The Labor Party is stuck between a rock and a hard place over Bill Shorten
The Age reported that Mr Shorten launched a strong defence of his time as Victorian and national secretary of the AWU after a second day of damaging testimony put him under the microscope on Tuesday, declaring he did not strike an agreement that saw the company pay $100,000 a year for the three-year term of the EastLink road project in Victoria to fund a full-time organiser for the AWU.
As the Royal Commission drags on and information about the AWU’s deal with Thiess John Holland is made public, Bill Shorten becomes an increasing problem for the Federal Opposition.
A number of things are clear.
The first is that Thiess John Holland tipped cash into the AWU coffers.
The second is that there will be debate about who actually finalised, formalised or knew about the deal. But it appears clear that there was a deal.
Just what this deal was is not clear. We know how much money changed hands but not what the quid pro quo was in the final negotiations.
There are suggestions that the AWU traded away a 36–hour for workers but it is also clear that the workers on this project were paid above the industry standard as result of the union’s actions. It is also clear that the East Link project finished early and on budget.
It’s ironic that many right-wing commentators have hailed it as a benchmark for management/labour relationships.
Shortened denies that he had any part in the deal with Thiess John Holland and it is clear that he will defend this position particularly vigourously.
The problem for the Labor Party is that enough mud has been thrown to stick to the Opposition Leader.
There is clearly a perception in the electorate that he should not be the Prime Minister. This is despite the Labor Party beginning claw back Malcolm Turnbull’s honeymoon advantage in the polls.
Shorten will argue that for him to stand down as Opposition Leader would be an admission of guilt and he is clearly not prepared to accept that he has done anything wrong.
If the polls remain close, the only way the Opposition may be able to regain its lead over the government is to replace a leader who is now had his reputation tarnished by the Royal Commission. This is likely to prove to be extremely difficult and damaging.
The profound irony of the situation is that the man who instigated the Royal Commission to discredit Shorten is already on the backbench and the benefits of the Royal Commission will accrue to the new incumbent, Malcolm Turnbull.