High stakes and the HSU contagion
Craig Thomson. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The Government's move to place the critically ill Health Services Union into administration, the business equivalent of intensive care, has probably less to do with concern for the members' industrial wellbeing and more to do with the deep concern that the HSU contagion is infecting the broader union movement and adding to the death rattle coming from the Gillard government.
It has now been eight months since the Sydney Morning Herald first published allegations of widespread corruption within the union and membership is haemorrhaging.
Federal MP Craig Thomson, the union's general secretary from 2002 until 2007, and the union's longtime head Michael Williamson are alleged to have received secret commissions from a supplier to the union. Both men have denies the allegations.
Since September, there has been a constant drip of further allegations largely surrounding the alleged benefits - in the form of hundreds and thousands of dollars - Mr Williamson and his family friends allegedly received from the union's coffers.
The recent news that Mr Williamson was putting $30,000 a month on a Black Centurion credit card attached to the personal account of the HSU's procurement officer Cheryl McMillan was the last straw for many key officials in the Labor party.
The HSU's ''million dollar man'' had to go. But the problem was Mr Williamson has refused to budge.
On top of that there has been the on-going debacle of the Fair Work Australia investigation into allegations that
Mr Thomson used union funds to purchase the services of prostitutes and, perhaps more seriously, that he obtained $100,000 in cash advances from the union for which he allegedly failed to supply receipts to show the money was for union purposes.
The length of time and ultimate failure of FWA to publicly release the report has only added to the sense of chaos and has reflected badly on the HSU, the workplace watchdog as well as the government.
Despite the endless bad headlines, Mr Williamson has refused to resign and Mr Thomson hasn't been able to. The latter's resignation could inevitably lead to the fall of the Gillard government.
Labor's temporary bandaid of Peter Slipper being imported from the ranks of the Coalition to fill the speaker's chair, and thereby giving the government another buffer, has also proved to be disastrous.
Added to the problem is that Labor heavyweights have been unable to shutdown the HSU's whistleblower, Kathy Jackson.
Jackson's launching of action in the Federal Court this week, which was aimed at disqualifying 17 of Williamson's supporters, if successful might have delivered control of the HSU to her faction.
Workplace relations minister Bill Shorten, who has denied being involved in backroom manouvering against Jackson, has come up with a way for the Government to get rid of both key players - Williamson and Jackson.
This morning Shorten announced that the government was taking legal action to place the HSU into the hands of an administrator.
He claimed the government has taken this ''grave'' action to protect the interests of the long-suffering HSU rank and file.
In reality, it is the flood of deserting members with the loss of their annual $500 in membership fees that Labor officials are concerned about. Almost 1500 ambulance officers are quitting the HSU and attempting to set up a rival union. Many junior doctors have also expressed interest in being allowed to join the AMA.
A rich union brings votes and votes ensure control of the conference floor. The HSU faces the danger of losing both wealth and power.