Opposition leader Bill Shorten is spending today answering questions at the royal commission into trade union governance and corruption in Sydney.
Shorten spent six years as the head of the Australian Workers Union, until becoming a federal MP in 2007.
Counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar, is pursuing two key issues around Shorten’s time as AWU boss: that he negotiated enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) that were less than favourable for workers in return for donations to the union, and that he failed to declare the donation a labour hire company, Unibuilt, which provided the MP with a campaign manager for his bid to become a politician.
Stoljar has been probing links between the donation and the fact that Unibuilt planned to finalise an EBA with the AWU later in 2007, and at one point put the proposition that Shorten used his position in order to obtain the campaign manager, a claim angrily denied by the ALP leader.
In questioning this afternoon, counsel assisting questioned the MP about the “coincidence” of Shorten declaring the donation to the Australian Electoral Commission eight years later, which added up to more than $40,000, positing whether the ALP leader was waiting to see if the matter would appear before the royal commission.
Shorten has denied he was waiting to see whether an incomplete disclosure to the electoral commission would emerge in the trade union royal commission before deciding to correct the record, arguing that politicians from all sides often amended their declarations as new information came to light, although he conceded he’d known about the problem for some months.
“I think you will find – and I will come to it if you bear with me, even Mr Abbott for the last three elections or for a number of periods of elections has filed a nil return. That doesn’t mean he or I aren’t raising money or getting donation,” he said.
“So the Labor Party says, you do these nil returns, then what it does is it requires – and I think it is sensible – that all matters of fund raising go through the Labor Party centrally. But I have discovered in very recent times that there was an incomplete form sent to the ALP head office and that is – I take ultimate responsibility for that.”
Here are the disclosures Shorten filed after his lawyers received documents from the royal commission before his appearance, taken from the letter (see below) he sent on Monday:
1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007:
$12,587.00 (Campaign Manager) plus laptop – provided and paid for by Unibuilt Pty Ltd.
$8,222.44 (Campaign Manager) plus laptop – provided by Unibuilt Pty Ltd (paid via the Australian Workers’ Union – Victorian Office).
Please note I also received a benefit from the AWU – National Office for campaign support but less than the $10,500 disclosure amount.
1 July 2007 – 30 June 2008:
$42,968.88 (Campaign Manager) plus laptop – provided by Unibuilt Pty Ltd (paid via the Australian Workers’ Union – Victorian Office).
$11,774.67 (campaign support) – provided by the Australian Workers’ Union National Office plus home laptop.
And here is the full letter:
Meanwhile, Jeremy Stoljar continues to press Bill Shorten over whether a 2004 enterprise agreement with a company called Cleanevent was of optimum benefit to the workers involved.
Victorian MP Cesar Melhem, who took over from Shorten as Victorian secretary of the AWU, was forced to step down as the Victorian government’s whip when it emerged during earlier testimony at the royal commission that union traded away wage rises and penalty rates in 2010, saving $2 million in labour costs, in return for a $25,000 annual payment to the AWU.
Shorten said he had no knowledge of the deal.
The MP’s time in the witness box continues.
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