Justice Dyson Heydon decides not to stand down

The head of the royal commission into trade unions, Dyson Heydon, has announced he will remain in his position after weeks of speculation surrounding allegations of bias.

On Monday afternoon Justice Heydon dismissed an application to have him stand aside, and then adjourned the royal commission.

His appearance before the commission was brief, choosing to deliver the reasons for his decision in writing.

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Justice Heydon was prompted to deliver his verdict after seven unions, all investigated by the royal commission, demanded he recuse himself.

The group of unions called for the former High Court justice to step down after he accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party event during the commission, arguing he created a perception of “apprehended bias” and compromised the inquiry, even though he withdrew from the event.

“I have considered all the submissions,” Mr Heydon told the commission on Monday.

“In my opinion, the applications must be dismissed.”

In summary, Justice Heydon wrote, in a 67-page report: “the application centred on the contention that an agreement made in April 2014, to deliver in August 2015, the Sixth Sir Annual Sir Garfield Barwick Address … might cause a fair-minded lay observer reasonably to apprehend that I might not bring an impartial mind to the resolution to questions to be examined during the course of the commission’s inquiries. ”

“I have concluded that it is not the case that a fair-minded lay observer might apprehend that I might not bring an impartial mind to the resolution of the questions which the work of the commission requires to be decided.”


Justice Heydon also said in the report that he did not possess a computer and only read emails “after they have been printed out for me” by his personal assistant.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the royal commission should still be shut down and he would seek further legal advice.

“We are of the view that this royal commission is biased,” Mr Oliver said after the decision.

“It is a waste of taxpayers’ money and the ACTU are renewing our calls for Tony Abbott to shut it down.”

The politically branded invitation promoted Justice Heydon’s appearance and offered guests the option to make cheques “payable to the Liberal Party”, saying proceeds would be “applied to state election campaigning”.

However Justice Heydon’s office released a series of emails showing he was previously assured by the organisers that it was not a fundraiser.

Justice Heydon then admitted he “overlooked” the political connection.

The verdict was delayed last week because the unions made further submissions after it was revealed counsel-assisting Jeremy Stoljar spoke to Justice Heydon about the function before he agreed to withdraw.

The conversation was prompted by an email from the NSW Bar Association’s publications manager Chris Winslow.

“Is Dyson Heydon aware that the Garfield Barwick Address, which he is due to deliver, is a Liberal Party fundraiser?” Mr Winslow asked Mr Stoljar on the evening of August 12.

Attorney-General George Brandis said after Mr Heydon’s brief statement that the government was pleased with the decision.

“Without even having to read the reasons … I would be very confident that his espousal of the appropriate legal principles and his application of those principles to the facts of this case will be a very strong one,” Mr Brandis told Sky News.

He said one of the reasons why he recommended Mr Heydon be appointed to the commission was “you could always foresee the Labor party and the union movement would throw everything at this person because they had so much to lose by the corruption in the union movement being exposed”.

“I wanted someone whose reputation was so strong and whose integrity was so beyond question that he would withstand all the mud that has been flung at him by the Labor party and the union movement,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop denounced the application as an attempt by unions to protect “corrupt union bosses”.

While the ACTU threatened to take the commissioner to the High Court, historical links between Justice Heydon and Prime Minister Tony Abbott were revealed, including his presence on a selection panel that awarded the PM a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in the 1980s.

Mr Abbott had insisted the inquiry would continue, with or without Justice Heydon, who he had strongly backed.

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