Image for NATION:  the Bill Shorten Show Trial. Hewson on the rise of Isis

Wronski’s Week in Review

The Bill Shorten show trial, an ‘eagerly anticipated’ or hugely oversold piece of legal theatre played to packed houses in Sydney midweek thrilling sell-out audiences with its stunning production values and its convincing performances - especially from Shorten who stoically underplayed himself in the role of a man on trial for his political life.

Shorten’s trial was a timely treat for a nation which could relax in an old-fashioned lynching, boo the union villain and take time out from the pressure of the daily threat of an ISIS attack, ‘coming after us,’ asylum seekers invading our sovereign borders and Gina Rinehart’s new Roy Hill Pilbara mine never making a profit.

Iron ore dropped to $44 a tonne on Thursday and investment bank Citi predicts an average of $38 for the last quarter ten dollars down from the price Joe Hockey locked in to his last Budget calculations. But in Sydney it was on with the show. And what a show it was!

Commissioner Dyson Heydon exceeded everything you could ever hope for as the sinister but charismatic Grand Inquisitor and the show held its packed house spell-bound as a pale Bill Shorten gulped enough glasses of water to flood a Beaconsfield mine while top Sydney silk, Inquisitor Jeremy Stoljar justified his 3.3 million dollar fee by cutting his ‘unreliable witness’ down to size by craftily avoiding any allegation in favour of inviting Shorten to assent to it in principle. Shorten, of course, could not agree but the trap had been sprung.   

‘Do you agree with this proposition: it would profoundly weaken the bargaining position of the AWU if in negotiating with the company about an EBA, that company is at the same time making a donation to the then national secretary’s political campaign? Do you agree with that?’ Jeremy Stoljar had Shorten on the ropes.

And not before time. ABC News-readers, not to be bested by other media vigilantes, were breathily speculating on a yet to be discovered ‘smoking gun,’ a Sherlock Holmes clue. That Holmes solved crimes by logical deduction is something quite overlooked in our rush to judgement of a man who has committed no crime, except, perhaps that of being Bill Shorten and just not seeming up to much - rather than up to too much. As, Robert Conquest observes: ‘Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents.’

Guilt is easily presumed…

Commentators lead us to assume, as we all must, that Old Bill is guilty simply by virtue of his appearing before Mr Heydon. If they don’t find that gun this time, they will call him back until they do. Guilt is easily presumed if you are called before a Royal Commission, especially such a lavish production as the TURC, the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption.

Commissioned by waving an open cheque in front of lawyers, in this case from George Brandis’ former employer Minter Ellison, the Coalition has helped legal eagles feather their nests to the tune of 17 million. The Bill killers will make a right royal killing of their own. The TURC could blow $80 million by 31 December when it reports.

TURC’s season is certain to be continued. Funds flow freely in the Coalition’s class war. No fee is too high in the war on Labor and the vast underclass of poor needy and vulnerable the party still pretends to represent. No price is too high to buy eternal coalition rule. It is certain that the commission will run longer rather than shorter. Abbott, no doubt would relish a commission in perpetual session. Yet it damages the Inquisitor also.

Happily forking out nearly four times the sum it begrudges its campaign against family violence, the Abbott government’s priorities and values were also very much on show in the commission. It did not disappoint. A nine hundred question duet between Stoljar and Shorten was followed by a Busby Barkly orchestrated chorus of cabinet ministers who came on just to kick Bill. Yet each paraded a brazen hypocrisy and risked drawing attention to their own malfeasances along the way.

‘secret side deals’

Julie Bishop quickly sank her slipper into Shorten calling on him to fess up over ‘secret side deals’ that were ‘not to union members’ benefit.’ Her smear would do more damage were it not for her own ‘secret side deal’ to keep three days’ silence, misleading parliament over Man Haris Monis’ letter not making the inquiry into the Martin Place tragedy. 

But forget merely conspiring to mislead parliament. Shorten’s deals were just too horrible to specify and so utterly unlike the deal Bishop struck to protract proceedings defending CSR Ltd against claims by miners and workers who had contracted mesothelioma through exposure to asbestos in their workplace.

As she explains, “rhetorically asking the court why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying” could be construed as ‘legal theatre’, not truly reflecting on herself as a person. Theatre? Theatre of cruelty, perhaps, Ms Bishop. 

Shorten’s use of union support to help himself win the safe Labor seat of Maribyrnong or deals he did with some big firms to make the workplace work for all parties, or in implementing enterprise bargaining, on the other hand, are true horror stories, according to the coalition which hints that there is so much more to come out.

Eric Abetz, does horror well. Snatching himself away from Pandora’s Box and the nightmare of polyamory rampaging through once respectable suburbs or Tassie’s Channel Highway life-style blocks should gay marriage be legalised, our Minister for unemployment and government Senate smear-leader, delighted loyal fans with his scariest Dalek-speak as he put the boot into Bill.

