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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1134


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (22:19): by leave—On a number of previous occasions I have traversed the murky dealings of the member for Dobell and his New South Wales right-wing mates. Since my last contribution in this place on 22 November 2011 we now know this desperate and dysfunctional government, which is hanging on by its fingertips, has hatched a grubby plan to keep the member for Dobell in parliament in the event he is charged. In the Daily Telegraph of 9 December 2011 we read:

Senior Labor sources have confirmed that, should Mr Thomson be charged, he will be suspended—not expelled—from the Labor Party, which would buy the party more time prior to a conviction.

Meanwhile Kathy Jackson continues to call for an end to the investigations about the HSU. On 15 December 2011, the Australian reported her comments:

'We want answers,' she said. 'The union needs to just get on with representing its members and not be tied up with all these investigations.'

All the while the Prime Minister continues to allegedly have faith in the member for Dobell. Various media reports such as the Age article 28 January 2012 entitled 'Material shows scale of Fair Work union inquiry' outlines the extent of the documents in this matter. Fair Work Australia has revealed the scale of its lengthy investigation into corruption at the Health Services Union, saying that it has amassed more than 6,500 pages of material and that the people subject to the probe have until 5 March to respond to the case against them. The article also states that the investigation had made adverse findings against Mr Thomson. Not surprisingly, the Australian Labor Party will use all means available to make sure any reports never sees the light of day. Transparency in their union dealings is not in their DNA. We know that there has been at least collusion over media management of the investigation. This sordid affair has been going on since 2009. This is longer than the Watergate inquiry, longer than the Korean War, longer than the time it took to build the Sydney Olympic Stadium. If the Australian Labor Party and this Prime Minister had nothing to hide, why the delay in releasing findings? It is simple. This is just another grubby cover-up. We will await the 5 March deadline for responses from various players with great interest.

Of course, the legal fees on all sides are building up. We know that the cost of Fair Work Australia investigations have blown out to over three quarters of a million dollars. One wonders about Mr Thomson's ongoing legal bills and those of Mr Williamson and whether there is any arrangement to meet those. Previously I have stated my understanding that the Australian Labor Party paid Mr Thomson's legal costs of his defamation proceedings to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars. No-one from the Australian Labor Party has ever repudiated the veracity of this figure. My understanding is that Mr Thomson was prepared to walk unless his legal fees were paid. My understanding is that the amount paid, as I said, was a quarter of a million dollars.

Given what we have read in the paper, the person most likely to be able to clarify this is Senator Arbib. On 22 August last year and on other occasions, I have traversed how someone in the New South Wales ALP must have authorised the payment. Did this figure cover both Mr Thomson's costs and the newspaper's legal costs? I suspect not. So the question remains: how much more was paid out in legal fees? Who paid them? Were they paid for by the HSU? My question is: is Sussex Street still paying Mr Thomson's legal expenses?

Let me remind the Senate of the main person thanked in Mr Thomson's maiden speech. Yes, you guessed it, it was now senator, Mark Arbib. Mr Thomson said in his speech:

At this stage I need to acknowledge the fantastic advice and assistance I received from Mark Arbib, Karl Bittar and Sam Dastyari from the New South Wales ALP head office.

I did invite Senator Arbib to come clean and tell us how much it was and who did the deal. Perhaps now that Senator Arbib is leaving the Senate, he might write a tell-all book. I am sure it would be a bestseller.

I remind the Senate of my comments on 20 September 2011 when I traversed the corporate history of John Gilleland, his wife Carron and their string of companies, and their connection with Mr Thomson and Mr Williamson. Mr Gilleland's corporate history included a string of deregistered companies and liquidations. As we know, Mr Williamson and Mr Thomson allegedly received secret commissions from a major supplier to the Health Services Union. The two men had previously been provided with American Express cards by John Gilleland, who runs a graphic design business. The credit cards were issued in the names of Mr Thomson and Mr Williamson but were attached to Mr Gilleland's account. The Sydney Morning Herald article of 17 September last year states:

At a HSU function this year, Gilleland's wife Carron privately complained to senior union officials that Williamson had "run amok" with the credit card. According to one official, Carron Gilleland said, 'He even paid his private school fees on it' and 'this was not part of the deal'. Offering or receiving a benefit as an inducement to act in a certain way in business dealings may constitute a criminal offence.

According to the HSU's accounts for 2009-10, John Gilleland, 64, and Carron Gilleland, 51, receive about $680,000 a year to produce 10 issues of the union's newsletter, Health Standard. These figures were up to 10 times the amount other unions paid for similar things, industry sources said.

