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No iceberg, no tip

September 10th, 2016

When Dyson Heydon delivered the report of the Royal Commmissioner into 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 nearly $50 million of public money and lengthy hearings with 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 In the months since the Commission reported, a string of the charges he recommended have been thrown out or withdrawn In fact, six months later, there has only been one conviction, resulting in a suspended sentence.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: 7-11 ( million underpayment), 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 practive, 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.

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  1. Ivor
    September 10th, 2016 at 17:14 | #1

    While this is true:

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt union officials

    It is just as true that

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt police officials

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt business officials

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt religious officials

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt ALP officials

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt coalition officials

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt local government officials

    and of course

    It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt journalists.

  2. bjb
    September 10th, 2016 at 17:18 | #2

    Well said JQ.

  3. John Quiggin
    September 10th, 2016 at 17:52 | #3

    @Ivor

    Well, yes, that was the point.

  4. Florence nee Fed up
    September 10th, 2016 at 18:01 | #4

    I see police have got around to talking Ralph Blewitt from Pink Batt RC. He has threatened to cross examine Gillard if charged.

    Why does it take so long. I am sure some will take opportunity to have another go at Shorten and Gillard.

  5. BilB
    September 10th, 2016 at 22:42 | #5

    Now why are our news corp incapable of seeing past the smoke and mirrors show in this way? Is it that they just print news releases without thinking about or examining them?

  6. GrueBleen
    September 11th, 2016 at 02:27 | #6

    @Florence nee Fed up
    Your #4

    Precisely, Florence. Whatever ProfQ may think, the whole point of the RCTUGC was just to get Gillard and Shorten, and it couldn’t even manage that.

    My my but times, and Unions, and Royal Commissions, have changed since the glory days of Norm Gallagher and Jack Mundey.

  7. Ikonoclast
    September 11th, 2016 at 05:35 | #7

    Where are the following? Royal Commissions into;

    (a) Business Governance and Corruption.
    (b) Banking Governance and Practices.
    (c) Corporate Tax Avoidance, Cartels, Collusion and Related Practices.
    (c) Human Rights Violations in Refugee Camps.
    (d) Illegal Wars and War Crimes.

    There’s a few for starters.

  8. tony lynch
    September 11th, 2016 at 09:44 | #8

    I’m surprised, Ikonoclast, given your general political analysis, that you think a Royal Commission Driven Process would have any meaningful impact on these institutions and practices at all. (Is this your residual Democratic Reformism we see here?)

  9. Ikonoclast
    September 11th, 2016 at 10:59 | #9

    @tony lynch

    “(Is this your residual Democratic Reformism we see here?)”

    Reform temporarily ameliorates worker and underclass suffering and at the same time heightens the inherent contradictions of capitalism. The interim crisis is averted and the next, greater crisis is brought forward. There are contradictory tendencies and contradictory moral imperatives involved. No one action can be right at all moral levels. We contend every day with issues and questions where an action can be right at one level and wrong at another level. The goal of moral or ideological purity in itself is misguided and unrealistic. It usually results in damaging fundamentalism of one form or another.

  10. deepsea
    September 11th, 2016 at 13:17 | #10

    It never fails to strike me (if provoked we will) that the payers of corruption ,the people who have the money to institute corruption and make it happen by tossing $$$ are in fact simply victims ..albiet innocent ones at that !!
    Gillards calculated response to howards ” little children are scared” land rights take back intervention, Her own little children are scared retort ” The Royal Commission into Protected Pedophiles” was designed to get a scalp !! Atta Girl !! little wonder Jonesie and the coterie or coiterous cabal of closet queens in the press and parliament attacked her mercilessly.. literally thew her overboard like a reffos kid, …. in a chaff bag out to sea

  11. deepsea
  12. Ken_L
    September 11th, 2016 at 13:54 | #12

    Well I suspect the real drive was to root out corruption and malpractice in unions. Right-wingers have long convinced themselves they must be endemic, and they’ll find the evidence if only they look hard enough. The idea that talented people could devote themselves to the service of fellow-workers without there being a quid in it for them somewhere is alien to their whole worldview.

