“Please Leave Me Alone:” Craig Thomson Just Doesn’t Get It

Hot on the heels of his reprehensible speech to Parliament this week — which may bring more self-inflicted trouble than anything — Craig Thomson played the misery card again today, begging the opposition and media commentators to leave him alone. They shouldn’t, and they won’t.

There are people in this world who genuinely believe themselves to be beyond scrutiny or reproach; people who think they can do whatever they like, to whomever they like, at whatever cost, and that they should walk away scot-free if their travails are ever uncovered, with neither consequences nor responsibility, and with ultimate accountability to nobody.

It increasingly appears, and not least by the man’s own words and deeds, that Craig Thomson is such a specimen.

In what is (for Thomson) a rare media appearance indeed, he conducted a doorstop interview in Canberra today, imploring those in pursuit of him over scandals at the HSU, his alleged use of prostitutes at union expense and the misappropriation of $500,000 of HSU monies to back off.

Thomson went on, identifying nine different inquiries, investigations and legal proceedings against him that are underway involving the courts, Parliament and Police.

“Enough is enough, really,” he said. “Is this about trying to push someone to the brink?”

Really? Really?

We’re going to see exactly why Thomson should not be “left alone” under any circumstances; but I would first make the observation that his remarks today are an insult to those in the community who really are suffering depression, feeling suicidally miserable, and so forth.

People on the brink of self-harm — or worse — tend not to prate of it; they simply go ahead and do it, rather than looking for attention, sympathy or, in this case, a reprieve from scrutiny.

Ever since Thomson started to talk a couple of weeks ago — and even then, it was only to evade censure in the House of Representatives — the “woe is me” theme has been prevalent in his utterings; the clear impression is that Thomson wants everyone to feel sorry for him, and that his alleged misdemeanours should be quietly dropped and forgotten.

The general message is that Thomson should be able to skip off into the sunset, and that anyone standing in his way is, quite simply, a bastard.

Well, I have a message for Craig Thomson: this column won’t leave you alone until either you satisfactorily and credibly explain your purported innocence of the allegations you face, or you are prosecuted.

And I have a small inkling that the Liberal and National parties, the vast majority of those in the mainstream media, a similar proportion of commentators here in the new media space, and maybe — just maybe — the odd federal Independent who has been “solid” for Thomson until now don’t intend to leave him alone either.

Collectively, we can’t — Thomson must be held to account.

Here’s a little rap sheet, and some reasons why the scrutiny Thomson clearly despises is not going to go away — and nor should it.

What was supposed to be a watertight explanation of all allegations against him in his speech to Parliament was nothing of the sort; at first glance, those passages dealing with the allegations seem guided by saying something — anything — against each accusation in turn rather than by any requirement for a credible or even cogent overall account.

And defences to specific allegations — such as inviting investigators to secure CCTV footage from escort agencies that only provide outcall services — fool nobody.

In point of fact, they merely make Thomson appear like the idiot he seems determined to play everyone else for.

In the past 72 hours Thomson has smeared several people both under parliamentary privilege and, through a leak to the Murdoch press, outside Parliament; those people consequently may not have recourse against Thomson, even if they can show they were defamed. But Thomson — having tried to settle scores by throwing stones from a glass house — expects and believes his address to be a repercussion-free exercise.

Thomson, in rattling off the details of the various inquiries and investigations into his conduct that are currently underway, claimed that “these (investigations) are the appropriate places for these matters to be dealt with.”

Yet he has repeatedly frustrated or otherwise refused to co-operate with them, especially two current inquiries (and one that lapsed as a result of his failure to co-operate) being undertaken by the NSW and Victorian Police.

The headkickers of the ALP are lining up behind Thomson to do his bidding; Leader of the House of Representatives Anthony Albanese, in particular, seems determined to terminate any further scrutiny of Thomson and to protect him, and the government, from any further fallout from the scandal.

Indeed, Thomson can’t even be said to have made a credible stand in his own defence; until last week, his security of tenure has largely rested on the refusal of the Prime Minister to do anything other than to reaffirm her full confidence in him.

Whenever challenged on the ethical or legal implications of allegations surrounding Thomson, Gillard has attempted to talk about Tony Abbott, or to ignore the question.

More recently, she has simply walked away — be it to an overseas conference, or out of question time when the subject matter of the discussion is not to her liking.

