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Shorten grilled as others escape

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As Bill Shorten’s very bad experience extended from a week to a fortnight and then more than a month, other politicians used the media’s focus on the Labor leader’s misfortune to avoid scrutiny this week.

After giving evidence over two days to the royal commission into union governance and corruption, Mr Shorten came away from the ordeal without having made a major stumble or looking like a goose. Indeed, he was more confident and articulate than the Opposition Leader we’ve become accustomed to seeing on our news screens.

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Mr Shorten remained charming throughout the inquisition, and was at times effusive about his determination as a union leader to get good deals for workers. However it became uncomfortably clear for Mr Shorten that it was common for him personally and his union – the AWU – more broadly, to do side deals with employers that involved not insubstantial amounts of cash being paid by those companies to the union for unclear purposes.

Mr Shorten denied he had a conflict of interest in arranging such side deals, or another deal that involved a company that was about to enter wage negotiations with the AWU paying the wages of Mr Shorten’s campaign director when the former union leader became a candidate for the 2007 federal election.

The problem with conflicts of interest is that perception can be as damaging as reality. Given the royal commission is not much more than a government-sanctioned and funded inquisition aimed at besmirching Labor leaders and tainting the reputation of the union movement, it may raise just enough voter doubts about the Labor leader to permanently diminish his credibility.

This is what Mr Shorten was hoping to avoid by requesting his appearance at the inquiry be brought forward from later this year, and by being amiable and “helpful” during the hearings. Unfortunately the tactic has not worked, as there is still a chance the Opposition Leader may be called back for further questioning in August or September.

Most memorable line of the week

Mr Shorten’s appearance at the royal commission was mercifully free of dad jokes and zingers. However he did deliver a good line when leaving the commission hearings, declining to call it a witch hunt but noting that under the Abbott Government “it’s part of the rite of passage for a Labor leader … [to] get called before a royal commission.”

However the most memorable line of the week came from wannabe Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who definitely wasn’t toeing the party line when he warned in a low key speech against adding credibility to the delusions of Islamic State by exaggerating the threat posed by them, and that even though tough policies might be popular they can still be a mistake, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Mr Turnbull’s most telling line was also a warning, this time against the ratcheting rhetoric against critics of the government’s security measures. “Denouncing those who question the effectiveness of new national security measures as ‘friends of terrorists’,” said Mr Turnbull, “is as stupid as describing those who advocate them as ‘proto-fascists'”.

Mr Turnbull later denied this jibe was directed at the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who recently accused Labor of ‘rolling out the red carpet’ for terrorists.

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Malcolm Turnbull warned against exaggerating the threat of the Islamic State. Photo: Getty


We saw what you did there, Greg Hunt

The Abbott Government has however been particularly accommodating of coal mining companies, one of which was given the go ahead this week by the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to operate on prime agricultural land.

It’s hard not to conclude the Minister did so while much of the political media was looking in the other direction – at the union royal commission – in the hope that he’d avoid much scrutiny of the decision.

And this wouldn’t be the first time a mine has operated alongside agriculture, just look at the Hunter Valley. But the decision is a slap in the face for Agriculture Minister and National Party deputy leader Barnaby Joyce, who is understandably cranky. The Nationals have been under pressure from the Greens over coal seam gas operations on rural land, and even lost a rural seat to the Greens in this year’s NSW election.

The granting of environmental approval for the coal mine, to be operated by the Chinese government-owned Shenhua Group, undermines much of Minister Joyce’s recent declarations against foreign ownership and protestations that the Nationals are still relevant within the government.

Post-Budget Question Time In Canberra
The decision to grant environmental approval for a Chinese-operated coal mine on rural land has left Barnaby Joyce a little frustrated. Photo: Getty


On planet WTF

In the meantime, our Prime Minister has also been keeping a low profile, following the time-honoured tradition that you don’t draw attention from your opponent when he might be digging himself into a hole at a royal commission.

However at one point this week, the PM was asked for a comment on the economic difficulties in Greece.

In response, the PM assured his interlocutor “the important thing is to do whatever we can to build a strong and prosperous economy locally and again I get back to the grocery code of conduct. This is about ensuring that we have the strongest possible local businesses to supply the strongest possible local businesses.

“We have a great supermarket system. That rests on the shoulders of great local suppliers. And this is about ensuring that we continue to have very strong local suppliers, the best possible product at the best possible price, so that we get the best possible deal for consumers. If we do that we will avoid the problems that we see overseas.”

Yes he did.

Mr Abbott suggested we focus on grocery ????? int he wake of the Greek crisis. Photo: Getty
Mr Abbott suggested we focus on grocery stores in the wake of the Greek crisis. Photo: Getty

Who wore it better?

Readers may recall that a few weeks ago we spared a thought for the poor staffer who unwittingly arranged for PM Abbott to walk past a rather large Reject Shop sign.

This week we should extend our sympathy to the hapless person who let Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wear a blue tie to a function also attended by the PM. And not just any blue tie but one that looked uncannily the same as Tony Abbott’s favourite shade of blue.

Social media didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the inadvertent symbolic confirmation of the lengths to which Labor is prepared to go to resemble the Coalition.

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