Former High Court judge justice Dyson Heydon has just passed judgement on himself, declaring that he can stay in charge of the royal commission investigating trade union governance and corruption.
Lawyers for several unions, including the ACTU, AWU and CFMEU, applied for the commissioner to disqualify himself from further hearings after he had agreed to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser. Heydon subsequently withdrew from the event after the details became public, but it sparked debate over his impartiality and perceptions of bias in his role overseeing the royal commission.
“I have considered all the submissions. In my opinion, the applications must be dismissed,” he said during a short address to the royal commission, releasing a 67-page ruling of his reasons.
“I have concluded that it is not the case that a fair-minded lay observer might apprehend that I might not bring an impartial mind to the resolution of the questions which the work of the Commission requires to be decided,” his ruling says.
The commissioner said earlier that he had “overlooked” the fact that the Liberal Party-branded Sir Garfield Barwick address was a party fundraiser, releasing a series of emails in which he was told it was not, although the invitation, which was attached, included details saying any money raised would be “applied to state election campaigning”.
“There is no reason to think that the fair-minded observer might apprehend that my intention in agreeing to give the address was to raise funds or assist in raising funds or gathering support for the Liberal Party,” he says in the ruling.
“Accordingly, there is no rational basis to conclude that a fair-minded observer might apprehend any predisposition on my part against the Labor Party.”
The most surprising part of the judgement was the 72-year-old commissioner’s admission that he has no computer and “all email correspondence is sent and received by my personal assistant”.
Heydon says he is “notorious” in the legal profession for being “incapable of sending or receiving emails”.
“The consequence is that I read emails only after they have been printed out for me.”
The full judgment is here.
The royal commission into trade unions will continue tomorrow looking at the ACT branch of the CFMEU.
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