Long-Awaited Royal Commission Report Into Union Corruption Released

30/12/2015 11:32 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Sections of the trade union movement in Australia have been labelled "louts, thugs, bullies, thieves (and) perjurers" in the findings from a royal commission, as dozens of officials and corporate executives face criminal charges.

The findings of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption have been released after nearly two years of hearings, with a number of high-profile union officials referred for investigation.

The long-awaited final report from royal commissioner, retired High Court Judge, Dyson Heydon QC, was handed down about 10.30am Wednesday.

Former union heavyweights Kathy Jackson and Cesar Melhem are among those who have been referred to police.

The royal commission sat for 189 days and heard evidence from 525 witnesses in public and private hearings since March 2014.

Its terms of reference focused on the governance of unions and financial responsibility, and it heard from a number of high profile witnesses including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Bill Shorten.

In the final report, Heydon is damning of the level of corruption within the union movement.

"It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts," the royal commissioner states.

"It would be utterly naïve to think that what has been uncovered is anything other than the small tip of an enormous iceberg.

"It is inherently very hard to identify most types of misconduct by union officials."

Dyson said corruption took place among a wide variety of unions and industries and that people involved ranged from those in junior to senior roles.

"Of course what has been described is not universal. It may not even be typical. But you can look at any area of Australia. You can look at any unionised industry," he added.

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government's commitment to reforming unions was "absolutely unwavering".

He described Heydon's findings as a watershed moment for the union movement and called on opposition leader Bill Shorten to back an overhaul.

"They (Labor) can take this opportunity to support these recommendations and undertake real and everlasting reform of the trade union movement," he said.

"The beneficiaries of that reform will be their members, and other Australian workers that may in the future seek to join the union movement."

Attorney-General George Brandis said a cross agency taskforce would continue to probe union corruption in the wake of the royal commission's findings.

He also confirmed that the total amount spent on the royal commission was $45.9 million.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the findings were motivated by political ideology and that there was no place for corrupt behaviour in the movement

"We do take a zero tolerance approach to this, whether it's been in the union movement or anywhere else," he told reporters.

"It is wrong to generalise that there is a systemic significant problem right across the movement."

The findings released today include a significant list of people whom the commission has referred to either the Fair Work Commission or the police for further investigation.

They include former union leader Kathy Jackson, who has been to the Victorian Commissioner of Police and Director of Public Prosecutions of Victoria "in order that consideration may be given to whether she should be charged with and prosecuted for obtaining property and financial advantage by deception".

Embattled Victorian MP Cesar Melhem, who used to run the Australian Workers Union (AWU) in Victoria, has also been referred.

In his case, authorities are being urged to consider "whether he should be charged with and prosecuted in relation to possible corrupt commission offences" related to a company called Cleanevent Pty Ltd.

The construction union is also said to be coming in for special attention in the final report, which can be read in full here.

The report also includes 79 recommendations from the royal commissioner.

The first of these is that Commonwealth and State Governments consider adopting a national approach to the registration, deregistration and regulation of employee and employer organisations.

It urges a single regulator overseeing "all such regulations throughout Australia".

It also wants the regulatory functions of the General Manager of the Fair Work Commission be transferred to a new body called the "Registered Organisations Commission".

"The Registered Organisations Commission should be an independent stand-alone regulator," the report urges.

Over its nearly two years, the royal commission was often controversial, with ACTU labelling it as a "$100 million waste of taxpayers' money".

At one point, Heydon was under pressure to quit after it was revealed he was due to deliver the Sir Garfield Barwick speech at a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Heydon did not agree and decided not to disqualify himself.

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