When Michael Williamson resigned last summer as head of Australia's Health Services Union, his legal problems were only beginning. Now they've been raised to a new level. This April 8, police in Sydney accused the former labor leader with diverting about $600,000 in union funds to personal use over a more than three-year period. The charges follow 20 embezzlement, fraud and obstruction charges lodged against him early last October. Williamson and several other persons were arrested. In all, the union during his tenure allegedly made at least $20 million in questionable, if not illegal payments to vendors without proper documentation. The case also serves as an example of why mixing union business and national politics, in any country, is an invitation to corruption.
A major reason why union leaders go crooked is because they see opportunities to steal. And few things provide those opportunities quite like a government sympathetic to union expansion. Australia would seem no exception. At the start of August, Michael Williamson, national president of that country's Health Services Union (HSU), resigned via text message less than two weeks after the leaking of findings of an eight-month investigation to the media had alleged a clear pattern of "stark favoritism" in union spending and contracting. The probe, which had begun a year ago, led to a May 2 raid by New South Wales (NSW) police on the union's East Branch headquarters in Sydney, now in government receivership.