...helping national conversations about Bill’s guilt…

‘Most people would be horrified by some of the evidence exposed through the royal commission,’ monotoned Abetz, vastly helping national conversations about Bill’s guilt by saving the average punter the bother of finding out the real details and preserving energy for kicking.

Eric can’t wait for the commission to drill down to Bill’s unpaid public library fines and what he lets into his recycling bin. Elaborate? No. Persecute! Exterminate! ‘Most people want him gone.’

Spokesperson for most people, ebullient under-thinker and glad-handed tax conceding Pollyanna, Bruce Billson was keen also to spike the national conversation with a Bill-killer pub test analogy about a car salesman’s commission.

“I think what people are really interested in - imagine if you had a trusted mate buying a car for you, trying to get you a good deal, then you find out your mate is getting a sling from the man who is selling the car, that’s just dodgy,” he told his party’s Channel Nine mates.

Dodgy deportation deals? Billson counted shrewdly on viewers forgetting yesterday’s weather let alone being able to remember last week’s story about his successfully lobbying Immigration Minister Vanstone to overturn the deportation of a Calabrian underworld figure, Joe Madafferi.  Besides it never happened, he explained. The AEC is happy. Go away.

Flouting police advice that Madafferi posed a danger to the community, Billson and a couple of his Liberal mates put in a word with Amanda. Nothing dodgy here, just a trail of big donations to the Liberal Party leading to the successful reversal of Madafferi’s deportation. Vanstone has recently said she was led to believe that Madafferi had gone straight. 

... just another Kathy Jackson ...

Much Bill-kicking of this nature followed, lessened only by the absence of those many party members on holiday during the winter break. Many others subbed for them. Anne Henderson on The Drum linked Bill with the ‘really bad’ CFMEU. Give it time and he will be just another Kathy Jackson in the popular mind. Her case has cropped up helpfully in the same news bulletins. No longer is she the darling of the right, the ‘lion’ lauded for her work in dishing dirt on Craig Thompson when the Abbott government needed her. 

High and low kicking notwithstanding,TURC’s current season is sure to be extended yet again into 2016 to permit the commissioner to drop his Shorten-ordure from a great height all over Labor’s election campaign which Bill is now by no means certain to lead. Mud sticks. 

Of course, not all of us welcome the diversion. Most are still coming to terms with our taxes being used to pay people-smugglers. And the silence that has ensued.

It is alarming just how quickly this ‘creative’ bit of border enforcement, as Abbott describes it, has been redacted from the national agenda.  What could be next? From the same heart of darkness comes the TURC witch hunt.

The Royal Commission into unions is a disturbing show trial, not merely because, as it is luridly billed, its mission is to ‘shine a light into the dark and dirty underbelly of unionism,’ its adverse findings on organised labour predetermined. It is also a cynical attempt to distract and divide. This is not to pretend that there are not questions to ask of some elements of the union movement but we already have established democratic means to achieve this. It is also less about Bill Shorten than what Abbott’s series of commissions represent, a pox on our democracy. 

TURC destroys reputations, demonises unionists and distracts from the coalition’s utter failure to function as a government. Out of touch with Australian society and out of its depth in the world, the coalition is as unprepared to countenance gay marriage as it is to heed warnings that China’s stock-market bubble would one day collapse. Attack is all that matters.

... timing his cut perfectly for the evening tabloid media ...

‘Cut to the chase,’ Chief Witch-finder Heydon interjects, unhappy with his witness having so much to say for himself. If this ‘unprecedented intervention’ as Labor describes it, shines any kind of light it is on Heydon himself and his skill in timing his cut perfectly for the evening tabloid media for a ready-made headline that Bill was an unreliable witness.

Bill Shorten discovered, to his cost, that Commissioner Heydon is not to be mucked around on day two of his testimony; his second long day in the witness box. It was a low point in a long week of misrule in which the Coalition tried again to dim the lights of scrutiny and accountability in its quest to remake the ABC into a government propaganda arm while it underplayed its responsibility for maintaining an orderly functioning democratic society, promoting hysteria and blind fear of terror instead in order to disguise its manifest failure.

Ultimately, the retired Chief Justice will never shine any kind of light into anything that matters to the people at all so powerful and entrenched are the ‘dark and dirty dealings’ of the coalition’s black spot approach to ‘good government.’ Let minors suffer sexual abuse on Nauru a state which has degenerated into a one party dictatorship which has abandoned the rule of law. Let women be forced to trade sexual favours for hot showers. Our government just makes it illegal to tell.

Yet, perhaps, after all a light of sorts is indeed cast by the commissioner on the government’s willingness to abuse its power. Even to Cory Bernardi this is wrong or ‘power creep,’ as he calls it, referring not to his bully of a PM but a process whereby government executive power steadily usurps the rule of law.

Has Bill been killed or merely grilled? His reputation has been seriously damaged and his career may never recover. The bigger question is what is also being done to the rest of us.

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