As I have previously stated, the Gillelands have an interesting corporate history. The Sydney Morning Herald article of 17 September last year states:

The Health Standard's producer, John Gilleland, has a colourful past. In 1984 he and his brother, Ian, were arrested by federal police over their alleged role in use their printing company to produce counterfeit German currency. The quality of the notes was so good that they were given a seven out of 10 rating by the Reserve Bank. While John Gilleland was acquitted by a jury on 1986, at a subsequent trial, Ian was found guilty and sentenced to five years jail.

Despite this, John Gilleland became director of Edley Pty Ltd in 1989 and his wife became a director in March 1993. In March 1993 he also became a director of Carron McDonald and Associates and from about 1990 to 1993 the Gillelands lived at 830 Barrenjoey Road, Palm Beach.

As I live on the northern beaches of Sydney, I am familiar with this area. This is rather a modest abode. John and Carron Gilleland became directors of another company, Communigraphix Pty Ltd, in March 1996 and have been directors since that date. In 1997 its principal place of business was located at 142 Avalon Parade, Avalon—certainly a step up from Barrenjoey Road, so business must have improved for the Gillelands. In November 1998, only a year or so later, the principal place of business of Communigraphix becomes a rather large waterfront property located at 156 Hudson Parade, overlooking Clareville Beach. Clearly the printing business was a lucrative one or the Gillelands were engaged in other activities where the financial returns were more rewarding.

In November 1998, Mr Gilleland was also a director of Baxter Manning Group Pty Ltd. In February 2001, his company was deregistered and he ceased to be a director. In 1999, Edley Pty Ltd subsequently went into liquidation with the Supreme Court appointing a liquidator. The company was deregistered in December 1999. Despite this financial setback, the principal place of Communigraphix was moved to 909 Barrenjoey Road, Palm Beach, which is a multimillion dollar, two-storey house overlooking Careel Bay and Pittwater. It is clear that by this stage either the printing business was paying very, very well or indeed those other activities they were engaged in were definitely raking in big dollars. Then, in January 2008, John and Carron Gilleland were appointed directors of another company, CGX Media Pty Ltd, also located at the Palm Beach abode.

My point here is that John and Carron Gilleland have done remarkably well. In the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, despite what appears to be on paper a series of corporate failures, they had four separate abodes starting from a modest one to a multimillion dollar property overlooking Careel Bay from which they ran their businesses. Hence it came as no surprise to me to read in the Sydney Morning Herald article on 24 February 2012 entitled 'Thomson union printer raided over credit card':

Police this morning raided the house of the man accused of providing secret commissions to the Health Services Union's former general secretary Craig Thomson and the union's head Michael Williamson.

Detectives from Strike Force Carnarvon executed a search warrant at the Palm Beach house of printer John Gilleland 65 and his wife, Carron, shortly before 7 am today.

Several hours later police from the computer crime squad arrived to assist in the search of the Gilleland's house.

The article trawls through the Herald's previous revelations and states that:

Either offering or receiving a benefit as an inducement to act in a certain way in business dealings may constitute a criminal offence, which can attract penalties of up to seven years' imprisonment.

Let us not forget that the card which is the subject of the Gilleland allegations is separate to Mr Thomson's union issued one. The article states:

Mr Thomson is subject of two other investigations being conducted by the Victorian Police and Fair Work Australia into allegations that he used his union-issued credit card to withdraw $100000 in cash advances and to pay for prostitutes. This is a separate card to the one that was the subject of today's police raid.

I have raised these matters previously, because I was seeking to join the dots regarding the suspicious connection between Mr Thomson, Mr Williamson and the Gillelands. Hence, I was not at all surprised to read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 February 2012, entitled 'Police uncover more credit cards linked to union boss'. I quote:

POLICE have discovered further unusual credit cards associated with the Health Services Union's president, Michael Williamson, as they continue to investigate allegations he and the former general secretary Craig Thomson received secret commissions via credit cards supplied to them by a major contractor to the union.

Let us not forget that the American Express credit cards were issued in the names of Mr Thomson and Mr Williamson, but as the article states:

… were attached to Mr Gilleland's account and the bills incurred on those cards were allegedly paid for by Mr Gilleland.

Interestingly, the article reveals some other matters. Firstly, that the police stayed for more than eight hours and, secondly, 'they left carrying eight boxes of documents and two computers'. I have no doubts that there will be many more revelations to come. Of further interest is the other revelation in the article that:

... police are investigating allegations Mr Gilleland falsely stated on his Amex application for the extra cards that the two men were his brothers-in-law.

