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.



NSW: Labor Set To Romp Home In Miranda By-Election

LABOR appears to be on the brink of a stunning electoral triumph tonight, with counting in the by-election for the Sydney seat of Miranda showing a swing against the Liberals of more than 25%; the resignation of Liberal MP Graham Annesley is undoubtedly a factor, but there’s more to this.

With primary vote counts in from 18 of the 21 polling booths and provisional two-party figures from nine of them, the 71-29 result recorded in this seat by Liberal Graham Annesley — itself representing a 22% swing against the ALP — at the election landslide that swept Barry O’Farrell to power in 2011 seems set to be easily overturned.

Annesley, who has served as Sports minister, is leaving politics to take up a role as the CEO of the Gold Coast Titans; he has at least been honest enough to admit that his heart isn’t in politics and that he feels unable to continue to serve, but to be honest that isn’t good enough and it is obvious that the voters in Miranda don’t think it is either.

Barry Collier — the Labor MP Annesley defeated — is set to be returned to Parliament, by a margin in the order of 58-42: a two-party preferred swing of almost 30%.

And rather ominously, all of the decline in the Liberal vote — and then some — appears to be flowing directly to the ALP, rather than through the assorted minor parties and independents who have contested the seat, as might normally be expected.

I think Annesley has committed a fundamental breach of trust with the voters who elected him to serve for four years, and — rightly or wrongly — I think the time to go hunting for private sector sinecures would be at or near the end of his term. Not now.

Even so, there is more to this.

The stream of so-called revelations emanating from ICAC inquiries into alleged corrupt conduct by a range of Labor Party identities has been unrelenting.

Indeed, the parade of such characters through the Courts is beginning to yield results, with former Health Services Union chief Michael Williamson pleading guilty to fraud charges just this week involving the corrupt misappropriation of almost $1 million in union funds.

And (until today, of course) NSW Labor leader John Robertson has seemed a dead man walking, so to speak, with revelations he was corruptly offered a bribe of about $3 million some years ago, and chose to keep quiet about it rather than make an official report on it.

The episode — rightly — appeared to be the death knell for Robertson’s leadership.

A big win in Miranda today may yet oxygenate the cinders of his scorched leadership; whether it does or doesn’t, the voters in Sydney’s south have sent O’Farrell a number of things to mull over.

Generally, his government has been regarded as competent, despite taking unpopular decisions that have disproportionately outraged sections of the community, notably on Labor’s Left and beyond.

The NSW Coalition has consistently continued to record whopping opinion poll leads in the 60-40 range, which suggest on the surface an easy passage to re-election in a little under 18 months’ time.

And it has been generally believed, on all sides, that the stench of corruption and dodgy deals that seem to be a watchword for NSW Labor these days would cruel that party’s prospects for many, many years to come — provided the Liberals kept their noses clean, their house in order, and their deeds beyond reproach.

Yet despite the gain of nine additional seats in NSW at the recent federal election, the Coalition (and the Liberals in particular) in that state have broadly been perceived as having underperformed, and not least on account of the same issues of corruption and disarray in the NSW ALP.

Mutterings about O’Farrell and his performance have found their way into the media from time to time, but nothing that could be construed as anything more than typical internal chatter that has been divulged to a journalist by someone less than loyal or trustworthy.

But it does raise a question, and a precedent.

Is O’Farrell on the same path as Nick Greiner in 1990-1991?

Greiner — like O’Farrell — slaughtered a Labor government that had spent several terms in power, and probably longer than it should have.

Greiner — like O’Farrell — was widely seen as a competent Premier presiding over a competent government, whose tough decisions (Terry Metherell in Education springs to mind) also enraged sections of the community.

And as his first shot at re-election began to near in late 1990, Greiner’s poll numbers — like O’Farrell’s — headed skyward.

We all know what happened to Greiner at an early election in May 1991 that nobody thought he could lose: stripped of his majority and forced to rely on crossbenchers, far from burying Labor in NSW as intended, the result set Bob Carr up to lead his party back to government four years later — far earlier than anyone imagined possible.

