The behaviour of the Turnbull Government continues to raise questions.
Immediately following the publication by Justice Heydon of the Royal Commission on Trade Union Governance and Corruption, on 30 December the government issued a press release by the joint team of Turnbull, Brandis and Cash acknowledging the assessment of “a ‘widespread’ and ‘deep seated’ culture of lawlessness among many union officials. It also said it would submit improved legislation on regulating the construction industry and (separately) on the governance of trade unions. It promised to give full and careful consideration to the recommendations in the final report and “announce a detailed response to the public in early 2016”.
Four out of the twelve parts of Volume 2 of the final report contained critical commentary on the behaviour of the CFMEU. One such commentary (on CFMEU Queensland) provides an idea of the tone, viz
“The mass destruction of documents by the CFMEU Queensland was as great a danger to the rule of law as any threat of violence on a building site, any illegal strike, any corrupt payment, any blatant non-compliance with legal standards”.
Potential criminal offences were listed and 10 CFMEU officials or former officials were listed as referrals for possible prosecution.
Today’s Australian reports that, notwithstanding the widespread corruption and criminality revealed in the report, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash had indicated that the government would “not move to deregister the CFMEU but will instead seek to transform the ‘perverse culture’ and ‘mindset’ across the construction industry” (see Heydon – CFMEU). It appears that, as the report did not recommend deregistering, the government has decided there should be no deregistration come what may. The report itself offer some support for this viz “Cancelling the registration of the whole union may have a disproportionate effect on union members who have not been involved in illegal activity”.
But this seems an odd comment for the government to accept as a basis for a decision on the treatment of the CFMEU: would investors in a project be allowed to keep their investment if they were not involved in the criminal activity which caused the project to collapse? The large number of CFMEU members who have participated in marches may have included some who have not been involved in illegal activity but they certainly supported it and would have been well aware of the lawless action being taken by their union.
More importantly, the decision and other comments by Minister Cash, doubtless with guidance from Turnbull, in this article seem to be sending the “soft” signal before the detailed response to the report is made. She is wrong, for example, to imply that lawless action is confined to the construction industry and that legislative reform of the regulatory arrangements in that industry should be the principal aim.
My letter published in the AFR (see Heydon Report – IPE Reaction) points out (in the unexpurgated version) that “Australia’s workplace relations problems derive from the collective bargaining arrangements established under the Gillard government. These arrangements have provided unions with a quasi-monopoly position that allows them and those directly involved in the bargaining of deals to garner benefits to the disadvantage of others and the wider community. In short, the regulatory system itself creates a situation which allows exploitation and the kind of offences identified in Heydon”. The article published in the AFR by HR Nicholls Society President Bisits also includes a suggestion to trial “alternatives, free of the Fair Work Commission, as long advocated by Senator Bob Day”.
Turnbull’s handling of the misbehaviour of Briggs and Dutton continues to attract criticism and questions as to his judgement as a leader. In this article (see Minsterial Behaviour above) a genuine expert on gender relations, Bettina Arndt, argues “There’s a pattern emerging here as the Prime Minister seems determined to go overboard on such issues — stressing the seriousness of the “inappropriate behaviour” and making endless motherhood statements about “respect for women”. …Many women were concerned by Turnbull’s first major policy announcement on domestic violence, which whitewashed this complex issue by presenting men as the only villains… Politicians who play gender politics risk antagonising not only men fed up with the constant male-bashing but also women determined not to live their lives as victims, women who want responsibility for aggressive, offensive behaviour to be sheeted home to the true perpetrators — male or female”.
A Hydrogen Bomb?
There appears to be a serious doubt that North Korea has tested a hydrogen bomb, which is much more destructive than a nuclear one. But the fact that this is the fourth such test, and that NK has simply ignored the sanctions (partly because China has helped it do so), raises the same question as arises with Islamic State and other extremist Islamist groups. How long do western countries allow extremist groups, of which NK is clearly one, operate with weaponry that has the capacity to be massively destructive? At present the extremist Islamic groups do not appear to have such weaponry, and NK’s stock is small. But …
Saudi Arabia v Iran
The 43 executions by Saudi Arabia has produced widespread protests against that country even though it appears that most of those executed were members of Al Qaeda ie the Saudis can claim that this was (mainly) an anti-terrorist action. That it also involved the execution of a Shia living in SA, but protesting against the royalty running SA, has brought Shia Iran into the protesters. But Iran is reported as having executed last year many more of its citizens than SA did of its. It is difficult to find sympathy with either side.