Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has bounded out of the royal commission, which he assumed was a political witch-hunt, with a spring in his step.
Whether two days of hearings have landed a serious blow is unclear, but the inquiry has furnished him with a stage to talk about union values.
Not that anyone but journalists and politicians were likely to be watching the telecast of the hearings of the royal commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
Mr Shorten said the commission failed to find a conflict of interest in regard to his union dealings, before he entered politics.
“The truth of the matter is that every day I was a union rep I was standing up for our members,” he said after dismounting the witness box.
“Of course where we could, we would co-operate with employers for the best interests of our workers. No conflict of interest whatsoever.”
Other observers also said the expected smoking gun did not materialise.
“Today was a bit of a hodge-podge, I’m not sure it was so damaging,” said Dennis Atkins, a journalist with the Courier Mail.
That didn’t mean the day was a complete win for Mr Shorten. His credibility was called into question when he gave wordy answers that veered into discussion about his time as a union boss.
Commissioner Dyson Heydon QC said: “What I am concerned about is your credibility as a witness.”
“You, if I can be frank about it, have been criticised in the newspapers in the last few weeks and I think it is generally believed that you have come here in the hope that you will be able to rebut that criticism.”
Commissioner Heydon said a simple yes, no or ‘I don’t know’ would be enough.
He also drew fire from within, when former ALP national secretary Bob Hogg said Mr Shorten should step down over evidence from day one that a campaign manager was paid for by a labour hire firm.
“Bill, do something for the ALP. It’s simple,” wrote Mr Hogg. “Just go.”
And Employment Minister Eric Abetz suggested voters would make up their own minds about Mr Shorten’s performance.
“Mr Shorten’s future is a matter for him and for the Australian Labor Party, and it would be presumptuous to make any comments prior to the finding of the royal commissioner.”
“The evidence speaks for itself and all I would invite you to do is have a look at the comments of Bob Hogg … and there’s no need for me to amplify that,” he said.
So what did the Royal Commission expose?
• Thiess John Holland paid $300,000 from 2005 to 2007 to the AWU for a “workplace change facilitator”, a move which was embroiled in a deal that renegotiated weekend and night time pay rates worth an estimated $100 million. Counsel assisting the Royal Commission Jeremy Stoljar said the $300,000 was noted as for training, events and services, but the invoice was “bogus” – a claim Mr Shorten denied.
• Mushroom growers Chiquita were dealing with a spate of workplace injury claims worth $6.2 million and wanted to hire agency staff instead. The AWU was paid $4000-a-month for what the union said was health and safety training, but happened at the same time as WorkCover premiums were reduced.
• Glass maker ACI paid the AWU $480,000 over two years for what was said to be for education and training, but was described as a “serious conflict of interest” as it was given at the same time as an enterprise bargaining agreement was being negotiated.
• Unibilt labour hire firm furnished Mr Shorten’s electoral campaign in 2007 with $40,000 towards the salary of his campaign manager, Lance Wilson, and the AWU kicked in the rest. But the Royal Commission heard that less than a week before Mr Shorten appeared, the donation hadn’t been declared to the Australian Electoral Commission, breaking campaign finance rules. But upon realising the omission, Mr Shorten corrected it in the days prior to appearing.
• From 1999 to 2014, the Commission heard that the Victorian AWU membership swelled four-fold among Cleanevent staff. There was also a $25,000-a-year payment to the union from the company. This affair claimed the position of Mr Shorten’s successor Cesar Melhem in the Victorian government. And Mr Shorten drew a blank when he was asked whether he attended a flashy Cleanevent hospitality tent at the Melbourne Cup in 2006 while he was negotiating an EBA for Cleanevent staff.
• The Black Hole of Maribyrnong was the unkind nickname for Mr Shorten’s 2007 election campaign because of the cost, according to ALP insiders. The AWU gave $25,000 towards his campaign for the safe seat, which isn’t unusual except that as Mr Stoljar claimed, Mr Shorten was the head of the AWU at the time.