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What about the iceberg ?

December 31st, 2015

The Trade Unions Royal Commission report, released in the dead news time between Christmas and New Year has had an extraordinarily soft reception from the media. After spending tens of millions of dollars of public money (not to mention the amount witnesses would have had to spend on legal representation) Dyson Heydon has come up with about a dozen allegations of criminal corruption. By far the largest is one involving his own former star witness, Kathy Jackson. Most of the others are for small amounts, some as minor as using the union credit card to get a tattoo.

Of course, it’s deplorable that the funds of union members should be misused for private purposes, and if the allegations turn out to be true, those involved should face the appropriate penalties. But compare these allegations to the routine behavior of members of Parliament. Under the “Minchin rule”, they can charge almost anything they like, with no penalty greater than being required to repay expenditures found to be unjustified. Even while Heydon’s inquiry was running, we saw revelations of misuse of public funds on both sides of politics, notably including senior figures in the government that launched this inquiry. And the situation in the business sector is no different.

Heydon’s other allegations are directed against union officials for the way they do their job. In this respect, the unions can’t win: the AWU gets hit for sweetheart deals, and the CFMEU for going too far in the opposite direction, with allegations of intimidation and blackmail. It’s important to remember these are only allegations. On past experience, most will fall over in court, if they make it that far.

Heydon claims that his findings represent “the tip of the iceberg”, but surely, after all this expenditure and long running hearings, we are entitled to expect the whole iceberg. The Auditor-General should be called upon to investigate this appalling waste of public money.

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  1. bjb
    December 31st, 2015 at 13:51 | #1

    “Even while Heydon’s inquiry was running, we saw revelations of misuse of public funds on both sides of politics, notably including senior figures in the government that launched this inquiry. ”

    This morning on RN Michaelia Cash was hopping into the unions, and the presenter, (as typical) with most interviewers, completely missed the opportunity to have Ms Cash justify the equally egregious use of “members” money by the likes of Bronwyn Bishop.

  2. BilB
    December 31st, 2015 at 16:46 | #2

    ….and for balance lets not forget the track record of the inquisitors,…..for just one state.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-02/political-scalps-of-nsw-icac/5427260

  3. Donald Oats
    December 31st, 2015 at 18:25 | #3

    How many helicopter flights did he find?

  4. Ikonoclast
    December 31st, 2015 at 19:38 | #4

    Or as I said in a previous thread, we need a Royal Commission into Business Governance and Corruption. There’s buckets of corruption there. Corporate tax avoidance, suspiciously low tax paid by businesses, excess remuneration of CEOs and continuing scandals of illegally under-paying and mistreating workers.

    I notice that “Business Group Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has warned that authorities and companies in both countries are too laidback about corruption, bribery and fraud.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-17/australian-firms-too-relaxed-about-corruption/6784662

  5. paul walter
    December 31st, 2015 at 20:30 | #5

    The real corruption has come from the government splurging 80 million taxpayers dollars that should have been used to keep hospital wards open, including a massive bribe to legal officials in the form of incomes derived of the Commission, to ensure tha the “right”decision is arrived at.

    People just dont seem to “see” it.

  6. bjb
    December 31st, 2015 at 21:42 | #6

    paul walter :
    People just dont seem to “see” it.

    The two most common things in the Universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

    — Harlan Ellison

  7. Graeme Bird
    December 31st, 2015 at 23:01 | #7

    @bjb
    I suspect then that we have to rate stupidity as the most common then bjb. Since
    zombie-physicists vastly overestimate the amount of hydrogen. They do this for three reasons. They assume that the constituency of the outer atmosphere of very large objects is an indication of their make-up all the way through. They use outdated formulae for gravity which imply that large objects are less massive then they are likely to be leading to an insane doctrine of hydrogen self-compression. And they follow a model of fusion in the sun, that came out more or less the same month as the announcement of the alleged fusion bomb, and that seems to be part of a twin disinformation policy motivated by the need to keep the workings of the alleged fusion bomb secretive.

  8. Ikonoclast
    December 31st, 2015 at 23:50 | #8

    @bjb

    I found an article which inferred the neutrino was the second most common “thing” in the universe. It didn’t say what the most common “thing” was. My guess is the photon… maybe?

