Planet Jackson by Brad Norington

Planet Jackson by Brad Norington

‘Jackson’s rise was sudden and dramatic.’

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I used to be a member of one of the unions that became the Hospital Services Union (HSU) in 1991.  Because of this, I was particularly interested in what became known as the ‘Health Services Union expenses affair’ involving Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson.  And, like many others, I considered Kathy Jackson a hero for having the courage to expose Michael Williamson’s million-dollar fraud.  Members of the HSU include some of the lowest paid workers in Australia, and these were the people whose membership dues were being used to fund Michael Williamson’s lavish lifestyle and Craig Thomson’s credit card misuse.  Outrageous!

‘There was widespread acclamation for Jackson’s exposure of Williamson.  She instantly became a national heroine.’

But it became clear that Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson were not the only officials misusing HSU funds.  Kathy Jackson herself had a fairly lavish lifestyle, and union funds were used to fund holidays, jewellery, a house mortgage as well as part of her divorce settlement on her husband Jeff Jackson (himself a HSU official).

Reading Brad Norington’s detailed account made me angry.  Did Kathy Jackson really think that she could get away with it?  How much attention did the ACTU (and the Labor Party) pay to the good governance of unions?  Or do the ACTU and the Labor Party no longer care about the workers whose interests they are supposed to represent?  Are all union officials these days only motivated by the possibility of pre-selection for a safe seat in parliament?  While this book is primarily about Kathy Jackson, it touches on other aspects of union mis-governance and trade-offs.  Fewer and fewer Australians belong to trade unions now: is it any wonder?

‘All of the HSU’s problems could be boiled down to one thing: a lack of oversight.’

These were not only problems for the HSU, they are also problems for the Australian Labor Party and the union movement.  It certainly damaged Julia Gillard’s minority Labor government, having to rely on Craig Thomson’s vote.  What can you say about the decision (attributed to Sam Dastyari in the book) to pay Thomson’s legal bills to prevent him from bankruptcy (and being automatically disqualified from parliament)?  Whatever happened to ethics and principles?

Brad Norington has written a book which I found very hard to read, and impossible to put down.  Read it and think about politics and unionism in Australia.  Read it and weep.

‘She wanted the truth revealed about union officials ‘living an obscene millionaire’s lifestyle’ off the backs of their members.  Kathy Jackson got her wish.’

Note: My thanks to Melbourne University Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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