Transport Workers' Union in focus at the Royal Commission - the background to knocking off Hughie Williams
The TWU is now affiliated with the Labor Right in Queensland, the faction of Labor leader Bill Shorten and the dominant Australian Workers Union.
On Thursday last week the Royal Commission summonsed Stephen Donnelly, the former Chief of Staff to Senator David Feeney.
MR STOLJAR: There is one more witness, Mr Donnelly,
there's no statement, and he has been issued with a
MR STOLJAR: Q. Could you tell the Commission your full
A. Stephen Paul Donnelly.
Q. And you're a resident of Victoria?
A. I am.
Q. What's your current occupation, Mr Donnelly?
A. I'm the assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of
the Australian Labor Party.
Q. In 2009, for whom were you working?
A. I was working for Senator David Feeney.
Q. And he was a senator for the ALP?
A. For the state of Victoria, yes.
In 2010 Hughie Williams was knocked off as Queensland state secretary of the Transport Workers Union.
Q.......Have you worked on any campaigns subsequent to the
2009 HSU campaign?
A. Yes, I have.
Q. Can you give me an example?
A. Yes, I volunteered on the TWU Queensland Branch
campaign in 2010 I think.
Q. Tell me about that campaign. Who was the incumbent
secretary and who was challenging who; who were you
A. The incumbent secretary was Hughie Williams who had
been secretary at that branch for the better part of 20 or
Q. He's Left Wing ALP, isn't he?
A. Notionally, yes.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. I don't know if Hughie ever tied himself to the Left
in Queensland's Labor politics but he certainly had Left
Q. What was happening? Was he under challenge, was he?
A. Yes, he was.
Q. Who was the challenger?
A. The candidate that was running for secretary of that
branch was a union member by the name of Peter Biagini.
Q. Whose campaign were you working on?
A. I was supporting the Biagini campaign.
Q. That campaign was successful, wasn't it?
A. Yes. The Biagini ticket won by I think 70 per cent of
Q. Did that campaign also receive funding from any fund?
A. Once again, my role wasn't associated with the
fundraising or the allocation of resources.
My understanding is that there perhaps may have been a fund
that would be supporting that campaign.
Q. When you say "perhaps may have been", what was that
A. I don't know the name of that fund.
Q. Are you sure?
A. Yes, I am.
Q. The McLean Forum?
A. I've heard that name before and during that campaign
I never heard the word McLean Forum mentioned.
Q. I'm probably putting this crudely, Mr Donnelly, but is
it correct to say that the Biagini ticket was associated
with the right-wing faction and the Williams ticket was
associated with the left-wing faction, or is that putting
it too crudely?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Here's some of a report by Royce Millar and Ben Schneiders in the Fairfax press about the Hughie Williams assassination.
(Hughie Williams, former TWU Queensland secretary at home with some of his memorabilia from the 1964 Olmpics where he represented Australia in wrestling)
Ledwith's suspicions were confirmed. He had been inadvertently invited to a forum organised by his political enemies; it was an unnerving experience. ''Blue-collar unions don't do focus groups. Whoever was behind this, it wasn't transport workers.''
As Fairfax Media revealed on Friday, Williams was routed at the 2010 election in a covert $500,000 factional takeover orchestrated by his own federal leadership in Sydney, with the support of then Health Services Union (HSU) leader Michael Williamson and a team of young ALP operatives, including staffers from the offices of then Labor senators David Feeney and Stephen Hutchins.
The TWU's federal secretary at the time was Tony Sheldon, currently the national vice-president of the ALP and a stalwart of the scandal-plagued NSW Right faction.
The questions raised by the Queensland union takeover - the potential misuse of union and parliamentary resources for ALP factional plays; the lack of accountability around the many slush funds and funny money schemes that generate millions of dollars for empire-building within the labour movement; and disregard for rank-and-file union and ALP members - are some of the troubling issues that have sparked calls for reform. Ostensibly, the anti-Williams campaign was run by a local reform group called the New Transport Workers Team.
The team was headed by former union official Peter Biagini, who insists his leadership tilt was wholly organised and financed by a group of former officials dismissed by Williams, and some disaffected delegates.