    Stupidity is more a field (like an electro-magnetic field). Stupidity is certainly a ubiquitous field. Theory has it that politino particles are the main force carriers of stupidity but tests show that spinatrons and lobbyons whilst arguably feeble individually are annoyingly numerous and play a significant additive role.

  9. GrueBleen
    January 1st, 2016 at 01:38 | #9

    @Ikonoclast

    Well if the modern cosmologists are right, then dark matter and dark energy would have to be the most common “things” in the universe, surely ?

    But I would suggest that since both gravitational and electric fields are “infinite” (and therefore last long after their originating ‘particles’ should they be annihilated) and since they are originated by every matter/energy “thing” in the universe, including dark matter and dark energy, then gravitational and electric fields are surely the most common “things: in the universe.

    Even though electric fields are only originated by ‘charged’ particles, and gravitational fields are originated by everything, the infinite nature of electric fields guarantees that they are just as space-time extensive as gravitational fields.

  10. GrueBleen
    January 1st, 2016 at 01:46 | #10

    ” … an extraordinarily soft reception from the media ”

    Hmm, not in the Murdoch rag that I usually scan in my coffee lounge/café, the Hairoiled Scum (know thine enemy !). The Murdoch lizards were joyfully triumphant as usual (and Bring Back Abbott !!).

    By the way, does anybody remember Norm Gallagher ? And Jack Mundey ?

  11. David Allen
    January 1st, 2016 at 06:30 | #11

    haha John, I thought the same thing when I heard it. “Where’s the iceberg?”

  12. hc
    January 1st, 2016 at 07:54 | #12

    Curious response by most. Sticking heads in sand and saying “look at the terrible things that are happening over there”. Most, not all. This is what two former Federal Labor leaders think:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/industrial-relations/bob-hawke-call-cut-alp-ties-with-cfmeu/news-story/65bc4b6ba61f09ce9b2ac5b7d87baf2a?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial

  13. bjb
    January 1st, 2016 at 08:39 | #13

    @hc

    Paywalled. And not a mention of it on SMH or ABC news sites.

    CFMEU has always been “rogue”, but CFMEU != All Unions.

  14. hc
    January 1st, 2016 at 08:48 | #14

    It is so easy to avoid these paywalls but anyway;

    “Bob Hawke has called on the Labor Party and the ACTU to consider cutting ties with the scandal-plagued Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, while Paul Keating has warned that trade union influence inside the party must be reduced.

    The two former Labor prime ministers, who forged a historic partnership with unions to transform the economy a generation ago, have told The Australian they are appalled by the evidence of systemic union corruption, and urged union leaders to refocus on the national economic interest.

    Mr Hawke, who as prime minister deregistered the rogue ­Builders Labourers Federation in 1986, said Labor and the ACTU must embrace reforms to improve union governance and transparency.

    “The unions need to clean up their act and get their house in order,” Mr Hawke said. “It just is appalling. I mean, I wouldn’t tolerate it. You know what I did with the Builders Labourers Federation — I would throw them out.”

    Asked if the CFMEU should still be affiliated to the ACTU and Labor, Mr Hawke, who was ACTU president throughout the 1970s, said: “Well, I would be very happy for them not to be at this stage.”

    The comments from the two Labor elders came before the Heydon royal commission released its damning findings on Wednesday, recommending civil or criminal action against 37 ­people and describing “widespread” corruption throughout the union movement.

    The CFMEU, a union with a criminal record and that has been fined for multiple breaches of the law, had 12 present and former ­officials referred to authorities for possible corruption, intimidation, breaching official duties and knowingly giving false evidence.

    The Labor luminaries’ comments stand in stark contrast to the stance adopted yesterday by Labor’s workplace relations spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, who rubbished commissioner Dyson Heydon’s report, saying it read like it was “written by a B-grade subeditor of a sleazy ­tabloid”.

    Asked about Labor’s continued affiliation with the CFMEU, Mr O’Connor, whose brother ­Michael O’Connor is the CFMEU national secretary, defended the construction union while simultaneously stressing Labor had “zero tolerance for corruption”.

