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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8195


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (19:45): I have spoken in this chamber before regarding the government's politically motivated trade union royal commission. I have outlined, in detail, the prejudicial processes enshrined in Mr Dyson Heydon's practice directions, which wilfully abandon the principles of natural justice and are totally without precedent in any royal commissions that have come before. I have also spoken about Mr Heydon's glaring conflict of interest in regard to his support for Liberal Party fundraising efforts. It is well known that Mr Heydon failed his own test of reasonable bias in accepting the infamous fundraising invitation, notwithstanding his subsequent scrambling, pathetic efforts to reconsider and judge himself impartial.

With the trade union royal commission's political motivations and lack of credibility well established, we should not have been surprised by the extraordinarily irresponsible and prejudiced actions last week. On Friday evening, after business had concluded for the week and the nightly news had run, Mr Heydon and his $18 million Star Chamber dumped a media statement out on their website. This statement, inadequate as it was in detail, admitted that the royal commission's persecution of Bill Shorten had ultimately been unfounded. Despite pathetically desperate attempts by counsel assisting, Mr Jeremy Stoljar, to denigrate Mr Shorten's work over many decades in the pursuit of fairer and safer conditions for workers across Australia, and despite Mr Heydon's public attempts to humiliate Mr Shorten while he was testifying as a witness, the coalition government's $18 million trade union royal commission had assembled evidence, heard testimony and come to the conclusion that Mr Shorten had no case to answer.

Let us be clear: this Star Chamber has actually cleared Mr Shorten of any unlawful conduct. This is no surprise, Mr Acting Deputy President Back, to fair minded people, and I know you are one of those. Mr Shorten has dedicated his life to standing up for working people and has conducted himself with the utmost integrity in doing so. But this shamefully biased royal commission did not admit its monumental error with the dignity that it should have. Legal representatives for Mr Shorten smelt a rat. They tried to contact the royal commission multiple times through the course of Friday, but the royal commission staff never returned those calls. Instead, they were busy preparing a media statement to be released after business hours, long after the media had filed their stories and gone home to their families. Everyone in this place knows what this strategy is known as: taking out the trash. Releasing information on a Friday evening is a sure-fire attempt to kill a story. Mr Shorten's proven innocence is a story that this biased Star Chamber royal commission did not want to admit to.

But it gets worse. It was not just that they tried to slide it out in the last five minutes before midnight. The briefing of media and leaking of information has become a recognisable weapon in this royal commission's arsenal. Witnesses have been attacked, unsubstantiated accusations have been levelled and confidential information has mysteriously permeated from the royal commission's media unit. They have been the masters of the smear and the leak and never once have they been called to account by Mr Stoljar or Mr Heydon.

However, until Friday, the official media statements providing updates of the royal commission's work had followed a steady formula. They drily outlined processes and dates, generally providing information already available in the public domain. But the royal commission's media statement published on their website late last Friday night diverged from this formula, significantly. Friday's media statement condensed some 460 pages of submissions into just a few paragraphs of text. They chose not to release the text—they decided they would do a summary of one page that covered 460 pages of submissions. Apparently, this was the key point of the royal commission's work as interpreted by Mr Heydon and Mr Stoljar themselves. So they, then, got to opine.

This is the first time that we have seen the royal commission so blatantly and cravenly attempt to shape the media and the public's interpretation of evidence and findings. It is not good enough to just put the submissions out. No—we have to spin it for all it is worth as well.

These are extraordinary actions for a royal commission, which we have never seen before. The documentation upon which the statement was supposedly based was not even publicly released so you could check the facts in the spin of their press release. The 460-odd page of submissions were hacked down to a single media statement with just one line admitting Mr Shorten's innocence:

There is no submission the Mr Bill Shorten may have engaged in any criminal or unlawful conduct.

But Despite the release of Mr Stoljar's submission to key media personnel on Friday night—so they actually leaked it anyway—the royal commission delayed the public release of the submission for another three days. You put a press release out and for three days you do not even put out the supporting documentation? Of course, the media statement provided no justification for such a diversionary delay. When the details of Mr Stoljar's submissions were finally released yesterday, the 460 pages of reflections and recommendations of the royal commission were littered with concessions of Mr Shorten's innocence. Let me run through some of the quotes for you—because there are some crackers in here that the royal commission chose to hide last Friday and for three days. Here are some quotes:

1. 'The evidence does not support a finding that Mr Shorten had any substantial involvement in the arrangement ...'

2. '... payments were not made pursuant to any contractual obligation and Mr Shorten was under no obligation to provide anything in return.'

3. 'The above matters ... do not establish that Mr Shorten promised ... something in return for making the payments. There is no evidence of conduct of that kind.'

4. 'The question is whether there may have been anything improper or unlawful about that. It is submitted that the evidence does not establish that there was.'

And it goes on and on.:

5. 'Such an official could act improperly if he or she used his or her position in order to obtain or procure a benefit for himself or a third party. But the evidence does not establish that Mr Shorten so acted …'

6. 'Accordingly, it is submitted that the negotiations .. do not establish a real and substantial possibility of conflict of interest and duty.'

7. '... there is no suggestion that Mr Shorten was involved ...'

8. 'The evidence does not, however, establish that Mr Shorten had any involvement ...'

And I could go on and on and on. So despite this government spending $80 million of taxpayers' money on a royal commission designed to attack and smear their political opponents, the royal commission hid the fact that Mr Shorten was innocent. What a disgrace they are to their profession—a professionally indolent, biased, lazy bunch of amateurs hiding behind the title 'royal commission'! Mr Dyson Heydon has acted with bias and prejudice from the beginning of this royal commission. The conduct of the royal commission has been akin to a medieval star chamber—and now they have admitted the innocence of their key target.

Well, Prime Minister Turnbull now has ownership of the trade union royal commission. Australians will judge his handling of this chaotic mess harshly. Australians of a fair mind will recognise a filthy smear campaign conducted by people pretending that they had some semblance of legal integrity. (Time expired)