The SMH editorial:
The position of Bill Shorten as federal Labor leader is becoming untenable. The latest revelations of his union past published by Fairfax Media on Wednesday afternoon raise further doubts and questions about his suitability as alternative prime minister.
Mr Shorten should respond to the questions immediately, in full, rather than wait until he fronts the royal commission into trade union corruption in late August.
The Opposition Leader should also reflect on the damage his continued leadership is doing to Labor, and as such to the interests of the people he claims to represent.
As long as the Australian Workers Union stain lingers and/or grows, Labor cannot hope to win an election next September, let alone a snap poll that Prime Minister Tony Abbott may well call to capitalise on the Shorten malaise.
Last week Fairfax Media identified tens of thousands of dollars of largely unexplained employer payments to the AWU’s Victorian branch from January 2004 to late 2007. Mr Shorten was state secretary from 1998 and federal secretary from 2001 to 2007.
The evidence is that the AWU made deals that were good for the AWU bank balance, rather than good for the workers it claimed to represent.
The fine print in documents lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission and AWU bank records show the giant builder Thiess John Holland paid Mr Shorten’s union nearly $300,000 after he struck a landmark workplace deal that saved the company as much as $100 million on the Melbourne Eastlink tollway project.
The deal was hugely favourable to the employer, just like other deals struck by the AWU during Mr Shorten’s reign. Some deals involved payments to the AWU, or the payment of member’s dues. The AWU struck agreements with companies when it suited the union’s political purpose, which was to bolster membership. This allowed the AWU to assert its dominance over rival unions and bolster the power of its leaders in the Labor party’s corrupted, undemocratic structure.
Neither unions nor companies should get a vote in political parties. Political parties should be for individuals. Having unions decide who your leader is, incentivises such behaviour.
Despite his claims to have zero tolerance of corruption in Labor, Mr Shorten has done too little to reform the party structure, which delivers unions like the AWU disproportionate influence and operates on dirty factional deals.
Mr Shorten could shrug some of this off if voters had warmed to him. While the Labor leader in person is a smart and charismatic man with good ideas, he remains approved by only 41 per cent of voters, the Fairfax-Ipsos poll says. The latest revelations over his AWU past also came a day after he had been caught out playing bad politics, as the Greens and the government compromised on pension reform.
The coming days will determine whether Mr Shorten, the ultimate political operative, can find the numbers to survive. The damage being done in the meantime is a big price for voters and Labor to pay.
Earlier this year Abbott looked terminal. Now Shorten is the one facing extinction.