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Premier joins push for HSU administrator

Date

Louise Hall, Kate McClymont

Mystery bag … the HSU executive Michael Williamson may be charged with alleged hindering of a police investigation.

Mystery bag … the HSU executive Michael Williamson may be charged with alleged hindering of a police investigation. Photo: Nick Moir

THE Premier, Barry O'Farrell, says his government will seek to pass urgent legislation to ensure an administrator can be appointed to the NSW arm of the Health Services Union after doubts were raised about the Federal Court's jurisdiction to make orders relating to a state union.

But the federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, said the proposed legislation could prolong the factional dispute plaguing the HSU East branch, which is losing hundreds of members a day.

As the state and federal governments argued yesterday over how to handle the scandal-plagued union, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions announced it would forward a report from Fair Work Australia into financial impropriety in the HSU's national office to police.

Mr Shorten has asked the Federal Court to appoint an administrator to take over the day-to-day functions of the federally registered HSU East branch and to declare all offices vacant. The corresponding offices of the NSW Union would be similarly vacated, he said.

However, a Federal Court judge, Geoffrey Flick, questioned its jurisdiction to take action on a NSW organisation. During a hearing yesterday Justice Flick said a federal minister had not made such an application ''in 100 years''.

Six HSU branches have also asked the court to appoint an administrator to the East branch. Mark Irving, for the acting HSU national president, Chris Brown, said the branch had stopped functioning effectively, shown by the mass resignations and intimidation of members and the disruption of meetings.

The court heard the jurisdictional issue could be resolved by the minister intervening in Mr Brown's application.

But Mr O'Farrell told the NSW Parliament he did not want a ''legal technicality to stop the appointment of an administration to a union that so desperately and badly needs one''.

Mr O'Farrell said the government would introduce urgent legislation to allow ''an administrator proposed by the NSW government under NSW law to a NSW-registered union''.

The Finance Minister, Greg Pearce, criticised Mr Shorten for not consulting him before ''significantly intrud[ing] into the NSW industrial relations jurisdiction''.

In response, Mr Shorten said he welcomed Mr O'Farrell's ''belated support'' for an administrator but stood by his decision to launch the legal action.

Justice Flick ordered the parties to mediate. If agreement is not reached, a three-week hearing will begin on June 5.

Outside the court, Mr Brown said if an administrator was not appointed, he feared the six other branches would withdraw from the HSU.

The national secretary of the union, Kathy Jackson, said she would not mediate with Mr Brown, despite the court order.

Meanwhile, officers from Strike Force Carnarvon have not gone through the more than 100 boxes of documents seized from the Pitt Street headquarters of HSU East on Wednesday.

Mystery also surrounds the contents of union boss Michael Williamson's black suitcase which was allegedly intercepted in a nearby underground car park while police were executing a search warrant on the HSU premises.

Police said that criminal charges relating to the alleged hindering of a police investigation might follow. Mr O'Farrell said Mr Williamson had been removed from the board of State Water.

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