All this comes as the Nine network prepares to air a segment on its A Current Affair programme; Nine says it has located and interviewed one of the prostitutes who allegedly slept with Thomson, and who claims to have details of credit cards and other incriminating material to prove that Thomson was with her.

The programme’s executive producer, Grant Williams, visited Thomson in Canberra yesterday and offered to allow Thomson the opportunity to view the ACA segment and to respond if he saw fit.

Oddly — and, I would have thought, unbelievably — Thomson declined.

For the record, Nine has emphasised that it did not pay the prostitute to appear; and this also comes as Melbourne’s Herald Sun reports that Police have been told to look into whether Thomson used American Express cards on escorts:

“Detectives in NSW are believed to have referred to Victoria Police fraud squad detectives information about an American Express card allegedly linked to Thomson…sex industry sources in Victoria have (also) told police to look into Thomson’s use of that card, and not only (other) records checked by Fair Work Australia.”

It was also reported today in the Murdoch press that a payment account linked to a Sydney sex industry supremo appears to have allegedly had funds deposited to it by Thomson during his time in charge of the Health Services Union, and that when asked specific questions about payments to that account, Thomson refused to answer.

I could go on…but what would be the point?

Aside from sympathy, why would anyone back off Thomson when he can’t give a straight and honest answer to questions about matters in which he is implicated?

Why should he be let off the hook, when not a word of what he has said remotely excuses him from even one of the myriad of allegations against him?

Indeed, why would anyone have any sympathy for him at all?

Liberal backbencher and retiring MP, Mal Washer — a doctor of medicine — has attempted to intervene this week, on account of his genuine concern for Thomson’s wellbeing and general health.

Such an intervention is not unwelcome; I actually think Dr Washer should be commended for coming forward despite the fraught, charged political atmosphere and the highly partisan nature of the events that are playing out.

But Thomson must face scrutiny; until or unless he is either exonerated or prosecuted, the matters in which he is alleged to have engaged in misconduct must be rigorously pursued.

I note — near the end of my remarks tonight — that the opposition’s focus is now turning more sharply towards Julia Gillard — as it should.

The conduct of a Prime Minister in office should always be unimpeachable; in the current circumstances of minority government, the need to uphold standards is ever-more critical, with parliamentary numbers so finely balanced and the overriding requirement for the country to remain governable.

Yet Gillard — with her selective honesty, smart answers, glib slogans, questionable ethics and deceptive manipulations — has directly facilitated the trashing of the reputation of Parliament as an institution, and in so doing has provided a grub like Thomson with a safety house in which to shelter, free from the repercussions of his alleged actions.

I’m not a brute; simply a plain, no-nonsense Tory. I think it of paramount importance that any and all legitimate methods of investigation in the Thomson matters required to establish the truth — once and for all — must be utilised.

I am not insensitive to any health issues that may afflict Thomson and I really don’t think the likes of Abbott and his MPs or the media community are either, but I would point out that Dr Washer’s idea to offer care and observation can easily be carried out simultaneously with ongoing investigations, and that both should proceed.

But if Thomson wants people to back off him, I will make this offer:

  • Immediately submit to full co-operation with all outstanding Police inquiries;
  • Provide any and all material and intellectual evidence as demanded by such inquiries, including under oath as reasonably required;
  • Seek to make a personal explanation (or similar) to Parliament, on the next available sitting day, substantially retracting in full the speech made on Tuesday;
  • Utilise whatever options are available to have the Hansard record of the speech struck out; and
  • Citing the irreconcilable incompatibility of ongoing, protracted allegations and investigations with the effective representation of a federal electorate — and irrespective of any potential political ramifications — announce the resignation of the seat of Dobell in the House of Representatives, effective from 6pm on Friday 1 July, 2012.

If Thomson is prepared to do all of those things — effectively turning his back on the ALP protection racket whose favour he has enjoyed, throwing himself on the mercy or the law and proper process, and leaving the Parliament, albeit in disgrace — then this column will make no further critical comment of him.

It seems fair: with so many questions to answer, and the apparent weight of evidence against him almost overwhelming, if Thomson wants a break then he’s going to have to give something for it.

Of course, this won’t happen; Thomson wants everyone to know exactly who the bastards are and why they’re such evil people, and he wants the world to lavish him with pity and sympathy and “understanding;” but he refuses to take responsibility for his actions — either as determined by Fair Work Australia, or otherwise alleged.

I’m sorry, this bozo simply doesn’t get it.

