with the consent of most of the international community, including Australia,” she said, following a National Press Club address on Wednesday.

Professor Triggs was similarly denied access to the Nauruan detention centre in February by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on the grounds that the commission’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Australia’s borders.

Human rights advocates say this is the second time in a month that UN delegates have been refused access to Australian detention centres offshore.

Last month a delegate from the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, was refused a meeting with asylum seekers and G4S in the Manus detention centre.

Children in detention

“The Refugee Council is demanding Immigration Department staff be sacked if they were involved in a cover-up about the scale of mental health issues among child asylum seekers in detention.

Yesterday a Human Rights Commission inquiry was told that Immigration Department officials reacted with alarm at figures showing the extent of mental health concerns among young detainees.

“[They] asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting,” psychiatrist Dr Peter Young said.

Any hint of government corruption may not be discussed.

Suppression Order

Australia has secured a super-injunction order barring its media from reporting on a corruption case implicating top leaders from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam in deals with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

The case stems from the long-running allegations of bribery involving RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia to obtain contracts to supply polymer notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.

According to WikiLeaks, Canberra invoked grounds of “national security” in order to secure the so-called super-injunction, claiming that censoring reports on the matter would “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations.”

“With this order, the worst in living memory, the Australian government is not just gagging the Australian press, it is blindfolding the Australian public,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said in the statement. “The concept of ‘national security’ is not meant to serve as a blanket phrase to cover up serious corruption allegations involving government officials, in Australia or elsewhere… Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for ‘national security’ reasons are strange bedfellows.”

MP expenses

Under pressure to explain why taxpayers should spend thousands of dollars to help politicians compete in sports events and attend colleagues’ weddings, Mr Abbott said there would “always be arguments at the margins” and changing the rules would achieve nothing.

“I’m not proposing to change the system,” Mr Abbott said on Thursday. “You don’t want members of Parliament to be prisoners of their offices.”

Liberal Party slush funds

The sensational corruption inquiry into alleged Liberal Party slush funds is expected to be adjourned within days to give investigators time to examine new evidence.

Federal ICAC

It is time the Liberal Party accepted that corruption among politicians, public officials and businesspeople is not confined to the states or to its opponents.

The NSW Labor conference unanimously passed a motion that Labor’s national conference next July debate support for a federal ICAC. The federal ICAC would have royal commission-style powers to investigate MPs and public officials in relation to bribery, travel expenses and donations, while providing advice about ethical and legal duties.

The Labor motion even proposes a federal ICAC tackle white-collar crime, as the Serious Fraud Office does in Britain.

Former NSW ICAC chief David Ipp has told the ABC it is ”so screamingly obvious that there is a breakdown in trust” and that a federal ICAC is required.

Yet the Liberals have rejected every attempt to create one.

Abbott has questioned the need for it, notwithstanding his party’s appalling record on travel expenses.

We will not see the promised cost benefit analyses for anything costing over $100 million. The NBN has become a secret. Anything you want to know is commercial-in-confidence, or on-water, or a matter of national security, or before the courts. We will decide what we tell people in this country and how they will be told.

In contrast…

Peter Slipper

“In June, Mr Slipper’s lawyers argued the charges should be dismissed under the Mental Health Act because of the former MP’s state of mind.

The court was told that Mr Slipper’s life had spiralled into one of despair as a result of the criminal allegations, but the magistrate ruled the trial go ahead for the sake of the public interest.”

Royal Commission into Union Corruption

I will be recommending the establishment of a Royal Commission to inquire into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions. It will inquire into the activities relating to ‘slush funds’ and other similar funds and entities established by, or related to, the affairs of these organisations.

It will address increasing concern arising from a wide range of revelations and allegations involving officials of unions establishing and benefiting from funds which have been set up for purposes which are often unknown and frequently unrelated to the needs of their members.


Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.

Atifete Jahjaga


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Under pressure

Marco Bolano was the deputy general secretary of the HSU east branch. It was Mr Bolano, along with the national secretary, Kathy Jackson, who went to the police in September 2011 with allegations of systemic corruption within the union.

At the end of June 2012, Mr Bolano was one of eight union figures to lose his job when an administrator was appointed to the troubled HSU east branch. A Federal Court Order placed the union into administration and directed all officials to stand down. At a subsequent election Bolano was voted out by the HSU members.

