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Opinion piece: Dyson Heydon must go

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  Tony Abbott has failed to act.

Dyson Heydon has failed to act.

Now it is up to Parliament to act on public concerns about the Royal Commission into Trade Unions.

The Opposition will ask the Senate to send a message to the Governor-General telling him the decision of Mr Heydon to accept an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser fails the standard expected of a Royal Commissioner conducting an inquiry into trade unions.

It’s untenable for a Royal Commissioner conducting a politically-charged inquiry to be politically-compromised.

Mr Heydon is in this position because a branch of the Liberal Party asked him to headline a Liberal Party fundraiser and he accepted the invitation.

Not only did he accept the invitation, he did so on 11 April 2014, just two days after presiding over the first public hearings of the Royal Commission into Trade Unions.

No one can have any doubt about the nature of the function Mr Heydon was to headline on 26 August 2015.

The invitation to the event bore the Liberal Party’s logo, the names of two Liberal Party branches, advice that “All proceeds from this event will be applied to state election campaigning,” guidance on electoral disclosure laws, a space for credit card details - and Mr Heydon’s photograph.

Mr Heydon is renowned as a black letter lawyer.

Yet in ruling on his own fate Mr Heydon construed a Liberal Party fundraiser organised by not one but two branches of the Liberal Party as something other than a Liberal Party fundraiser - in fact, he has decided it wasn't a Liberal Party event at all.

I suspect any lawyer putting that argument to him when he was a judge wouldn't have got very far.

Many Australians are prepared to accept Mr Heydon’s explanation that he overlooked the invitation sent to him on multiple occasions.

But his suggestion that the Barwick lecture wasn’t a Liberal Party event at all can’t be made out on the facts.

Indeed, Mr Heydon’s own actions contradict his words.

He did, after all, belatedly withdraw from the event, telling the organisers he would be unable to deliver the address “If there was any possibility that the event could be described as a Liberal Party event.”

The inquiry Mr Heydon heads is manifestly political in nature.

It had its origin in the campaign to destroy Julia Gillard’s prime ministership.

Tony Abbott himself has said Mr Heydon’s Royal Commission is about the Labor Party, and two Labor Leaders have been called to appear.

Mr Heydon’s decision to speak at a Liberal Party event in honour of a Liberal Party luminary raising campaign funds for the Liberal Party taints the Royal Commission he heads.

In the absence of a decision to recuse himself, or a recommendation from the Prime Minister to the Governor-General that he be recused, it falls to the Parliament to act.

Labor’s proposed address to the Governor-General is consistent with Senate standing orders and long established Senate and Westminster practice.

It stands in stark contrast to Mr Abbott’s traducing of Parliamentary standards when he was in opposition.

Government Ministers now feigning outrage over Labor’s proposed action include people who abused Parliamentary privilege to make false and offensive claims against Ms Gillard.

In Opposition, they came into Parliament every day seeking to wreck and bring down the Government of the day.

Their claims that a Senate address to the Governor-General would create a constitutional crisis akin to that of 1975 are desperate and ridiculous.

Our proposed address would enliven none of the issues present in 1975 when - with the connivance of Barwick himself - a contrived Senate majority was used to bring down the Whitlam Government.

The address is a statement of principle grounded in fact: a Royal Commissioner conducting an inquiry into the Liberal Party’s political opponents should not accept an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Mr Heydon accepted such an invitation. He should go.   This article was originally published on Labor Herald on Sunday, 6 September 2015.   MEDIA CONTACT: ANNIE WILLIAMS 0428 040 522