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Early last week I circulated some material from the media reflecting the growing attention being given to the extent of the union movement’s influence on government policies. Of particular concern is the apparent extent of that influence on the Prime Minister herself and whether this means that she has no go areas of policy change – a kind of Thatcher-like “the lady’s not for turning”, but for different reasons.

The material I circulated included an interview by broadcaster Alan Jones of 2GB with former 2UE broadcaster Mike Smith regarding the allegation that, with the assistance of Julia Gillard when employed at Slater & Gordon, AWU official Bruce Wilson “lost” considerable funds that belonged to the AWU; and the cartoon published in the Herald Sun by Mark Knight entitled The Bodyguards. These are on my web site but I have retained Knight’s cartoon below.

New developments include the allegation in the report by Ian Temby QC and chartered accountant Dennis Robertson that the president of the Health Services Union East , Michael Williamson, had siphoned off some $20 million out of union funds. Williamson was ALP President for 2009-10 and Craig Thomson MP was secretary of HSU East from 1999 to 2002 when Williamson was national president of the union. Workplace Relations Minister Shorten has deplored the “sad and sordid saga” revealed but both he and Gillard claim it is not representative of the behaviour of the union movement and that legislation increasing penalties has already been passed. Opposition Workplace Relations shadow, Eric Abetz, has pointed out that a penalty of $6-7,000 scarcely rates.

In addition, in the Bolt Report on Chanel Ten yesterday Andrew Bolt reminded viewers that Gillard had protected Thomson and had been involved with Bruce Wilson when he “lost” $400,000 of funds belonging to the AWU. Bolt pointed out that there have been no charges laid or explanations given, that long time President of the AWU, Bill Ludwig, has been acclaimed by Gillard as a friend, and that claims by Gillard and Shorten about the “decent” behaviour of unions other than HSU East have no value.

Bolt also interviewed Shadow Finance Minister Robb, who agreed that these developments “left lots of questions” unanswered, including whether Gillard had been involved with the development of the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

Finally, it is worth drawing attention to the latest cartoon and comments by Larry Pickering (also below).

All things considered, there seems to be a case for a Royal Commission into the role of trade unions in society.

Des Moore

Knight cartoon

Pickering cartoon

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