Bill Shorten must Getup! and explain payments

Honesty and transparency are two attributes rightfully required from leaders of organisations. No questions, no caveats – just expected.

Well, spare a thought for the members of the Australian Workers Union whilst led by Bill Shorten, Labor luminary and would be Labor leader.

Devasting findings by the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) on the 24th of February 2022 should see Bill Shorten drummed out of public life and Labor and Getup! repay tens of thousands of dollars to the ripped-off AWU members.

The largely unreported findings exposed the truth of what the writer has been saying for over four years – unauthorised, illegal payments of AWU members’ money was being used to bank roll the ugly Getup! movement and Labor campaigns.

If the payments (including $100,000 to Getup!) made from AWU accounts were above aboard, in the interest of members and non-controversial, why weren’t they brought forward for authorisation and public disclosure to members as required by law?

The public independent watchdog set up to protect the interests of members of both trade unions and employer organisations, the ROC, undertook a thorough investigation of the AWU for the period Bill Shorten was its national secretary. Why the investigation?

Because some honest senior officials had misgivings over the funny money payment to Getup! and Labor by certain officials. Bill Shorten, the man who was within a whisker of becoming our Prime Minister, was the national secretary of the AWU during the period in question and a founding director of Getup! to which $100,000 of members’ money was given. No conflict of interest, of course.

And nor was there, of course, a conflict of interest with the non-disclosed payment of $25,000 to the Labor campaign in a seat called Maribyrnong. That Bill Shorten was the Labor candidate for Maribyrnong was one suspects, mere coincidence. These huge payments were made without authority and in breach of the AWU’s own rules. In all, over one-quarter of a million dollars, $263,500 to be exact – was so illegally paid.

As if such outrageous malfeasance was not sufficient injury inflicted on the long-suffering AWU membership, the AWU leadership then engaged their members’ funds to the tune of an eye-watering $1 million in a doomed and failed attempt to halt the investigation through court proceedings. This delayed matters by three years.

The desperation of the AWU leadership to block the sun from shining in on their malfeasance was as breathtakingly audacious as it was an abuse of members’ money and a waste of the Courts’ time.

And through it all, those of us championing the cause of the AWU membership were vilified, slandered and abused. Persistent attacks, it appears, was their only form of defence.

Exposing illegal payments was “union bashing”. Outing Getup! for its rank hypocrisy of demanding transparency while it quietly took $100,000 of tainted money earned all sorts of online abuse. Getup! should repay the $100,000 AWU money immediately.

Any decent organisation would – which is of course is the reason Getup! won’t.

Remember Getup!’s truly ugly campaign of untruths and intimidation in Bass in 2016? It seems a practise run for hounding out star newcomer Nicole Flint who is now leaving parliament because she can no longer stand the abuse of this immoral, vicious left-wing outfit.

Given an election is in the air, await Getup!’s self-serving protestations about honesty, transparency and integrity for everyone but itself.

The questions Mr Shorten must answer are clear:

  •         Who made the payments?
  •         Why were the payments made in breach of the Union’s own rules?
  •         Why were the payments not disclosed to the members?
  •         Why did he, as Labor leader, not want a ROC?

And why did Labor, under parliamentary privilege, attack the ROC including making allegations of misconduct other than to please its union masters. Of the allegations against the ROC Justice Bromberg said, “the AWU has not presented any evidence or even suggested a case concept or narrative that provides a motive for the knowing and deliberate conduct that it ascribes to (the ROC)”!

A damning judicial slap-down. Mere repetition doesn’t obviate the need for evidence to sustain an assertion. Every desperate legal argument by the AWU was rightly thrown out at further great expense to members.

After four years, the ugly truth about union abuse of members’ money has finally been told – even if many questions remain unanswered.  

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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