Contrary to what he and others in the ALP might think, this is not a game.

Standards of governance in this country are lower than at any time since 1975, or perhaps ever; there is a great deal at risk the longer this goes on.

And hypothetical questions about what Tony Abbott might do if the shoe were on the other foot are — irrespective of their merit or otherwise — irrelevant.

Craig Thomson is an utter disgrace to this country; the sooner he leaves Parliament — one way or the other — the better off Australia will be for it.

Enough is enough, all right, Mr Thomson. It is time for you to go; your legitimacy as a member of Parliament has long since expired.

And if your departure results in the fall of the government and an election, then so be it.

Stalemate: Thomson Saga Rolls On…But To Where?

It’s like being in the eye of a storm; Craig Thomson fired his bullets in Parliament on Monday, and despite a lot of rough, tough talk — and the requisite Question Time ruckus — there doesn’t seem to be a great deal happening. Or is there?

Whilst political commentators are at one that the Craig Thomson scandal will now drag in indefinitely, and most — including me — agree that the government will suffer ongoing damage as a result, some have opined that the process of dealing with Thomson has reached a stalemate.

In fact, whilst there has been a lot of noise and chatter in the past couple of days, a number of small, seemingly unrelated events tend to suggest there are more turns in the road ahead in the context of this story.

I want to look at just a few of these; in and of themselves they offer nothing conclusive, but in them is sown the seeds of determining where the federal polity tracks for the next 12-15 months.

Since the melodramatic, accusatory and insult-laden twaddle that passed for the member for Dobell’s grand statement of explanation was delivered to the House of Representatives on Monday, a subtle yet significant split has opened in the ranks of the so-called Independents.

On the one hand, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie reaffirmed their support for the Gillard government in Parliament, ruling out supporting a suspension motion against Craig Thomson and guaranteeing the government’s survival in the immediate term.

Both have made a lot of noise about not being judges, juries and executioners, and both have insisted the allegations against Thomson be tested in Court. Neither has proposed any meaningful way for that objective to be advanced; in fact, neither of them have proposed or done anything meaningful whatsoever.

Indeed, whilst they have opted to prop Labor up in government, they have as a result revealed themselves to be interested in no more than the retention of their seats in parliament for as long as possible: were they committed to integrity and probity in practice, as opposed to the form of words both have adhered to, there would at least be substantive, constructive ideas coming from them as to how to proceed.

Instead, there is nothing.

And on the other hand, there is the “Third Independent,” Rob Oakeshott.

It is generally agreed outside Labor circles that of the Independents who agreed to support Gillard after the 2010 election, Oakeshott was the most politically damaged by the act; in the past week it has become known that Oakeshott is deeply angered by the Thomson saga, and specifically with the length of time it has taken the Thomson to explain himself and with the time it is taking for these matters to be dealt with.

Oakeshott at least proposed to move a censure motion against Thomson, a move since abandoned upon confirmation that Windsor and Wilkie refused to support it. And as consistently critical as I have been of Rob Oakeshott in this column, I think it appropriate to note he was, at the minimum, prepared to do something.

It’s true Oakeshott’s motion, if moved and carried, would not have brought down the government and would not have called for Thomson’s suspension from Parliament. Even so, it remains to be seen whether this display of discord among the Independents is a precursor to them acting alone rather than as a bloc in the future.

An interesting sub-plot has been the referral of Thomson to Parliament’s Privileges Committee to face allegations his speech on Monday misled Parliament, and the route taken to get him there; for reasons of strategic insurance, the Coalition initially asked Peter Slipper — who remains Speaker despite having stepped aside from presiding over the House of Representatives on a daily basis — to refer Thomson, as Slipper is empowered to do.

Slipper refused.

The stench is already emanating from that on streets and in backyards and kitchens well-removed from Canberra; one MP accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences has been seen to shelter another MP also accused of multiple transgressions and possible criminal offences from scrutiny.

It’s not difficult to see what Coalition was up to, but I think we’ll let that one rot and fester on the vine for a while before we revisit it in a later column.

Yet somewhat surprisingly, the government announced it would support a Coalition motion in the House to refer Thomson to the Privileges Committee: my guess is that Labor thinking is that it was the least they could do; to refuse would send a dreadful, dreadful message in light of its already shattered credibility and reputation for sleaze.

Perhaps ALP types are taking solace in the fact that the committee is controlled by the government; of its 10 members, 6 are Labor Party MPs.

