Just Desserts: Former HSU Boss Michael Williamson Jailed

LITTLE SYMPATHY and a lot of contempt should befall former ALP President and Health Services Union boss Michael Williamson following his incarceration for a minimum five-year stint at Her Majesty’s pleasure; Williamson has shown no remorse for stealing $1 million from the union or for obstructing the Police investigation into him, and whilst he reportedly contemplated suicide when caught, he deserves to live to be punished.

If there is any satisfaction to be derived from the fact Michael Williamson will spend at least five years behind bars, it lies in the fact that a filthy specimen who has preyed on the membership monies of honest working folk has had the book thrown at him, but in truth there are few winners in the outcome that was played out in a Sydney court room this morning.

It is perhaps a regrettable sign of the times where unions and the leeches who illicitly profiteer from them that all readers — in Australia at least — will be well and truly familiar with the case; even so, for those wishing to view a news report on this morning’s proceedings, they can do so here or here.

I am fed up with the “defence” that has become fashionable for crooks like Williamson to seek to deploy that their fathers touched them when they were children; readers know what I think should happen to paedophiles, and it doesn’t extend to their continued consumption of oxygen, to put it mildly.

Even so, the notion that such an assault renders the judgement of the victim so defective as to assuage any pangs of guilt or conscience over the perpetration (in this case) of a million-dollar fraud, committed systematically and with forethought over a lengthy period of years, is grotesque, and so distasteful as to be dismissed from any consideration of Williamson’s culpability.

If nothing else, the efforts he went to to conceal his crimes and obstruct official investigations into his wrongdoings — readers might recall his arrest at HSU premises a couple of years ago, during which he was apprehended trying to remove computer drives and cases of incriminating documents before Police arrived — should dispel any doubt over what is, despite guilty pleas, a total and utter lack of remorse.

I contend those guilty pleas were entered into only to attempt to mitigate the penalty handed out this morning, and the same can be said of psychologist reports suggesting being molested as a child and/or a story about abandoning acting out a suicide that were tendered in Court on his behalf.

A cynic would certainly be entitled to laugh, wryly, that all manner of sins cause people like Williamson to stick their fingers in the till: it’s almost always money when the “consequent” offences are committed, and almost always lots of it — irrespective of the misdeeds of the past that were allegedly wrought upon the perpetrators.

Had he followed through on his planned suicide, he might have saved the taxpayer some money in keeping him, for sure; yet this would have been a selfish, self-serving outcome rendered by Williamson in his utter obsession with his own welfare that would have denied his victims — those HSU members who paid their dues in exchange for what they were reasonably entitled to expect would be union representation — the natural and legal justice his criminal activities entitle them to.

Justifications — such as Williamson’s desire to see his five children educated privately, and that they didn’t “go without” — simply don’t wash; I would like to send my kids to private schools that I have no idea how I will afford when the time comes, and certainly don’t want them to “go without.” I would never help myself to a million dollars of someone else’s money to make it possible, and neither would any other decent, fair-minded and law-abiding citizen in the same position.

The sense of entitlement that goes with Williamson’s offences is an insult to the ordinary folk who either struggle and scrimp to afford such things, or accept that they must go without.

Not that Williamson was poorly remunerated by the union before he ripped it off.

The comment of sentencing judge David Frearson that Williamson had developed a “reprehensible sense of entitlement’’ is a succinct and deadly accurate assessment of Williamson’s attitude.

Still, in being jailed for a five-year non-parole period of a seven and a half year sentence, I am satisfied the punishment fits the crime; it would fit even better if Williamson were forced to repay, in full, the monies he stole from the HSU by way of restitution, and to the best of my knowledge he isn’t being compelled to do so (any readers with more up to date knowledge in this regard should feel free to comment).

And that sentence contrasts with the veritable slap on the wrist administered to fellow HSU miscreant and general grub Craig Thomson on Monday, who was handed a twelve month prison term with nine months of it suspended; like the piece of shit he is, Thomson walks free even now: pending an appeal, too arrogant and conceited to even acknowledge or show remorse for his crimes, and still clinging to the spurious defence that as HSU chief he had the ultimate sanction over what union monies could be spent on and therefore should not be punished for spending them on prostitutes, cash advances, and God alone knows what else.

