Thursday’s Royal Commission into Trade Union … hearing (12th June) ended as it began with legal argument over the exclusion of a number of paragraphs contained in Bruce Wilson’s sworn statement.
The paragraphs concerned dealt primarily with Wilson’s allegation that he was offered $200,000 by Harry Nowicki to alter his testimony thereby implicating Julia Gillard in potentially illegal activities.
In the morning’s legal banter when the controversial paragraphs were deleted the Commissioner Dyson Heydon did not give any reasons as to his decision. Wilson’s legal representative, Dr Hanscombe QC, rose after the close of the day’s evidence, to make an application requesting the Commish give reasons for their exclusion.
“DR HANSCOMBE: I have a short application to make. I have
14 instructions to seek from you, Commissioner, reasons for
15 this morning’s ruling excluding portions of Mr Wilson’s
18 THE COMMISSIONER: Do you say there’s an obligation to
19 give those reasons?
21 DR HANSCOMBE: If there isn’t an obligation arising by
22 implication from the Act, then there would be, in my
23 submission, an obligation if we made application pursuant
24 to the Administrative Decisions Judicial Review Act 1976
25 and if need be, we will make such an application. “ (p. 519)
Wilson, who had been excused, was then unexcused, and asked to remain in the Commission’s hearing room while this argument was discussed.
The Commissioner asked Dr Hanscombe what was the point of it (‘it’ being the need for a decision) to which she replied,
“DR HANSCOMBE: Those who instruct me want to consider
36 whether anything arises from that exclusion, that they may
37 want to take it further in some other forum. That’s as far
38 as I can I take that, Commissioner, simply to consider the
39 issue. “
The Commissioner then gave a four page ex tempore decision. The decision’s detailed narrative went through the evidence given so far. He read from notes of what was said by various witnesses throughout the hearing. He declared that the content of those sections of Wilson’s statement as being ‘hearsay’ and even ‘… treble-handed hearsay …’ and were deleted as being ‘irrelevant’.
The evidence of this Commission so far has been largely hearsay, especially Gillard’s supposed involvement. The issue of concern to Hanscombe was the potential abuse of the process, something which should never be regarded as irrelevant to any court or legal institution.
Blewitt ‘s evidence acknowledged Nowicki’s writing his statements and payments of ‘out of pocket expenses’ and his, with others, visit to him in Kuala Lumpa. It would have been easy for the Royal Commission to verify Nowicki’s and others’ trip to Athens, allegedly to see Bill the Greek.
At the heart of Wilson’s allegation is the issue of the tainting of the administration of justice process. This is a critical keystone underpinning the justice system. Royal Commissions are different from the ordinary court. Their role is different as are the roles of Commissioner and Counsel Assisting, their rules of evidence and procedures are different, but they can’t afford to have any suggestion that the process is being, or has been tainted. If that is allowed to continue then the integrity of the Royal Commission is called into question.
For those who’ve said at the outset that this Royal Commission is a witch hunt driven by a political agenda, the Commissioner’s decision on Thursday may have added to their concern. It may also have the potential to destabilise its integrity.
The question is what Hanscombe will do next. Although Royal Commission findings can’t be appealed, procedural decisions can be.
For those who may like to wade through the transcripts of the public hearings to date this link will take you there.