Former High Court judge Dyson Heydon has been caught out for agreeing to be a guest speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser. That’s right, the same supposedly independent jurist who is fronting the Abbott government’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
Rather than step down from that role with a few words about the jig being up, Heydon is toughing it out in a way that comes naturally to those who feel they’re born to rule.
If this reminds you of MPs’ incomprehension about our hostility to paying for their families’ business class holiday airfares, or Barry O’Farrell’s assumption that a $3,000 bottle of Grange was nothing special, it should.
There’s a familiar hubris in this case too. Attorney general George Brandis came to Heydon’s defence with the ludicrous assertion that an event splashed with the Liberal Party logo and the words, “All proceeds from this event will be applied to state election campaigning” was “not political”. Tony Nutt, state director of the NSW Liberal Party, issued a press release arguing the event was not a “significant fundraising event”.
Just to prove his impartiality and absolute independence from the Liberal Party, Heydon has now withdrawn from speaking at the event, “at least while he is in the position of royal commissioner”.
Unions have always maintained that the royal commission is about attacking the ability of unions to fight the bosses over jobs, wages, conditions and safety. That’s why Heydon got to preside over it. He is a reliable member of the ruling class.
The ruling class is not a conspiracy but a network with common interests. Despite the myth of social mobility, it is largely hereditary, not just in the inheritance of vast wealth by bosses such as Gina Rinehart, but in its membership in general. They grow up in the same suburbs, attend the same elite private schools and universities and engage in the same social activities, including Liberal Party fundraisers.
Those links are on display in the current revelations. The organiser of the fundraiser is Gregory Burton, a barrister who is a potential federal Liberal successor to Bronwyn Bishop in the seat of Mackellar. Burton is a member of the NSW Bar Association’s Bar News committee, which just happens to be chaired by Jeremy Stoljar, the counsel assisting the royal commission.
But the links of class go much deeper than just this one event.
Heydon’s father was the private secretary to Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies. Young Dyson went to all the right schools and universities. He was a prefect at Sydney’s elite Shore school, lived in the conservative nest of St Paul’s College at Sydney University for five years and was then, like Abbott, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Later, he was the dean of law at Sydney University.
He is well known for having berated “activist judges” during a 2002 dinner speech. These views made him a prime candidate for appointment to the High Court by John Howard, and the well-paid sinecure of royal commissioner in his retirement.
So why wouldn’t Dyson Heydon want to address a Liberal Party event named in honour of Garfield Barwick? Barwick was the man who, as chief justice of the High Court, secretly advised John Kerr on how to dismiss the Whitlam government. His interpretations of the Tax Act famously benefited the big end of town.
Such people play a useful role for the bosses. The captains of industry like to outsource. For example, we are supposed to believe that the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, including slashing Sunday penalty rates, are somehow neutral because they are not announced by the head of the Australian Retailers Association.
Similarly, the royal commission is a pretty paltry attempt at a veneer of independence over union-bashing. Presiding over that is a much more important crime on the part of Dyson Heydon than speaking at any number of Liberal Party events.