In closing, I should point out that whilst I do not like unions and am implacably opposed to most of their tactics, objectives, and the methods they use to pursue them, the bulk of union figures are generally good people, if misguided; it is the odd rotten apple that gives the rest of the barrel a bad name.

So it is in this case, and Williamson and Thomson are excellent advertisements for the Royal Commission into the wider union movement that is soon to commence.

The pursuit by unionists of union objectives is one thing, but the criminal fraud, theft or otherwise abusing the power entrusted to union officials is another matter altogether. Alas, there are too many rotten apples in too many union barrels, and the Heydon commission should rid the wider movement of much of the insidious filth that perpetuates the poor name unions wear in the eyes of most people who choose not to join their ranks.

Williamson can rot in hell for all I care, and if he still wants to top himself when he gets out of prison then nobody should stand in his way.

But it is imperative he be punished first, and this alone means that the sentence handed down to him in Sydney today is a win for his victims, the rule of law, and what is right.

 

 

Sentencing: A Heavy Penalty Befits Craig Thomson

FOLLOWING PRE-SENTENCE SUBMISSIONS in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today, former Health Services Union head and disgraced Labor MP Craig Thomson is to be sentenced next Tuesday, having been convicted recently on 65 theft and dishonesty charges stemming from his time in charge of the union. The cavalier Thomson — who has shown no remorse, and thumbed his nose at attempts to bring him to justice — deserves a heavy penalty.

For fairly obvious reasons, I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of next week’s sentencing hearing, nor particularise what I think an appropriate penalty for the criminal sins of Craig Robert Thomson, other than to say that in the circumstances I think it fair that Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg would be justified in throwing the proverbial book at the bastard, and should indeed do precisely that.

I do think Thomson should be jailed, if only to make an example of him as a warning to others in public life. But beyond that, it would not be proper to speculate or postulate further as to the sentence Thomson should be given.

Even so, I want to run through some of the points listed in an article that appeared across the Murdoch titles today; these relate to sentencing submissions from the prosecution and the defence that are in the public domain, and as such can be regarded as fair game to tear them to shreds.

Some of this stuff is “cuckoo-land” stuff, and so tear it apart I will.

I must say I have enormous sympathy with the Crown prosecutor, Lesley Taylor SC, who in noting that Thomson had not shown a shred of remorse and blamed others consistently for his deeds, described Thomson and his denials as “arrogant in the extreme.” Her account of his behaviour aligns perfectly with his conduct during his embattled time as the member for Dobell, smugly and unswervingly sheltered by the assiduous protection of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The submissions on Thomson’s behalf from his defence counsel, however — barrister Greg James QC — defy credulity.

James claims that in committing the offences for which he will shortly be punished that Thomson was confronted by “moments of need or desire” during his time as HSU national secretary, when his relationship with his then wife was breaking down.

Perhaps this was so, and perhaps these were difficult personal times for Thomson. But they do not justify ripping the Health Services Union off to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

James says that Thomson’s actions were “a response by him to his own impulses on a more or less opportunistic basis,” and that his client — in his time of darkness — “sought comfort somewhere else;” I’ll leave it to readers to make their own individual judgements on whether the procurement of prostitutes fits within their own code of ethics, but I would say very forcefully that it clearly did in Thomson’s case — and that having elected to go down such a path, he should have paid for their services from his own pocket.

The Australian quotes James as saying that “the climate (at the HSU) appeared to be that if he hadn’t spent the money on prostitutes and pornographic movies then there was unlikely to have been concern,” to which I would simply say such a speculative contention is invalid: Thomson spent money on airfares, cigarettes and accommodation, too, among other things, and the HSU wasn’t happy with those purchases, either.

Apparently, Thomson has “already agreed” to repay the HSU the sum of $24,538.42 “in compensation” for his actions, and James told the Court Thomson had taken out a mortgage and intended to pay these monies within three months.