This reality has not been lost on the Coalition leadership; the means are there by which Labor can clear Thomson of misleading the House but to do so the government may well be walking into a fatal trap.

To that end, the Coalition has made a change to its numbers on the Privileges Committee, replacing first-term Bennelong MP John Alexander with former Liberal Attorney-General and Immigration minister Phillip Ruddock.

The change is significant: Ruddock, a 39-year veteran of Parliament, has a well-deserved reputation as a tactician and strategist, and remains a wily old political bird; and whilst his presence on the committee will in no way alter the balance of its numbers, it will add an additional layer of forensic investigation and hawk-like sharpness to the Coalition’s arsenal.

Whilst all of this has been going on, a report appearing in The Australian today suggests nominations for Labor preselection in Thomson’s seat of Dobell are open, and already prospective candidates are coming forward.

In an obvious and expected move — but unpredictable insofar as any consequences are concerned — NSW Labor secretary Sam Dastyari has already declared Mr Thomson will likely be ineligible to stand on account of the probability of allegations against him being unresolved when the preselection scheduled for September occurs.

Dumping Thomson from Dobell solves one problem — how to ultimately get rid of him — but raises another for the ALP: what if Thomson himself quits Parliament? He professes to remain a “Labor Man” in spite of everything that has happened, but could  the effective termination of his career tip him to the point of resignation? If so, the government could be forced to a poll before Christmas.

But that, of course, assumes the present Parliament and the current government even make it to an election in August/September 2013; the poll-driven, focus group obsessed ALP will scrutinise the next round of polling figures even more closely than usual, and that means the simmering issue of the Labor leadership will boil over again sooner rather than later.

My tip would be that the next ALP leadership showdown is a matter of weeks away, not months, and it certainly won’t take until a scheduled election loss in August or September next year to materialise.

Irrespective, now, of whether a switch to Kevin Rudd or to another candidate such as Stephen Smith occurs, it is difficult to see how another change of Prime Minister could be anything but a lit fuse beneath the powder keg on which the ALP’s stability as a government sits.

At some point — somehow — common sense will prevail over the self-interest and self-preservation which currently drives the ALP and the equally electorally doomed Independents; if it doesn’t, and even if it takes the death or resignation of an MP through ill-health, the odds on an election sooner than later are rapidly shortening.

As I said, despite the relative lull in events, much has been happening; these few examples — and other events in Canberra — could lead anywhere insofar as the sordid mess that is the Thomson/HSU scandal is concerned. Only time will tell and we will, of course, watch with great interest.

The bottom line remains that a wide majority of the voting public (and even, it anecdotally seems, among some Labor voters tired of minority government) want a fresh election to resolve the instability and the sense of chaos and crisis — to say nothing of the dishonesty of a Labor government rotten to the core — once and for all.

And if the final result of Craig Thomson’s “five minutes of fame” on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday is to trigger such an election, then maybe he will have effected some good out of this mess after all.

Whichever way you cut it, the stakes — and the bar for survival — just got a hell of a lot higher for Gillard, the ALP, and for the government.

 

Self-Indulgent, Self-Destructive Rant: Thomson Speech An Abject Waste Of Time

Somewhat anti-climactically, today’s speech by Craig Thomson to federal Parliament changed nothing, resolved nothing, and certainly failed to clear his name. Yet there will be consequences; for this speech could be construed as one of the greatest abuses of Parliament since Federation.

And in what proved little more effective than a baby throwing a tantrum, Thomson lashed out in every conceivable direction, throwing allegations and barbs and insults around under parliamentary privilege, but it was the unconvincing speech of a man with little to lose, and little left with which to fight.

Indeed, an associate who missed the telecast asked me for a summary this afternoon. “Two sentences,” I replied. “Everyone’s a bastard. Everyone should feel sorry for me.”

And that was about the extent of it.

I’m going to work through some of what Thomson had to say, and why the only person he is likely to have damaged — apart from the Prime Minister —  is himself; and then outline why I think the exercise in the House of Representatives this afternoon was a flagrant, co-ordinated and outrageous abuse of the Parliament.

The one surprise in today’s speech is that Thomson did not attempt to table incriminating material under privilege, which would have rendered it useless in any future legal proceedings; it would be a very low act indeed were that to have occurred, but this entire drama is such that nothing whatsoever would surprise me now in terms of the tactics that might be used to protect Thomson.

