The Politics    Thursday, August 27, 2015

Full disclosure

By Sean Kelly

Source
Dyson Heydon has still more questions to answer

A week ago I wrote of the brief but fiery (for a courtroom) dispute over whether Trade Union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon, hearing submissions on his own future, had provided all the relevant documents after he had earlier declared he had done so.

I asserted then that this alleged omission was only a flesh wound – but that if you sustain enough flesh wounds you get pretty close to bone.

Unfortunately for Commissioner Heydon’s bones, the Australian today reported that it was possible Heydon had been informed that he was likely to receive media inquiries about the now-notorious Liberal Party fundraiser before he issued a statement on the matter two weeks ago. A staff member of the NSW Bar Association, having been alerted to the potential conflict by Marcus Priest (a journalist, lawyer and former Labor adviser), alerted counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar SC, who said he would raise it with Heydon. When or if Heydon was told we don’t know.

Heydon’s initial statement, issued via a spokesman a fortnight ago, read:

As early as 9.23am this morning (and prior to any media enquiry being received) he advised the organisers that ‘if there was any possibility that the event could be described as a Liberal Party event he will be unable to give the address, at least whilst he is in the position of royal commissioner’.

If Heydon knew he was likely to get an enquiry – and it is only if – then it is fair to say not only that he did not provide all relevant documents, but that he did not provide all relevant information pertaining to those documents. Because if he knew, his official statement, while not technically incorrect, certainly acquires a dubious air. The quiet boast “prior to any media enquiry being received” loses its sheen if it turns out the commissioner knew a media enquiry was probably about to be received.

But this is all hypothetical, because we do not yet have all the necessary information. Once again it seems that relevant facts must be dragged out of the commissioner – as they had to be right at the start, when full email correspondence was not released immediately. If Heydon did not know a media enquiry was likely before his statement was issued, then good. There has been enough carelessness on show already. But if he has any intention of continuing to preside over the Commission, then he should take immediate steps to clear up this latest confusion.

The ACTU this afternoon requested a delay in the commissioner’s decision, due tomorrow, as it wants a copy of the emails referred to in the Australian (between the Bar Association staff member and Stoljar).

I have no view on the delay, and at any rate that is a legal question. But, one way or another, this debacle should be resolved as quickly as possible. After two weeks of media coverage, it is hard to see how the Commission, which has achieved some important things, can survive much more of this with any credibility intact. That would be a pity. 

 

Today’s links

  • Anyone who thinks the actions of NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli don’t have an impact should read this beautiful piece. Meanwhile the Guardian reports that Burwood Girls High School did not receive a single complaint from parents about its plans to screen a documentary on gay parenting, despite the fact Piers Akerman had claimed in his Daily Telegraph blog that the school had received “numerous complaints”. The prefects at the school wrote this great post. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today lashed the NSW government over it.
  • Michelle Grattan on Joe Hockey’s strange decision to campaign for a republic. Christopher Pyne gets on board.
  • Paul Kelly has a more optimistic view of the National Reform Summit than the one I expressed yesterday.
  • Julia Gillard has changed her mind on same-sex marriage.
  • An interesting Twitter exchange between ReachTEL polling and Peter Brent on Canning polling. And the Defence Force’s anti-Daesh Twitter account.
  • Niki Savva points out that the government succeeded in establishing its Medical Research Fund – and nobody noticed.
  • The Federal Police raided the CFMEU head office looking for evidence of bribery and blackmail.
  • An interview with Naomi Klein, in which she talks about the emotional side of climate change.
  • Reports Joe Biden may enter the US presidential race

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

@mrseankelly

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