    “Anyone who’s broken the law should be dealt with appropriately, but to suggest because there may be individuals in an organisation, somehow that organisation is systemically corrupt, it does not hold water,” he told ABC radio.

    Mr Hawke said the ACTU and Labor had not previously done enough to acknowledge or res­pond to the problems in the union movement, but he was pleased that Labor leader Bill Shorten had recently put forward proposals to strengthen union governance, increase penalties for illegality and overhaul political donation laws.

    “Bill is coming out now and saying more should be done,” Mr Hawke said.

    Mr Shorten, who has been on leave, did not formally respond to the commission’s report until 24 hours after its release, first on Twitter and later in a statement.

    “If Mr Turnbull and his Liberals want to fight an election on industrial relations, bring it on. We won on WorkChoices & we’ll win again,’’ he tweeted.

    In further comments to The Australian, Mr Shorten indicated Labor would consider measures to deal with corruption as long as they were not targeted solely at unions. “We want to stamp out any criminality in unions, corporations or anywhere else,” he said. “We will look at serious and sensible suggestions to improve governance.”

    He said as a minister he sent administrators into the HSU, which uncovered many of the problems within that union.

    “And as Labor leader, I have announced a series of measures designed to further improve governance of unions.”

    Mr Keating, who won the prime ministership from Mr Hawke in 1991, told The Australian the unions did not have the same commitment to the national economic interest as they did under the Accord partnership with the Labor government in the 1980s and 90s.

    “The propensity of the ACTU leadership to agree a set of national economic outcomes consistent with their members’ best interests was more obvious than today, but then the labour market today is reasonably flexible, otherwise wages wouldn’t be growing at 2.2 per cent,” he said.

    As treasurer, Mr Keating placed a priority on the Accord that moderated wage claims in return for tax cuts and social benefits while supporting tariff reductions, industry deregulation, labour market reform and asset sales that made the economy more productive, efficient and competitive.

    He said union influence inside Labor was too overbearing and there should be a rethink of the party-union nexus. “The preponderance of trade union weight in the Labor Party’s councils is now too large, given organised labour’s influence in the current and contemporary labour market,” Mr Keating said.

    “The party should be broader, freer, and whatever influence organised labour has should be such as to genuinely represent its weight in the broader economy, but not to distort the (party’s) processes.”

    Mr Hawke agreed unions “should not have an undue influence” inside Labor and that falling union membership must lead to reduced union delegations to state party conferences, currently set at 50 per cent.

    ACTU secretary Dave Oliver disputed the suggestion corruption was widespread in the union movement and criticised the “political nature” of the commission and the “extreme language” in its final report”.

  15. Ikonoclast
    January 1st, 2016 at 08:50 | #15

    @GrueBleen

    I read books from time to time on cosmology and particle physics. They are books pitched at the layperson, not the specialist, but in saying that one usually needs to have at least some undergrad subjects in the hard sciences to be able to comprehend them reasonably well; though I skip over most of the equations.

    The problem with such books is that it is often unclear when they transition from “known knowledge” to speculation. The speculation is fun but one is left rather unclear about what is currently “known knowledge”. I have found a statement that “an effect is only claimed to be discovered (in the hard sciences) when the confidence reaches 99.9999% or 5-sigma.”

    IMO, good overview books for laypersons of about a Grade 12 or Uni first year understanding of science are needed re cosmology and quantum physics and which only deal with stuff where confidence reaches 99.9999% or greater. Know any?

  16. Ikonoclast
    January 1st, 2016 at 08:56 | #16

    @hc

    I think as J.Q. indicated the actual and even possible corruption detected is a molehill being declared as a mountain. If the powers-that-be really cared about corruption they would now also run a Royal Commission into Business Governance and Corruption. They fact they are not doing so indicates selective application of morality and law.

  17. bjb
    January 1st, 2016 at 08:56 | #17

    @hc

    Thanks for that. As regards paywalls, anytime any site adds friction to their access, I go elsewhere.

