Friday 26 August 2011

Craig Thompson troubles continue

Union officials at war over Craig Thomson dossier

Kathy Jackson
Health Services Union national secretary Kathy Jackson outside Royal Melbourne Hospital last night.
Picture: Aaron Francis Source: The Australian

THE national president of the Health Services Union, Michael Williamson, was rolled by more junior officials on whether to take allegations of misuse of union funds by Labor MP Craig Thomson to police, sparking a war within the union and sections of the ALP.

The Australian can reveal that, while national secretary Kathy Jackson and many other members of the union's national executive pushed through a motion at an HSU national executive meeting on Wednesday to actively refer the matter to NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, Mr Williamson had initially opposed the move.

Mr Williamson, a former ALP president, had proposed his own motion the night before that made no mention of NSW police, noted that the matter was before Fair Work Australia and would have placed a gag on any further statements by union leaders about Mr Thomson.

 However, Mr Williamson went to Newcastle on the day of an HSU meeting in Sydney, and was outmanoeuvred by rebels who were determined that there would be a police investigation and they would not be silenced.

The union, with 70,000 members, mostly low-paid workers, commands considerable weight in the ALP national conference and Mr Williamson is a major figure in the dominant NSW Right faction of the party. Factional sources said many ALP figures thought Mr Williamson had the Thomson matter "in hand", and would be alarmed they had been blindsided.

Ms Jackson is a more junior ALP figure, but within 24 hours has become the public face of outrage within the union movement over the Thomson allegations and the need for him to publicly address them - a position vigorously supported by the federal Coalition and opposed by Julia Gillard.

One source said there was considerable anger in the ALP that Ms Jackson was providing ammunition for Tony Abbott.

The row at the top of the HSU came as pressure from the Thomson credit card scandal continued to mount on federal Labor, which would be likely to lose a by-election in the MP's marginal NSW central coast seat of Dobell if Mr Thomson were forced to resign, spelling the end of the minority Gillard government.

Ms Jackson last night would not comment on what transpired before and at Wednesday's meeting, except to say: "There were a variety of views expressed at the meeting, but the vote was unanimous to refer the matter to police."

Ms Jackson yesterday stuck by her position that the vote was the correct outcome."It was more than the right thing to do," Ms Jackson told The Australian last night."I am responsible, and have a fiduciary duty, to each and every member of this union in ensuring that their funds are used correctly."

Ms Jackson repeated her view that Mr Thomson should come clean with an explanation to the HSU membership about allegations that, when he was HSU national secretary, he misused his union credit card to make more than $100,000 of personal expenditures, including on prostitutes. "He made a statement on 2UE about what he has and hasn't done, and then more information has come to light in the media, and since then he's gone silent," Ms Jackson said last night.

"I have union members coming up to me every day saying 'Why is Craig Thomson not saying anything?'," she said. Mr Thomson has strongly denied the allegations, and insists he has engaged in no wrongdoing. He has said of the prostitute allegations that his signature was forged by someone else on the relevant vouchers and he knows who it was, but will not name the person.

The HSU's referral of the matter to NSW police and the provision of thousands of pages of evidence from their own investigation, which Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione had said on Monday would be essential if an investigation were to proceed, means the claims will be thoroughly examined.

Ms Jackson's strongly stated views in interviews since Wednesday's national executive vote runs counter to the official ALP line espoused by Labor figures including senator Doug Cameron, who said that now investigations were under way, Mr Thomson had the right to remain silent.

National executive members have told The Australian that the night before Wednesday's meeting, Mr Williamson had drafted his own version of the motion to be put on the Thomson matter, and sent it to some key officials. Mr Williamson's version made no mention of a referral to police, and said HSU officials would make no further public comment on the matter. It outlined the steps already taken by the union to investigate the allegations, which have included commissioning an independent audit and legal review, and referring the matter to Fair Work Australia, which has yet to conclude its inquiry.

"Today the national executive resolved to continue to co-operate fully with any investigations into the financial affairs of the national office of the union between 2002 and 2007, " Mr Williamson's proposed version of the motion said in part, referring to the period when Mr Thomson was national secretary of the union.
"The union intends to make no further comment."


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