Friends in high places

Justice Dyson Heydon has fought off an unscrupulous attack on his character by the organisations he is tasked with investigating — advisers should be celebrating

Last week, ACTU secretary David Oliver – the country’s highest ranking union boss – went on Lateline to continue the personal campaign against Dyson Heydon that has taken up so much oxygen in the ‘mainstream’ media and legal blogs and forums in recent weeks.

The charge is that Justice Heydon, by having agreed to speak in the past at a Liberal Party fundraiser, is fundamentally conflicted and unable to perform his judicial duties as royal commissioner in the government’s inquiry into trade union governance and corruption.

“What we have here is someone that's presiding over something that is a highly politically-charged, and clearly in our view, a politically-motivated royal commission who agrees to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser,” Mr Oliver told Emma Alberici.

“You don't speak at these events unless you're a supporter.”

Putting aside the irony of a union leader calling out someone else on issues of ethics and impropriety for a moment, the underlying assumption is simply wrong.

Public figures speak at functions and events, including political party fundraisers, all the time. It is ignorant to assume their appearance – especially where they are talking about an issue on which they are the pre-eminent expert – is an endorsement of the cause.

By the logic of the anti-Heydon campaign, when Chris Bowen or Bernie Ripoll speak at an AFA or FPA function they are endorsing the political aims of these organisations – and we all know the ALP loves adviser associations about as much as a suburban IFA loves the big four banks!

But let’s indulge Mr Oliver’s proposition for a sec and assume Justice Heydon does have some basic affinity for the Liberal Party. I mean, we live in a nation with compulsory voting so he has to pick a side at least once every few years, as does every other member of the judiciary and Australian society for that matter, no matter the day job.

But having a philosophical allegiance to one side of the political spectrum, does not render him unable to do his job. This is a man who has sat on the highest courts in the land for 30 years – including during some of the most controversial legal disputes in our nation’s history – and this is the first time the issue of bias has raised its head.

Coincidence? I think not.

This is simply about one thing: the unions trying to discredit a judicial inquiry that was actually starting to scratch at the truth. Sure, the decision to hold the royal commission was “politically-motivated”. And the Ripoll Inquiry wasn’t? Both sides do this to each other when they get into office. What matters is that the outcomes are in the public interest.

Without this royal commission, the shocking revelations of corruption and collusion at industry fund Cbus would not have been publicly aired. Innocent Cbus members would be blissfully unaware that their confidential information was being leaked to a trade union for use in its grubby campaigns.

Talk about political bias!

When it comes to industry funds, the royal commission has only just scraped the surface. And judging by the desperate diversion tactics being employed by the union bosses on primetime telly, the industry funds probably want to keep it that way.

In the most recent edition of ifa, editor Alice Uribe has penned an authoritative piece on how many in the advice world are burying the hatchet, suggesting an armistice may be underway.

There is no doubt it makes sense for advisers and dealer groups to be viewing industry funds as potential business-spinners, but that is why it is so important that we have a process airing past poor behavior, so that advisers – and their clients – know exactly who they are getting into bed with.

Dyson Heydon has issued a passionate defence of his own position, rebuking those who sought to besmirch his name and question his judicial impartiality. It looks like, for now, the commission will go ahead.

A new era of industry fund cooperation notwithstanding, advisers should be pleased the show will go on.


 Aleks Vickovich, ifa contributing editor 

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