  18. bjb
    January 1st, 2016 at 08:59 | #18

    @Ikonoclast

    “Classical Mechanics – The Theoretical Minumum” and “Quantum Mechanics – The Theoretical Minimum”. These books came out of public lectures Leonard Susskind (the “father” of String Theory”) gave at Stanford.

  19. Ikonoclast
    January 1st, 2016 at 10:08 | #19

    @bjb

    That is my position also. There is a whole economic “philosophy” now that that the consumer should not only pay money but should also pay in kind by work. Self-serve is an example. You pay for the product and you do the work of serving it to yourself. PC operating systems are another example. They often don’t “just work”. You as, the owner/operator, can have to spend hours correcting glitches and there is no compensation for this. But… I shouldn’t get started.

    The free rider argument might be employed against our approach on the net but it doesn’t hold water at all. If some people offer a certain product for a price and others offer a similar product for free (ostensibly) as in free of paying and free of excessive consumer effort, then one makes a cost-benefit and/or opportunity cost decision. It’s no contest in my judgement. The relatively free sites have on average better information and less junk (ads etc.). This may well change at higher technical levels. Academics will pay or their institutions will pay (I guess) for access to first class and up to date information in their discipline. In this case, the quack info, junk info and ad muck content will likely be very low and the benefit will be great.

  20. John Quiggin
    January 1st, 2016 at 10:30 | #20

    @HC What Ikonoklast said. If a police investigation had spent $50 million and come up with 12 criminal and 25 civil charges, those involved would have been sacked. The only reasonable conclusion to draw from the Royal Commission’s failure is that corruption in the union movement is a problem of particular individuals, rather than systemic wrongdoing.

    That said, I agree with the view that the unions and the ALP should break their formal ties, for the benefit of both.

  21. bjb
    January 1st, 2016 at 10:34 | #21

    @John Quiggin

    but Heydon left himself an “out” by saying it’s only the tip of the iceberg – reminds me of what Keating said of Costello – “all tip and no iceberg” 🙂

  22. David
    January 1st, 2016 at 11:01 | #22

    @David Allen
    Ice cube

  23. Collin Street
    January 1st, 2016 at 12:02 | #23

    > That said, I agree with the view that the unions and the ALP should break their formal ties, for the benefit of both.

    The formal tie with the unions is why the ALP front benches are full of reasonably-competent people rather than clinically-disturbed teenagers like the coalition. It’s a real-world testing/development pathway that gives real answers to the prospective’s ability to obtain desired outcomes in the face of opposition and conflicting concerns.

    The coalition has nothing like it. With the collapse of the relationship between the conservative parties and the “business community”, their methods of identifying prospectives are through party-internal politicking — that creates candidates specialised in the unusual political environment of liberal-party branches — and through how cleverly they can do policy development work, which is like trying to pick your first XVIII by looking at how well they do their drills without seeing them play a real match.

    [which isn’t to say that the ALP doesn’t have talent-pathway problems, but they are as nothing compared to the coalition’s. Again: Chris Pyne is a cabinet minister. This is the depth of their talent pool.]

  24. January 1st, 2016 at 15:00 | #24

    Gosh darn flat-hydrogenists! They really get my goat. And then they do horrible things to it by the light of the moon. Did you know that a kilogram of helium in the sun’s core will have about 0.00000009% more mass than a kilogram of helium at room temperature in a laboratory on earth due to its higher energy level? And by using outdated equations, like that stupid one that Newton came up with, which has no use at all other than its utility, it could cause the amount of hydrogen in the universe to be under estimated by an insignificant amount. I’m not sure where I am going with this, but one thing is clear. Flat-hydrogenists should stay away from my goat.

  25. pablo
    January 1st, 2016 at 15:05 | #25

    I don’t disagree with expressed views, particularly severing the ALP-Unions link – which won’t happen – but spare a thought for the dues paying union member who was dudded on mushroom picking piece rates, or clean event employee. These two may have been ‘one-off’ negotiating outcomes but still gawling. Worse would have been the HSU and NUW member interested enough in politics perhaps who would have heard whispers about Kathy Jackson, Michael Williamson, Craig whatshisname and the Belan family. To be sure the second named was not the subject of the RC but how on earth can the ALP ‘explain’ the rise and rise of such a man.