Records show that Carron Gilleland was born in Auckland in July 1960, and Mr Thomson was born in Wellington in July 1964. In his maiden speech, Mr Thomson referred to his sister Jane, who was present. Whilst there may be a connection, this is not known. Presuming none exists, the question is whether Mr Thomson and Mr Williamson were aware that they were being passed off as Mr Gilleland's brothers-in-law. I am sure that Strike Force Carnarvon will tell us more about this later. If Mr Thomson and Mr Williamson did know then there would be further serious legal issues to answer.

I would now like to return to another aspect of the 22 November 2011 article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled 'Link by link, the powerbrokers of the Right emerge'—namely, the link between Senator Arbib and the Williamson family. The article states:

Meanwhile, questions have been raised in Labor circles as to whether Mr Arbib, the federal Sports Minister, was receiving an undisclosed benefit by not paying rent when staying in Canberra during parliamentary sitting days.

The article goes on to state:

During 2007 to 2009, Mr Arbib stayed in Alexandra Williamson's two-bedroom apartment in Forrest. Ms Williamson, a staffer in the office of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is the daughter of Mr Arbib's and Mr Roozendaal's close friend, embattled Health Services Union boss Michael Williamson, who is the subject of a police investigation.

Just before Labor lost the last election Mr Roozendaal appointed Mr Williamson to a government board.

Mr Arbib, through a spokesman, said he was adamant that he paid rent directly to Ms Williamson. Ms Williamson's only comment, sent by email, was: "Mark Arbib and I lived together where he paid a portion of the rent."

It is unclear who paid all the rent. Did the funds come from the HSU? I say this because Mr Williamson has been generous in paying rent for his children. In an article dated 16 September 2011 in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled 'Union boss's son used HSU building to run his own business' it is stated:

THE union boss Michael Williamson failed to disclose that his son was using a Health Services Union building to run a recording studio.

In 2006 the HSU bought an almost $800000 industrial building in Banksmeadow, near Sydney Airport. Two years later Mr Williamson's son, Chris, opened Studio 19, a recording and rehearsal studio in the industrial unit which he rents out on a commercial basis.

Chris Williamson is a bass guitarist with the band Overpass. According to its Facebook page, "Studio 19 is an acoustically treated studio which prides itself on offering the highest level of audio production whilst providing excellent customer service to Australia's leading acts."

The point of this is that, as the article states:

There is no disclosure of this in the HSU's accounts, and union sources confirmed yesterday it was an uncommercial arrangement that had not been disclosed to or approved by the union.

The article then focuses on Mr Gilleland and the American Express cards. Interestingly, in an interview by Tank Stream's Catherine Kennedy, Mr Williamson was asked:

Michael, there's been some media articles suggesting that the union is in crisis. That's far from the truth?

Mr Williamson replied:

The practical situation is that the union is in a fine position. It moving forward, and we're in good shape.

The article discloses Mr Williamson's son is employed as an HSU media officer and lists his employment on his internet profile as a project officer at Tank Stream Productions. Of course, there is no mention of the studio. Tank Stream Productions, a boutique video production studio, is in the HSU headquarters in Pitt Street. It is clear that they were paying very little rent. What a cosy family arrangement at the expense of some of the most low-paid workers in this country. It is clear that the longer the sad and sorry saga of Mr Thomson drags on, the more unanswered questions remain. One thing is clear: there is a cover-up and we are yet to understand the full extent of all the players involved, the intricate and internecine relationships that bind the New South Wales Right to a code of secrecy. The Australian public deserve answers. They deserve to know precisely what this cover-up is about. As my colleague Christopher Pyne stated in the other place when there was a motion pertaining to Fair Work Australia's investigation of the member for Dobell:

There is a protection racket that surrounds the member for Dobell and we all know why: it is not to keep him in his job, it is to keep the Prime Minister in hers.

Mr Pyne quoted an old mafia saying: 'A fish starts to stink from the head.' It is very clear that, in this whole sordid Thomson affair, the fish definitely does stink from the head. There is absolutely no doubt that this is a major cover-up and it all starts from one place. And why? It is because this is not just about keeping the member for Dobell in this place; it is about protecting the Prime Minister.

Those good Labor members on the opposite side both in this place and in the other place must absolutely cringe when they have to defend the member for Dobell and at having him as part of this government. As Mr Pyne says, they are:

… having to rely on the member for Dobell to stay in government, because without his vote the government will fall. That is what this is all about: protecting the member for Dobell in order to protect the Prime Minister.

Senate adjourned at 22 : 38