  13. hc
    September 11th, 2016 at 18:45 | #13

    Generally, these “commissions” and “investigations” are ultra costly. Rather than seeing a political angle I wonder if the law profession simply acts to get some fees. The investigation into sexual abuse at the Defense Force Academy cost $147m and almost no one was prosecuted. They now do not want a Royal Commission presumably because it would go nowhere either.

    The legal profession seems to me to always favor Commissions and inquiries that give them huge fees. In this case, use the police to prosecute those who committed offenses (if they can be) and change the culture at Duntroon. But $147m!!!!!!!!

  14. jrkrideau
    September 12th, 2016 at 01:23 | #14

    @Ken_L
    From a Canadian site that no longer exists.
    I guess we now know why right-wingers are so paranoid that lazy, self-interested gits are ripping off the welfare system. That’s what they think is going on, because it’s exactly what they do when given the opportunity. Sixth Estate

  15. rog
    September 12th, 2016 at 09:33 | #15

    @hc Is that true HC? My investigations reveal that the cost of the DLA Piper Review to be ~$11M.

  16. tony lynch
    September 12th, 2016 at 10:29 | #16

    @Ikonoclast

    No issue here of ‘moral purity’ so far as i can see, and I’m not convinced by the ‘true on one level’, ‘not true on another’ idea either, especially when it involves the claim that “no one action can be right at all moral levels”. What does that mean? How, say, is keeping a promise to help you move only right on ‘some moral level’? On what ‘moral levels’ is it not right? Should we now say “Well done! That was the right thing to do – but, of course, only on this moral level. On another moral level…’?

  17. Julie Thomas
    September 12th, 2016 at 11:58 | #17

    @tony lynch

    I’m going to give this a go in my impulsive and spontaneous way of acting while Ikon ponders the issue. 🙂

    “Should we now say “Well done! That was the right thing to do – but, of course, only on this moral level. ”

    How about this? Just say well done. Why would you want to point out that the person could have done better unless you are a tiger mom or a boss wanting to make a bigger profit?

    If the recipient of your judgement asks for some feedback some you as to why you judged their action to be well done, then you can provide this person who has done a good thing but not a perfectly good thing with the reasoning that underpins your judgement.

    There are always better things that one could have done in any situation; there is no perfection in this universe.

    Or you could substitute “true from my viewpoint” but “not true from your viewpoint” and see that there is no moral purity unless you believe in a judgemental God.

  18. David
    September 12th, 2016 at 12:11 | #18

    By a Commissioner who withdrew from a Liberal event as he thought it might appear to the malicious that he is biased – really ! It appeared to me he withdrew then as he believed he was about to be exposed by the media [Letitia Bourke] he was due to attend the function. He did not notify any intention to withdraw for the year prior during which he indicated a willingness to attend. Apparent bias ! Consider the inflammatory comments to Shorten who peformed admirably in giving evidence] AND though finding 1. no misconduct by Gillard finding a preference for the credit of a contrary witness which was not necessary in the light of his finding 1.

  19. Apocalypse
    September 12th, 2016 at 12:24 | #19

    @hc

    These commissions and investigations are not just costly, they rarely result in prosecutions, because the standard and type of of evidence that prosecutors require to proceed is rather higher than these investigations tend to produce, because of their inquisitorial nature. All sorts of crimes are supposedly uncovered by bodies like ICAC in NSW and the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland but rarely do people ever get prosecuted, let alone convicted.

  20. Newtownian
    September 12th, 2016 at 12:27 | #20

    Thanks for the update John. No surprises I guess that the commission is more about PR spin aimed at distracting the public and providing superficial content for the likely of the Daily Telegraph, the Australian and other Murdoch rags.