  26. Donald Oats
    January 1st, 2016 at 16:51 | #26

    The various people fingered by the RC should have been dobbed in by other board members, or managers within the unions in question. The fact that these individuals were able to fleece the unions, or do deals which were detrimental to the interests of their members but good for the union representatives, is shameful and deserves recognition as such. Surely if a board member is taking financial liberties with union funds, other board members would at some point become aware of this, and have a duty to act? It would be interesting to know if the police were ever informed of these activities well prior to the RC into the unions, and what the police response was at that time.

    Still, spending $80m to find a handful of known problem people seems a bit rich; I guess the question is why weren’t they being effectively dealt with at a much earlier stage of their (alleged) capers?

  27. chrisl
    January 1st, 2016 at 18:33 | #27

    Don’t worry Pablo All that corruption and dodgy deals ends as soon as they enter parliament. The veil is lifted and they are on the straight and narrow from then on …

  28. rog
    January 1st, 2016 at 19:31 | #28

    I think it unfair that unions be separated from the ALP while business interests have unfettered access to MPs. Until the issue of funding of all political parties has been resolved the alp should not be discriminated against.

  29. GrueBleen
    January 1st, 2016 at 23:46 | #29

    @Ikonoclast

    Hmmm. Is this mini-essay of yours just a wordy admission that, despite your reading, you don’t know anything about science, Ikonoclast ?

    However, it seems that bjb has pointed to a couple – the Susskind lectures books – that may meet your 5Sigma requirement. Let us know, when you’ve read them, if they do.

  30. Julie Thomas
    January 2nd, 2016 at 06:53 | #30

    @pablo

    Are you the Pablo the Ignorant I’ve seen commenting at other sites?

    It’s not “gawling”; it is “galling” as in something like having gall stones. But I’m liking the new spelling you just made up for the occasion.

    Do you often spare a thought for union dues paying mushroom pickers?

    Ever worked as a picker? I have picked potatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, and onions and most farmers I encountered were greedy lying racist asshats and they will rip anyone off, especially the foreign pickers; they lie about when they last sprayed, they fail to provide the equipment that they promise, they don’t pay proper rates even if there is an agreement and they just dare you to make a complaint. They don’t care about union rates. They dare you to make a complaint.

    And don’t you worry Chrisl, all that dodgy behaviour by employers is okay because when they get to parliament, they know that all that they do is good because they are creating wealth and it trickles down.

  31. Ikonoclast
    January 2nd, 2016 at 07:51 | #31

    @GrueBleen

    In this blog, I have always been honest about my education standard, scientific or otherwise. Level of knowledge is always relative. To one person I might know a bit of science. To another I would seem to know almost nothing.

    To be up front, in the “old days” in Grade 12 I got a 7 in Physics, 7 in Biology, 6 in Chemistry (Also 5s in Maths). I got passes in first semester at Uni in Physics, Zoology, Chemistry and Cellular Biology. I did not work at all hard to get those passes. I saw my interests going in another direction so I changed Universities and took a B.A. in media studies (TV, Cinema, Literature) graduating without Honours. Of course, that is not an illustrious academic career.

    I guess I regard myself as an educated layperson in matters of science, with some basic scientific literacy. That doesn’t mean I know much at all about cosmology or particle physics.

  32. John Goss
    January 2nd, 2016 at 08:19 | #32

    Collin Street @ 23. You have a point Collin Street about the benefits of unions for political development. The ACT ALP doesn’t have a lot of union influence, so it indicates what might happen if union influence was reduced. And the rank and file do have a lot of influence but factions and apparatchiks also have a lot of power which they mostly wield badly. The quality of candidates is better than NSW but there are still a lot of very average candidates. So an argument for not reducing the union link too much

  33. Ivor
    January 2nd, 2016 at 10:52 | #33

    Maybe the union movement would be better off with a New Labour Party so new laws can be written that don’t have to be broken to counter capitalism’s drift into inequality and debt driven catastrophe.

    Laws deliberately designed to keep workers under the thumb need to be broken. Self interested corruption is an entirely different matter and it is ALP and Liberal cronies who have taken up more than their share of time at the NSW ICAC.

