23 September 2016
“On Planet Jackson, Kathy came first and members last.”
. . .
“The total payout facing Jackson would reach $2.5 million once legal costs and interest were added. Of course, she would pay none of this penalty unless her bankruptcy trustee could find money squirrelled away.”
. . .
“She wanted the truth revealed about union officials ‘living an obscene millionaire’s lifestyle’ off the backs of their members. Kathy Jackson got her wish.”
Whoa! While tracking corruption in the Australian Health Services Union (HSU), Brad Norington has not only left no stone unturned, he’s left no little bit of dirt or slime uninvestigated, if you can follow all the double negatives. It’s all here. We know politics makes strange bedfellows (actually, Shakespeare said it was misery, not politics, which I thought was ‘misery loves company’, but I digress). Well, union politics makes for really dangerous alliances (and bedfellows, as it happens).
There are no spoilers here, since this is all public knowledge, but boy does it read like a sleazy movie plot, so I can't help quoting. :)
“ The Kathy Jackson show had become turbocharged and tasteless. It had everything: a charity shag, a personal vendetta, skin in the game, judicial gang rape, circling vultures, a barber’s chair for Friday night sex, and imaginary long lunches followed by aquatics in the Red Turbo Spa Room.
On Planet Jackson, facts were no longer distinguishable from fantasy. In her haste to attack anyone who did not perceive reality from her perspective, Jackson was willing to make up nonsense if she thought people might believe it. Her wild, unsubstantiated claims undercut the believability of other utterances that had merit. Altogether, these shenanigans provided a wonderful diversion as Jackson sought to shift attention from mounting suspicions she was just as corrupt as the crooks she helped expose.”
Fascinating reading for anyone interested in the ins and outs of Aussie unions, their power, their politics and their connection to the Labor Party. Certain parliamentary seats are considered union seats, and the unions expect to pre-select the candidates for election. There’s more here than I’m ever going to remember, but Norington has obviously done his homework and written a detailed expose, almost down to the last travel rort and local liquor store expenses.
Kathy Jackson was a young, bright, go-getter, the daughter of Greek parents in Melbourne who sent her to a good school to give her the best start. Eventually she got a job with a small Victorian union branch.
Union branches are managed by volunteer branch committees, I believe the same sort of volunteer committees that I am familiar with where the manager / coordinator / CEO is actually the only person who really knows what’s going on, manages the budgets and balance sheets, and the committee members meet monthly or quarterly to discuss what the manager chooses to put on the agenda.
A long-term member and former chair of a volunteer committee that I know (not union) said whenever they knew there was a review by a government funding body coming up, they got together over a weekend and wrote up a bunch of policies as needed. Easy-peasy. Job done. Box ticked.
That’s pretty much how Kathy Jackson ran things – she managed it all. One problem. She swore in court that she informed her committee about everything she did and that they had authorised all of her activities. Nothing to see here. Move along.
However, one of her 15-year-long committee members was actually paying close attention and signed an affidavit confirming that almost everything Jackson said was a lie. Confirmed in detail.
Oops. Nail. Coffin.
When the union received $250,000 from a settlement (details in the book – and that seemed dodgy, too), Jackson opened a new bank account and gave it a union-sounding fund name, the National Health Development Account, but it was in her own name only. She had the office keep transferring money into the NHDA account and spending it and continued to say she was authorised.
Her mentor, Michael Williamson, who enjoyed an extremely lavish lifestyle, was hardly a good role model for the young up-and-comer. His main HSU offices in Sydney were relocated.
“The big convenience for Michael Williamson when he relocated his union headquarters in 2003 was its proximity to lunch. Williamson’s newly refurbished office on level two of 109 Pitt Street was nowhere near the hospitals employing his low-paid members, but he landed a magnificent choice of steakhouses in Sydney’s CBD.
. . .
An extended lunch for two with several bottles of wine was enough to gobble up a union member’s $600 annual dues at one sitting.”
Mentor he may have been, but Jackson eventually turned him in and was loudly praised as a courageous whistle-blower by the media and especially the conservative side of politics. But, as it transpired, she had siphoned off a lot more than fancy lunch money herself.
Mind you, once she’d blown the whistle and opened that particular can of worms (hoping to take over Williamson’s job and hide her own indiscretions, we suspect), the worms just kept multiplying. I know, worms, stones turned over, it’s a bit mixed up, but it’s all dirty and slimy, just the same.
In the early days, she was besties with current Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten’s first wife, but she and Bill seriously fell out when he left for his new wife and family. Bitter, much? Yes. No love lost there, and if Jackson can damage him, she will. She's tried.
Then she and her second husband, Jeff Jackson, split, and she took up with Michael Lawler, vice-president of the Australian Fair Work Commission, the national industrial dispute tribunal. Conflict, you’d think? Later, when things blew up, there was a mesmerizingly uncomfortable ABC Four Corners program about the two of them, The Eye of the Storm.
Craig Thomson features heavily, the Labor MP who was the last slender thread by which then PM Julia Gillard clung to government. Aussies will know him. He actually sounds brighter and “nicer” than Williamson and some of the others, and said Jackson was mad and dangerous, but he was also a system-rorter. One trick, suppliers padded invoices (by a lot!) to keep their customer and then kicked back the excess to the union.
“McMillan, Williamson and Thomson were all issued American Express cards by John and Carron Gilleland, the husband-and-wife team who produced the union’s monthly magazine. Williamson compensated the Gillelands by directing that they inflate the price of their services as union suppliers. They charged $690,000 a year to produce the HREA members’ journal and do some other work—it was later argued that the publication could be done for a fraction of the cost.”
They held confidential meetings where all papers were distributed at the meeting and turned in at the end, so nobody could take them home. HOWEVER, in one instance:
” the source took advantage of folders sitting idle on a conference table during a coffee break: ‘I took photos in the toilets and scribbled notes.’”
There’s plenty of background on all the Labor personalities, including Bill Shorten, although he seems to have escaped the dirt and the bugs.
But there was no escape for Jackson. She did have some sort of breakdown and had novel ways of explaining herself. She really did live on another planet.
Questioned in court by Jeremy Stoljar, SC:
“Jackson now introduced a novel description of the transferred funds: she insisted that once the money left the HSU No. 3 branch’s general accounts and arrived in the Commonwealth account she controlled, it ceased to be union members’ money.
Stoljar was now more than sceptical. He asked how it was possible that HSU money could suddenly be ‘cured of the characterisation’ that it was the members’ funds once it landed in her private bank account. Surely it continued to belong to union members?
‘I didn’t see it that way,’ Jackson said.”
I won’t even try to talk about the elderly barrister Jackson and Lawler seemed to have adopted as he descended into dementia, writing and rewriting his wills (to include her, the daughter he never had). ACK!
“The only positive result from Jackson’s actions in the HSU saga was her exposure of Williamson’s crimes, even if her motives were based on a desire to take over the union and hide her own corruption. Williamson wrongly thought Jackson could never bring him down because of what he knew about her past that could be used in retaliation.
Thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted extensively. If you have any curiosity at all about this colourful time, you must read it. I've barely scratched the surface.