Dyson Heydon: Why will it take until Friday?

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(Image via @johnnybridge2)

Dyson Heydon has been urged to disqualify himself as royal commissioner investigating trade unions on the grounds of apprehended bias. He will announce his decision on his future tomorrow. Alan Austin explains why the decision is taking so long.

THE TRADE Union Royal Commission (TURC) has been widely condemned from the outset as an expensive waste of taxpayer funds by the Abbott Government, conducted purely for political payback. So for commissioner Dyson Heydon’s party neutrality to be openly seen as compromised risks upsetting the whole venture.

Hence his decision tomorrow, Friday – a full week after hearing submissions from unions on why he should not continue – has implications for the Abbott regime.

But why the inordinate delay? The legal issues are straightforward and precedents are limited. Determining the course of action based on the law should take perhaps a couple of hours. Allow another hour or so for consultation with colleagues, just to be sure. Then another to write up the three or four paragraphs announcing the decision.

The long delay has served to confirm that this is not at all about the law, or due process, or discovery of the truth, or serving the best interests of union members or the community.

These two Royal Commissions – this TURC and one into the Rudd Government pink batts, which reported last September – are pure political witch hunts.

Hence the decision on Heydon’s future must be made on the politics. Not the law. This obviously takes more time.

The material the royal commissioners are providing the Liberal Party will be central to next year’s Federal election campaign — that is now obvious. At least one three-and-a-half minute party advertisement has already been released with TURC-generated material damaging to Labor.

The TURC segment of the video, at the one minute mark, begins with the grim voiceover:

“He’s got too much baggage from the unions.”

And then, apparently from a radio journalist:

“Opposition leader Bill Shorten oversaw a controversial deal in which a Melbourne builder paid a union thousands of dollars in employees’ union dues. The concern is that such deals undercut workers’ rights.”

The ad features newspaper reports on the Heydon inquiry and screenshots of documents submitted in evidence.

We don’t know this for sure, and may never know, but it is almost certain private polling has been commissioned this week to evaluate the likely electoral impact of the various options now available to the Abbott Government. Advice will have been sought from the PR gurus and the spin doctors already hard at work on ads for the 2016 campaign.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said:

“... regardless of what the royal commissioner ultimately decides, the royal commission must and will go on."

That, of course, is worthless. So what are the options? There appear to be five.

Option 1 

Continuing with the original schedule until December, with Heydon to report then.

This will deliver further footage, audio and stills to the Coalition PR machine, but with Heydon compromised may significantly discount their usefulness.

Option 2 

Terminating it now, with Mr Heydon to report now.

Considerable damaging material on Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten is available already, including commentary from Heydon himself.

Heydon’s interim report released last December deals forensically with all the allegations hurled at Gillard over the preceding 20 years by Liberal Party politicians, Murdoch and Fairfax reporters, radio shock jocks and sundry internet nutjobs. He exposes all of them as groundless. He asserts Gillard’s only blemish in relation to her role as a solicitor for the Australian Workers Union was a

“... lapse of professional judgment, but nothing more sinister."

But despite finding no guilt whatsoever, Heydon still manages to deliver these gems for the Liberals:

There was an element of acting in her demeanour.

She delivered those words in a dramatic and angry way, but the delivery fell flat.

There was occasional evasiveness, or non-responsiveness, or irritability.

All this – her intense degree of preparation, her familiarity with the materials, her acuteness, her powerful instinct for self-preservation – made it hard to judge her credibility.

Heydon also highlighted "credibility" when Bill Shorten appeared last month. Again, with no adverse finding. And no evidence whatsoever that anything Shorten had said was inaccurate.

So Option 2 is possible. Especially with the wealth of footage in the can from the Hanger royal commission into the pink batts, which targeted former Labor ministers Kevin Rudd, Peter Garrett and Mark Arbib.

Option 3

Terminating it now with another commissioner to report now.

This achieves the outcomes of Option 2, but with less likelihood that the currency will be devalued.

Option 4

Continuing until December with another commissioner to report then.

This offers the prospect of further juicy anti-Labor material but with the taint of party politics less odorous. Must be tempting.

Option 5

Shutting the whole thing down altogether, with no report and hoping everyone just forgets about it.

With the cost of the exercise around $80 million – borrowed money which we or our children will have to pay back with interest – there is a strong case for this.

So what will it be? The answer, most likely, is being workshopped by Liberal Party focus groups as we speak.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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