There are many suspicious features about Craig Thomson’s Health Services Union imbroglio, but notable among them are the apparently close links between HSU “whistleblower” Kathy Jackson and Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Peter Wicks uncovers a very tangled web.
Fair Work Australia vice president Michael Lawler; his partner, HSU "whistleblower" Kathy Jackson; and friend.
The major saga embroiling the Federal Government at the moment, besides the curious Peter Slipper and James Ashby affair, is the Health Services Union (HSU) debacle.
Firstly, let me start by saying that I do not endorse anyone spending over $6,000 on prostitutes on a union credit card — that is reprehensible behaviour. Nor do I endorse not declaring vast amounts of money to the Electoral Commission on election campaigns. However, these allegations are yet to be proved — and are vigorously denied.
In any case, I think I smell a rat.
Union whistleblower Kathy Jackson has been ripping into both the Labor Party and the former (until February 2012) President of Fair Work Australia, Geoffrey Giudice, for months now over the goings on within the embattled Union and the investigation resulting from her claims.
Kathy Jackson has caused the union movement untold damage and brought the Federal Government to the brink of collapse. One would assume that the public may be interested in knowing a little more about her and any conflicts of interest she may have.
One vital piece of information that is not widely known about her is that her partner is a man named Michael Lawler.
Who is Michael Lawler?
For starters, according to reliable sources, Michael Lawler is friends with a man named Tony Abbott. Apparently, the two of them socialise regularly. Conveniently, Tony Abbott is also the leader of the political party making so much ground out of the claims Michael’s partner is making.
Michael Lawler works for an organisation called Fair Work Australia, where he is a Vice-President on a salary of $400,000 a year. The only person higher than him at that organisation is Iain Ross, who just replaced Geoffrey Giudice – the one who Tony Abbott and Lawler’s partner Kathy Jackson were attacking daily – as President of Fair Work Australia.
On the 11th of October 2002, according to the FWA annual report, Michael Lawler was appointed Vice President of Fair Work Australia — although back then it was called the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Previously, Lawler was a barrister who made his mark representing employers in employment disputes. The man who appointed him to the AIRC was none other than Tony Abbott — who at the time was Employment and Workplace Relations Minister under John Howard’s Coalition Government.
On his appointment, Tony Abbott gave a speech praising Lawler in a remarkably personal and intimate fashion. Here is some of what he said that day:
“Intellect combined with common sense, compassion tempered by realism, ideals shaped but not dimmed by experience, some grasp of the nobility and waywardness that contend in every man: these, in my view, are some of the qualities which Vice President Lawler will bring to the demanding and often lonely life that lies before him.”
At a function to farewell Tony Abbott from his position as Employment and Workplace Relations minister the following year, Lawler was one of just four members of the AIRC to attend.
Independent Australia requested confirmation from Tony Abbott’s office about the relationship between the Opposition Leader and Michael Lawler, but had not received a response by the time of publication.
The Opposition always refer to Fair Work Australia as Julia Gillard’s “baby”, but Lawler was certainly Tony Abbott’s appointment.
Of course, all these things may be purely coincidental…
However, it does appear strange that Mr Lawler seems to have become involved in factional battles within the union on his partner Kathy’s behalf.
Carol Glen was the Victorian Divisional Secretary of HSU East for three years before resigning recently. At the time, Kathy Jackson was National Secretary of HSU East, and Michael Williamson was the General Secretary of HSU East.
Carol resigned due to the factional fighting within the union, particularly between Jackson and Williamson.
However, Jackson clearly did not want Carol to resign, as she feared that Williamson would replace her with a Divisional Secretary loyal to him.
This is the point where Lawler became involved in the factional battle within the Union, even though he was not a part of the HSU himself.
Carol Glen, in a written complaint to former Fair Work Australia President Geoffrey Giudice, alleges she received an “aggressive” phone call from Lawler, who told her:
“You can fuck off and take sick leave if you don’t want to do the work and still be paid, but you can’t resign.”
Michael Lawler did not work at HSU East, and this complaint went directly to his only superior in Fair Work Australia, Geoffrey Guidice.
Then, just a few days later, Lawler made corruption allegations against Carol to NSW Police and Strikeforce Carnarvon was born.
It is odd that this type of complaint would come from Lawler — as he was not part of HSU East or even a member of the Union.
As part of his complaint of corruption, Lawler made reference to a cheque that was being picked up by Carol — something he said she had mentioned in an email. The inference was that this cheque was some sort of pay off.
The Australian details the claims made by Lawler and the subsequent reaction by Glen:
Mr Lawler claims Ms Glen may have been given an inducement to give false evidence, noting that in a private email exchange with her partner in December, she had referred to a cheque she was going to pick up.
