How swiftly fortunes turn. Less than two years ago, Kathy Jackson was lauded by the then Abbott government as a "lion of the union movement" for lifting the lid on union corruption. On Wednesday, she reached a new nadir in her descent from hero to zero.
The Trade Union Royal Commission referred Ms Jackson, the former national secretary of the Health Services Union, to prosecutors for possible charges over obtaining property and financial advantage by deception.
It said she used union funds for her own expenses and might have "committed a crime by obtaining $250,000 from an employer by false pretences".
Travel expenses were the biggest cost. Between July 2003 and August 2011, the commission found Ms Jackson took 24 overseas trips and 10 domestic trips, some accompanied by a family member. The HSU said her union credit cards were used during many of these trips for personal purposes.
The retail sector also benefited from Ms Jackson's spending prowess. She racked up bills at Myer and David Jones, at electrical, computer, camera, clothing and shoe shops, on accessories and children's wear. She splashed out on homewares and furniture, at a party warehouse and car dealerships.
In her defence, Ms Jackson pleaded retail expenses were "work related, properly incurred and properly approved".
The same defence was used for purchases at supermarkets and liquor stores near her home, and large sums spent at restaurants and bars in Melbourne. The commission found no details were provided to demonstrate the restaurant bills had anything to do with her work.
Ms Jackson's partner Michael Lawler has admitted he benefited from the HSU paying for airfares and accommodation. Mr Lawler pockets a $430,000 taxpayer-funded salary as Fair Work Commission Vice-President, a job from which he has been on extended paid sick leave.
HSU members are paramedics, scientists, aged care workers, disability support workers, nurses, doctors, clerks and hospital cleaners. Some are among the lowest-paid workers in the country.
Ms Jackson was ordered by the Federal Court to pay about $1.4 million compensation to the HSU. This was increased by a further $900,000 this month to cover interest and legal costs. She also faces criminal investigation.
The commission found Ms Jackson, along with disgraced former HSU officials Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson, misappropriated more than $2.7 million of HSU members' money.
The trio lacked scruple. They were "intelligent, determined, forceful and dominating" – a characterisation supported by Ms Jackson's witness box performance.
In February 2014, Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne lauded Ms Jackson as a "lion of the union movement" for blowing the whistle on former Labor national president Michael Williamson.
While her systematic theft made Ms Jackson the architect of her own misfortune, the commission noted she deserved some kudos.
It said she "was instrumental in revealing the conduct of Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson to the authorities. For this she is owed much praise."
Ms Jackson did not respond to request for comment.