Stats don't support union corruption finding

Statistics simply don't support trade union royal commission claims of "widespread" corruption in the union movement.

In Queensland, for example (a major focus of the commission), one union official out of several hundred officials and organisers working in this state, was referred for prosecution. Two corporate executives were also referred.

Dyson Heydon's royal commission delivered a scathing review of unions, but did it reflect reality?
Dyson Heydon's royal commission delivered a scathing review of unions, but did it reflect reality? Photo: Jessica Shapiro

That single Queensland union referral is a long way from Dyson Heydon's claims of "deep-seated" corruption.

Indeed the commissioner's findings are no more than his opinion:

"A finding of a Royal Commissioner is an expression of opinion, not a determination of legal rights." (Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption Report, 2015, Vol 1, [139])

Any case of corruption, of course, is one too many. Union officials abusing their positions is something that cannot be tolerated, and should be referred to police.


Our objective of improving society for  members and the community is clearly undermined when individuals behave corruptly.

But union members of Queensland – some 360,000 of them – will find it hard to believe how Mr Heydon's brush has slapped tar onto all those union officials and organisers who represent them.

It is a fabrication for Mr Heydon to say "you can look at any unionised industry" and find "rich examples" of wrongdoing.

Imagine if the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse drew the conclusion that the problem was widespread within the clergy generally, on the basis of findings against a relatively small number of priests. There would be community outrage and justifiably so!

Mr Heydon's broadbrush smear is unacceptable and calls into question the objectivity of the report.

For example,  teachers, nurses, firefighters, public servants, miners, manufacturing workers, police, childcare workers and train and truck drivers (and the list goes on) know their unions have been fighting for their wages and working conditions without any hint of wrongdoing. Union officials are not "louts, thugs, bullies" as Mr Heydon suggests.

Mr Heydon's report recommendations and reform proposals, if adopted in full, would undermine the ability of employees to organise and protect their rights at work.

In Queensland particularly, some recommendations would strip away workplace safety protections.

And incredibly, one recommendation would give Parliament the power to determine who is eligible or ineligible to run for elected office.

Recommendations which improve accountability and ensure unions can better organise workplaces should be welcomed.

However, the union movement needs to be involved in these considerations rather than have them dictated.

Unions could justifiably point to business and politics  and ask why they are not facing similar recommendations and extraordinary penalties.

A federal body examining corruption would likely find examples throughout society, including the big banks and investment schemes, as well as political parties. The Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW found numerous examples of wrongdoing by politicians.

Individuals in corporate Australia, government, parliament and in registered organisations such as employer groups and trade unions, who participate in corrupt behaviour should be appropriately exposed and penalised. All should be held accountable.

Malcolm Turnbull claims unions will be better for any new laws arising from the recommendations. It would be stupid for Mr Turnbull to knock back this opportunity to apply such noble ideals to the corporate and political arenas.

John Battams is Queensland Council of Unions president.