What about the iceberg ?

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.

40 thoughts on “What about the iceberg ?

  1. 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?

  2. 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 …

  3. 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.

  4. @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.

  5. @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.

  6. @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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. @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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. @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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