Bill Shorten demands Coalition sets up police taskforce into union allegations

Opposition leader says police could act more quickly than a royal commission to investigate claims of union corruption

Bill Shorten is demanding Tony Abbott set up a joint police taskforce to act immediately on “extremely serious” claims about unions in the construction industry, as the Coalition prepares to launch a royal commission into allegations involving crime figures, kickbacks, slush funds and death threats.

The government is set to expand its promised judicial inquiry into a full blown royal commission after the recent revelations about union officials forming corrupt relationships with organised crime figures and has demanded the Labor leader, a former union official, support the investigation.

The Sunday Telegraph is reporting a former high court judge has agreed to lead the inquiry, and that it will have the power to subpoena witnesses and force unions to open their books to the investigation.

It says the investigation will include the allegations surrounding the Health Services Union and former Labor MP Craig Thomson and the more recent allegations about construction unions, but will also extend much further to include any “off the books” transactions by unions.

With the issue certain to loom large as the parliamentary year resumes, Shorten has called on the government to set up a joint police inquiry straight away, describing anyone involved in corruption as “a low-life.”

“Labor condemns corruption and bribery in all its forms – it’s vile. We have absolute zero tolerance for it. Some of these allegations are sickening and if they’re true, the perpetrators should be locked up – no question,” he said.

“These allegations must be investigated and they must be investigated right now by the police.”

He is proposing an inquiry, led by the Australian Federal Police and including state police forces, to investigate allegations of corruption in the building construction sector, including both union representatives and employers.

He says that unlike a royal commission, a police inquiry could act quickly and would have the power to make arrests and lay charges.

After the new allegations emerged, Abbott said Shorten and the Labor party needed to decide which side they were on.

“Are they on the side of law-abiding citizens ... (or) on the side of people with a tendency to break the law? Are they on the side of getting to the bottom of this or do they want to support a culture of cover-up?,” he said.

During the election campaign last year, Abbott promised a judicial inquiry into slush fund at the Australian Workers Union and the misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Federal cabinet has discussed terms of reference for the inquiry but after the new allegations were aired many in the Coalition have been pressing for the inquiry to be broadened into a royal commission.


Lenore Taylor, political editor

The GuardianTramp

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