Again, readers will see what I mean later in this article.

In kicking off proceedings by reading out various threats he and his family had received, Thomson quickly rounded on the opposition and the media, saying “you have unleashed the lynch mob. And you have fanned it. And for that, you all, ultimately, are responsible.”

The allegations against Thomson first surfaced years ago, when raised in the Fairfax press and slapped with a defamation action for Uncle Fairfax’s troubles; after the action was settled — Thomson claims he was instructed to settle by the ALP — they have been the subject of endless inquiries and investigations, some of which Thomson has deliberately and consistently refused to co-operate with.

Amid suggestions of a cover-up — and with little forthcoming from Thomson or the government — it always seemed obvious that the media and/or the opposition would pursue him; after all, investigative journalism is exactly that, and one of the roles of an opposition is to hold a government to account and subject it to scrutiny.

Just because Thomson doesn’t like that fact, or that others are simply doing their jobs, does not mean he has been subjected to a “lynch mob.”

Indeed, Thomson has had many opportunities and avenues over long years through which to clear his name if he could do so; the first of these was the defamation action against Fairfax that was subsequently withdrawn.

Thomson’s assertion that it had been a mistake to do so was entirely unconvincing; if one has been defamed, and is suitably aggrieved to defend oneself by way of writ, one does not settle because someone else says so. In any case, the allegations to which the dropped action related are still of current import some three years later.

Many more opportunities to account for himself would follow.

And to attack Tony Abbott — for doing no more than his job — as “(not merely) unfit to be Prime Minister, he is unfit to be an MP” reeks of the pot calling the kettle black, and is the sort of desperate taunt doled out when there is literally nothing else to say.

Thomson held good to his threat to name names in Parliament; it had already leaked this morning, as we discussed, that he would name Health Services Union deputy secretary Marco Bolano, who angrily refuted the claims, describing them as ”fantastic and dishonest.”

Not content with that, Thomson went on to name his successor at the HSU, Kathy Jackson, and former HSU President Michael Williamson, accusing them of this and that and making various allegations against them.

He also took aim at Jackson’s partner, Fair Work Australia deputy president Michael Lawler, accusing him of interference into the FWA investigation into allegations against him and accusing him of having “a role” in the Liberal Party.

Unsurprisingly, all are outraged, and all are seeking the right to respond before Parliament; given Thomson has used the coward’s veil of parliamentary privilege to smear them, they know they can’t sue him.

Of course, had he made his allegations and declarations outside Parliament, Thomson would be subject to the laws of the land; but given so much effort has been expended in shielding Thomson from precisely that, today was clearly not going to be the day he voluntarily opted to face the music on that score.

But there is another point here, and one which nobody seems to have picked up on; it is, very simply, this.

Who cares — today, at least — about Jackson, Lawler and Williamson? It is allegations of serious official misconduct and financial misappropriation against Craig Thomson that are being investigated. Thomson might think himself clever for smearing them under privilege, but it did nothing whatsoever to remove the question marks hanging over his name.

And saying such things like opposition leader Tony Abbott had claimed that “I am not entitled to the presumption of innocence because I am clearly guilty” is — to use an ironic phrase — complete crap, and Thomson knows it.

Indeed, all Abbott has done is to call for answers in this matter; and for Thomson to satisfactorily explain himself and for the various investigations into him to run their course.

In the absence of that — three years later — Abbott has been asking other questions: for example, why Gillard continues to place her confidence in Thomson; why Thomson has systematically failed to co-operate with Police inquiries; and, more recently, if Thomson had all this information that would clear his name (which we found out today, he didn’t) why he didn’t come forward with it years ago?

Indeed, banging on about the presumption of innocence (a concept the ALP has bastardised to the point it is now almost as noxious a phrase as “moving forward”), Thomson chose to “name names” in Parliament today; yet just a week ago he refused again to supply those details to a NSW Police inquiry into the allegations against him — an investigation that may yet result in criminal charges being laid.

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re innocent and you can prove it, you do so, especially in such a diabolical case as this one.

Thomson expressed frustration that the general public appeared to have decided he is guilty. Doesn’t he realise that this is a matter of public outrage, and that people are very, very angry? From the very members whose fees have been pissed up against a post, to ordinary hardworking folk making an honest struggle to survive on less than Thomson earns, and to anyone with a shred of decency, the entire Thomson/HSU episode is an affront.

