Senator ABETZ (Tasmania) (12:50): Today I explore the tale of two unions. In 2011, broadcaster Neil Mitchell asked Mr Shorten if he supported embattled former Labor MP Craig Thomson, whose reputation was in tatters. 'You've run a union. You understand these things. Do you support him?', Mitchell inquired. Mr Shorten replied, 'Oh, yes. I believe him.' It is instructive to examine the parallels between Mr Shorten and the disgraced former Labor member for Dobell, Craig Thomson. Both entered parliament in 2007. Both used their positions as union leaders—Shorten as national secretary of the AWU and Thomson as national secretary of the HSU—as springboards for their political careers. Craig Thomson used HSU members' money to finance his campaign for the New South Wales seat of Dobell. Meanwhile, in Victoria, Mr Shorten used AWU members' money to finance his run for Maribyrnong.
Last Friday, Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court delivered a decision on the matter of the Registered Organisations Commission's attempt to inquire into the use of AWU members' money in Maribyrnong and other places. The question was one of whether AWU money directed to Mr Shorten's campaign, GetUp! and multiple ALP campaigns by Mr Shorten was properly authorised under the relevant legislation and union rules.
After two years of delaying tactics from the AWU to try to avoid scrutiny of these issues, it is timely to revisit what this is all about. It's worth drilling into the detail of the HSU and AWU in 2007, as the similarities are striking. A Fair Work Australia report found that Mr Thomson had spent almost $300,000 of union funds without authorisation. The report found that Mr Thomson had employed, on the HSU payroll, two staff members for the purposes of working on his campaign. This spending was undertaken without the authority of the HSU national executive, as required under its rules. It accused Thomson of eight breaches of union rules or of workplace legislation. The Federal Court concluded that Thomson had acted unlawfully in employing such staff without disclosing that fact to, and obtaining the approval of, the union's national executive. Justice Jessop found also that this was in breach of Mr Thomson's obligations to act in the best interests of the union and to not use union funds to gain an advantage for himself. That contravened three sections of the then Workplace Relations Act.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, in February 2006 Mr Shorten won endorsement for Maribyrnong. According to Fairfax, his subsequent campaign came to be known as the 'black hole of Maribyrnong' because of the funds and resources devoted to a safe seat. As in Dobell, AWU funds were used to fund campaign staff in Maribyrnong. As with the HSU, there is, so far, no evidence to suggest that these funds were used in accordance with union rules. The Heydon royal commission found that about $20,000 was paid by the AWU's national office to a Ms Ward, who had a contract for part-time work as a union campaign officer. This arrangement effectively was identical to that employed by Mr Thomson in relation to the employment, on the HSU payroll, of a Ms Stevens and a Mr Burke. In yet another striking coincidence, Mr Burke surprisingly ended up as a digital communications assistant in Mr Shorten's office. Ms Ward told the royal commission that she was offered the job by Mr Shorten, who had told her she would work on the 'Labor for Maribyrnong' campaign whilst actually an employee of the AWU.
Also during the Heydon royal commission we had the revelation of a previously undisclosed $40,000 donation from Unibilt for the services of a Mr Lance Wilson, who served as Mr Shorten's campaign director in Maribyrnong whilst on the Unibilt payroll. In the lead-up to the 2007 election Unibilt paid Mr Wilson, who was actually working as Mr Shorten's campaign manager. The donation of this position was personally negotiated by Mr Shorten, and this was at the same time that Unibilt and Mr Shorten were about to open pay negotiations with a company—an extraordinary conflict of interest.
The AWU subsequently billed Unibilt for hours Mr Wilson supposedly spent contracted out to Unibilt for his supposed research, when all the time he was working for Mr Shorten's campaign—all this facilitated by false invoices. Neither Unibilt, AWU, Mr Shorten nor the ALP disclosed this donation until the royal commission's investigation some eight years later. In his evidence before the royal commission, Mr Shorten professed ignorance; he blamed his staff. The contact officer on the return submitted to the ALP for the Maribyrnong federal electoral assembly was none other than the same Lance Wilson. No-one would have been more aware than Mr Wilson that the cost of his services was being donated to Mr Shorten's campaign by Unibilt, and there is no good reason he should not have disclosed this.
To conclude, at least for now, we have reached an interesting situation in relation to the Registered Organisations Commission's attempt to secure the documentation that could establish whether or not the use of AWU members' money on Mr Shorten's campaign, GetUp! and other ALP candidates was properly authorised. One can't help noticing the similarities between Mr Thomson's and Mr Shorten's modus operandi. The issue in both cases is whether union members' funds were used for personal political gain without proper authorisation. The same obligations that Justice Jessup found that Craig Thomson had breached are exactly the same provisions that Mr Shorten stands accused of breaching by engaging in exactly the same conduct.
I note that the decision by Justice Bromberg allows for the Registered Organisations Commission to continue its investigation into any possible breaches of these provisions of the act. I also note that His Honour emphatically rejected every single claim by the AWU that the ROC's investigation was tainted by a supposed improper political purpose. Amongst other things, the judgement by Justice Bromberg describes the AWU's claims in this regard as 'assertion', 'highly speculative', 'misconceived', 'difficult to follow', 'expressly denied' and 'unsupported by the evidence'. Damningly, His Honour concluded:
… the AWU has not presented any evidence or even suggested a case concept or narrative that provides a motive for the knowing and deliberate conduct that it ascribes—
to the Registered Organisations Commission. Justice Bromberg found that the Australian Workers Union refused to cooperate with the most straightforward of requests for information by the Registered Organisations Commission, yet its national secretary, Mr Walton, says that everything is above board, and the AWU says it has nothing to hide—as, of course, does Mr Shorten. I'm sure Craig Thomson would believe them.
The case for proper powers and penalties for the Registered Organisations Commission to ensure integrity for the protection of union members becomes greater with each revelation and court finding that is made. That is why I trust that in due course the Senate will pass this vitally important piece of legislation to ensure integrity for registered organisations to protect honest union members from the activities of dishonest trade union officials who use their members' money and use the position that they are given on trust for their own personal self-advancement.