The federal government has pounced on Bill Shorten over his failed declaration of a political donation, likening the opposition leader to disgraced Labor MP Craig Thomson.
Mr Shorten revealed to the unions royal commission on Wednesday he had only declared a $40,000 donation from labour-hire company Unibilt, made in 2007, on Monday.
The donation funded his campaign director for the 2007 federal election.
Employment Minister Eric Abetz compared that conduct with that of Thomson, who faced accusations of falsely using union funds to advance political campaigns.
“This is the sort of behaviour that … Craig Thomson had also engaged in, in using union money to fund political activities personally beneficial to get a certain person into parliament – that is what is being explored today,” the minister told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Mr Shorten dismissed claims he used his position as national secretary of the Australian Workers Union to his own advantage, as he sought to win the Victorian federal seat of Maribyrnong.
“I have discovered there was an incomplete form sent to the ALP head office and … I take ultimate responsibility for that,” Mr Shorten told the commission.
The former union boss rejected suggestions from counsel assisting Jeremy Stoljar that he had only declared the donation because he was “waiting to see whether this would emerge in the royal commission”, despite knowing about it for months.
“Excuse me, not at all,” Mr Shorten responded.
Other MPs, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, had updated their disclosures in recent years, he said.
Mr Shorten admitted to the commission that he had signed an official declaration in early 2008 that did not mention the donation.
In late 2006 or early 2007, Mr Shorten, the then AWU national secretary, had met Unibilt boss Ted Lockyer. The labour hire company later donated money through the AWU that was used to fund Mr Shorten’s campaign director Lance Wilson between February and November 2007.
Mr Wilson, known to Mr Shorten as a member of Young Labor, was however listed on the books of Unibilt as a “research officer”.
Unibilt paid a total of $40,000, with a further $12,000 written off by the AWU.
The company was negotiating an enterprise bargaining agreement with the AWU at the time.
But Mr Shorten rejected allegations from Mr Stoljar that he used his position to further his political aspirations, and that the company expected something in return for paying Mr Wilson’s wages.
Mr Shorten was also asked about allegations there was a deal between the AWU and event company Cleanevent that left workers worse off.
Mr Shorten had been the union organiser dealing with Cleanevent when an EBA was being negotiated in 2006.
The commission has also been investigating whether the AWU artificially inflated member numbers by charging Cleanevent $25,000 a year in membership fees.
“What motivated me was to make sure I could secure as many hours as possible for these people,” Mr Shorten said.
He could not recall if he had a beer at the Cleanevent hospitality tent during the Melbourne Cup carnival in 2006, and whether the EBA was discussed at that time.
Mr Shorten said he was professional in his negotiations.
“The sheer idea that two people in a negotiation may see each other periodically, socially, is not an indicator,” he said.
Senator Abetz said the revelations justified the royal commission, dismissing Labor accusations it was a witch-hunt.
Australians could now conclude that Labor’s seeking to demean the inquiry was because issues would come to light, he said.
The hearing resumes on Thursday.