Tony Abbott is a voice for what is overwhelmingly the public mood; that does not make him unfit to be Prime Minister. Indeed, and especially lined up anywhere near Thomson, the complete opposite is the case.

Labor types today were making much of the fact that a courtroom was the right place for judgements to be passed on Thomson: my message is that if that’s the way they feel, then they should get him into a courtroom quickly. Convincing him to co-operate with Police instead of thumbing his nose at them would be a good start.

And as for the allegations concerning prostitutes, Thomson readily admitted he couldn’t answer for many of the calls made from his mobile telephone to arrange trysts with purchased companions. But the CCTV tape defence got a run; and as I flagged this morning (not least given one of the escort agencies — Sydney Outcalls — was not a brothel and would therefore possess no such footage) such a defence is a joke.

Thomson knows that, too; but behind the parliamentary barrier, he could say whatever he liked.

From an overall perspective, today’s operation involving Thomson was a sham; and I believe it badly abused Parliament, and amounted to no more than an attempt to continue the cover-up.

Thomson announced he would make his speech a week ago; in other words, he has had seven days to cook up one final attempt to sweep all of this under the carpet of parliamentary privilege — and leave it buried there.

He spoke for an hour, and what portion of the speech wasn’t concerned with throwing allegations and aspersions at people he clearly detests was spent on red herrings like his prostitute defence: incredible, unsatisfactory, and entirely unconvincing.

Prior to the speech, key Independents indicated that no matter what transpired, their role was not to judge Thomson; in practical terms, this meant that irrespective of what was said, they would continue to vote in support of the Gillard government, and would not support any move against Thomson unless it was shown he had misled Parliament.

After the speech, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese opined that he felt it was now time “for the Craig Thomson matter to be left alone;” in other words, the subject should not be discussed further, and should now be put to rest.

And subsequently — as the opposition sought to discuss Thomson’s speech, by way of a motion to suspend Standing Orders to make such discussion possible — the Gillard government repeatedly attempted to gag Tony Abbott, moving that he not be further heard, and to shut down proceedings.

If those five paragraphs, collectively, don’t spell out a concerted attempt to use Parliament and its privileges to knock the Thomson matters out of the arena once and for all, I don’t know what does.

Apparently, the great effort to protect Thomson — all to avoid a single by-election defeat that would trigger The Big One, and electoral Armageddon — continues unabated.

The whole thing was an abuse of process, pure and simple.

And the government knows it, too.

What will the ramifications of today’s proceedings be?

In my view, nothing will change. Thomson will eventually face the music over the findings of the FWA investigation into the HSU; the various Police inquiries will eventually conclude, resulting in Thomson being cleared, charged with criminal offences or charged with some kind of obstruction charge; the HSU figures named today will pursue recourse, and may or may not achieve it; and the Gillard government may or may not survive until the scheduled election time next year — with or without Thomson.

Whether the government survives or not, it is the only direct loser apart from Thomson: now guaranteed that the Thomson matters will continue indefinitely, it will have to deal with sensationalist headlines and scandalous, scurrilous revelations for as long as these matters play out.

And of course, Australian democracy is a loser, but it has nothing to do with Tony Abbott — it is a simple consequence of what happens when those in authority attempt to evade responsibility.

By means such as gutless attacks from within the sanctuary and immunity of the glass houses of parliament, for example.

And that will have consequences: for Thomson; for Gillard, whose increasingly shaky grip on the Labor leadership won’t withstand much more of this kind of thing; and for the ALP generally, whose electoral stocks are low, but which will test new depths if scandals such as this continue to afflict it.

In closing, I return to Thomson’s teary-eyed lament about the threats he and his family have faced, invasions of their privacy (especially his wife’s privacy), and to the apparently earth-shattering revelation that someone even dared to graffiti his gate.

All of this is Thomson’s fault, and Thomson’s alone; he could have co-operated with every relevant inquiry, expeditiously and candidly, and all of this would have been over years ago.

If he is innocent as he claims, he would have been exonerated and held faultless.

If guilty, he would probably have been charged and convicted, thrown out of Parliament, and perhaps jailed.

But either way, the fact all of this has dragged on so long is solely Thomson’s responsibility; and if he now wants to complain that the manifestations of public anger, which so palpably is at boiling point, are affecting his family then perhaps he ought to apologise to them.

After all, you’ve got to take responsibility for something sometime — even if you’re Craig Thomson.

