Throughout the nation lawyers gasped as they tried to absorb the pages of print that spell out the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Rotten Unions and their Connection to the ALP.
Somewhere in Canberra someone sat down with instructions to draft terms of reference that would know no limits. The result is something that looks like the bastard child of a fishing expedition and the Spanish Inquisition.
Slowly the layers are added, starting with instructions to look at the governance arrangements of ''separate entities'' established by trade unions - financial management, accountability, the use of funds. It further directs specific attention (without limitation) into those unions where conceivably most of the skeletons are gathered. The inquiry must also probe the extent to which anyone ''represented by a union'' may have done something wrong in relation to the activities of these ''separate entities'', and whether any law, regulation or professional standard has been breached. There is to be scrutiny, too, of bribes, secret commissions and other unlawful payments or benefits that flow between unions, their officers and ''any other party''. Then there must be recommendations on tightening up the law so that it can more effectively catch and punish those who need to be caught.
Then, just in case this free-wheeling assault doesn't hit the jackpot, there is this:
''The participation of any person, associations or organisations other than registered employee associations or their officers in conduct described [in all the other main parts of the terms of reference].'' Shorthand translation for that is ''the participation of anybody in anything''.
And there's no timeframe. Conceivably investigations into beastly things could go back to 1915.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott put it all in terms of shining a spotlight into dark corners. It hardly needs to be said that this is an expensive political exercise designed to run with spotlights going night and day.
Ignored in the terms of reference are sensible inquiries into how unions might contribute more fairly and effectively to a competitive economy. None of that in this spotlight shooting fest, which is designed to be along the lines of the horror classic Wake in Fright.
The interesting disjunction is the appointment of Dyson Heydon as the royal commissioner.
Apart from being clad in suitable Tory finery, Heydon has spent his life at the pointy end of the law. As a barrister and judge he was well across the requirements when it came to pleadings in the world of litigation: particularity, specificity, exactness, clarity. People involved in the judicial process like to know exactly what they have to answer.
Here he's handed a sprawling jellyfish of looseness.
Other famous politically inspired royal commissions have been much more focused. For instance, the Petrov royal commission comprised four comparatively tight terms of reference. Imagine if the current government had set up a royal commission into ''separate entities'' created by leading listed business corporations. It is entirely probable that the fingers of Attorney-General George Brandis would seize up and he would be unable to write the instructions.
However, when it comes to skinning unions his hand is relaxed and the words flow freely from his gem-encrusted Montblanc.
Nonetheless, he would also know that royal commissions have the potential to swing around and bite the government of the day on the backside.
The Costigan royal commission, created by the Fraser government, into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, veered into the bottom-of-the-harbour schemes of tax-evading business people and the activities of Kerry Packer.
The Heydon commission could just as readily catch prominent supporters and funders of the Coalition in its spotlight, dragging the focus from where it is meant to be - rorters in the union movement and their allies in the ALP.
Despite the perils, the royal commission will provide a much needed shot in the arm for the legal profession, principally the needy denizens of Phillip Street.
Forget the workers at SPC Ardmona or Toyota. This is the better part of $100 million to the feather-bedding experts.
What we shall certainly savour is the language of Dyson Heydon. We'll be in for lots more of the likes of ''non haec in foedera veni'', or my personal favourite from his judgment in Momcilovic v The Queen:
''The odour of human rights sanctity is sweet and addictive. It is a comforting drug stronger than poppy or mandragora or all the drowsy syrups of the world.''