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The political debate is shifting from Canberra to WA for the repeat of the Senate election there. One might hope that, in circumstances where Newspoll suggests a surprising recovery in Coalition polling, the opportunity will be taken to direct attention to the problem (for Australia) of the power exercised by unions in determining Labor’s policies and the adverse effects that is happening on needed reforms. The article in today’s SMH by Paul Sheehan (below) provides a possible basis for Abbott to emphasise the importance of ensuring that his government is able to secure passage of legislation through the Senate and, hence, of Labor not winning a third seat. Some of today’s comments  by Labor spokespersons also support the need for a change in the role of unions in the ALP and the Coalition might use them.



Liberals rebound in the West: Newspoll

Article by Denis Shanahan, Political Editor published in The Australian, March 31, 2014

THE Coalition and the Greens have experienced a dramatic recovery in electoral support in Western Australia at the expense of Labor as all three face a crucial battle in the Senate election.

Support for “others’’ — including the Palmer United Party — has fallen in the first three months of the year, leaving the West Australian Senate re-election even more complicated ahead of Saturday’s poll.

Tony Abbott, Bill Shorten, the Greens and Clive Palmer’s party are all furiously campaigning in Western Australia, with the ability to block or pass the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes in the Senate and crucial political endorsement up for grabs.

The Prime Minister is going to be campaigning in Perth in the first part of this week and will hold a cabinet meeting tomorrow night as part of his three visits to Western Australia since the High Court ruled there should be a re-election because of the loss of 1300 votes during a recount after the September federal election. Mr Abbott flew to Western Australia yesterday.

The Opposition Leader, who has also been campaigning in Western Australia, flies from Melbourne to Perth first thing today for two days of campaigning with a focus on education, ­arguing that Colin Barnett’s cut to teacher numbers is a taste of the future under Mr Abbott.

The result of the contest is seen as a test of strength for the leadership and credibility of Mr Abbott, Mr Shorten, Greens ­leader Christine Milne and Mr Palmer.

Labor held only one seat out of six in September, the Liberals won three and the others were disputed between a second Labor candidate, the Greens, PUP and the Australian Sports Party.

While the Liberals are fearful of losing one seat in the re-election, it will be a blow for the ALP if it doesn’t pick up a second seat; and the Greens are risking a loss to PUP candidates.

A disastrous showing for the Greens and PUP in this month’s Tasmanian state election will add to the loss of authority if they fail again in Western Australia.

The shift in support in the Newspoll survey may help the Coalition hold the three Senate seats it won in the September election and give the Greens hope of retaining a seat while leaving Labor, the Palmer United Party and perhaps the pro-marijuana Hemp Party to fight it out for the last seat.

If the Liberals can hold three seats and Labor is kept to the one it won in September, the Abbott government will have a slightly easier task in negotiating with the less hostile Senate after July 1. ­According to the latest Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian, the Abbott government’s pre-Christmas slump in WA has ­dramatically turned.

Although Coalition primary vote support has dropped across the board since Christmas and Labor’s has risen, West Australian voters have turned back to the government, against Labor and boosted the Greens support.

Before the Senate re-election was called, federal Liberals believed the Abbott government suffered collateral damage from the plunging popularity of Premier Colin Barnett and his Liberal government.

In the January-March period, primary support for the Coalition rose from 41 to 46 per cent after dropping 10 points in the October-December quarter. At the September election, the Coalition received a 51.2 per cent primary vote in WA.

Labor’s primary support dropped from 36 per cent three months ago to 29 per cent — equal to its election result. Greens support jumped from 10 per cent before Christmas, the same as its election result, to 15 per cent while support for “others’’ dropped from 13 per cent to 10 per cent, the same as the election result.

Greens’ support may have risen in the past three months as a result of the campaign against the Barnett government’s shark-culling program while PUP may be suffering from an aggressive Liberal campaign in Perth after a similar campaign limited the PUP vote in Tasmania.

