Kathy Jackson’s speech last night to the HR Nicholls society had ALP watchers rolling in the aisles when she mentioned that resigned HSUEast general secretary Michael Williamson had boasted of a $2 million war chest available to him to fight union elections.
This was truly a terrible development.
“Big money in union elections, like big money in all elections, threatens the democratic foundations on which a healthy union depends,” she opined to an attentive Peter Reith (read the full-speech here). She went on:
“In my experience most incumbents, particularly those in ALP-affiliated unions have large funds available to them with which to defend themselves against challenge. And in my view, this is largely because factional warlords in the ALP work hard to ensure that those incumbents that pledge their support to those warlords have the funds they need to fight elections.”
The main game, as always, is influencing preselections on the Labor state conference floor.
Jackson, whose mobile phone has been disconnected as administrators comb her disgraced union, reckoned “the cost of a campaign now runs to the high 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars, depending of the union’s size,” excluding “ordinary members” from the process.
But the weird example she gave — that of Williamson and his protégé Craig Thomson’s changing of union rules to prevent rivals from registering candidate photos and bios with the Australian Electoral Commission — could easily be applied to her own attempt to maintain a hex over Victoria’s No.1 branch in 2009.
As Crikey reported at the time, she sponsored a team, “Stronger Together”, comprising Marco Bolano for secretary, Jamie Martorana for assistant secretary and Carol Carmichael (now Glen) for president. This was a three-cornered contest against “OneHSU”, helmed by Darebin councillor Diana Asmar, and a Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy-backed ticket centred on then-president Pauline Fegan and her candidate for secretary Doug Byron.
Stronger Together produced several slick YouTube ads, sent out thousands of SMSs, and contacted the union’s 15,000 members by direct mail at an apparent cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jackson’s crew triumphed. But who was behind it?
HSU insiders say is it was that exact same Williamson war chest slammed by Jackson that sprung into action as part of a secret plan to solidify her control from a comparatively weak Victorian base. Just five months later, the Victorian No.1 branch and Williamson’s NSW branch announced a controversial merger, with Jackson anointed the “executive president” of the merged HSUeast entity.
Byron told Crikey this morning that he “strongly suspected where their funding was coming from”. “After the election, when the two unions and states amalgamated, you sort of thought ‘well that was an amount of payback for the support Williamson had provided’.”
He said the mailouts and YouTube material would have amounted to much “more than $150,000”.
Another senior candidate in that election said that “a lot of money” had been sourced directly from NSW. “The main financial support came from Williamson” they said. Factionally aligned Victorian unions also provided ancillary support, including mobile phones.
In July 2009, as the fight for control of the Number 1 branch raged, the Sunday Herald Sun revealed Jackson loyalist Sean Hudson — named in the recent Fair Work Australia report into the branch — had transferred $54,000 from a re-election fund controlled by No.1 branch staff into his personal account. It later resurfaced in an “HSU Social Club account”.
That account, known inside the HSU as the “returnees” fund, was set-up specifically for the purposes of influencing elections. Last night, Jackson referred to it as “legitimate” because it was culled from staff wage deductions, barbecues and raffles.
“But in my experience, increasingly, additional funds are provided, when necessary, from ALP factional sources keen to continue harvesting the votes of affiliated unions in preselection contests,” she said.
Slush-fund driven battles for control of unions are hardly a new phenomenon.
In 2002, sources recall a bitter battle for control of the LHMU as then-secretary Brian Daley went up against a committed group of right-wing dissidents that allegedly outlaid $500,000 to “turn” the union. Daley also reportedly drew on a substantial internal sum of his own resources.
Last night Jackson proposed a solution: she had petitioned her union to limit expenditure to $1000 per candidate, “so that a ticket of, say 50 candidates, would be capped at $50,000 total expenditure”. Unfortunately, if history is any guide, that money will be drawn from the exact same factional funds she so was so keen to rail against.
Jackson could not be contacted for comment this morning.
There is something seriously wrong about this situation, and the hypocrisy of Kathy Jackson. WTF?