"I had ordered a bank cheque to pay my rent," Ms Glen said, questioning how Mr Lawler had obtained her emails. She says she finds it extraordinary that Mr Lawler, the second highest industrial judge in the land, would engage in such a campaign.
Mr Lawler's associate said it would be inappropriate for him to comment.
So, in fact, the cheque was a bank cheque ordered by Carol to pay her rent — totally innocent and unrelated to any Union business at all.
However, the question remains: how would Lawler know about the cheque? Given he mentioned a “private email exchange”, it would seem certain that he somehow had access to Ms Glen’s emails. So, how did Lawler have access to Glen’s private emails?
We don’t know, because as soon as he was asked about this detail, Lawler’s associate clammed up.
All decidedly suspicious.
On the 2nd May, police officers from the NSW Fraud and Cybercrime Squad raided the HSU East headquarters in Pitt Street, Sydney, in a much publicised operation.
However, my inside sources have pointed out a few anomalies about the official story of the raid that was reported in the press. Police were offered the option of using the service elevator and the rear entrance to the building to make things simpler, safer, and faster for officers — but this offer was rejected as the police were reportedly keen to use the main entrance, where the press had been assembled. Sources also state that the large number of boxes shown on TV being carried out by officers were all virtually empty — it was allegedly all done for show, to make it look like there were mountains of documents seized. Also, sources say, the story about HSU boss Michael Williamson trying to sneak out a back door with evidence was total rubbish — done presumably to implicate guilt. In fact, Mr Williamson left the office via the entrance the police were offered access to, as his car was parked in the car park opposite; the things he was carrying were taken by police as a routine part of the operation, as were his personal items — and probably a sandwich as well.
Of course, Kathy Jackson has acted very strangely for a so-called union boss.
In Melbourne, Jackson has hired Stuart Wood, a former Vice President of the HR Nicholls Society, as her lawyer. The HR Nicholls Society is a right-wing lobby group with close ties to the Liberal Party, set up as a think tank dedicated to Industrial Relations “reform”— much of which fed into the architecture of the Howard Government’s infamous “WorkChoices” policy.
It would seem valid to question why the Secretary of a union would hire a solicitor that is anti-union — and, indeed, one whose ideas you have apparently spent your whole working life fighting against. A quick look at HR Nicholls Society’s website shows just how close its ties are with the Liberal Party. Former Howard Government industrial relations minister Peter Reith is a board member, for example, and other notable names on the list of who contributes to this Society are Tony Abbott (there’s that name again), Eric Abetz, Peter Costello, Michael Kroger… the list goes on and on — even Andrew Bolt gets a mention.
Even more strangely, for a union rep, Jackson is due to be guest of honour and give a speech at the HR Nicholls Society annual dinner on June 12th. Strangely, Mal Brough – who has been accused of being implicated in the allegations against Peter Slipper – fronted the HR Nicholls Society only a week or two ago [note below video].
And, in yet another strange coincidence, Peter Slipper accuser James Ashby is using Kathy Jackson’s Sydney lawyers.
On the 14th May, on the Chris Smith programme on radio station 2GB, Kathy Jackson said that rumours of the Liberal party paying for her vast team of lawyers were rubbish. These lawyers, expensive lawyers, were all working for her for free – pro bono – she stated. Chris Smith, however, chose not to pursue the matter…
People can say whatever they like about Craig Thomson’s credibility and his explanation of events, however, most people would find it totally unbelievable, and absolutely inconceivable, that these right-wing lawyers, one of them from a Liberal Party-aligned union-busting “think tank”, would provide their services free to a union boss — especially one who pays herself a $270,000 salary.
So, it would seem there are many questions to be asked — and not just of Craig Thomson.
The mind boggles as to how someone who is a former employers’ barrister in their disputes with unions and was appointed to the AIRC by Tony Abbott as well as allegedly being a personal friend, is able to allegedly hack the emails of a Union official and then make a criminal complaint regarding this Union even while being the Vice President of the organisation actually in charge of investigating the same Union — as well as being the partner of the Union whistleblower most deeply enmeshed in the whole affair, who is soon to speak at a function for a union-busting Liberal Party-aligned think tank, and who is being represented in all her actions against the union for free by the Liberal Party’s favourite lawyers — and yet none of this is widely reported in the media, or seemingly of any major interest to police?
Talk about conflicts of interest.
What is really going on here?
In my mind, all this puts question marks over the entire investigation — and makes me wonder about the Coalition's direct involvement. After all, George Brandis repeatedly kept pushing for more investigations. If nothing else, Jackson, Lawler, Abbott – and the NSW police – have some serious questions to answer.
I don’t know how deep this runs but, like I said, I smell a rat.
(This is an abridged version of a longer story on Peter Wicks' blog WIXXYLEAKS.)
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.