A senior Labor MP has become directly embroiled in the future of the disgraced Health Services Union, with Senator David Feeney emerging as a guiding hand to ensure supporters of nobbled national secretary Kathy Jackson continue to control the union’s main Victorian branch.
Crikey has been told that the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence — who remains frozen out from the Victorian ALP’s cross-factional stability pact — has been a key player in strategy meetings for the Marco Bolano ticket duelling against Bill Shorten supporter and Darebin councillor Diana Asmar.
Bolano, a former HSUEast deputy general secretary paid more than $200,000 in 2011, has been by Jackson’s side during the union’s meltdown precipitated by Shorten’s action in the Federal Court. The court has ordered that administrator Michael Moore demerge the HSUEast branch and hold elections for its three constituent parts. Nominations are expected to open early next week with the poll winding up in early November.
“Feeney’s playing a very dangerous game,” one senior HSU officer bearer with direct knowledge of the situation told Crikey this morning. “You’d think he’d know better than to stick his nose back in.”
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Asmar was slated to run against organiser Stuart Miller in a three cornered contest, but Crikey understands Miller has now thrown his weight behind the former mayor to shore up numbers on the expansive ballot paper.
The No.1 branch — which represents low-paid hospital orderlies — has acted as a proxy for battles within the previously divided Victorian Labor Right in the past. But this time Feeney, whose office declined to comment this morning, remains out on his own in his support for Jackson, who is widely derided inside the labour movement and the party.
Feeney — who shared an office bearer position with Jackson at Melbourne University during the early 1990s — recently renominated for the Senate in Victoria but is facing expulsion without a record turnaround in the polls. He will then be forced to seek salvation from a hostile state branch. If the Victorian No.1 branch were to re-affiliate with state Labor, the Senator would be able to more easily smooth his descent via a lower house parachute after next year’s election.
Last week, Jackson was charged by HSU acting-national president Chris Brown on 10 counts of alleged mismanagement and rorting of the No.3 branch when she was state secretary in the period before the now-notorious HSUEast merger in 2010. Victoria Police are also continuing their investigation into the curious internal payments totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars rung up during her reign.
Also last week, Asmar confirmed her candidacy in a text message to hospital workers, declaring that she was “running for secretary of the HSU because we deserve better than what we have seen in the headlines. With your support, I will fix our union.” She had previously affixed this message to hospital noticeboards. And two weeks ago, this curious story appeared in The Australian, dredging up a dispute from three years ago in order to pre-emptively smear her. It is believed to have been well informed by Feeney acolytes.
Asmar may face further trouble when the Victorian Ombudsman releases his long-awaited report into Darebin council in coming days.
Some other usual suspects also remain involved the HSU manoeuvrings. Rob Elliott, the partner of Victorian upper house MP Kaye Darveniza (whose office last year authored a Kathy Jackson press release) has arisen as a key strategist guiding Fleur Behrens’ “With Fleur we Can” ticket, which is pitted against Craig McGregor’s “CleansweepHSU3” ticket for secretary of the smaller No.3 branch representing health professionals.
North of the Murray in NSW, Jackson proxy Katrina Hart has sent out aggressive emails from an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, that boldly accuses her rivals Bob Hull and Gerard Hayes of being fronts for dumped national HSU president Michael Williamson to maintain his hex over the NSW branch from beyond the grave.
“Each of them is a Williamson lackey who has eagerly done Williamson’s bidding,” Hart thundered.
“Now suddenly they’re pretending to see the light — after the corruption of the Williamson gang has been well and truly exposed by the work of others, they’re trying to pretend that Williamson has nothing to do with them.”
Jackson has quoted her address as a residence in the south-eastern Sydney suburb of Chifley, owned by Hart, but is believed to be living elsewhere. Her Balwyn mansion in Victoria will be auctioned on September 22 and is expected to fetch $1.8 million.
But the gravy train that saw Williamson and Jackson earning north of $300,000 a year will almost certainly come to a halt. Last week, Moore wrote to members to explain there would only be two paid positions in the Victorian No.1 and NSW branches and one paid position in the Victorian No.3 branch. Salary cuts in the range of $100,000 were mandated.