Should that ameliorate whatever penalty he receives next week? Hardly. Such a repayment should form part of that penalty, not be made in an attempt to evade it.

James said — again, to quote The Australian — that Thomson had lost every prospect of a career in politics or public life, and suffered from anxiety as a result of his humiliating downfall. “From the very moment of his arrest on, he was very publicly pilloried,” Mr James said.

From the very moment…what melodramatic, jumped-up pseudo-emotive poppycock.

Perhaps if Thomson has suffered ridicule, it is because his actions have made him a public laughing stock; any rational and intelligent individual — which, by almost every account, Thomson is — would foresee the great shame and ostracisation his actions would bring if they were ever publicly revealed, and prosecuted as they deserved to be.

If Thomson is now unemployable and/or unelectable, he can only blame himself. Such a reality does not merit sympathy or leniency in the circumstances.

And in further reporting by sister publication the Daily Telegraph of Sydney, it is noted that James even canvassed “alternative options” with which to sentence his client, suggesting Thomson “would be happy to travel from his NSW home to undertake community work in Victoria.”

Which — let’s face it — would be awfully big of him; a miscreant criminal prepared to submit to the indignity of an occasional aeroplane ride as a price to pay for keeping himself out of prison.

James’ assertion that Thomson was “suffering a major depressive illness and had been punished by widespread media attention since his arrest in September 2011” is — again — something I would simply shrug my shoulders and say “who cares?” in response to; once again (as noted four paragraphs above this one) actions such as Thomson’s bring adverse consequences when revealed and prosecuted.

The whole idea of alleged criminals having their day in Court is to establish their innocence or guilt in relation to the matters with which they have been charged, and — where guilt is found — to punish those offences proportionately.

To accept any or all of the recommendations put by Thomson’s barrister is to accept that despite committing the crimes, Thomson should effectively get off scot-free.

Prosecutor Taylor’s submission — that anything less than an immediate jail term would be “manifestly inadequate” — is, to my mind, much nearer the mark.

After all, this is a bloke who breached the trust of tens of thousands of low-paid union members in a self-indulgent romp at their expense, and then went to elaborately intricate lengths to either escape prosecution for his offences and/or to deflect blame for them to others.

Taylor is right: Thomson has never uttered so much as a syllable publicly by way of remorse.

We’ll look at how this plays out next week, but it is to be hoped Magistrate Rozencwajg makes an example of Thomson, and throws the book at him.

 

 

BREAKING: Craig Thomson Guilty Of Fraud Charges

FORMER UNION OFFICIAL and Labor MP Craig Thomson has been found guilty this morning of some — but not all — of the scores of fraud charges brought against him in the wake of the scandal around the Health Services Union, of which he was head; the development legitimises criticisms of the previous government for doing everything in its power to shield him. It also bolsters the need for a royal commission into unions generally.

Just a very short post this morning, as the development is quite fresh and events fluid; Thomson has been convicted this morning of many of the charges he faced for ripping off the HSU to pay for sex with prostitutes, dirty movies in hotels, cigarettes, and other unauthorised items.

At this stage it is unclear how many convictions have been recorded against Thomson, when sentencing is likely to occur, and what penalty he will face — so clearly there is some room left to run in this story.

I will keep an eye on developments during the day and once the picture becomes clearer, will post again on these matters — perhaps this evening.

…And Monday, In The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court…

IT PROMISES to be a big week in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court this week, where it seems the intersection between politics, unions and the law will lie; two cases involving senior ALP figures are set to progress, as more allegations and scandal that enveloped the last government near their climax.

It’s just a short post this time, and a pointer to matters that I’m sure will find their way back into our conversation; for those of a mind, a short segment on the topic from Michael Smith and Ben Fordham on Sydney radio 2GB can be accessed here.

The long game of cat and mouse that lawyers for disgraced former union boss and ALP MP Craig Thomson over what facts they would allow to stand uncontested is set to be swept aside, as Thomson’s trial on scores of fraud charges — laid in January — finally begins.

