Shorten seeks to fast-track union royal commission appearance

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has sought an early appearance at the royal commission. AAP/Mick Tsikas

UPDATE: The commission has agreed to Shorten’s request to appear before it earlier. He will now give evidence on July 8.

EARLIER: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has asked the royal commission into union corruption to bring forward his appearance to July in an effort to deal with the political fallout of his union past as quickly as possible.

Last week, the commission requested Shorten to give evidence and he agreed to do so voluntarily. The commission proposed an August-September attendance; his lawyers said then he was happy to attend any time.

Shorten’s lawyers have now written to try to speed up things, saying “Mr Shorten desires to bring forward the date of his appearance so that he may address all issues of interest to the commission at the earliest mutually convenient time”. The letter also seeks immediate access to all documents that concern Shorten.

Shorten’s action follows a report in Fairfax Media saying that one of the nation’s biggest builders paid the Australian Workers Union nearly A$300,000 after Shorten struck a deal that cut conditions and saved the company up to $100 million on a Melbourne road project, the $2.5 billion East Link tollway.

The Fairfax report said Thiess John Holland “regarded the payment as an acknowledgement of the flexibility of the AWU deal, which was struck by Mr Shorten”.

Shorten on Thursday received support for the deal he struck from prominent business leader Tony Shepherd, who was at the time chairman of Connect East – which subcontracted Thiess John Holland.

Shepherd, who chaired Tony Abbott’s commission of audit, described it as a “great agreement”. He told the Australian Financial Review the agreement saw the workers paid “record rates for an urban construction project [and] gave the employer a lot more flexibility regarding rostering”. He said: “we got much, much better productivity and it was delivered five months ahead of schedule”.

Saying the deal set a new benchmark, Shepherd said: “Bill demonstrated that it could be done in Victoria. It should be a model.

"It was a great deal for us, it was a great deal for the boys, the safety record was great, there were no disputes, everyone was happy.”