Because of a series of preference swap deals involving minor parties, it is possible a fall in support among the micro parties could benefit the Hemp Party and lead to a three-way fight between the Greens, Labor and Hemp for the sixth seat in WA.

Mr Abbott has been campaigning in Western Australia accusing Labor of supporting “the anti-Western Australian carbon and mining taxes’’. Mr Shorten has also campaigned in Western Australia, ­accusing the government of not caring for jobs.

While satisfaction with the Prime Minister grew markedly in Victoria, South Australia and NSW, Mr Abbott’s strongest state was Western Australia, where his satisfaction rate was steady on 42 per cent and dissatisfaction was up four points to 43 per cent. Satisfaction with the Opposition Leader dropped in all states ­except Western Australia but Western Australia, NSW, Victoria and Queensland all showed big jumps in dissatisfaction with Mr Shorten.

On the question of who would make the better prime minister, Mr Abbott opened his best state lead in Western Australia — 17 percentage points — over Mr Shorten, who is ahead of Mr ­Abbott as preferred prime minister in Victoria and among young people.

The September 7 result returned three Coalition senators in Western Australia — Defence Minister David Johnston, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds. One Labor candidate, Joe Bullock, was elected in the fourth spot.

The final two Senate spots initially went to PUP candidate Zhenya Wang and Labor’s Louise Pratt but they were replaced by the Greens’ Scott Ludlam and Australian Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich after a Greens-instigated recount.

The entire election is now being rerun after 1370 votes went missing during the recount.

The Abbott government, which faces opposition from Labor and the Greens on the repeal of the carbon tax, holds 33 votes in the new Senate based on the last result.

This would require the ­Coalition to win the support of six of eight crossbench senators to have legislation passed that was opposed by Labor and the Greens, which hold a combined 35 votes.

Julia Gillard back in spotlight over links to unions

Article by Paul Sheehan published by the Sydney Morning Herald, March 31, 2014

The details coming from court last week were lurid – a judge sentencing Michael Williamson to at least five years in prison while describing his "parasitic plundering" of almost $1 million from his union. Dramatic. Parasitic. Embarassing.

Williamson is a former national president of the Australian Labor Party. Former general (national) secretary of the Health Services Union. Former vice-president of NSW Labor. And his fall is just a small section of the mosaic of revelation that is taking shape. Dramatic, parasitic, embarassing on a national scale.

It is not just corrupt union officials who will be nervous about the looming royal commission into financial irregularities in the union movement. It is some unions. It is some big corporations that have paid off unions. Household names will be caught in the net of inquiry.

The most conspicuous individual name will be Julia Gillard, who, simply by being associated with this judicial inquiry, will suffer collateral damage to the gravitas of her legacy as the first woman prime minister of Australia.

First among those to be investigated will be the Australian Workers Union. What had appeared old and buried will become fresh again in a royal commission headed by a former High Court judge, Dyson Heydon. It is not just going to be an inquiry into a single slush fund set up 22 years ago. The commission will examine the possibility of systemic money laundering, hundred of thousands of dollars channelled from major building contractors to AWU officials via trusts ostensibly set up to administer money set aside for training and safety. In reality, these slush funds were used to buy industrial peace, off the books.

The practice has been systemic in these sections of the economy, especially the construction industry. The cumulative cost of this system of covert bribery is potentially enormous over time. This is the brief of the Heydon royal commission, to find the systemic use of off-the-books payments. It will be a slow burn.

No wonder that Paul Howes, the young, ambitious national secretary of the AWU, the man who replaced Bill Shorten as head of the union in 2007, has announced he will be stepping away from  that job in July. He will have a mixture of personal and professional reasons for doing so, but the starring role the AWU will play in the royal commission  is something he would do well to distance himself from.

Gillard will not be able to step away. She is trapped by history. Although she played only a cameo in the AWU's use of slush funds many years ago, she went on to become prime minister and her boyfriend all those years ago, a former AWU official, Bruce Wilson, has become a high-profile person of interest to the  Victoria Police fraud squad. Gillard is thus stuck with a spotlight disproportionate to any role.