  34. Ivor
    January 2nd, 2016 at 10:57 | #34

    @John Goss

    I have heard that the CPSU (with Left unions) practically runs the ACT ALP when the Left has the numbers and the SDA, funded by companies, when the Right has the numbers.

  35. John Goss
    January 2nd, 2016 at 19:53 | #35

    Ivor. Yes. the CPSU and other left unions and the SDA have a large amount of influence but the ordinary party members also have influence. (Quite a few of the party members are also influential through the unions, so they get double bang for the buck). The preselection of Andrew Leigh for the seat of Fraser was achieved despite both factions wanting a (National) party apparatchik to get up, so ordinary members can have influence, and they have significant influence through the policy committees. The less rigid nature of power in the ACT ALP compared to other States is partly because it is small, but also because there are numerous centres of power. Eliminating the unions from the power structure could actually lead to greater rigidity. But lessening their power would be good.

  36. NathanA
    January 3rd, 2016 at 13:41 | #36

    Actually I think that the union movement is the secondary story here. This Royal Commission is just another in a series of legal inquiries that demonstrate the limitations of the legal profession in Australia. Quite simply, the potential for the legal profession to engage in abuses of power are too high in Royal Commissions or Commissions of Inquiry in their present form.

    Too often the threat of perjury is used as a means to bully witnesses into conforming into a preconceived narrative, rather than as a means to get to the truth of the matter. Further, witnesses face the real prospect of a criminal conviction for their words on the stand, but their inquisitors, particularly Counsel Assisting the Commissioner, seemingly face no penalties when it is shown they have misled the Commission and by extension, the public. The legal profession has been deafening in their silence when this has occurred.

    I am really puzzled as to why the political left is similarly silent about these abuses of power. Why are the powers of Commissioners and Counsel Assisting not constrained so the potential abuses of power are mitigated? It really comes across as though many in the legal profession (and the media, for that matter) simply don’t care if one of their peers are caught lying, but heaven forbid a politician, union member or any person of a background worthy of prejudice does.

  37. lance baker
    January 4th, 2016 at 13:52 | #37

    I read that the turc found that it would be naive to deny wide spread systemic corruption, but that it was notoriously difficult to find particular instances. so if corruption cannot be found how can it be said to be systemic?

  38. January 4th, 2016 at 15:24 | #38

    The royal commission didn’t happen to look into the conduct of the surgeons union did it? Or are some unions more equal than others?

  39. GrueBleen
    January 6th, 2016 at 15:53 | #39

    @Ikonoclast

    Sorry about being so tardy in replying, Ikonoclast, but sometimes life, the universe and everything just doesn’t whittle down conveniently to 42.

    Anyway, I gather that you think you know what you think you know, and that you think that you may know more than some folks, but less than some others. There may even be parity with some folks, more or less, I guess, but of course you didn’t mention that.

    This all leads me to a reconsideration of the Rumsfeld Quadrants that made his lasting reputation for analytical learning. Let’s see:

    Q1 – the known knowns. And I guess all the stuff we think we know is in here …. except that there’s a awful lot we think is in here but if we applied your 5sigma test would really be in –
    Q2 – the known unknowns. Like dark matter and dark energy. We’ve got good reason to believe that they exist, but no idea at all what they are. Then there’s:
    Q3 – the unknown unknowns. But since an unknown unknown is unknown, we never know anything about the things in here until they cross over into Q2. Like dark energy before Hubble showed that the rate of expansion of the universe was increasing.
    Then finally, there’s the quadrant that, being a consummate politician, Rumsfeld never mentioned, viz:
    Q4 – the unknown knowns. Sounds a bit self-contradictory until one reflects on the expression “reinventing the wheel”. In short, things we’ve already worked out and then “forgotten”; like, for instance “Government austerity policies are contractionary and can turn recessions into depressions”. It seems that one is a perpetual unknown known.

    So, we can now contemplate another unknown known: that information can be passed on between generations, but wisdom must be developed afresh every time. So I look forward to seeing the application of your epistemological wisdom regarding the 5sigma criteria and just what it may mean for migrating information bidirectionally between Q1 and Q2.

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