On the face of it, there seems to have been some serious investigative journalism about the inner workings of the HSU and the perks of office.
Jobs for relatives, jobs for friends, subsidised business premises for relatives, kick-backs from related companies, home renovations, council development approvals, supplier-provided credit cards, school fees paid, a Mercedes-Benz car, expensive restaurants, five star hotel stays, government appointments and associated director fees – the list goes on. Who needs union paid visits to brothels to keep the interest going in this story?
My guess is that those in the inner circle, including the lads from Sussex Streets and the comrades in Trades Hall (such a lovely building after the renovations), have known about all this stuff all along … and more. Are they disturbed by the revelations? Probably. But the key is wheterh they are disturbed by the facts and why has nothing been done about what amounts to largesse on a grand scale, at best, and potential illegality and corruption at worst.
On any interpretation, what has been going on at the HSU – for years it would seem – is an incredible disservice to the members of the HSU, many of whom are relatively lowly paid hospital workers. Why any of them would want to retain their membership is beyond me.
Now the civil war that has been waging within the HSU for years perhaps makes this union stand out from others, although there have been similar outbreaks in other unions, albeit perhaps not quite so long-lasting. (The losers in these other cases seem mostly to depart the scene.)
But should we assume that some of the generous arrangements for the union officials that have emerged in respect of the HSU are absent from the union movement more generally? It is difficult to tell, in part because the financial reports required of trade unions by the legislation are not informative to the members. For instance:
- It is impossible to determine how much union officials are actually paid.
- While many union officials are paid additional fees in relation to acting as Trustee of a Superannuation Fund, for instance, it is not clear whether these fees are transferred to the union (which would be the appropriate arrangement for full-time officials)
- Related party transactions do not seem to be recorded in the financial statements I have perused.
What also seems to be clear is:
- Some union officials appear to hold their positions for inordinate lengths of time – decades.
- It is not uncommon to see relatives of officials pop up as officials in the same or other unions.
- Increasingly, union officials have no experience in the occupations which their unions represent.
- The common career path is: university course (something soft will do), union official, more senior union official, preselection to safe parlimentary seat, MP, and hopefully higher office.
- Labor parliamentarians are increasingly sourced from the union ranks.
This last point is in the context of union membership making up 18 per cent of employees and 14 per cent in the private sector. There are now 1.8 million union members and the numbers have been in almost constant free-fall for decades.
It is interesting to ponder who really made the decision for the HSU to disaffiliate from the ALP. The more interesting question is whether the HSU is really an isolated example. My advice to those investigative reporters is to keep digging and to look beyond the HSU.