The charges of course stem from Thomson’s alleged activities as head of the Health Services Union prior to his entry to Parliament in 2007, and chiefly centre on alleged misuse of his union credit card and the improper use of union funds.

The trial follows the recent conviction of fellow union identity Michael Williamson on a raft of fraud-related offences.

And speaking of fraud investigations, another matter resuming in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court this week involves former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the decades-old issue of an AWU slush fund Gillard is under Fraud Squad investigation over.

This column has maintained an extremely circumspect approach to the AWU issue, chiefly on account of Ms Gillard’s well-known propensity to throw legal proceedings around like confetti; we have said nothing defamatory of her, but by the same token we couldn’t be bothered dealing with a frivolous lawsuit either.

Even so, documents from an unprecedented raid carried out by Police on Ms Gillard’s offices in May — whilst she was the incumbent PM — face the Court’s adjudication as to whether they are admissible as evidence in any future prosecution of fraud charges arising from the AWU scandal.

We will watch developments on those matters very keenly.

Can I please also take to opportunity to note that this column is well aware of alleged criminal misconduct involving other senior ALP figures, and has been aware of these matters for some time; I think you people are smart enough to know what I am talking about, and I simply say that for the moment I won’t be making any comment on it.

In the fullness of time, however, I will have something to say on these matters.

 

Union Corruption: A Royal Commission Is Needed

THE GUILTY PLEA by former ALP National President and Health Services Union head Michael Williamson to fraud charges totalling almost $1 million is a pivot point in a sea of enquiries into union corruption; the development strengthens calls for a Royal Commission into the union movement.

It’s hardly something to rejoice in the streets about given the gravity of the offences, but Michael Williamson’s guilty plea to fraud charges represents a welcome development in the plethora of criminal investigations into union figures that have been on foot for some time.

And considering the official pursuit of Williamson began with him trying to make off with a volume of incriminating documents as the HSU’s offices were raided by Police last year, Williamson might have even saved the taxpayer a little time and expense in the process.

Even so, criminal investigations are continuing into the Australian Workers’ Union (and specifically, the role — if any — of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her associates) with fraud Police undertaking an exhaustive forensic examination of allegations criminal misconduct occurred at that union during the 1990s.

There is also a criminal prosecution against former Labor MP (and ex-HSU official) Craig Thomson underway, relating to the alleged misappropriation of monies from the HSU during and after his time at its head.

Rumours and allegations of union corruption, bastardry, thuggery, criminal misconduct and other unsavoury goings-on have been rife — and well-known — for many years.

Occasionally something comes of them and someone is prosecuted, but for the most part they remain just that: rumours.

It is also true that as the law stands today, unions and their executives are not subjected to the same rigorous protocols of governance and disclosure as registered companies and their directors are: a situation that must be remedied as an urgent item of business for the new Liberal government.

It stands to reason that for every crook who is caught doing the wrong thing that there are others who get away with it; indeed, for the dodgier types in this world to become crooks in the first place it’s a reasonable bet that they give in to the temptation because others set a first-hand example in how to get away with it.

Clearly, it is not possible to legislate against stupidity, nor regulate people and institutions to the point they are impossible to rort; it is incumbent upon those who hold positions of responsibility to be accountable, and for this to occur a relationship of trust must exist — even if such relationships are, from time to time, abused.

The charges to which Williamson has admitted guilt are the result of such an abuse of trust.

The Thomson matters remain before the Courts and the investigations into the AWU are yet to be concluded, so it is not possible to comment on those specifically, although it is not necessary either.

Based on the development yesterday in the Williamson matter — and with an eye on the mass of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that has accrued over time (to say nothing of silenced whistleblowers’ complaints) — it is reasonable to assert that what is currently in public view represents the mere tip of the iceberg.

This column openly and unreservedly endorses the establishment of a Royal Commission into the union movement in Australia, with sweeping terms of reference to investigate every aspect of unions’ operations, their financial affairs and governance, and any evidence of misconduct or criminal behaviour by their officials.

