Aussie Corruption Probe Calls for Greater Union Oversight

  • Royal Commission makes 79 recommendations on union governance
  • Former union officials referred for possible criminal charges

A government-appointed inquiry into Australia’s labor unions found widespread misconduct by officials and recommended an independent regulator be set up to help clean up the movement.

In its final report released Wednesday, the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption said it had uncovered multiple examples of union funds being misused, and cited blackmail, bribery and threats of violence as crimes potentially committed by officials. It made 79 recommendations for change.

"It would be utterly naive to think that what has been uncovered is anything other than the small tip of an enormous iceberg,” former High Court Justice John Dyson Heydon, who called more than 500 witnesses including opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten, said in the six-volume report. "It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organizers of boycotts.”

The royal commission was ordered by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, sparking accusations by Labor lawmakers that it was politically motivated and aimed at discrediting the opposition party’s traditional ties with the union movement.

Shorten was questioned by the commission about deals made with construction companies while he led the Australian Workers Union. He has denied any wrongdoing. The counsel assisting submissions did not press for any “adverse findings” against Shorten, according to the report.

The government will reintroduce and strengthen legislation, previously blocked in parliament, for a commission to oversee registered organizations such as unions, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement. It will also try again to pass legislation to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the watchdog for the building industry that was disbanded by Labor in 2012.

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