'Never Contemplated', Royal Commission Denies Avoiding Media Scrutiny

09/11/2015 4:54 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Fairfax/ Alex Ellinghausen

CANBERRA – The Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption has declared it “never contemplated” avoiding media scrutiny in releasing documents clearing Opposition Leader Bill Shorten late on Friday and suggested the Labor Leader's office get on its media distribution list.

The solicitor assisting the Royal Commission, James Beaton, has Monday responded to a terse “please explain” from Shorten’s lawyer over an end of the week dump of information from its top counsel, Jeremy Stoljar SC.

In the late night submissions, Stoljar offered no findings of any criminal or unlawful conduct by the Labor Leader during his time as secretary of the Australia Worker Union (AWU).

Stung by criticism that the Commission was doing what is known in political circles as “putting out the trash” or burying the submissions late on Friday, Beaton responded.

“I am aware of reports that the release of the submissions was timed to avoid media scrutiny," he wrote to Shorten’s lawyer Leon Zwier.

“I can assure you that was never contemplated.”

Beaton said the Commission was purely meeting legal deadlines with the AWU submissions, and had earlier said not disrespect was intended by its actions.

“They were still being finalised on Friday evening and the team was working hard to get them out to all affected persons in accordance with the Commission’s deadlines,” he wrote on Monday morning.

“As you know, all affected persons are on a tight deadline to respond to lengthy submissions by 20 November.”

Shorten, who found out about the submission through the enquiries of journalists, believes the timing of the release is further proof of a "politically motivated royal commission”.

The published email exchange also included the Commission’s solicitor responding to a complaint about the media being informed before the Opposition Leader by saying what happened on Friday was standard practice.

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“It has not been the Commission’s practice to provide media releases to legal representatives,” Beaton wrote.

He indicated the practice was not going to change.

“We will add you to out media distribution list if you wish.”

“Further, may we suggest that your client nominate an appropriate media officer to also be added to our distribution list for further communications?”

Despite the apparent clearing of Shorten, Stoljar found criminal charges should be considered against both former AWU secretary Cesar Melhem and construction giant Thiess John Holland over $100,000 a year payments to the union.

The Royal Commission's final report is due by the end of the year.

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