HSU counts the legal cost of backing officials
HSU boss ... Michael Williamson. Photo: Ben Rushton
MEMBERS of the scandal-plagued Health Services Union are stumping up more than $1000 a day in legal fees for the head, Michael Williamson, who is still collecting an estimated $500,000 a year in union salary and board-related positions.
Mr Williamson has been suspended on full pay since September when Strike Force Carnarvon was established to investigate allegations of systemic corruption in the union, including that Mr Williamson and Craig Thomson, the former national secretary, received kickbacks from a supplier to the union. Both have denied wrongdoing.
Union sources claim Mr Williamson's legal bill has already reached $150,000.
Blamed unnamed union officials ... Independent MP Craig Thomson. Photo: Andrew Meares
The legal bill of $200,000 which Mr Thomson, who became an MP in 2007, has so far incurred has been picked up by the NSW Labor Party. Its administrative committee voted unanimously in September to meet Mr Thomson's legal expenses.
''We sorted out his defo [his dropped defamation action against Fairfax Media, the publisher of the Herald] and then for a couple of months we had our lawyers Holding Redlich keep an eye on him,'' a Labor powerbroker said yesterday.
''It is pretty obvious we gave him legal assistance because he was facing bankruptcy, and if he was bankrupt there would be a byelection, and the government
would fall. A collective decision was made to keep him alive,'' the powerbroker said.
But party officials were angry later when they discovered Mr Thomson had received a confidential payout of $160,000 from the union in settlement for claims, including that he had not taken annual leave for years. ''We had no idea about that payment,'' the official said yesterday.
Of Mr Thomson's interview on the weekend with Laurie Oakes of Channel Nine, the powerbroker said: ''The guy is just a bald-faced liar.''
In the interview Mr Thomson sought to blame unnamed union officials for the $6000 that appeared on his union credit card for the payment of prostitutes.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said yesterday: ''I understand many Australians would have seen Mr Thomson's interview and they will have drawn their own conclusions, but ultimately the only way this matter can be resolved is properly before the courts.''
It is lawyers who stand to reap the biggest benefits. Apart from the costs of dealing with the police investigation, the union is budgeting for $150,000 in legal costs for the possible appointment of an administrator.
The union has agreed to meet Mr Williamson's legal expenses, which will cease only when he resigns or if he is charged.
And $500,000 has been budgeted for the union's internal inquiry, headed by Ian Temby, QC.
Several officials were concerned at the pressure the legal costs were putting on depleted coffers. Despite the estimated $30 million in membership fees, cash reserves have dwindled to $1.5 million, one insider said.
Only the whistleblower Kathy Jackson is out of pocket. The national executive has refused to pay her $40,400 legal bill for the Fair Work Australia inquiry.
Her legal team, which includes the union-busting barrister Stuart Wood, SC, is representing Ms Jackson pro bono.