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- Abbott has ALP-linked unions in his sights
- Comment: Nowhere to hide and no way out for unions
It's the ugly truth of how power is exercised in Labor.
Royal commission to shine 'a great big spotlight'
Former high court justice Dyson Heydon will preside over a royal commission investigating alleged union corruption, including slush funds and illegal activity in the construction industry.
Slush funds used by MPs and union leaders to branch-stack and buy up dozens of ALP memberships or to fund elaborate campaigns to depose another union's leadership. All to the end of furthering their political ambitions and changing the delicate factional balance in the party.
This use of slush funds and union resources - as a series by The Age reported in late 2013 - fuels the Labor Party's factions and reinforces, in a python grip, the relationship between Labor and its diminishing base of union comrades.
Bill Shorten, as a factional warrior himself, should be worried by this royal commission. While the inquiry will also look at corruption more broadly, Labor's greatest political weakness is how funny money is used to wield power within the ALP.
The way the money is raised (at times from employers) and handled create ideal conditions for corruption to flourish.
Sometimes cash is stuffed in bank deposit boxes or even carried around in paper bags to fund the activities of union secretaries. More often it is set up in a company structure or bank account, the level of oversight and rules depending on how seriously a union takes proper governance.
Much of the practices, while not illegal, will be indefensible when put under the spotlight of a royal commission. That is why this is such a political attack. It exposes the embarrassing practices in the labour movement and is likely to place scrutiny on its new leader.
Shorten ran a union, the Australian Workers Union, that is heavily involved in the Labor Party. He was a factional warrior cutting deals that caused him to have some unusual alliances over the years.
Even as a senior cabinet minister, Shorten's shadow hung over the grubby takeover by his allies of the Health Services Union in Victoria. Shorten until now has been ''Teflon Bill'' - nothing sticks, always a step or two removed while seemingly pulling the strings. But will that survive a royal commission? Yet despite the political nature of the attack - the Coalition would dearly love a key source of funds to Labor to be choked off - change in the union movement is overdue. The worst Labor-affiliated unions have such a heavy focus on internal party politics their members suffer through lack of service. Phantom members are added to union rolls to boost numbers in the party and awful compromises are made.
As the head of the licensed engineers union, Steve Purvinas, said on Monday this was a political exercise but also a chance to ''weed out the bad apples''.
''I would love a royal commission to fully explore the full extent of these [slush] funds and how they have been used by union officials to further their careers instead of the interests of members,'' he said.