THE Health Services Union national secretary Kathy Jackson yesterday sacked her lawyers, appointed a new barrister and then demanded the presiding judge disqualify himself as she attempted to stop the union being put into administration.
It was another eventful day in the extraordinary saga of a union whose officials have allegedly siphoned off the dues of some of the country's lowest paid workers to fund lavish expense accounts while awarding lucrative contracts to interests owned by family and friends
The setting was the Federal Court, which appointed an interim administrator to oversee the embattled HSUeast, and the East branch of the federal HSU yesterday.
A judge also suspended its officials including the allegedly corrupt Michael Williamson - but not without a fight from Ms Jackson.
In an extraordinary two hours, Ms Jackson sacked her lawyers and appointed a new barrister who then said he could not appear. She then made a string of allegations about the conduct of the case so far, including an application that the presiding judge disqualify himself as she had been denied procedural fairness.
The final day of submissions began with the court learning that Ms Jackson's lawyer would no longer take part in the hearing, a statement from Harmer Lawyers revealing later that they had given her ''certain advice'' but she had ''decided to seek alternative advice''. Justice Geoffrey Flick was then informed well-known barrister David Rofe, QC, would appear for Ms Jackson.
Mr Rofe began with an apology to the court that he was not wearing his silk robes as they were being cleaned, then requesting an adjournment for a week to get across the material.
But already frustrated with the hold-up, Justice Flick gave him first five minutes, then another 15, to get certain instructions from his client about the future course of the case.
He said he had already ''reached a sufficient state in my own mind that whatever may ultimately happen, there's a sufficient basis at the present to justify the making of the order [to appoint an administrator] on an interim basis''.
After the brief adjournment, Mr Rofe said he, too, would be withdrawing as Ms Jackson's counsel as the judge had not given him enough time to make such a decision.
''In 57 years of practising at the bar table I have never been put in such a position … this is outrageous,'' Mr Rofe said.
Approaching the bar table herself, Ms Jackson said she wanted Justice Flick to disqualify himself as there was an ''apprehension of bias''.
Ms Jackson said she wanted her affidavit of June 1 to be read in full by the court and said: ''I want to call all the witnesses.'' She also argued that the choice of administrator was purely political, as Justice Moore was ''connected with the [federal workplace relations] minister [Bill Shorten] and we need an independent administrator.''
Ms Jackson said Mr Shorten was representative of the ALP government, and that HSU members were ''disgusted'' with the Labor Party's handling of the Craig Thomson affair, and this would only disenfranchise them further.
Justice Flick rejected her application that he disqualify himself, instead allowing her to return to the court next Friday to present her case for an effective reopening of the proceedings that might allow her to call evidence ahead of his final decision.
Ms Jackson tried a second time, saying Justice Flick should remove himself as she had been denied procedural fairness. However, Justice Flick told her she could make that application again next Friday.
At times, he was clearly frustrated. ''Ms Jackson this is more in the nature of a press release,'' he said. He added on another occasion: ''Ms Jackson I'm not going to be interrogated by you, please sit down.''
Along with the administrator's appointment, Justice Flick ordered ''all officers of the HSU East branch be enjoined from exercising any powers under the rules of the HSU in respect of the offices held by them''. In particular, they must within seven days ''return to the administrator all property [including credit cards] of the HSU in their possession''.