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My Opinion Pieces

HERALD SUN: Time for Andrews to show Melhem the door

   Saturday, 2 January 2016

Herald Sun 2 January 2016


THE scathing findings by the trade union royal commission of possible criminal conduct by Labor MP Cesar Melhem is a serious new year headache for Daniel Andrews.

Royal commissioner Dyson Heydon has referred to prosecutors evidence of alleged corruption and the issuing of false invoices by Melhem. If he is found guilty of a breach of the criminal law, he could be disqualified from remaining a member of state Parliament.

Andrews expressed confidence in Melhem stating he is "confident that Cesar Melhem will continue doing his job". That statement is at odds with what he said before Heydon handed down his final report.

Andrews repeatedly said that he would wait until the royal commission had finished its work before deciding whether to take any action against Melhem. He said to this newspaper that "when the process has come to an end, we'll be able to talk about all the findings it makes, not interim findings, not commentary, we'll be able to deal with the facts".

Melhem has been found to have potentially breached sections 176 and 83 of the Victorian Crimes Act and, according to the royal commission's final report, "has been responsible for numerous actions favouring the interests of the union over the members, which may be breaches of legal duty". For example, while Melhem was secretary of the Australian Workers Union, the "AWU and Cleanevent agreed to extend an enterprise agreement . thereby saving the company some $2,000,000 per year it would otherwise have had to pay its casual workers in penalty rates . in exchange Cleanevent paid the AWU $25,000 per year and provided lists of '100 purported members' ".

Because of his less than compelling appearance at the royal commission earlier this year, Melhem resigned as the Government's Chief Whip in the Upper House. He responded to the final report's findings in a curious fashion, telling the media "he (Dyson Heydon) has just adopted (counsel assisting the royal commission into trade unions, Jeremy) Stoljar's submission, which is just so f--ing pathetic".

Most Victorians would regard Melhem's conduct as a betrayal of the workers he was paid to represent.

The final report states, " ... in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts".

As a Liberal I believe in the fundamental right of all Australians to freely associate, in this case to join a trade union. But this royal commission has revealed a labour movement more interested in furthering the interests of union officials than its members.

This is now a test of leadership for Andrews. He should expel Melhem from the Labor Party and send him to the crossbench. When Julia Gillard was prime minister, she threw Craig Thomson out of the caucus, saying, "I want Australians to be able to look at the Parliament and respect the Parliament and I believe a line had been crossed about the ability of Australians to confidently say that they had respect in our Parliament".

During the Bracks government an ALP Upper House MP was caught driving while disqualified. Before the matter went to court, Steve Bracks demanded that the MP resign from the party. It was reported that Bracks said "there is no room in the Labor Party for people who had so openly flouted the law". Andrews should apply the same standards here.

This week he implored us all to "buy ethically" during the sales, urging us to reward "those Australian companies who do the right thing by their workers". Well, Mr Premier, "charity begins at home and justice begins next door". It is time to kick Melhem out of the Labor Party for doing the wrong thing by his workers.

Source: Herald Sun, Melbourne, 2 January 2016