I have never questioned her claim that she was duped by unionists who used her legal services to engage in fraud. I do not question that claim now. But it will be a harrowing experience to have her conduct examined by investigators and her judgment questioned by a jurist as eminent as Heydon, a Rhodes scholar, winner of the Vinerian Scholarship as the top civil law graduate of his year at Oxford, youngest person appointed a professor of law at Sydney University and, for 10 years, a justice of the High Court of Australia, until last year.

This is a much more formidable proposition than the bear-pit of Federal Parliament. The former prime minister can expect to be required to answer questions about the circumstances of her departure from the  labour law firm Slater & Gordon, about why she did not open a file at her firm when doing certain legal work for officials of the AWU, about how a legal entity she created came to be used for ilicit purposes, and about how a false statutory declaration was used during this process. There wil be other questions. The Victorian fraud squad will be assisting the royal commission with its inquiries into this matter.

But this is only one small element of the mosaic. The wider inquiry into the AWU, for exampe, will examine the possible systematic use of slush funds to channel bribes and pay-offs to union officials by building contractors. We already know that, at the time Gillard was associated with Wilson, the construction company Thiess was allegedly channelling hundreds of thousands of dollars to a slush fund set up by him   supposedly   to facilitate the orderly completion of a huge infrastruture project in Western Australia, the Dawesville Channel.

Multiply this scheme by dozens and you get a sense of where this royal commission is heading. For decades, leading construction companies have been buying industrial peace, pushing payments through slush funds or simply handing over cash. The collusion between big corporations and big unions has been systemic, at the expense of smaller contractors and the people who ultimately pay for featherbedding, the real estate sector.

There will be worse revelations than bribery and collusion. There will be  evidence of extortion and violence. Eventually, the union movement will be more transparent and its governance more rigorous thanks to this royal commission, after it uncovers where so many ethical bodies are buried.

Labor can blow smoke in the public's eyes about knighthoods and the Parliament's Speaker, but these are insular fripperies compared with the big inquiry into rorting and political complicity, about which Labor has nothing to say.

Truth wins over the smears

Article by Andrew Bolt published in the Herald Sun, 31 March, 2014

IF I can do it, who now can’t? I’ve said our laws against free speech are too tough, and I’d set an example by not suing for defamation.

Some of our biggest media outlets seemed to take that almost as a dare.

First, lawyer Ron Merkel QC, acting for the fair-skinned Aborigines who got two of my articles banned, told the Jewish judge my thinking was of the kind that inspired the Nazis’ race laws and led to the Holocaust — a disgusting smear many newspapers gleefully published. Still, Jewish leaders did this year finally condemn that court-sanctioned defamation. My banned articles had actually protested against a form of racism that treats us not as individuals but representatives of ethnic or “racial” groups.

Next, The Age published an article by Prof Marcia Langton saying I believed in the “master race” and “racial hygiene”, Nazi concepts used to justify the Holocaust. Langton two years later apologised, but The Age still hasn’t.

This month, the ABC claimed I was a racist and had subjected an academic to “foul abuse ... racist abuse”. Again, completely false, and the ABC apologised.

My real sin? The opposite: to argue that insisting on “racial” differences based on the “race” of a single great-grandparent offended our common humanity.

Just last Friday, SBS published another falsehood — a claim by Prof Mark McMillan, one of the fair-skinned Aborigines who sued me, that he was then “accused of being a paedophile, and these were not just responses of Andrew Bolt”.

I have never made or hinted at any such despicable accusation. Rather, I have condemned several prominent people for disgracefully linking paedophilia to homosexuality.

To be fair, SBS was terrific. It quickly published my denial, and may apologise.

I doubt many people now fighting the Abbott Government’s reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act have themselves faced such a concerted campaign of vilification.

