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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11743


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (18:38): I rise to talk about the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which perhaps we should now call the Prime Minister's Royal Commission into the Labor Party. After all, although we have recently seen Caesar blunder his way through to his own downfall, we are yet to see any actual shift in substance from Brutus. I, for one, expect the member for Wentworth to continue to cash in on his party's setting up of this loaded royal commission.

This royal commission is a piece of political theatre: nothing more; nothing less. Amidst their frenzied attacks on public spending, the government party somehow manages to find the time and an estimated $80 million of public money to cover the cost of this royal commission. The Australian public can now see this royal commission for what it is: a political production, produced by the Liberal Party of Australia. Its aim was to discredit the Australian Labor Party by attacking the Leader of the Opposition and trying to draw a link between us and union wrongdoing.

I want to recap some of the episodes of this drama.    First, as with all good productions, you need to figure out your production team. Given the thousands of barristers all around Australia, it beggars belief that the commissioner, the chief counsel and the deputy counsel would all come from the one small chambers in Sydney. Second, you need to control who appears on the stage. And so we saw Dyson Heydon issuing decrees to control which witnesses could appear. Even more worryingly, we have recently come to learn of witness being coached by the staff of the commission. Then you have your actors, but what about their lines? It seems that commission staff have had a part to play in prepping people before they take the stage. The other thing with lines, of course, is that it is no good having them challenged—you say your line and then leave the stage. We have seen people allowed to say whatever they like, all in time for the next day's papers—never mind about having a chance to cross-examine salacious accusations. That just would not be in the script. Then there was Kathy Jackson and Dyson Heydon's decision to classify evidence relating to her fraud as irrelevant. Here was the first real example of corruption found in a union and it was deemed to be irrelevant. It was not irrelevant to a court in Victoria which subsequently convicted Ms Jackson, I might add. Then we saw the Leader of the Opposition thrust onto the stage. This was supposed to be the main event, but it never quite materialised no matter how hard they dug. There were no briefings for Bill Shorten from staff who helped Kathy Jackson. Thousands of pages of material were dumped on him just days before, and he faced 800 questions. Imagine any other political party doing a similar thing. I would like to have seen Mr Downer talk about the Australian Wheat Board and the bribes to Saddam Hussein in answer to 800 questions before a royal commission.

This very evening our national broadcaster, on its flagship program, Four Corners, will have the unedifying spectacle of a quasi-judicial officer, Michael Lawler, one of the highest-ranking members of the Fair Work Commission—no less than a vice president of the Fair Work Commission, paid $450,000 per annum—attempting to explain his involvement in this corruption scandal. Most Australians, except for a few frightbats opposite, support the Fair Work Commission as a great Australian institution that has done much to minimise disruption in the economy by ensuring that disputes between employers and employees can be resolved, fairly and justly. Minimising disputes at work while maximizing fairness at work is its mission. But its mission is undermined by retaining Lawler as its second-most senior official. And, while it is a dangerous to review an operatic performance before it begins, this much we know: Michael Lawler has been called by some people an idiot savant of a powerful Liberal-aligned family; his father, as has been reported recently, is a close associate of the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah. Michael Lawler is a beneficiary of a multimillion dollar crime-spree engaged in by his partner Kathy Jackson, then in charge of a union. We do not yet know the full extent of Lawler's benefit from her activities. We do know that he purports to own a house—which was the victim of a supposed arson attack that police rejected as arson—that had mortgage payments serviced by Ms Jackson. Jackson's sole source of funds, it appears, was money looted from her members' funds. It appears Mr Lawler also, apparently by his own admission, assisted Jackson's manoeuvring aimed at seizing control of the union—tactics that have now switched to desperately avoiding financial accountability for her large-scale embezzlement. Michael Lawler now appears to admit assisting Jackson in that legal defence while claiming full pay from the Commonwealth and lodging paperwork for various kinds of leave—long leave, sick leave or whatever.

Parliament has tarried too long in dealing with this morally bankrupt judge on the bench. He is, it is becoming clear, the Murray Farquhar of the Fair Work Commission. He has benefited from fraud, he has attempted to cover up that fraud by using multiple legal manoeuvres, he has attempted to gain first-mover advantage by reporting other, smaller-scale fraudsters and he seems to have fraudulently claimed leave while scandalously continuing to be paid as if he was still working. Lawler will inevitably be removed by this parliament from the Fair Work Commission. His behaviour means he does not deserve high judicial office. Accordingly, in light of what Lawler admits on tonight's Four Corners, I will be referring the commissioner himself to the Australian Federal Police for his involvement in this scandal and his involvement in and the benefit from the Jackson scams, in addition to his own leave claims, which appear to be in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There was no reason to think this son of the Liberal aristocracy would go so horribly wrong and become such a profound embarrassment to the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, which prides itself on faith and piety. When the former Prime Minister appointed him, he had no way of knowing he was about to appoint a person of Mr Lawler's nature, but that is what he did.

Indeed, lest we think that affection of the strongly conservative wing of the Liberal Party for the Lawler clan is a matter of distant memory, I refer the House's attention to the most recent edition of the historically significant organ NewsWeekly, which once fought the good fight in the Cold War and continues to formally represent the views of the National Civic Council, which many assumed was no longer with us. In its pages Peter Westmore, the President of the NCC, denounces the recent reporting of The Australian newspaper that links Sir Peter Lawler's presence at an audience with the Queen here in Parliament House with his son's high office. Mr Westmore even goes so far as to accuse the new Prime Minister of leaking Lawler's presence at this function to damage his predecessor—surely a scurrilous claim!

Mr Westmore goes on to insist that Sir Peter Lawler's own eminence justified his audience and suggested that, while Michael Lawler was guilty, this guilt ought not be transferred to his father. Fair enough. I do not seek to pass comment on Sir Peter's service, which appears to be illustrious. I seek nothing less than decisive action on his offspring. He must go, and those in this place willing to defend him must and will be held to account. Now we have a new Prime Minister who has his own colourful business past, including the annihilation of Solomon Islands forests, and who should maintain the high standards of public life that he talks about so often and agree to the removal of this rotten apple in the Fair Work Commission barrel.

In summary, for the removal of doubt, it is crystal clear that Michael Lawler has been the beneficiary of fraud, has engaged in bogus leave claims on his own and must as a matter of urgency be sacked by this parliament from the position of trust he is privileged to hold. The integrity of the Fair Work Commission and this parliament, the only body capable of removing him—he is not subject to any of the normal practices of an organisation, with superiors able to review someone's work—depend on it. It is very unusual that we have a person in high judicial office who cannot be removed by people in his own organisation, and it is very strange that the rules of this organisation were written so that he could only be removed by parliament. We must step up to our duty and see that someone who spends nine months on $450,000 at the taxpayers' expense in a private matter working on behalf of his partner ought to be removed by this parliament.