  21. Ikonoclast
    September 12th, 2016 at 12:50 | #21

    @tony lynch

    Moralities are relative to cultures and situations. If some tribes use infanticide as a survival tactic for the good of the whole tribe, this act is wrong at one level, taking human life, yet right at another level in protecting human lives. Their protecting of some lives carries some implicit proof of a choice for this value (protecting tribal lives). This standard does not need to be imported from outside their system (say from our system). Thus they will break the standard at one level to protect the standard at another level. (In our society, some individuals still commit infanticide so of course we cannot claim it is a tribal phenomenon only.)

    Just about any action will have some moral ambivalence about it. If I acquire and hoard a little bit of wealth, just at middle class levels, to help protect and secure my children, I unavoidably ensure that my family consumes more than its fair share of the globe’s wealth and dwindling resources. In protecting my children I harm others. If I strike and fight for fairer wages and get them, I take advantage of the occupation of Australia, all imperialist history and being part of the “aristocracy of labour”. There is no way that any action is morally “pure” or right at all levels. IMO.

    It’s interesting. Legally it is necessary to assume innocence and need proof of the breaking of a law. This is because legally speaking innocence is general and guilt is particular. Everything is permitted except that which is proscribed or the neglect of what is prescribed. Morally, guilt is general. Everyone is morally guilty of something and many acts, maybe most acts, are morally wrong at some level.

  22. David
    September 12th, 2016 at 14:39 | #22

    sorry John my comment at 12.11 should be Latika Bourke

  23. hc
  24. Ratee
    September 12th, 2016 at 17:38 | #24

    @jrkrideau
    Exactly, your own world view influences your analysis of other peoples motives and if your first inclination is to seek a “win” over someone then you’ll probably see that in others – thus justifying your own world view. Self reinforcing and self justifying.

  25. paul walter
    September 12th, 2016 at 20:33 | #25

    Does a $ hundred and sixty million wasted on a plebiscite for something that could be done in a moment in parliament to do down a minority represent the misappropriation of funds for self interested purposes?

    Is this corruption?

  26. paul walter
    September 12th, 2016 at 20:33 | #26

    Let alone mention of Geoge Brandis.

  27. September 12th, 2016 at 21:56 | #27

    @paul walter

    Well, it will certainly result in a few “jobs for you mates”.

    It is, of course, totally cynical. You could get 100 Australians chosen to be representative of Australian society. And you could get them to listen to the arguments of both sides for a couple of days. And then they could decide. Alternatively, you could take the people we already pay to do this sort of stuff, politicians, and ask them to do their jobs.

    Yeah, I guess refusing to do your job and then paying $160 million, and then after that reserving your right not to do what the $160 million decided, yeah, that sounds corrupt to me.

  28. rog
    September 13th, 2016 at 07:01 | #28

    @Ratee Thanks, it seems that to a large extent the cases reported reached a satisfactory conclusion, which may be viewed as cost effective?

  29. rog
    September 13th, 2016 at 10:40 | #29

    @rog That was meant for HC

  30. GrueBleen
    September 13th, 2016 at 17:28 | #30

    @Ikonoclast
    Your #21

    So, maybe there should be some kind of moral judgement that mirrors the Scottish set of verdicts: Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven (I do sincerely believe we should have a ‘Not Proven option to put before juries).

    Otherwise, yes, ambivalence is inescapable. Especially if you are a devotee of deontological morality (and who isn’t given the total impracticality of utilitarian versions) because a deontological morality is, in fact, a sorta complex axiom based system – roughly the kind of beast that Goedel proved was either incomplete or inconsistent or both. And boy, aren’t all of our moral systems just like that.

  31. rog
    September 13th, 2016 at 18:44 | #31

    I think the cost of the plebiscite and other investigations are a function of democracy and also a indicator of a healthy functoning democracy. At the time they might seem to be extravagant and pointless but they do gently move all of us along, into another place, usually a better place.

    It’s a process that can’t be hurried.

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