Royal Commission Into Union Governance and Corruption

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Introduction
On 10 February 2014, the Federal Government announced its intention to appoint Justice Dyson Heydon AC QC as the Royal Commissioner to inquire into trade union governance and corruption. The Royal Commission is a public inquiry commissioned by the Governor-General (on advice from the Federal Government) and is conducted pursuant to the powers in the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Commonwealth).

Terms of Reference
The proposed terms of reference (which described the nature and breath of the inquiry) are broad and require the Royal Commissioner to inquire into the governance arrangements of unions and related bodies. Specific reference is made in the terms of reference to the Australian Workers' Union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Health Services Union and the Transport Workers' Union.

The proposed terms of reference require the Royal Commission to inquire into:

  • the governance arrangements of any entities established by unions for industrial purposes or for the welfare of their members
  • alleged activities relating to the establishment of those entities
  • the circumstances in which funds are sought from any third parties and paid to such entities
  • the extent to which union members are affected by the activities of the entity and are able to influence or control its operations
  • whether there has been conduct of union officers which breaches applicable laws, regulations or professional standards and which conduct is undertaken to procure an advantage or cause a detriment to a person, association or organisation
  • any bribes, secret commissions or other unlawful payments or benefits arising from contracts, arrangements or undertakings between unions or their officers and any other parties
  • the adequacy of the existing system of regulation and law enforcement to address the conduct as identified above.

A Royal Commission is a formal public inquiry which is granted wide powers to conduct an investigation, including the authority to:

  • summons a person to appear and give evidence or produce documents (including a document that is the subject of legal professional privilege)
  • take evidence on oath and to administer an oath
  • issue search warrants
  • issue warrants for apprehension for failure to appear.

Serious sanctions apply for giving false or misleading evidence, for bribing witnesses, or destroying documents or other evidence.

The Governor-General is expected to formally initiate the Royal Commission shortly. It is expected that, with counsel assisting, the Royal Commissioner will embark upon the inquiry by inviting submissions and conducting hearings. It is imperative that any client who willingly, or unwillingly, participates in the Royal Commission is aware of the Royal Commission processes and powers and the potential consequences that may arise from the participation in the Royal Commission.