September 26th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Abbott era ends as Liberals oust elected PM

EDITORIAL The future of the Liberals after leadership coup

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Vulnerable GLBT youth pawns in plebiscite game

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Cuts in aid trigger mass migration: more to come?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Labor campaign to 'get' Dyson Heydon backfires

FOREIGN AFFAIRS China's official media hints at power struggle in Beijing

ASIA Taiwan: no longer the Kingdom of Youth

MILITARY HISTORY Antony Beevor at the Australian War Memorial

LIFE ISSUES Assisted suicide and our society of autonomy

SCIENCE You can trust research papers (we think; we hope)

PUBLIC HEALTH Taxpayer funding offers no immunity from failure

MINING Supreme Court dismisses attack on Qld Land Court

CINEMA Technology and the antisocial network: The Social Network

BOOK REVIEW Hollow Heroes: An Unvarnished Look at the Careers of Churchill, Montgomery and Mountbatten, by Michael Arnold


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

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AFFAIRS Labor campaign to 'get' Dyson Heydon backfires

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 26, 2015

The campaign by the ACTU and the Labor Party to force an end to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, by discre­diting the former High Court judge Dyson Heydon who is conducting the commission, has failed completely.

Senator Penny Wong

Labor Senate leader

Penny Wong

The ALP and the ACTU have opposed the royal commission since its inception.

Over the course of its hearings, it has discovered repeated instances of standover tactics by officials of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and also put an embarrassing spotlight on the actions of Labor leader Bill Shorten when he was leader of the Australian Workers Union.

Evidence before the royal commission showed that Mr Shorten had received a large undeclared donation from one employer to advance his political career, and allegedly agreed to give employers more favourable conditions in exchange for payments which were described as “professional consulting” and education services.

The royal commission has delivered an interim report and is due to hand down a final report by the end of 2015. It is certain to be highly critical of both unions and employers for making private deals against the public interest.

No challenge

As the commissioner noted recently: “No court proceedings have been issued challenging any aspect of the conduct of the commission’s hearings either in 2014 or 2015. Nor have any court proceedings been issued challenging any finding in the interim report.”

In mid-August 2015, an officer of the NSW Bar Association alerted the counsel assisting the royal commission by email that the Sir Garfield Barwick lecture, which Dyson Heydon had agreed to deliver over a year earlier, was “a Liberal Party fundraiser”.

As soon as he became aware that the event was linked to the Liberal Party, the royal commissioner excluded himself from it.

Nevertheless, the ALP, the ACTU and unions that had appeared before the royal commission demanded that the royal commissioner disqualify himself or that the Federal Government close down the royal commission because of the commissioner’s “perceived bias”.

The matter was widely reported in the media, and the overwhelming weight of media opinion was that Mr Heydon should stand aside.

On August 31, Mr Heydon handed down his 67-page judgement, in which he decisively rejected the submissions that he stand down.

In his judgement, Mr Heydon dealt with what he called a “procedural curiosity”: that he should be called upon to rule on whether he should personally stand aside. He pointed out that this was normal in legal proceedings, but that if the applicants were not satisfied, they had the opportunity to pursue the matter through the courts.

Interestingly, the ACTU’s legal representatives, who had petitioned the royal commissioner to disqualify himself, were not present when the judgement was handed down, although the time and date of the judgement had been widely reported beforehand. It was an astonishing act of discourtesy to the royal commission.

Nevertheless, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver immediately gave a media conference in which he declared, in the most intemperate language, that the royal commission was fatally flawed.

He said: “Tony Abbott’s royal commission is terminally tarnished and Commissioner Heydon’s decision to dig in and stay despite the overwhelming perception of bias confirms this.

“The ACTU has always maintained that the royal commission is a political witch-hunt by Tony Abbott designed to weaken his political opponents.

“When appointing Commissioner Dyson Heydon to the role, Tony Abbott said you could ‘trust his judgement’.

“However, deciding to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser demonstrates a serious lack of judgement; and the way in which the commission has secretively handled this entire process has raised more questions than it has provided answers. It doesn’t pass the sniff test.

“The simple fact is that you do not attend a political party event if you do not support or are not sympathetic to the cause.

“Commissioner Heydon has sat in judgement on himself and found in his own favour.

“What we are left with now is a multimillion-dollar royal commission that is tainted – everything that has happened until now and everything that will happen in the future is stained by these events.”

At no stage did the ALP or the ACTU take the matter to court, as Mr Heydon had invited them to do. Instead, the ALP sought the support of the Senate to have the royal commissioner stand aside.

After several days of lobbying the crossbenches, Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, moved a resolution that the Senate petition the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, to terminate the royal commission.

Attorney-General George Brandis pointed out that those who objected to the royal commission had the right to seek redress in the courts.

The resolution would have had no legal effect, but would have embarrassed the Government. In the event, it was defeated, leaving the royal commission free to continue its work.

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