AMMA’s Royal Commission Into Trade Unions Delivers No Bang For Its Buck

The Maritime Union of Australia has been cleared of engaging in any illegal or unlawful conduct in submissions by Mr Jeremy Stoljar SC, the Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, MUA WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain and Maritime Employees Training (METL) chief executive Simon Earle all provided written statements to the commission, with Mr Cain called as a witness on September 29.

The Royal Commission heard that the MUA makes no apology for negotiating hard to ensure companies meet their obligations to train Australian workers.

Evidence from industry noted that payments to the MUA for training were, in fact, used to train Australian workers through METL.

Four companies - Saipem, SapuraKencana, Dredging International and Van Oord - made combined payments of around $3.2 million.

In the summary of submissions, released last Friday night, Counsel assisting the royal commission Jeremy Stoljar SC alleges these payments “were made to secure industrial peace from, or to keep favour with, the MUA”.

However, Mr Stoljar added: “The submissions do not raise any concern with the financial management of METL. There is no suggestion that METL is a slush fund for the MUA.”

Mr Stoljar made no submission that the evidence before the Commission in relation to the MUA and its officials demonstrated any offence or breach of any law.

Mr Stoljar said during the September hearing that METL had been set up "because there appeared to be a lack of planning for training in the maritime industry and there was a need for a coordinated approach to support growth in the industry, particularly in the oil and gas sector”.

He noted that training for an integrated ratings ticket is cost and labour intensive, taking about 18 months and $77,000 per trainee to qualify, and that the union had set up the fund to build up domestic labour supply to meet the anticipated demands of future projects.

It is important to note that these submissions are not the findings of a court, nor the findings of the royal commission.

Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon QC will hand down his interim report on December 15 and the timeframe overall has been extended to December 2015.

The extension will cost an additional $8 million, bringing the total cost of the commission to $61 million.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said that while the MUA was prepared to participate in hearings, it stridently disagreed with the politics driving the inquiry.

Mr Crumlin said the royal commission is draining $61 million from the public purse and that taxpayers’ money could be better spent elsewhere.

"Prime Minister Tony Abbott is only interested in pursuing partisan politics through secondary processes,” Mr Crumlin said.

"The MUA is fully audited by independent external auditors and operates with full transparency.”

Mr Crumlin said there are employers out there who still believe it is in their interest, and the national interest, to train local workers.

"I commend the work of companies such as Dredging International and Van Oord who take pride in training local workers in Australia, as they do elsewhere with ITF affiliates internationally,” Mr Crumlin said.

Mr Crumlin said there were no allegations or findings of unlawful acts by the MUA and that no-one should be surprised that a union would look to ensure that training was provided to the next generation of workers.

"The Abbott Government is being actively supported by the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) which not only wants to open the back door to sell out Australian jobs but also water down training requirements,” he said.

"The Abbott Government and its mates at AMMA would prefer to open the back door to cheap foreign labor – whether it’s in coastal shipping or in the offshore oil and gas sector - rather than invest in our country’s youth and indigenous workers."

Critics have been up in arms, not just about the royal commission and its terms of reference but also the naked politics driving its extension.

Mr Heydon wrote to the Attorney-General last month detailing the commission's work.

He said the letter was "not an application to extend the reporting date".

The Abbott Government then extended the royal commission reporting date by 12 months.

The new deadline means the Government could release the report in 2016 - when the next federal election is set to be called.

ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons said that called into question the motivations behind the Government's decision to extend.

"This is a political decision by the Attorney General and the Prime Minister to extend this out into further election seasons when they have been told by the person they asked to do the job that it's unnecessary," Mr Lyons said.

The ALP said Attorney-General George Brandis needs to justify decision.

"This extension doesn't change what this royal commission is - a desperate and shameless use of executive power for the Government's own political advantage," shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

"It's not clear from Commissioner Heydon's letter that the royal commission requested an extension of time or additional resources.

"Senator Brandis needs to justify his decision to provide additional funding if the royal commission didn't request it.

"Any criminal behaviour, whether in a union or in a private company, should be a matter for the police to investigate, not a matter for politicians."