''There was no money from anywhere else,'' says Biagini, who estimates the cost of his bid for leadership at something over $50,000.
But sources at the heart of the Queensland election battle have detailed how Biagini's campaign was run by officials from the federal and NSW branches of TWU, with personnel and other resources from the TWU, HSU, and the parliamentary offices of factionally friendly MPs.
Sheldon has now also acknowledged financing the campaign through the McLean Forum, a slush fund partly bankrolled by employer contributions.
In a blitz of propaganda, the union's truck-driving members were inundated with letters, leaflets, brochures, posters, radio advertisements, SMS messages, focus groups and call-centre telephoning, all portraying the incumbent leader Williams as a drunken, demented dictator.
There is no doubt the Queensland branch under the ageing Williams had its problems and modernisation was necessary. But Williams says problems in his union were for the union to sort out.
''Unions spending money on each others' elections is absolutely poisonous to the trade union movement,'' he says. ''If a union has got a problem, it is up to those union members to sort their own problem out. Not for other unions to get involved.''
The NSW Right has no time for such sentiment. On the ground the campaign to oust Williams was overseen by a group of TWU and HSU union officials and young operatives from Labor's dominant right-wing faction, described by one senior Labor MP as a ''hit squad''.
A senior federal TWU official at the time, Tom Pacey, and NSW TWU communications officer Michael Wong helped oversee a campaign that included running a call centre from the Highpoint business complex at Springwood in South Brisbane six days a week. Campaign calls were also made from TWU headquarters in Sydney.
At least one HSU official was sent to Queensland by then federal secretary Michael Williamson who already faces multiple charges over misuse of union money. Fairfax has established that Williamson gave his blessing to the HSU support for the campaign as a favour to his old NSW Right comrade, Tony Sheldon. They have since fallen out. The HSU also paid for campaign material.
Angela Humphries, the HSU official who worked on the Queensland campaign, had similarly worked on the 2007 election campaign of former Labor MP and HSU federal secretary Craig Thomson. Payments to her for that work by Thomson - then HSU leader - were investigated by Fair Work Australia and found to be unauthorised.
The ''hit squad'' also included Stephen Donnelly, at the time a staffer to Victorian Labor powerbroker and now federal opposition frontbencher David Feeney. He is now an assistant secretary of the Victorian ALP.
On board also was rising right-wing star Xavier Williams, now working as an adviser to Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, and Amber Setchell who, at the time, was a staff member for then-senator Stephen Hutchins, former TWU federal president and a stalwart of the NSW Right. Hutchins says Setchell was on leave at the time.
In the weeks from mid-August until the election in late November, members of the anti-Williams group shared a townhouse at seaside Cleveland in east Brisbane at a cost of about $900 a week.
An analysis by Fairfax Media, in conjunction with well-placed sources, puts the cost of the anti-Williams campaign at a conservative $500,000 - a figure that includes union and parliamentary staff hours, printing and mail, marketing expertise, rent on accommodation and offices, focus groups, telephones, petrol, hire cars and living expenses including food.
Revelations about the anti-Williams campaign raise serious questions for Tony Sheldon and Michael Williamson - who is already facing more than 50 charges of misappropriation of HSU funds - over interference in other unions and branches, the possible misuse of union resources, and the source and use of secretive union slush funds.
The revelations also highlight the role in union elections by Labor factional warlords such as federal opposition frontbencher David Feeney.
Months before the TWU Queensland election, TWU federal secretary Tony Sheldon created a new federal position in Queensland and a new office at an unlikely address in suburban Redcliffe. The new job was for Sheldon's trusted ally and former NSW official, Scott Connolly, the office conveniently located close to Connolly's home.
It was a who's who of Labor and union politics. $500,000 to knock off a good man who didn't want to go - to replace him with someone palatable to Michael Williamson, David Feeney, Tony Sheldon and sundry others.
Here is a question put to Mr Donnelly that gives some insight into this week's hearings of the Royal Commission:
Q. Was there a gentleman by the name of Daniel Mookhey
working on the campaign?
A. Certainly not in Queensland, no.
Nice answer. More soon.