The NSW Nurses’ Association, the body representing the 51,000 over-worked and under-paid nurses in the public and private hospital systems, has donated $5,000 to the Hills District (Female) Football Club in north-west Sydney.

One of the players in the club’s Beaumont Hills Lady Hawks is the daughter of Brett Holmes, general secretary of the nurses’ union. She played for the soccer team last season and this season.

The decision to make the cash sponsorship was taken at the ruling council’s meeting on 29 November last year. The successful motion read:

That the NSWNA contributes $5,000 in sponsorship to the Hills District (Female) Football Club for the 2008 year from the NursePower Fund.

Other sponsors include White Design & Construction, D & L Bricklaying and Landscape Solutions, Sportsfit, Business Technology Solutions and Australia’s Workhorse, a drilling and excavation firm.

In exchange for the sponsorship, the nurses’ association logo is on all 60 playing shorts of the club and on the shirts of one senior 12-member team. The club’s website carries a link to the nurses’ website.

The meeting that decided on the sponsorship is the talk of nurses’ branches. Crikey understands that there was one dissenting voice – ex-vice president Charles Linsell — who is alleged to have asked Holmes to leave the meeting at the time of the vote.

But Holmes denies this. In answer to questions from Crikey, Holmes vigorously defended the sponsorship given to his daughter’s team and explained what happened:

I was not present for a large part of the council discussion and the vote on the sponsorship. I declared my interest at the start of the discussion in council executive and in council and it is recorded in the minutes of both meetings.

Mr Linsell did not require me to leave the meeting. However, I did so on my own volition with the leave of the president.

There was extensive consideration of the proposal by all councillors. No councillor requested that they be recorded as against the resolution.

The council voted in favour of the proposal. I am recorded as abstaining.

Holmes also explained how the sponsorship proposal arrived on the association’s agenda:

A formal written proposal was sent to the NSWNA by the President of the Hills District Football Club Mr Ed Terry. I presented that to council for consideration, in the same way that any sponsorship or donation is considered by the executive and the council.

Asked why the $5,000 donation to his daughter’s football club had not been reported to the membership, Holmes said: “A feature on the sponsorship will be included in the LAMP (association’s monthly magazine) after the teams’ photographs are taken on July 20. It will also be reported to the annual conference in August.”

Asked why it had taken eight months to report to the members, he replied: “No prior opportunity to photograph the teams together in their uniforms.”

Asked under which of the association’s rules the donation was made, the general secretary replied: “Rule 3 (a) Objects: to promote the interests of all members in matters relating to employment and health and safety in the nursing profession and to afford the opportunity to discuss such matters. Rule 3 (x) to make financial provision for the carrying out of any of the foregoing objects and to do all such other things as incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects if considered necessary.”

However, critics of the sponsorship arrangement point to Rule 15 which provides that funds shall be expended in carrying out the objects of the association as set out in Rule 3. And they say Rule 3 is all about members’ welfare and not the sporting teams of an officer’s children.

Holmes said the association used a range of advertising opportunities to promote its message and sponsored the Inter Hospital Mini Olympics ($5,000) and gave $30,000 to the Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA), the overseas aid agency of the ACTU.

He said that Crikey’s questions appeared so one-sided that “I can only conclude that malicious intent on the part of your informant is at the core of your inquiry.”

Oh dear me no. Just a bit of transparency and accountability will do nicely.

The union of Florence Nightingales, flush with funds, has set an important precedent. Other union leaders should now feel free to spread members’ money among sporting teams in which their children are playing because it helps take the union message into the hearts and minds of the community.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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