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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Very hard to compete with $600,000 in legal clout from the Minister

Bill Shorten's actions in the Federal Court, which I viewed from the start as having the effect of punishing the HSU whistle-blower Kathy Jackson, cost taxpayers more than $600,000.

Keep in mind it was Kathy Jackson who fought so hard to report and to expose the corruption that was apparently (and in respect of Michael Williamson allegedly) endemic within the top of the Health Services Union.   It was hard for Kathy Jackson to do that, not easy.   It made her a lot of enemies in the Labor Party.   But it was unquestionably the right thing to do and I felt she should have been recognised and rewarded for her courage and integrity.

I met Kathy Jackson during my last few weeks with 2UE, after I'd interviewed Craig Thomson.   She struck me as honest and open then, and nothing I have seen since has changed my opinion of her.   I thought from day one that she was motivated by a very simple desire, to uncover and root out corruption in the HSU and to put members first.

After the NSW Police Strike Force Carnarvon was announced, many in the Labor Party took  a particular interest in the police investigation into Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson.   By April, 2012, it seemed to many that the police investigation into Mr Williamson in particular was progressing with a great deal of evidence apparently available to police.  To many commentators and observers, it seemed that charges were likely.   That was April.

In May, 2012, police raided the HSU headquarters and you may recall Mr Williamson being spoken to by police in the car park with certain material allegedly seized from him.

In July, Ian Temby QC's report was released into the management of the union and its finances.   It was damning.

For some reason, the Minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten formed the opinion, during April, that the leadership of the HSU was unable to work together, that relations had broken down, and that an administrator ought to be appointed to head up the union.   That had the effect of relieving Kathy Jackson of her executive job.  

Kathy Jackson never had the chance to run the union, free of Mr Williamson's influence.   Who knows what a difference her approach might have made.   She knew the union, its history and its members - and she was passionate about righting the union's wrongs.   It's hard to argue the same for an Administrator, regardless of how eminent and well chosen the Administrator may be.

Having seen Kathy Jackson's work at close quarters, it struck me as unfair that the fairly obvious factional dispute between her and the Michael Willliamson "faction" (upon whom she had "blown the whistle") should result in her losing her job.   Of course there would be a blue between Kathy Jackson and the Williamson forces.   That was the whole point of reporting him to authorities!   I thought she deserved support to finish her work.

Minister Shorten's actions can now be seen in a much clearer light.   His application was funded by the Commonwealth.   Money was not a concern.   And in the recent HSU election, Katrina Hart, a practising Health Worker at the Prince of Wales Hospital and a person aligned with the work started by Kathy Jackson,  narrowly missed out on the top job in NSW.   Gerard Hayes, The brother of Federal Labor MP Chris Hayes (a former AWU official who signed off on the Bruce Wilson redundancy cheque) took out the top spot.   Gerard Hayes is a candidate with whom the NSW Labor Right is said to be well pleased.

Senator Eric Abetz, the Coalition's industrial relations spokesman is reported in The Australian today as having said this:

"This avalanche of legal costs clearly could not be matched by individual union members or office holders, who were advocating for a different resolution to the issues.

"The upshot . . . has been that Michael Williamson's former lieutenant has succeeded him on a 'charter of reform'."  

This is not a good result for those who report malfeasance in trade unions or the Labor Party.   It's tempting to think that the whistleblowers are being punished.  

Here is The Australian's report today.

Shorten bill in HSU war tops $600k

WORKPLACE Relations Minister Bill Shorten's intervention in the fractious war in the Health Services Union cost the taxpayer more than $600,000.

In answer to a question on notice from opposition spokesman on workplace relations Eric Abetz, Finance Minister Penny Wong said the cost of Mr Shorten's successful application to the Federal Court to put HSU East into administration was $618,633.88. This figure included $356,000 for professional fees and $137,000 for counsel.

Mr Shorten has insisted he acted to place the allegedly corrupt East branch -- which covered NSW, the ACT and Victoria -- into administration because it had become paralysed by a factional war between its then general secretary Michael Williamson, and then executive president Kathy Jackson, and was dysfunctional for its members.

Ms Jackson has maintained Mr Shorten's role was designed to stop her mainly Victorian faction from gaining control of the union, in a bid to settle scores within the Victorian ALP Right of which Mr Shorten heads a sub-faction with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Mr Shorten's application in April to the Federal Court came in the form of an intervention in a case brought by Ms Jackson in which she argued that the rules excluded many HSU East council members loyal to Mr Williamson from voting. Had the court found in her favour, her faction might have been able to seize control of the council and expel Mr Williamson.

While Ms Jackson fought for her original case to be heard, she was hampered by lack of funds.

Senator Abetz told The Australian: "This avalanche of legal costs clearly could not be matched by individual union members or office holders, who were advocating for a different resolution to the issues.

"The upshot . . . has been that Michael Williamson's former lieutenant has succeeded him on a 'charter of reform'."

Mr Shorten's application to the Federal Court saw HSU East split into its three pre-merger branches in NSW and Victoria, and elections held.

A candidate favoured by the ALP Right, Gerard Hayes, won the role of general secretary of the NSW branch, edging Ms Jackson's ally Katrina Hart.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten rejected the Abetz claims, saying the minister intervened to obtain the appointment of "an impartial administrator to get the HSU back on track . . . Is Senator Abetz saying he wouldn't have acted to put an administrator in charge?"



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