Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has described the final report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption as a “real watershed moment” for the labour movement and for Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
The report, prepared by Commissioner Dyson Heydon and unveiled on Wednesday morning, has referred to “widespread and deep-seated” misconduct by union officials.
But Labor has labelled the royal commission a political witch-hunt, with employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor saying the government would use the report to attack wages and conditions.
More than 40 individuals and organisations have been referred to various authorities, including police, directors of public prosecutions, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Fair Work Commission.
There was also a recommendation for an independent body with greater powers to investigate union records and finances.
“They can take this opportunity to support these recommendations and undertake real and everlasting reform of the trade union movement,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
“This is not a case of a few rotten apples spoiling the whole barrel – there are many union officials, and widespread cultures, of impropriety and malpractice.”
The Federal Government has vowed to re-introduce legislation re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission and wants it passed by the end of March next year.
Mr Turnbull warned he was prepared to fight an election if Parliament did not support the measure.
“If this is not passed, if we cannot get the passage of this legislation through the Senate, then in one form or another it will be a major issue at the next election,” he said.
“And we will be going to the members of the unions and we will be saying to them we want you to get a fair deal.”
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash described the final report as “D-day” for corruption within the union movement.
“Today, the denial stops and today, the distractions stop,” Senator Cash said.
Attorney-General George Brandis announced a joint operation taskforce acting on the recommendations from the royal commission will continue until the end of 2016.
Senator Brandis also defended Justice Heydon, claiming he was the subject of “disgraceful attempts to smear his personal and professional reputation”.
“But I can tell you that when we chose Mr Heydon to lead this royal commission, we chose him not only because we knew of his eminence,” he said, “but also because we knew of his unimpeachable integrity.”
Opposition labels report ‘political stunt’
The Federal Opposition previously released an alternative proposal for union reform, in anticipation of the final report by the royal commission.
Mr Shorten has proposed tougher penalties for wrongdoing, as well as additional powers for ASIC.
The changes would also include lowering the disclosure threshold for political donations to $1,000.
Mr O’Connor slammed the government for releasing the report during the quiet holiday period.
He told reporters in Adelaide on Wednesday that Labor does not condone misconduct and has announced reforms to tackle union governance.
Mr O’Connor says criminal activity should be met with the full force of the law but insists instances of misconduct are “isolated”.
“That’s not to say we’re not concerned about these matters,” Mr O’Connor said. “We are concerned.
“But let’s not be fooled here: this is a political stunt, a political exercise, and and it’s one that needs to be called for what it is and at the same time we can deal with these serious allegations.”
CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan agreed, saying the report had a predetermined outcome.
“Blind Freddie knows this royal commission was set up to smear Julia Gillard, to smear Bill Shorten and to smear the trade union movement,” Mr Noonan said.
“That’s all it does. It’s not about improving workers’ rights.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver said the royal commission was “about prosecuting an ideological partisan agenda”.
“We have also noted that we believe $80 million was spent on this royal commission at a time when the cost of living is hurting taxpayers, and that money could have been well spent anywhere else,” Mr Oliver said.
“We have always said that if there have been any serious allegations of wrongdoing, it should be referred to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.”
Former AWU head singled out
The commission found the former head of the Australian Workers Union, Cesar Melhem, may have committed offences over an agreement with Thiess John Holland, and a payment to CleanEvent.
Mr Melhem has “vehemently” denied any wrongdoing, saying he was confident any further investigations would clear his name.
“I will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure these accusations are subject to the scrutiny of a properly constituted law of where the proper standards of evidence are observed – not the Liberal Party kangaroo court,” he said.
“It’s taken a major toll on my family and myself and this commission [doesn’t] give a damn about … people. They are happy for the Liberal Government and this royal commission to basically destroy people’s names and reputation and families.
“This report and its findings continue to be based largely on subjective assumptions of those conducting the inquiry rather than the evidence that has passed a clear test of a standard of proof that will substantiate a prosecution, let alone a conviction.”
Victorian Labor Minister Jacinta Allan said the recommendations of the report were serious.
“These are the matters that we need to take the time to consider appropriately,” Ms Allen said.
The State Opposition has called for Mr Melhem to stand down.