Nobody is advocating the wholesale disbanding of the union movement, although sometimes I think it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

But those unions — and union personnel — with nothing to hide will have nothing to fear; indeed, coupled with a regulatory review to bring the standard of governance into line with that enforced upon the corporate sector, continuing unions would operate in the knowledge that their organisations, moving forward, were scrupulously clean and corruption-free.

Nobody suggests for a moment that new Labor leader Bill Shorten is remotely connected to any of the so-called revelations uncovered at the Health Services Union, so I insist readers take the remarks in the following paragraph as written.

I simply make the point that as the new leader of a party enmeshed with the union movement — and a very senior union figure prior to entering Parliament as the head of one of the unions being investigated at present — it would be shrewd for Shorten to offer the government bipartisan backing for such a Commission, with reasonable assurances in return that it wouldn’t degenerate into a witch hunt.

Australians generally — and union members particularly — must have confidence that unions are clean, well-administered, and corruption-free.

Far from selling his mates down the river, Shorten could claim credit for facilitating proof of the integrity of his beloved trade union movement if he offers constructive co-operation, rather than seeking to obstruct the government from establishing the enquiry it promised in its campaign to win office.

But as much as these considerations cast a pall over the union movement, so too do they affect the ALP.

Williamson wasn’t just a union man, he was the National President of the Labor Party, and that — with his status as the newly-minted Labor leader an exciting but unchartered reality for him to contemplate — should give Shorten something else to think about as well.

 

Questions: Geoff Shaw, Tim Mathieson, Craig Thomson

WITH CERTAIN MATTERS now before the Courts, it’s inadvisable to comment on specific details of individual cases; even so, two sets of facts concerning two different gentlemen bear a striking similarity, and beg a rather obvious question. And then, of course, there is Craig Thomson.

Geoff Shaw was a knockabout kind of fellow, with no obvious driving ideological inclination toward politics or a career in public life; prior to his election in November 2010 to the state seat of Frankston, on Melbourne’s southern outskirts, he was a small businessman operating a hardware store.

Tim Mathieson was a knockabout kind of fellow, and was never an MP; he began dating opposition frontbencher Julia Gillard in early 2006, becoming the country’s so-called “First Bloke” when the latter became Prime Minister in 2010: and throughout, whether practising or not, Mathieson was a hairdresser.

Soon after his election as the MP for Frankston it emerged publicly (and with thanks to the state ALP in Victoria) that Shaw and his staff had been using his taxpayer-funded car to run deliveries — some interstate — and other activities for his hardware business.

Unbeknown to the general public in any way, at some point prior to March 2007, Tim Mathieson had been using Gillard’s taxpayer-funded car for his activities as a sales representative for a company called PPS Hairwear, clocking up more than 6,000km in the car before the Department of Finance was alerted to it.

Ostracised in State Parliament following his decision to resign from the Liberal Party over what he claimed was a lack of leadership by then-Premier Ted Baillieu — precipitating Baillieu’s demise as Premier — Shaw has been the subject of multiple investigations into his conduct, and recently repaid $1,250 to the Victorian taxpayer over the use of the vehicle.

Hidden from public view, a staffer in Gillard’s office contacted the Department of Finance in March 2007 in relation to Mathieson’s use of her car; a personal cheque from Gillard, in the sum of $4,243.58, was tendered in a quiet endeavour to see the Commonwealth right.

Since the allegations surrounding Shaw became public in 2011, the Victorian ALP has tried to raise merry hell over the issue; its leader, Daniel Andrews, has repeatedly and consistently sought to tar the state Liberals (and Premier Denis Napthine specifically) by pointing to a supposed link to allegedly corrupt and potentially criminal misconduct.

Meanwhile, the Mathieson matter and details of the quiet repayment of monies to remedy a potential breach were hidden from public scrutiny; The Australian reported on all of these matters yesterday after fighting a 10-month battle to win access to documents relating to the Mathieson issue under Freedom of Information laws.