Bolano then claimed he had been “bullied” and sought workers compensation which is still being paid to him through Workcover (ie government funds) at his pay rate of $230,000 pa.

Bolano’s fellow whistleblower and union colleague, Kathy Jackson is being sued by the HSU for $700,000 of allegedly misspent union members funds.

In June, Kathy Jackson was due to appear before Federal Court in Melbourne to give her defence against civil actions being taken by the national office of the Health Services Union to retrieve funds. When she failed to appear, her partner Michael Lawler rang the court representing Jackson attempting to have the matter heard remotely – something the judge pointed out was not permissible.

When Tony Abbott was Industrial Relations Minister, he appointed Michael Lawler to the position of vice president of the Fair Work Commission at a salary of about $400,000. It was the FWC that investigated the Health Services Union and led to the allegations against Craig Thomson.

As Peter Wicks pointed out in his long-running expose on this case

“Surely, taxpayers’ dollars should not be spent on a public servant meant to be an impartial industrial judge who is freelancing as a barrister for a union official with whom he is in a long-term relationship that is facing civil action from her own union.”

On Friday, Kathy Jackson was in court in Melbourne representing herself. She failed to produce her defence as directed, despite having been given more time to do so. She told the court that she was under medical direction “to disengage from this process for three months”.

I can understand her feeling under pressure as I am sure Craig Thomson did also for far smaller amounts than those Ms Jackson is alleged to have misappropriated. My question is, when your partner is an industrial judge of equivalent standing to a Federal Court judge, who is intimately aware of, if not directly involved in, the case, couldn’t he have prepared her defence documents as required by the court?

Speaking of pressure, Peter Slipper faced court again today for his alleged misuse of less than $1000 in cab charges. The court is set to sit for 6 days to hear this case which may find Mr Slipper in breach due to misrepresenting where he went on a couple of the vouchers. I wonder how much this has cost so far in police and court resources.

Which way to look?

It is perhaps not surprising that the Royal Commission into union corruption is to begin the day before the budget is brought down. In a fortuitous coincidence, Ralph Blewitt happens to be in town, so they are going to begin with the AWU “slush fund”. That should have Larry Pickering and Michael Smith and their band of rabid followers all agog again…or should I say still. Agog enough to not notice they are getting screwed by the Budget? We shall see.

In November 2012 Ralph Blewitt turned up in Australia “courtesy of a man writing a book on the AWU in the late 1980s and early ’90s.”

He told 7.30 that he had provided Victoria Police with a dossier of files “which show documents that certainly connect Julia Gillard to having a hand in the establishment of the AWU Workplace Reform Association in WA, and other matters”. Mr Blewitt declined to outline those “other matters”. The documents relating to the period 1990 – 95 appear to have been provided to him to “refresh” his memory by ‘researcher’ Harry Nowicki.

Victoria Police detectives who have been running an 18-month investigation with Mr Blewitt’s co-operation, intend to charge him with fraud-related offences, to which he will plead guilty. He is expected to give evidence against others. It is understood that in return for his co-operation and guilty plea, police will make courtroom submissions that Mr Blewitt should not be sentenced to jail.

Mr Blewitt’s travel expenses for his current visit to Australia are being met by a private citizen who has wanted to see the slush fund issues properly investigated by police and the Royal Commission. This philanthropic champion of justice is no doubt hoping that Julia Gillard may be called though goodness knows what else they could ask her. She has answered every question put to her.

The Royal Commission will then move on to the HSU. It will be interesting to see their focus. No doubt Craig Thomson will be dragged through more proceedings for an amount which, to date, seems relatively trivial. One wonders if whistle blower Kathy Jackson has made a Blewitt type deal too.

The Health Services Union has launched a legal action against its own national secretary Kathy Jackson demanding she repay almost $250,000 paid into a slush fund.

Ms Jackson in return had launched a counter-claim seeking almost hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay. The HSU is now seeking to recover money paid to the National Health Development Account (NHDA) which was controlled by Ms Jackson.

In a statement to the ABC, Ms Jackson said all the allegations against her were “false and malicious” and accused “dark forces” of being behind them. Independent Australia has done a whole series of articles called Jacksonville with source documents that provide a rather damning picture

Investigating high profile union cases should defer attention from the high profile political money laundering and slush funds that are coming to light every day, they hope.

Which way to look?