The Federal Opposition will next week attempt to remove trade unions royal commissioner Dyson Heydon by moving a Senate motion.
Justice Heydon on Monday announced he would remain as head of the commission despite pressure from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Labor Party for him to stand down.
The ACTU argued Justice Heydon’s decision to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser created a perception of bias, even though he withdrew from the event.
He ruled it was not the case that a “fair-minded lay observer” would conclude that he would be incapable of bringing an “impartial mind” to the work of the commission.
Labor is now seeking crossbench support to pass a motion requesting Governor-General Peter Cosgrove to intervene and remove Justice Heydon from the royal commission.
“Labor’s concerns about Dyson Heydon’s conduct have not been satisfied by anything he said or published yesterday,” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said.
“He’s prepared in the middle of the royal commission to speak at a Liberal Party event, organised by branches of the Liberal Party.
“That’s the central proposition here, and Dyson Heydon, despite writing 67 pages of reasons, has actually sidestepped it.”
The ACTU is also considering whether it will appeal the decision.
The Federal Government, said the Senate motion is a stunt that will not influence the Governor-General.
“The clerk of the Senate has already acknowledged and indicated that any such motion, if carried, would be of no legal consequence,” Government Senate leader Eric Abetz said.
“It is of no legal consequence because as everybody knows in the Westminster system, other than with the reserve power, the Governor-General acts on the advice of his or her ministers and the Labor party know that,” Senator Abetz said.
Heydon’s decision does not ‘stand up to public scrutiny’
Justice Heydon’s decision to remain as commission head will have long-term consequences for any of the inquiry’s findings, the NSW Council of Civil Liberties said.
The organisation’s Stephen Blanks said Justice Heydon’s reasoning to stay would not stand up to public scrutiny.
“The question here is whether he’s correctly met the public mood,” he told the ABC’s AM program.
“There’s obviously going to be a high degree of contention about whatever he recommends.
“Whether or not the recommendations withstand scrutiny in part will depend on whether the public have faith in his objectivity.”
Justice Heydon spent more than a week assessing submissions from the ACTU, AWU and CFMEU for him to recuse himself as commissioner.
He described his reasoning as “legal” rather than “political”.
Much of the argument against Justice Heydon staying on as commissioner was based on emails exchanged between him and the organisers of the Sir Garfield Barwick Address, which identified it as a Liberal Party event.
In his reasons for not disqualifying himself, Justice Heydon admitted he had no computer and was “incapable of sending or receiving emails” and as a result, he could only read the correspondence after it had been printed out.
Greg Barns, a barrister and a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said it was “hard to see” how a judge could judge himself.
“From the community’s perspective, it’s hard to see how a judge and royal commissioner can sit in his or her own case, in effect judge himself or herself, and that’s exactly what’s happened here and I think this ruling ought to be a catalyst for reform,” he said.