Obviously, there is a fair bit of water to flow under the bridge before an election that is due in March 2015.

Even so, and remembering also that by-elections are an excellent opportunity to kick hell out of a government without changing it, this seems to run a little deeper than that.

The state of NSW Labor (and again, the hard evidence of corruption that oozes out of it whenever anyone pokes the beast) should have been antidote enough to disaffection over a first-term MP quitting 18 months early.

That said, whatever ALP corruption couldn’t salvage for the Liberals in Miranda should have still been covered by the huge margin Annesley achieved when he won in the first place.

Instead, NSW Labor will take heart, and likely think it smells blood.

The problem for Barry O’Farrell is that maybe — maybe — that assessment may be nearer the truth than anyone has dared to imagine to date.

And if Labor can find itself a credible leader in the interim, then all bets — in light of this result — would seem to be off.


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.


When The Police Come Calling…

Developments in two separate investigations loomed large over Gillard government figures Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper today; Police activities indicate the prospect of criminal charges against either or both is still well and truly alive.

This is just a quick post tonight; I’m sure that today’s events represent merely the lifting of the curtain on the next instalment of the dramas enveloping Messrs Slipper, Thomson, and Thomson’s old buddies over at the HSU.

NSW Police this morning raided the Sydney offices of the Health Services Union, as part of their Strike Force Carnarvon campaign; Fraud and Cybercrime Squad personnel seized documents, computers and other storage systems in relation to their investigations of multiple instances of misconduct and possible criminal activity at the Union.

What probably didn’t help the cause of any of the figures accused of misconduct — and least of all, himself — was the revelation that Police intercepted HSU boss Michael Williamson, allegedly attempting to make off with a quantity of documents central to Police inquiries.

Whether or not Williamson is charged separately over that activity will apparently become clear “in the next few days.”

Still, with inquiries into the HSU and alleged misconduct dragging on for years — and some of these matters directly centre on former HSU head, now MP for Dobell, Craig Thomson — the appearance of Police at HSU head office will no doubt send a shiver down the spines of quite a few interested parties.

Not least, down the spine of Craig Thomson himself, who has repeatedly and systematically refused to co-operate with all Police investigation into his conduct as a HSU official, particularly where the abuse of a Union-provided credit card and misappropriation of HSU monies on prostitutes, fine restaurant meals and inordinate cash advances are concerned.

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police have commenced a formal criminal investigation into allegations surrounding former Speaker Peter Slipper’s misuse of travel entitlements, and specifically allegations that he repeatedly misused CabCharge vouchers.

Police have taken a little over a week to evaluate whether to formally investigate the allegations against Mr Slipper “taking into account the likelihood of a criminal offence and the AFP’s resources.”

An AFP spokesperson was quoted in Melbourne’s Herald Sun today as saying “the AFP has now assessed that the matter requires further investigation,” adding that investigators spoke to a number of potential witnesses and gathered information in relation to the matter before deciding to pursue a formal investigation.

Can I just make the point — again — that much of the defence not just of Thomson and Slipper, but of the Gillard government figures surrounding them — and not least, of Gillard herself — has variously been based on obfuscation, refusal to co-operate, stonewalling and “standing firm,” all the while exuding the smugness of a conviction that “they” can’t be caught.

Well now…today’s events simply bring the constabulatory, officially, one giant step closer to Messrs Slipper and Thomson.

Unlike a Fair Work Australia inquiry of dubious rigour, these Police inquiries won’t drag on for three or four years.

We don’t know yet whether Thomson and/or Slipper are guilty of anything they are accused of as yet; this is all the more reason for this latest developments, and this new round of Police activity, to be welcomed.

But if either man is guilty of the accusations being levelled at them, then the walls are now beginning to close in on them.

And this should give Julia Gillard — and those of her colleagues who have likewise relied on stonewalling and standing firm as a panacea to these issues — cause for very grave reflection indeed.

We’ll keep an eye on developments, and discuss as the inquiries develop.

Ten out of ten to the boys in blue, for the record; at least somebody is acting without fear or favour today. The members of our constabulatory involved are to be applauded.