That fight to access those documents occurred because the former Prime Minister and her office sought to block the Department of Finance from complying with the decision of the Information Commissioner that the material should be released.

Something else happened yesterday, too: Shaw was hit with 24 criminal charges over the alleged misuse of his taxpayer-funded vehicle.

Today, the child leader of the Victorian ALP, Andrews, continued with his filthy little smear, demanding that Napthine explain “why Victorians (should) be confident in a Premier and a government propped up by a bloke facing 24 serious criminal charges.”

It is tawdry, grubby politics from an immature specimen of the most contemptible variety, and undertaken without a scintilla of evidence on which to base the smear against Napthine or, indeed, any other Victorian MP apart from Shaw.

It goes without saying, of course, that not one Labor voice across the length and breadth of Australia was today raised in questioning the revelations about Mathieson.

Would somebody like to explain, in simple English and without histrionics, exactly what the difference between the Shaw allegations and the Mathieson matter is?

AND ANOTHER THING: Former member for Dobell, HSU boss and all-round grub Craig Thomson seems to be inching closer to his day in Court to answer dozens of fraud charges.

Apparently the last hurdle before the case is heard is a spat between prosecutors and counsel for Thomson over whether Thomson is required to be party to a list of “undisputed facts” or whether he is to simply admit to using his notorious union credit card to pay for prostitutes, unauthorised airfares, adult movie rentals in hotels, and cigarettes.

The general public is fed up with Thomson and his antics, and we question whether the semantic games presently being played out in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court are simply a further waste of taxpayer money and Crown resources.

There are even said to be over 100 prostitutes willing and ready to testify as witnesses, which probably says much about the diligence of the investigation conducted by Victoria Police, if anything else.

If Thomson is contemplating owning up after the event — especially given his political career has now ended — perhaps he could simply hurry up and do so, face the music, and get on with being the discredited footnote to Australian politics he is destined to become.

 

Headless Chooks: If It Weren’t So Serious…

THERE’S a new TVC out today from the Liberal Party, and it’s a beauty; good for a laugh, but stripped of the mirth it’s actually a pretty sad reflection on the Labor Party and what passes for government in its current form. And, yes, if it weren’t so serious, it’d be funny.

If there’s one aspect of election campaigning in which the Liberal Party has had it all over Labor in the past ten to fifteen years, it’s been in the quality of its television commercials; it’s an area in which the party’s output has evolved into a major strength, with its hard-hitting and precisely targeted messages.

Late last night the Liberals released their latest TVC, and after I’d had a bit of a giggle over it I realised that it really is an indictment of the Rudd-Gillard government that something like this neatly sums up, in a pinch, everything that has been wrong with six years of Labor in office.

And it’s sad that a cartoon featuring the Oktoberfest Chicken Dance — of all things — is an apt descriptor of any federal government in this country.

Readers can view the TVC here.

I’d make the point that as much as was wrong with the Whitlam and Keating governments in the end, it’s difficult to imagine either of those gentlemen allowing the situation to arise whereby their governments could so readily be caricatured using headless chickens.

Certainly, Whitlam had Rex Connor, who acted against the law and against the specific directives of his Prime Minister, and Jim Cairns, who was more interested in his secretary than in his job; Keating had Brian Howe, whose escape from a testing press conference into a cupboard must rank as one of the most cringeworthy and symbolic moments in recent Australian political history.

And those divisive, inept governments, in turn, did considerable damage to Australia economically and — despite their self-congratulatory rhetoric about “social justice” — fostered deep resentment within the silent majority of Australians, with their emphasis on minorities and elites at the expense of the mainstream.

But even then, it speaks to just how bad this government is — indeed, I believe the worst in the country’s history, and far worse than Whitlam’s and Keating’s — that its track record can so easily and so farcically be pilloried.

The message of the “Headless Chooks” is deadly accurate.

If it weren’t so serious, it’d be funny. And if that’s the out-take from someone like me, what sort of message is this government sending to our friends around the world?

A visit to www.headlesschooks.org.au is also well worth a look, to meet “the chooks.”

See you all a little later…