Bill Shorten’s not the first politician to fail to declare money on time.
But the revelation at the unions royal commission that a donation to his federal campaign in 2007 wasn’t declared isn’t a good look.
Senior counsel Jeremy Stoljar went straight to the heart of the matter on Wednesday just moments after Shorten swore his oath on the Bible.
In the final months of his time as national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Shorten asked the Unibilt company – which was negotiating an enterprise bargaining agreement with Victorian AWU officials – whether they could cover the cost of his campaign director.
They agreed and forked out $40,000 for the staffer, billed via the union and topped up with $12,000 from union funds.
When Shorten signed his donation declaration in early 2008, the money was not noted.
However he fixed the error – on Monday.
Individual election candidates very often file with the electoral commission what are called “nil returns”, while their political parties publicly disclose the fine detail of donations.
Tony Abbott is one of many candidates who have done this.
However, for neither Shorten, the ALP nor the AWU to have told the electoral commission about the money at the time raises serious questions.
Defenders of Shorten would point to Abbott’s slowness in declaring money in the past – such as his Sydney mortgage and his daughter’s scholarship – as well as the repayment of entitlements claimed for him attending a wedding and touring his book, Battlelines.
Having a voluntary declaration system where parties and candidates face no prospect of a penalty for wrong or late information remains a flaw in Australia’s political process which neither major party has shown an interest in fixing.
The commission evidence also puts a spotlight on the use or misuse of union resources for political campaigning – a vexed legal issue being explored in the Health Services Union cases.
Shorten’s reputation has taken a minor hit, but it remains to be seen whether the royal commission delivers a more damaging blow.