FOLLOWING PRE-SENTENCE SUBMISSIONS in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today, former Health Services Union head and disgraced Labor MP Craig Thomson is to be sentenced next Tuesday, having been convicted recently on 65 theft and dishonesty charges stemming from his time in charge of the union. The cavalier Thomson — who has shown no remorse, and thumbed his nose at attempts to bring him to justice — deserves a heavy penalty.
For fairly obvious reasons, I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of next week’s sentencing hearing, nor particularise what I think an appropriate penalty for the criminal sins of Craig Robert Thomson, other than to say that in the circumstances I think it fair that Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg would be justified in throwing the proverbial book at the bastard, and should indeed do precisely that.
I do think Thomson should be jailed, if only to make an example of him as a warning to others in public life. But beyond that, it would not be proper to speculate or postulate further as to the sentence Thomson should be given.
Even so, I want to run through some of the points listed in an article that appeared across the Murdoch titles today; these relate to sentencing submissions from the prosecution and the defence that are in the public domain, and as such can be regarded as fair game to tear them to shreds.
Some of this stuff is “cuckoo-land” stuff, and so tear it apart I will.
I must say I have enormous sympathy with the Crown prosecutor, Lesley Taylor SC, who in noting that Thomson had not shown a shred of remorse and blamed others consistently for his deeds, described Thomson and his denials as “arrogant in the extreme.” Her account of his behaviour aligns perfectly with his conduct during his embattled time as the member for Dobell, smugly and unswervingly sheltered by the assiduous protection of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The submissions on Thomson’s behalf from his defence counsel, however — barrister Greg James QC — defy credulity.
James claims that in committing the offences for which he will shortly be punished that Thomson was confronted by “moments of need or desire” during his time as HSU national secretary, when his relationship with his then wife was breaking down.
Perhaps this was so, and perhaps these were difficult personal times for Thomson. But they do not justify ripping the Health Services Union off to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
James says that Thomson’s actions were “a response by him to his own impulses on a more or less opportunistic basis,” and that his client — in his time of darkness — “sought comfort somewhere else;” I’ll leave it to readers to make their own individual judgements on whether the procurement of prostitutes fits within their own code of ethics, but I would say very forcefully that it clearly did in Thomson’s case — and that having elected to go down such a path, he should have paid for their services from his own pocket.
The Australian quotes James as saying that “the climate (at the HSU) appeared to be that if he hadn’t spent the money on prostitutes and pornographic movies then there was unlikely to have been concern,” to which I would simply say such a speculative contention is invalid: Thomson spent money on airfares, cigarettes and accommodation, too, among other things, and the HSU wasn’t happy with those purchases, either.
Apparently, Thomson has “already agreed” to repay the HSU the sum of $24,538.42 “in compensation” for his actions, and James told the Court Thomson had taken out a mortgage and intended to pay these monies within three months.
Should that ameliorate whatever penalty he receives next week? Hardly. Such a repayment should form part of that penalty, not be made in an attempt to evade it.
James said — again, to quote The Australian — that Thomson had lost every prospect of a career in politics or public life, and suffered from anxiety as a result of his humiliating downfall. “From the very moment of his arrest on, he was very publicly pilloried,” Mr James said.
From the very moment…what melodramatic, jumped-up pseudo-emotive poppycock.
Perhaps if Thomson has suffered ridicule, it is because his actions have made him a public laughing stock; any rational and intelligent individual — which, by almost every account, Thomson is — would foresee the great shame and ostracisation his actions would bring if they were ever publicly revealed, and prosecuted as they deserved to be.
If Thomson is now unemployable and/or unelectable, he can only blame himself. Such a reality does not merit sympathy or leniency in the circumstances.
And in further reporting by sister publication the Daily Telegraph of Sydney, it is noted that James even canvassed “alternative options” with which to sentence his client, suggesting Thomson “would be happy to travel from his NSW home to undertake community work in Victoria.”
Which — let’s face it — would be awfully big of him; a miscreant criminal prepared to submit to the indignity of an occasional aeroplane ride as a price to pay for keeping himself out of prison.
James’ assertion that Thomson was “suffering a major depressive illness and had been punished by widespread media attention since his arrest in September 2011” is — again — something I would simply shrug my shoulders and say “who cares?” in response to; once again (as noted four paragraphs above this one) actions such as Thomson’s bring adverse consequences when revealed and prosecuted.
The whole idea of alleged criminals having their day in Court is to establish their innocence or guilt in relation to the matters with which they have been charged, and — where guilt is found — to punish those offences proportionately.
To accept any or all of the recommendations put by Thomson’s barrister is to accept that despite committing the crimes, Thomson should effectively get off scot-free.
Prosecutor Taylor’s submission — that anything less than an immediate jail term would be “manifestly inadequate” — is, to my mind, much nearer the mark.
After all, this is a bloke who breached the trust of tens of thousands of low-paid union members in a self-indulgent romp at their expense, and then went to elaborately intricate lengths to either escape prosecution for his offences and/or to deflect blame for them to others.
Taylor is right: Thomson has never uttered so much as a syllable publicly by way of remorse.
We’ll look at how this plays out next week, but it is to be hoped Magistrate Rozencwajg makes an example of Thomson, and throws the book at him.