National

Bill Shorten escapes royal commission findings but remains in Coalition's sights over his union past

Bill Shorten has escaped any adverse finding by the trade union royal commissioner Dyson Heydon but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signalled his government's intention to pursue the Opposition Leader over his union past, all the way to the next election and beyond.

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Industrial struggle is between unions and members

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the conflict revealed in the Royal Commission report is between the members and the union bosses who sold their members out by trading off the workers conditions for undisclosed payments. (Vision courtesy ABC News 24)

In a calculated move to tie Mr Shorten to the royal commission's six volumes of findings, Mr Turnbull used the Labor leader's former union, the Australian Workers' Union, as his prime example of why union corruption needed to be further targeted with expanded police investigations.

"To think [the AWU] would be doing deals of this kind, secret deals with employers, trading away the conditions of low-paid workers in return for what the commission describes as a paltry sum, a payment to the union itself, well Mr Shorten's got to answer for this," Mr Turnbull said.

He was referring to deals with cleaning company Cleanevent in which the AWU signed up to deals that appeared to benefit the company and the union ahead of its low-paid members.

Mr Shorten was quizzed on his 2004 dealings with Cleanevent, when he faced the commission back in July, but it was his successor as secretary of the AWU in Victoria, Cesar Melhem, who has been recommended to face criminal investigation by Mr Heydon.

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Mr Melhem took $25,000 for the union from Cleanevent in a deal that traded off higher wages and conditions - saving the company up to $2 million.

On Wednesday, Mr Turnbull sought to wedge his political opponent, saying Mr Shorten had a choice to be "part of reform" of the union movement or stand in its way.

"This is an opportunity for Mr Shorten ... a test of his leadership, and he should seize it and rise to the occasion and recognise that it is the interests of his members ... ordinary working men and women of Australia who have been so let down by so many officials of the union movement," Mr Turnbull said.

"He can pretend nothing's wrong, that everything's fine, that all of these practices were OK. He can argue all of that if he likes but he won't persuade anybody because his members, ordinary working men and women, members of the AWU, were sold out."

In response, Labor's workplace and employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor, characterised the royal commission's findings as a test for Mr Turnbull to shake off what he said was Tony Abbott's ideologically-driven pursuit of unions.

"This commission's report is full of supposition. The commissioner himself has made very clear that he has relied on hearsay evidence," he said.

"The test today, for Malcolm Turnbull, is to show whether in fact he runs the government or the government is still run by idealogues that he deposed. The test of Malcolm Turnbull today is to see whether in fact he will separate fact from fiction."

Attorney-General George Brandis further homed in on Mr Shorten, saying seven potential criminal breaches by the AWU occurred during the period of Mr Shorten's leadership of the union.

Senator Brandis announced a 12-month extension to the joint state and territory Taskforce Heracles to keep investigating matters raised at the royal commission until at least December 31 next year.

To pursue breaches of civil law, he also announced the establishment of a cross-agency working group of 11 Commonwealth departments and agencies, including the Department of Employment, financial intelligence agency Austrac, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Taxation Office.

Mr Shorten is on holiday but Labor and the unions continue to describe the royal commission as politically-motivated and flawed after Mr Heydon was exposed as having initially accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party event during the two-year proceedings.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said: "The royal commission was always about prosecuting an ideological, partisan agenda."

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