Health Services Union national secretary Kathy Jackson would suffer a massive defeat if the union’s members heeded her call for fresh elections to clean out its current leadership group.
The Victorian firebrand issued a shout-out yesterday for new internal elections to force former accomplice and national president Michael Williamson to fall on his sword over the fracas still threatening to bring down the Gillard government.
But without a substantial rule change, the election’s results would likely just produce a facsimile of the status quo. Under current union statutes the executive is elected not by the general membership but by the approximately 80-member national council. Each branch is allocated one delegate for every 1000 members and Jackson’s supporters remain marginalised. Yesterday, 10 of the 14-member national executive yesterday demanded Williamson’s head.
But the situation on the ground is more complex. A member of the national executive can only be removed if they are found guilty of misappropriation of union funds, gross misbehaviour or gross neglect following an investigation by the union’s ombudsman, according to union rules. And an election mightn’t bear fruit either.
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The 2010 merger of the Victorian No. 1 and No. 3 branches and the Williamson-loyal New South Wales branch produced a NSW-dominated super-union stretching along the south-eastern seaboard. Jackson became HSUEast’s “executive president”, while Williamson became HSUEast general secretary and the union’s national figurehead.
Despite the colour and movement provided by Jackson and Tasmanian secretary and acting president Chris Brown, the HSU’s claimed 77,000 members remain overwhelmingly drawn from NSW and are loyal to Williamson or Williamson proxies including HSUEast general secretary Peter Mylan. Of HSUEast’s approximately 55,000 members, only about 12-15,000 are sourced from Victoria. Those are divided among themselves — on a charitable estimate only about 6000 would be supportive of Jackson.
Under HSU rules, each branch sends delegates to the national council at the ratio of one per 1000 members. Jackson currently does not have anywhere near the numbers on the HSU national executive, amid a smaller bloc aligned to Brown. A new election would therefore result in another pro-Williamson, NSW-dominated executive.
Williamson is now on death row in the aftermath of the as-yet unpublished Fair Work Australia investigation and will almost certainly be stripped of his Unions NSW positions and related super fund sinecures.
Brown has called for Jackson to stand down at the next meeting of the national executive on April 27. He told Crikey this morning Jackson’s calls are a kamikaze attempt to drag the union down with her
“The worse Kathy makes the union look the better it is for her at the moment,” he said. “She has got nothing to lose so she’s got everything to gain”. But the National Executive can’t sit back and let that happen.”
“It sounds good doesn’t it, these calls for ‘democracy’ and ‘clean sweeps’, but the reality is Kathy does not and will never have the numbers.
Jackson has called for the new national executive to be directly elected by the membership, which would require a change in the HSU rules. But that scenario is highly unlikely. In the meantime, she has kept up a NSW-centric media barrage to bed down her freedom fighter image.
Highlights of the PR offensive have included chats with NSW media figures blissfully unaware of the situation in Victoria. Today she penned an op-ed for The Sydney Morning Herald accusing the ACTU of hypocrisy in its recent decision to disaffiliate the HSU given it had failed to act when she first raised the allegations of malfeasance during Williamson protege turned MP Craig Thomson’s time at the union.
Others to embrace the freedom fighter metaphor include 2UE’s Paul Murray, Miranda Devine at The Telegraph and the 2GB set led by Ray Hadley.
Former internal rivals were quick to accuse Jackson of hypocrisy this morning because she hadn’t arced up when the previous credit card allegations against her ex-husband Jeff Jackson first surfaced three years ago.
A number of anti-Jackson allegations have recently begun to leak out, presumably from Williamson-aligned rivals within HSUEast. They relate to incidents that apparently occurred when Jackson was state secretary of the Victorian No. 3 branch, prior to the 2010 HSUEast merger, including a Volvo paid for by the union valued at $41,000 and $6000 in child care fees (Jackson says both did occur but were above board — the branch paid for the child care fees for “a short period of time” and she has been driving the Volvo for “10 years”).
Another surrounds a loan of $58,000 paid from the former No. 3 Victorian branch to the No. 1 branch when Jackson was state secretary. That money was then allegedly flicked to ex-husband Jeff Jackson, who is now a used car salesman. (Jackson confirmed the transfer was made but that “what they [the No. 1 branch] then did with it is not my concern”).
Other allegations still doing the rounds include those made by former union economist Ruth Kershaw that Jackson had asked her to issue invoices for $10,000, the money for which was deposited into her personal account and then handed over to Jackson (she denies this).
One historical claim– first reported by Crikey last September — related to invoices issued by Kathy Jackson’s consultancy company in the mid-1990s. Jeff Jackson had reduced his hours at the No. 1 branch, attracting the attention of accountant Eric Donnison — the payments to Kathy Jackson’s consultancy company mirrored the amount that Jeff Jackson had foregone. Jackson later denied this, saying the fees were for a legitimate job-sharing arrangement.
Fair Work Australia is currently pursuing civil action against Jeff Jackson, former president Pauline Fegan and assistant secretary Shaun Hudson to explore their dealings inside the HSU’s No. 1 branch after 2005.
This morning, Jackson, who once served as co-office bearer with David Feeney at the Melbourne University Student Union in the early 1990s, hit back hard.
“They sent this to Victoria Police who basically told them to f-ck off,” Jackson told Crikey. “They’re just putting this shit out to dirty me up.”
*Additional reporting from Matthew Knott