Michael Williamson has been jailed for at least five years for his “parasitic plundering” of the Health Services Union.
When the story of Michael Williamson was recounted in court, the former union boss emerged with few redeeming qualities.
Williamson, according to Judge David Frearson, was a good father and a man who now stands ashamed and sorry.
But the rest was a tale of a “parasite” and his “pure greed”.
Williamson was sentenced to at least five years in jail on Friday for “leeching” the Health Services Union (HSU) of almost $1 million and then recruiting others to hinder a police investigation.
Looking back at Williamson’s reign at the union, Judge Frearson told Sydney’s District Court that it was obvious he wielded “some kind of supreme power”.
As general secretary of the HSU from 1995 until 2012, Williamson hired and fired staff and was responsible for the union’s finances.
Those loyal to him were dubbed “Michael Williamson’s team” and were handsomely rewarded with increases in salaries significantly above industry levels.
From 2005 to 2011, Williamson’s own salary swelled from $290,757 to more than $513,000.
While on these bloated pay packets, Williamson begun his systematic and “parasitic plundering of the union funds for pure greed”, the judge said.
He directed the HSU to make 22 payments from 2006 to 2009 to the company CANME, without disclosing either his or his wife’s stake in the business.
Almost $338,500 was paid for work never done.
In 2005, Williamson met with the director of the union’s printing supplier Access Focus, Alfred Downing, to propose that he deliberately inflate his invoices to the union from $9 per published book to up to $20.
Much of the extra money paid by the union came back to Williamson in cash.
Over the course of just over three years, it is believed he made $600,000.
When inquiries into the union’s financial mismanagement began in 2011, Williamson went to extreme lengths to cover his tracks.
Files were erased and documents were shredded.
In May 2012, when police arrived at the union’s Sydney office to execute a search warrant, the 60-year-old recruited his son Christopher Williamson to remove a suitcase containing fraudulent CANME invoices.
In a sentence hearing earlier this month, the court heard Williamson had explained his offending by saying he wanted his children to have more than he did when he was growing up.
Judge Frearson said Williamson had “developed a reprehensible sense of entitlement”.
Driven purely and simply by greed, Williamson used the money to fund private schools for his children, entertainment and large mortgages, Judge Frearson remarked.
This lavish lifestyle “bore little comparison” to that of the union members he was employed to help.
Judge Frearson said Williamson was remorseful and had apologised to union members.
He accepted he was of prior good character, a good father and that there was little chance of him re-offending.
Williamson filed for bankruptcy the day after he entered guilty pleas on October 15 last year.
But HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said Williamson’s bankruptcy trustee would look into his family’s finances in an effort to retrieve the stolen money.
Whistleblower Kathy Jackson said outside the court that there were still unanswered questions.
“We still have an organisation that is riddled with power corruption and hopefully the royal commission will deal with that.”
The former ALP national president’s earliest date of release is March 2019.