Dobell Disgrace: Circus Heads To The House Of Representatives

Disgraced Labor MP Craig Thomson will today address the House of Representatives with what he says is a full account that will establish his innocence in the HSU scandal; whilst I am open to being convinced, anything he says should be taken with a large dose of salt.

The fact this is happening at all is a further blight on the Parliament and on the present government, whose leader either couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with the member for Dobell and the allegations against him at a time far, far earlier than this.

And — hiding behind the coward’s cloak of parliamentary privilege — Craig Thomson can say, literally, anything he likes.

This is a monumental cause for concern.

Readers of this column will understand my cynicism: we have talked about this matter many times since The Red And The Blue began last year; Thomson — in one way or another — has consistently refused to give an account of himself since well before this column started, and I’m very sceptical of the value of today’s exercise.

The opposition has already signalled its extreme wariness of any documents Thomson might seek to table; the great fear is that he may table documents that are self-incriminating, which — subjected to privilege — would then be inadmissible in any legal or civil proceedings against him.

It is to be hoped that deputy Speaker Anna Burke, who will be presiding, will refuse to grant leave to table any document she reasonably believes would compromise subsequent investigations if so presented.

And from the opposition to the cross-benches and in the press, Thomson has been repeatedly warned ahead of today’s address that it is incumbent upon him to tell the truth; should he mislead Parliament, it may provide grounds for a suspension from the House of Representatives — and with numbers so finely balanced, such an absence could be sufficient for a motion of no-confidence in the government to be passed.

So there are consequences. Yet there is no indication Thomson has regard to the consequences in this matter except for those that affect himself.

He has indicated that he will name people who have allegedly framed him and dumped him in this mess; indeed, the Murdoch press today publishes that he will name Health Services Union deputy secretary Marco Bolano as the individual who threatened to set him up with prostitutes in a bid to ruin his career.

Bolano has already responded to the claim, saying the allegation is “crap,” and adding that “I’ve never threatened anyone with setting him up with hookers.”

Other allegations to be made by Thomson have been speculated upon, but I think we will wait until the speech has been made before we examine what he has had to say.

Indeed, Thomson’s former colleagues at the HSU are already lining up to attempt to claim a right of response before the House of Representatives if named; and to be frank, that simply illustrates the farce that this government and this member are prepared to turn Parliament into in order to evade scrutiny in a court of law.

What a mess.

It promises to be an interesting day in federal Parliament.

I will post again tonight with an analysis of the day’s events in Canberra, including Thomson’s speech.

But one detail I will leave you with is the claim widely published in this morning’s media that Thomson will ask Police to view CCTV footage at brothels the nights he is alleged to have attended for the purpose of sexual relations in a bid to clear his name.

As tawdry as this is, what he obviously hasn’t realised is that if any of the escort agencies involved in this episode — and not least, considering Thomson’s hotel rooms have featured prominently in the allegations — if any of them offer “outcall” services, then the tapes Thomson seeks aren’t going to clear anyone of anything.

This is the sort of half-baked defence, based in smart answers and clever semantics, that I would expect today.

See you all later tonight, folks…

 

 

Those Evil, Nasty Bastards Tried To Nobble Me: Craig Thomson

Besieged Labor MP Craig Thomson has come up with a novel new explanation of allegations against him, despite years of inquiries eliciting no hint of it until now: he was framed. His story is ridiculous; its credibility zero, and its believability somewhat less than that.

We all know the story by now: ex-Health Services Union chief Craig Thomson gets elected to Parliament for the ALP; in his wake are serious allegations of the misappropriation of over half a million dollars in HSU funds including to cover the hiring of call girls, inappropriate use of credit cards, and diverting funds to bankroll his election campaigns; after several years of investigation, Fair Work Australia releases a 1100 page report of damning findings that Thomson has done precisely that.

And throughout, he has protested his innocence.

But he has done more than simply that: until now, he has never uttered a word by way of explanation; he has refused to co-operate with Police investigations into the same matters; he has accepted monies on his behalf from the ALP to pay his legal bills and keep him from bankruptcy, thus maintaining eligibility to remain a member of Parliament; and he has been content to sit in Parliament, the scandal detonating around his ears a millstone around the Gillard government’s neck, apparently oblivious to just how poisoned a political commodity — innocent or not — he has become.

