Sunday, August 03, 2008


Eamonn Duff, smh

August 3, 2008

NURSES have demanded their union chief resign after the union sponsored his daughter's soccer team with funds from their membership fees.

The NSW Nurses' Association donated $5000 to the Hills District Women's Football Club, which has the Beaumont Hills Lady Hawks in its ranks. One of the team's star strikers is the daughter of Brett Holmes, the association's general secretary.

The sponsorship deal was funded from the Nurse Power Fund - a financial reserve raised through member contributions.

As the news swept through nurses' branches across NSW last week, Mr Holmes was asked to explain why members had not been formally notified of the sponsorship, which was signed off in November last year.

The scandal has erupted on the eve of next weekend's NSW Nurses' Association Annual Conference, in which Mr Holmes was set to come under heavy fire, with the union accused of bargaining away a series of long-standing staff entitlements during recent pay negotiations.

Yesterday, nurses at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital vowed to spearhead "a mass membership withdrawal" among the union's 51,000 members if Mr Holmes didn't resign before the conference.

RPA emergency nurse Cate Cunningham said nurses felt "disillusionment and disgust".

"When we heard at Thursday's branch meeting our fighting fund money was being used to sponsor a women's football team we were speechless. Then on Friday, news filtered through that it was Brett Holmes's daughter's team," she said. "I can't tell you how angry and upset we all are. This has never been reported to members."

Mrs Cunningham said the branch meeting had been held to address the union's willingness to fritter away valuable workplace entitlements in exchange for a "pissant pay increase" of 7.8 per cent over two years.

"We were all sitting there, wondering how on earth our union could have left us in such a mess … then it was casually mentioned a women's football team had been kitted out with cash deducted from our own wages," she said.

The sponsorship was approved at the association's council meeting on November 29. The successful motion read: "The NSWNA contributes $5000 in sponsorship to the Hills District (Female) Football Club for the 2008 year from the Nurse Power Fund."

In exchange, the nurses' association logo and motto "It's worth joining for" appears on 60 pairs of club shorts and on shirts of the under-19s team, for which Mr Holmes's 15-year-old daughter, Corinne, has played for the past two seasons.

Yesterday Mr Holmes told The Sun-Herald he would vigorously defend the deal at the annual conference. He argued that, with more than 70 players at the club and five other teams in the competition, approximately 300 "potential nurses" were exposed to the message every month.

"I declared [to council], right upfront, my own conflict of interest. I suggested to the council it's not often we get the chance to put a political statement on a sports shirt. If anything I've used my own connections to spread our message," he said. "I left the room when the decision-making process started. I abstained from voting.

"The council and the association makes countless financial decisions over the course of the year.

"We have a turnover of $24 million. We can't go to our members about every dollar spent."

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