Australia: Trade unions Royal Commission commences in Sydney

A preliminary hearing of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (Commission) was held on 9 April 2014, with formal statements made by the Commissioner The Hon John Dyson Heydon AC QC and counsel assisting the Commission, Mr Jeremy Stoljar SC.

The terms of reference issued by the Governor General were formally read, and Mr Stoljar noted that the Governor of Queensland had issued letters patent to the Commission with identical terms of reference to those issued by the Governor General, on 24 March 2014.

In addressing the Terms of Reference, the Commissioner acknowledged that although expressed broadly, they rest on assumptions that are not hostile to trade unions. Specifically, the inquiries the Commission will make are not premised on the basis that trade unions ought to be abolished or their roles curtailed or diminished. To this end the Commission recognises the role of trade unions in protecting and advancing the interests of members. Consequently, the Commission considers it worth inquiring into whether the roles of trade unions are performed lawfully and/or whether the roles can be performed better or more lawfully.


Mr Stoljar SC stated that inquiry will focus on determining allegations that trade unions establish and operate slush funds. The enormity of this inquiry was acknowledged, given the legal structure of slush funds could be infinitely various including taking the form of an organisation, an unincorporated association or simply a bank account.

Where these allegations prove correct, the Commission will further inquire into the transparency of slush funds, including where the funds are originating from, what the funds are being used for and whether there is any wrongdoing in operating such funds. Mr Stoljar SC noted an examination of slush funds in this regard would necessarily involve extensive accounting analysis of trade unions, slush funds and any entities that pay money into the funds.

It was recognised that the results of the inquiry may reveal divergences in the practices of trade unions. To understand why these differences exist, the Commission will also receive evidence on structures, rules or understandings that are in place to prevent improper or unlawful conduct.

The Commission will also consider whether the legal framework that applies to union officials is appropriate, having regard to comparable legal obligations applying to officers in corporate and other roles.


The Commissioner outlined the laws against obstructing the inquiry, in particular that witnesses are not to testify falsely, be prevented from testifying, be bribed or injured and that documents are not to be tampered with or destroyed. Relevantly, the Commissioner also noted that it is an offence for an employer to disadvantage or dismiss an employee who gives evidence as part of the inquiry. Significant penalties will be imposed on persons or entities associated with such conduct and depending on the conduct the Commissioner noted penalties up to a $20,000 fine and 5 years prison apply. The Commissioner also noted the power to draw inferences against persons and entities involved in such conduct.


Mr Stoljar SC noted that a number of summonses to produce documents have already been issued and the recipients are in contact with the Royal Commission in relation to the scope and production of documents.

With a reporting date of 31 December 2014, the Commission informed that deadlines for complying with summonses will be treated strictly.

Further information including hearing dates will be published on the Commission's website.


Organisations that expect to have an involvement in the Commission should give consideration to the following matters:

  • the Commission's investigations will involve detailed accounting analysis of slush funds and entities that paid money to slush funds. We would expect the Commission's lawyers to review union slush fund transactions, and then issue summonses to any organisations that have paid money (directly or indirectly) to union slush funds. It is a priority for organisations to understand the extent of any exposure and how that is reflected in the organisation's financial and other records. The corporate governance aspects of any illegal payments will be serious. Expert forensic assistance may be necessary, and boards should consider independent legal and accounting assistance.
  • organisations will need to have a plan in place in relation to employee disclosures to both the organisation and to the Commission regarding issues that the Commission is inquiring into.
  • the task of responding to summonses from the Royal Commission on short notice may be difficult, particularly if the relevant matters occurred some years ago. Steps should be taken to understand how and where relevant information will be stored (both electronically and in hard copy) within the organisation. It will also be crucial to put in place measures that prevent relevant information from unauthorised access, and from deletion or tampering. The Commissioner explicitly noted the penalties that apply under the Royal Commissions Act, and the destruction of evidence may also be an offence under other Federal and State laws.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Most awarded firm and Australian deal of the year
Australasian Legal Business Awards
Employer of Choice for Women
Equal Opportunity for Women
in the Workplace (EOWA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.