When Dyson Heydon delivered his report, as royal commissioner, of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, he claimed that his findings represented “the tip of the iceberg”. At the time, I commented that, given the nearly $50 million of public money spent on the commission, plus its lengthy hearings governed by the exceptional powers of a royal commission, the Australian public was entitled to expect the whole iceberg.
It turns out that I was too charitable. In the months since the commission reported, a string of the charges he recommended have been thrown out or withdrawn. In fact, six months later, there has only been one conviction, resulting in a suspended sentence. The only big fish to be caught since the establishment of Heydon’s star chamber has been the commission’s own star witness, Kathy Jackson.
And the bills keep coming in. The last budget allocated $6 million more for the AFP-Victorian Police taskforce, which currently has outstanding cases against a grand total of six unionists. By contrast, taskforce Argo in Queensland, focused on child exploitation, has a budget of $3 million.
For another contrast, here are a few of the cases of alleged wage fraud, misappropriation of worker entitlements and so on that have emerged since Heydon’s Commission was launched: 7-Eleven, Queensland Nickel, Pizza Hut, Myers and Spotless, and lots of small employers in the agricultural sector. That’s on top of the general run of sharp practice, environmental vandalism, market rigging, and dubious practices of all kinds.
It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt union officials and, though it is much rarer, systemic corruption, as in the case of the Health Services Union. But the continued failure of a massively expensive, politically motivated inquisition to turn up more than a handful of cases suggests that the problems are isolated, and that the real drive is to attack unions for doing the job of representing workers.
*This article was originally published at John Quiggin's blog