Costigan Royal Commission

The Costigan Commission was an Australian royal commission of inquiry held between 1980-1984 (officially titled the Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union).

Headed by Frank Costigan (Queens Counsel), the Commission was established by the Australian government to uncover criminal activities, especially violence, occurring within the Painters and Dockers Union.

The Commission was widely perceived as politically motivated, in line with a long-running anti-union agenda pursued by the sitting government (Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal government in its second and third terms).

However, once up and running, the Commission’s enquiries shifted from union activities to investigation of ‘bottom of the harbour’ tax evasion schemes (criminalised in 1980). These schemes involved stripping a company of assets and accumulated profits before its tax fell due, thereby evading the payment of tax. Although facilitated by criminals among the Painters and Dockers Union, this practice, and many others engaged in by the union, benefited wealthy individuals who engaged the ‘services’ of the union members to achieve their legally and morally questionable ends.

As well as bottom of the harbour schemes, the Costigan Commission also uncovered other taxation fraud, social security fraud, compensation fraud, extortion, large-scale theft, large-scale drug importation, large-scale arms importation, assault, and murder occurring within the Painters and Dockers Union.

The report also alleged that a prominent Australian businessman, code named ‘Goanna’ engaged in tax evasion and organised crime. Kerry Packer identified himself as the Goanna, and initiated a suit disputing the claims, argued by then-barrister Malcolm Turnbull.