Ask Tony Abbott where the crooks are and he would repeat what he said when he set up the Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption: the crooks are clustered in the unions, particularly the construction unions, and most of all in the CFMEU. The last two words of the Commission’s title capture Abbott’s diagnosis. Unions are corrupt; the Commission’s task was to ascertain how corrupt.
Abbott contended that union officials were stand-over thugs who bullied and bribed construction firms to get what they wanted. He cited their behaviour as criminal, immoral, and reprehensible. No one is denying malfeasance in the union movement, yet there have been only 20 referrals from the Royal Commission, and so far no charge has been laid against any union official. Time will reveal how many crooks there really are.
Although Abbott has been ignominiously pushed into the background where no sensible person takes him seriously anymore, the diagnosis of corrupt behaviour in unions has been endorsed by his successor. Malcolm Turnbull has enlarged the extent of their ‘unlawful behaviour’ by asserting that it is a drag on productivity. He wants the Australian Building and Construction Commission reinstated in order to increase the productivity, competitiveness and profitability of the construction industry. He has added an economic twist to his pro-ABCC argument. If the ABCC bill is rejected again by the Senate, he will use that as a double dissolution election trigger.
The 2014 Productivity Commission report said that the evidence for aggregate productivity increases and cost savings was weak during the time of the ABCC. ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver said: "Since the ABCC was abolished productivity has in fact increased and industrial disputes have decreased; the only thing that's increased…is the incidence of workplace accidents, injuries and unfortunately fatalities as well."
But that has not inhibited Turnbull in pressing his economic case. After all, facts are irrelevant when making political points, especially at election time.
The point of this piece though is not to argue a contrary position on the ABCC, but to look around to check whether the crooks are confined to unions.
Where are the crooks?
Liberals need look no further than their own party. In recent days the Electoral Commission has refused to pay the Liberal party’s NSW branch more than $4.4m until the party reveals the secret donors who poured about $700,000 into its coffers before the 2011 state election. Now it happens that at the time Arthur Sinodinos (previously Chief of Staff to John Howard and now a Senator) was the party’s treasurer and finance director. He has indignantly denied any knowledge of the secret donors and the refusal to reveal them, has threatened to sool his lawyers onto the Commission, and has demanded a retraction of the statements that implicate him. The truth of the matter may emerge, but in the meantime Sinodinos is suspect, and is being pursued by Labor. As Tanya Plibersek said:“It beggars belief that the treasurer and finance director of the Liberal party of NSW didn’t know about an elaborate arrangement to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal donations to the Liberal party.”
Many will agree with her.
Of course Sinodinos has form in amnesia. You will remember his lapses of memory when he faced the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry to defend what he did to earn an alleged $200,000 salary from Australian Water Holdings after he left the public service. He seemed to be doing almost nothing to warrant that huge salary. The commission also heard that Sinodinos, a former AWH director and NSW Liberal Party treasurer, stood to make up to $20 million if AWH won a lucrative contract with the state-owned Sydney Water company. He denied any knowledge of donations from AWH to the Liberal Party although he was a key player in both. Even the ever-loyal Abbott was concerned enough to have him stand down from parliamentary duties temporarily. No charges have been laid regarding this matter, but suspicion remains in the minds of many who wonder how anyone so involved in both sides of a huge money transfer could not know about it.
Sinodinos comes across as a plausible fellow, so no one is calling him a crook. But how many more inexplicable lapses of memory will people tolerate before doubt about his integrity gives way to certainty about his lack of it?
Anyway, we know there are crooks in the Liberal Party. Former Victorian state director Damien Mantach embezzled $1.5 million of party funds and is now behind bars.
How many crooks does it take for the NSW state branch to accept large donations from banned donors, hide these donations from the Electoral Commission, and be prepared to forgo $4.4 million due to it from the Commission rather than reveal the donors? There is much more to come out about this ugly matter; perhaps in time we will be able to identify the crooks.
Let’s cast our net wider. Where are the crooks?
Look at the banks. We need go no further than the CBA.
How many crooks did it have in its financial planning arm? How many financial advisers were there who invested clients’ money in ventures where they earned fat commissions but which failed because they did not carry out due diligence, where they put their personal gain so far ahead of clients’ interests that they lost their clients' life’s savings? CBA chief Ian Narev has apologized profusely, but many are still awaiting the promised compensation.
How many crooks have they still got in the claims division of Comminsure, where scores of clients have been denied their legitimate insurance claims because the fewer the claims the bigger the bonuses that flow to the claims managers?
How bad is the culture of our premier bank when it enabled such behaviour to flourish? Are there more crooks there hoping not to be exposed?
Other banks are not entirely blameless.
Where are the crooks?
Looking further afield at industry, how many crooks were there at Volkswagen when it ‘engineered’ false emissions data to mislead the public and the regulatory authorities? What did VW CEO Martin Wintercom know? Was the culprit Falko Rudolph, head of diesel engineering, or Burkhard Veldten, head of software design, or Heinz-Jakob Neusser, head of development at VW, or Wolfgang Hatz, head of research at Porsche, all now suspended or left? Plenty of suspected crooks to choose from there!
Where are the crooks?
Closer to home, there was 7-Eleven where for years franchisees cruelly underpaid their workers, particularly students on temporary visas. It was later revealed that this was with the knowledge of the chairman of 7-Eleven, Russ Withers, who was forced to admit liability and offer recompense. He and chief executive Warren Wilmon have both announced their resignation from the company.
Where are the crooks?
Let’s look at the wider scene where the ATO reported recently that almost 600 of the largest companies operating in Australia did not pay income tax in the 2013-14 financial year. We are entitled to ask how many crooks there are out there avoiding paying their proper share of tax. They all insist that what they do is legal, and perhaps in the formal sense it is, but how moral is it to make huge profits in this country but contribute nothing via taxes to support the services the community needs, and ought to have? Many are household names: Qantas, Virgin Australia, General Motors, Vodafone, ExxonMobil, Warner Bros Entertainment, Lend Lease and Ten Network Holdings. Others made huge profits but paid miniscule tax: Apple, Microsoft, Google, VW and Spotless.
How many crooks does it take to achieve these immoral outcomes?
This piece is long enough already. To expose all the crooks out there would take ten times as many words. I hope though that this piece does demonstrate that to imply that the crooks are clustered in the unions, and insinuate that by comparison big business is populated with blameless individuals who are as pure as the driven snow, is entirely fictional.
Where are the crooks? They are everywhere. So why is the Turnbull government so ruthlessly targeting unions, and specifically the construction industry and the dreaded CFMEU?
It's political of course! To appease the Abbottites, Turnbull feels compelled to adopt Abbott policies, use Abbott catchphrases, even recite his appalling slogans that demean and condemn the whole union movement and unionists with it, knowing full well that only a tiny fraction likely deserve the condemnation he heaps upon them.
How obscene, how outrageous is it to revile just one small part of industry, the construction industry, when we know that crooks abound all through industry and commerce, even in our most prestigious institutions, the banks; when we see corruption in the Liberal party itself? And all this Turnbull does to gain political advantage.
When might we see him launching a Royal Commission into Banking, or a Royal Commission into Tax Avoidance, or perhaps a Royal Commission into the Liberal Party? Don’t hold your breath!
Where are the crooks? We know!
What do you think?
What are your views about PM Turnbull’s attack on unions?
Please comment on other instances of corruption.
Expose other crooks.
We look forward to reading your views and your comments.
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