But look: I’ve won four apologies or clarifications in just over a month without once suing. I’ve countered smears with truth, and in most cases truth eventually won. And I still trust most readers to judge the smearers harder than me. Free speech works.

Call for ALP to relax union ties

Article by Lauren Wilson published in The Australian, March 31, 2014

LABOR deputy leader Tanya Plibersek has called for the scrapping of archaic rules that require ALP members to join unions.

Ms Plibersek yesterday voiced support for loosening ties with the union movement by winding back rules that prevent people from joining the ALP without also being union members.

She said people who worked for themselves, were retired, or were employed in jobs that did not lend themselves to union membership should not be barred from signing up to the Labor Party.

“I think we need to be a party that welcomes new people in, and if the only barrier to someone joining the Labor Party is that there is not a natural union for them to join, then that is a crazy reason for not welcoming them into the party,” she told Sky News’ Australian Agenda.

Former Labor national president Stephen Loosley warned public perception of the union movement was now at the point, “where Labor candidates are branded ‘unionist’ as if belonging to a trade union placed them on an Interpol watch list”.

Writing in The Australian today, Mr Loosley says Bill Shorten should make a bold move to revive the Labor Party, and the most effective way to do that would be to make all decisions on the ALP conference floors non-binding.

“At a single stroke it would eliminate any claim that parliamentary Labor is subject to the dictates of trade union affiliates,” he said.

Decisions made at state, territory and national ALP conferences determine the party’s platform, which in turn guides Labor MPs in parliament.

But Mr Loosley said changing the rules so the decisions made at ALP conferences become “advisory only” rather than binding, would be “the best means of negating the claim of union dominance” of the party.

“The ALP needs to farewell a past totem in order to embrace its future,” he writes.

In a speech last week Mr Shorten, a former national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, said he wanted to drive the membership of the ALP to 100,000, more than double current members, by appealing to a broader base, including the small business and science community.

Transport Workers Union national secretary and ALP national vice-president Tony Sheldon said the tradition of union membership being a prerequisite to sign up to Labor was “a non-issue”. “People join on the basis of their politics and it’s just not questioned,” he said.

But he also called for reform, declaring Labor needed to become better at relating politics to the lives of ordinary people.

Union crooks damaging ALP

Editorial published in The Australian, March 31, 2014

LABOR was oddly silent on Friday when its former national president, Michael Williamson, was sentenced to seven years’ jail for defrauding the Health Services Union of almost $1 million. NSW District Court judge David Frearson said the influential Labor and union figure was guilty of a “parasitic plundering of union funds for pure greed”. At the peak of Williamson’s fraud and deception, he was receiving an obscene salary of $500,000 a year and leaching thousands of dollars more from the union to support his lavish lifestyle. All the while, he was meant to be representing the lowest-paid workers in the health system performing the most humbling of jobs.

Just days earlier, Williamson’s protegee, former Labor MP Craig Thomson, was sentenced to a 12-month jail term for defrauding the same union. Victorian magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg said the former HSU national secretary had shown “arrogance in the extreme” and perpetrated a “breach of trust of the highest order” by stealing union funds for “selfish personal ends”. Thomson used the stolen union funds to pay for, inter alia, sexual services, fine dining and exorbitant travel.

When Mr Rozencwajg sentenced Thomson, he noted there was a demonstrable “lack of accountability” at the union, which allowed such widespread criminality to be perpetrated. The issue of accountability must also apply to the Labor Party. Thomson was re-endorsed by Labor to run for parliament in 2010 after the allegations of theft were widely publicised. Williamson was a senior union leader who played a key role in NSW and federal Labor.

Labor must think carefully about its future ties to the unions and whether such undue influence inside the party can continue to be tolerated. Yesterday, federal deputy leader Tanya Plibersek did not oppose moves within Labor to end the strict requirement that party members also be union members. Further, the sentencing of Thomson and Williamson is reason enough for Labor to throw its support behind the royal commission into union corruption.

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