Australia’s unions warned to get paperwork in order for royal commission

Australia’s peak union body has warned its affiliates to be prepared to provide documents at short notice showing any payments they have made to officials, relatives or political campaigns.
Nanjing Night Net

The ACTU has written to affiliates outlining what they are required to produce to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and has warned them against destroying any documents.

Despite fears of a political witch-hunt, former High Court judge Dyson Heydon has declared the royal commission was not setting out to be hostile to unions.

ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons has told unions they can expect to be called at any time to produce documents, even if they are not one of the five unions named in the letters patent establishing the royal commission. The unions named include the Health Services Union, CFMEU, Transport Workers Union and Australian Workers Union.

“The time allowed for production of documents is a matter for the royal commission but is often short,” he said in his memo.

“There are serious penalties for failing to produce a relevant document, or to destroy something you may be asked to produce.

“Justice Dyson Heydon in his opening remarks enunciated these obligations in considerable detail.

“If you have any questions as to the nature of these obligations, you should seek legal advice.”

Mr Lyons told affiliates that unions have been required to produce lists of union offices and the personal details of each office holder, including their address.

Statements of financial records and each loan, grant or donation by the union over $1000 have also been requested from unions.

All payments by a union to an officer, spouse or relative or other person with a material personal interest dating back to January 2007 are also required. As are records of contributions to an election or preselection campaign for a union or parliamentary office.

Any benefits or payments made by the union or a related entity would be open to scrutiny.

All communication between a union and the Australian Electoral Commission relating to union elections would also need to be produced.

Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the CFMEU, one of the unions named to appear before the royal commission, said it was appropriate for the ACTU to inform its affiliates of their obligations.

Mr Heydon has said that the terms of reference for the royal commission launched by the Abbott government had been described as broad but in “other ways they are restricted”.

In his opening address, he said the terms of reference “rest on certain assumptions which are not hostile to trade unions. The terms of reference do not assume that it is desirable to abolish trade unions. They do not assume that it is desirable to curb their role to the point of insignificance.”

Senior counsel assisting Jeremy Stoljar has said no honest union official had anything to fear from the royal commission. He said reports of union officials setting up slush funds to pay for electioneering needed to be tested.

The royal commission held a preliminary directions hearing in March and has not yet set its next hearing date.

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