Whistleblower Jackson’s wisdom that sparked war

KATHY Jackson is this column’s Australian of the year.

Jackson, nee Koukouvaos, is the Greek goddess Athena – goddess of wisdom and of war.

She withstood the pressure of a culture of corruption in the Health Services Union. She deserves the respect and support of the entire labour movement. Instead, many revile her.

No matter what the Abbott government’s royal commission into the administration of various trade unions reveals, she will be the one who, at great personal sacrifice, started the ouster of Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson.

According to Ian Temby QC in his July 2012 report into the administration of HSU east, Jackson was the main source of the allegations against both Thomson and Williamson, both frauds against the union they served.

In August 2011, Jackson’s enemies, most likely from the union, left a dirt-covered shovel on the doorstep of her Melbourne home. The message was unmistakable: by blowing the whistle on union corruption she was digging her own grave.

In an interview on radio 2GB on October 16 last year, Jackson recalled a 2011 HSU council meeting at Darling Harbour. “There would have been 900 delegates … I kid you not … This is after I went to the police … (Michael) Williamson got a standing ovation … they played the Rocky theme when he walked in … there were people heckling me and screaming at me and (fellow HSU whistleblower) Marco Bolano … that I was a traitor to the movement … people were calling out ‘Judas’ from the crowd … this went for four hours.”

Jackson will be the one, along with Julia Gillard and her inadvertent sanctifying of union slush funds, who will destroy the union movement’s political patronage machine. Dyson Heydon, former justice of the High Court, will inquire into the “slush funds” of at least five trade unions: the Australian Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Health Services Union, and the Transport Workers Union.

Tony Abbott has stated the commission will not be an inquiry into trade unionism, per se, or the day-to-day activities of trade union officials. Rather, it will “address allegations involving officials of unions establishing and benefiting from funds which have been set up for purposes which are often unknown and frequently unrelated to the needs of their members”.

And in so doing it will trawl a lot of fish and may catch out a number of current and former union officials, and politicians. The outcome will have profound implications for the trade union movement and the Labor Party.

There are a swag of trade unionists in the parliament, or who have recently left, who worked for these unions. These unions support any numbers of members directly or through their faction. Bill Shorten, formerly of the AWU, will spend the course of the inquiry worrying about the future of a trade union-based Labor Party.

Others may feel the same. Stephen Conroy, the former communications minister, was an organiser with the TWU, as were senators David Feeney of Victoria and Alex Gallacher of South Australia. Former senator Stephen Hutchins is a former TWU state secretary and national president and Joe Tripodi, a former minister in NSW, was a TWU official. Senator Kate Lundy was an organiser for the CFMEU. Senator Gavin Marshall of Victoria was an assistant state secretary with the ETU.

These members may have no business at all with the inquiry into union slush funds, nor is there any suggestion of wrongdoing, but each will be nervous their former union’s financial and political affairs will be investigated in great detail.

Heydon will be searching to find whether slush funds have been used for any unlawful purpose. He will be searching for those who benefited from funds solicited by these entities and whether members of the union were informed of their existence.

He will be searching for evidence of “bribes, secret commissions or other unlawful payments or benefits arising from contracts, arrangements or understandings between registered employee associations or their officers and any other party”. The inquiry is bound to question employers who dealt with the unions.

The inquiry could play out in several ways. Clearly, there is a risk to the reputation of some existing members of the ALP; it could put a stop to some nascent careers; it may upset the factional balance within the ALP machine; it may have consequences for caucus.

It may change the nature of union-employer relations; it may change the ability of trade union leaders to remain in positions for years and hand power to a chosen candidate.

Jackson, Athena, toppled two union leaders, one of whom was a member of the House of Representatives. In her wisdom, and in deciding to wage war with the HSU, she may well have strangled the union-ALP umbilical (ac)cord.