On Monday, the commission will call over 30 witnesses to give evidence about the ETU’s activities, The Sydney Morning Herald reported – including an “investment” the union made to the Labor Party.
Among those taking to the witness stand will be NSW ETU secretary Steve Butler and former secretary Bernie Riordan.
Upon confirming that the loan would be investigated by the commission, he claimed that he had already had it looked into by his own officials.
“The Trade Union Royal Commission intends to investigate an investment made by the NSW branch of the Electrical Trades Union almost five years ago, which involved a commercial loan to the NSW Labor Party,” he explained. “On assuming the position of secretary in July 2012, I immediately ordered a review of this matter to ensure proper internal processes had been followed and that the rules of the union had been complied with.”
According to Butler, his review found that the loan was justifiable.
“The review reported that the loan was an investment decision, the rules of the union were complied with and the loan was properly made,” he said.
Butler added that the loan was repaid in full to the NSW ETU in 2013 – and that it was not unusual for unions to invest their members’ money into causes that would generate returns to support their activities.
“The ETU was one of three unions to extend loans to NSW Labor in 2010/11,” he said. “One must remember that trade unions founded the Labor Party more than one hundred years ago as the political voice of working people, and we continue to enjoy a close working relationship with the Labor Party to achieve our goal of improving the lives of working people.”
He added that questions about the actions of former office holders “were best addressed by those individuals”, The Herald reported.
Riordan – a former president of NSW Labor – was appointed as a commissioner of Fair Work Australia in 2012.
Before his appointment as a commissioner, Riordan was accused in a Federal Court case of receiving $1.8 million in directors fees from industry boards. ETU Victoria alleged that the fees legally should have been returned to the union.
However, the case was eventually withdrawn.
The claim against Riordan was lodged by the secretary of the ETU’s Victorian branch, Dean Mighell, who also made similar allegations against NSW ETU officials Neville Betts and Paul Sinclair.
Bletts and Sinclair are alleged to have received $595,374 and $991,839 respectively from boards they sat on.
The claim was previously dismissed by the NSW branch of the ETU as an “ugly stunt” and a “cynical ploy”.
The ETU hearing is expected to run until Wednesday, while the Transport Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) will face the Royal Commission in May and June respectively.
The New South Wales branch of the Electrical Trades Union is expected to be scrutinised as a part of the Royal Commission inquiry into union corruption.