Yes, he recently and voluntarily suspended his membership of the ALP; yet he continues to sit in Parliament, he continues to openly declare himself “a Labor man,” and he continues to insist that once cleared of wrongdoing, he will officially rejoin the ALP caucus and resume his Labor membership.

In other words, it wasn’t much of a decisive action.

Now, Thomson has produced what reasonably seems an implausible and impossible defence: his enemies have framed him.

I’m not going to prejudge Thomson’s innocence or guilt, but we can reveal some of the gaping holes in his newest story.

The first thing I would say — before we even get to the detail of Thomson’s latest rationale — is that on one level, why is he bothering? After all, he has stayed in Parliament all this time and tainted the government in the same way a fish stinks when it rots, so why tell a story like this at this exact juncture?

Don’t anyone mention the word “standards” — this tawdry saga is entirely innocent of those.

And further, the court proceedings Thomson faces at this point are civil, not criminal; given a civil suit cannot lead to disqualification from Parliament, and as Thomson does not — as yet — face criminal proceedings, why go down this track now?

One wonders if he’s been tipped off that something might come out of the Police investigations he refused to co-operate with. Who would know?

Either way, the new defence of being placed in the frame that Thomson put about on Friday is laughably grotesque, and totally unbelievable.

As Thomson tells it, when he took on his role at the HSU, he discovered it to be “dysfunctional;” determined to clean it up and to impose financial accountability on it, he made enemies within the organisation, or — in his own words — his efforts “created resentment.”

According to Thomson, “political enemies” repeatedly and systemically engineered false records to show he hired prostitutes; his allegations include “enemies” making telephone calls from Thomson’s own mobile phone to escort agencies in his name, using his driver’s licence to validate payments, and using his union credit cards to pay for the bookings.

Thomson claims that as long ago as 2004 elements within the union whom he had alienated and enraged, through his drive to impose discipline and accountability on the HSU, had openly stated that they would “ruin my political career by setting me up with hookers.”

Naturally enough, Thomson has proven unwilling or unable to name the person or persons responsible for making these threats.

He has, as part of the explanation proffered on Friday, taken a swipe at the woman who replaced him at the HSU — national secretary Kathy Jackson — by saying he had strongly recommended against her being placed in the role he was vacating, and that he had made this sentiment widely known at the time.

Perhaps, then, whether by coincidence or otherwise, it’s no surprise that Jackson was a key whistleblower on accusations of corruption and misconduct at the HSU.

Readers will excuse my extreme cynicism, I’m sure. To go along with Thomson’s account of the background to all of this, just for starters, is to accept that he, Craig Thomson — alone of his peers, and in the splendid isolation of the crusader doing good and right — was a shining knight of virtuous rectitude in an otherwise murky cesspool of sleaze, corruption, moral decay and vice.

To add salt to the sandwich, Thomson takes aim at Fair Work Australia investigator Terry Nassios, who — leaving aside the inordinate amount of time the FWA probe dragged on for — examined every shred of evidence that Thomson had checked into hotels, made calls to escort agencies on his mobile phone that were recorded in his phone records, used his driver’s licence for identification, and used two separate credit cards to pay for the prostitutes who attended at the liaisons that were booked.

Effectively accusing Nassios of extreme naivety, gullibility and even stupidity, Thomson claimed in an interview with Laurie Oakes that Nassios was “led down a path” by two unnamed union officials who were rivals and enemies.

Thomson claimed that all senior people at the HSU knew his credit card numbers and had access to his driver’s licence, and that he had approved his credit card statements “without knowledge” that they contained records of transactions for escort services.

Doesn’t this man understand that the cardholder is responsible for verifying the credit card transactions shown on a statement?

To miss one bill here and there could be put down to oversight, or carelessness; but to miss these items on regular bills over a period of years? I don’t think so, unless he’s just dumb. Really dumb. Just a great, big dolt.

And I know this might be a bit crass, but work with me: if Thomson wanted to engage prostitutes — and by all accounts, expenditure on them covered a mere fraction of the total amount he is accused of misappropriating — why didn’t he simply pay for their services himself?

To do so out of his own pocket is a private matter; to do so in the circumstances in which he is accused could yet lead to criminal charges, to say nothing of the depths of betrayal it represents to the rank-and-file HSU membership.

I make two further points on the events under investigation in establishing the background: some $100,000 of the monies allegedly misappropriated by Thomson from the HSU were cash advances from union credit cards; Thomson says that these amounts were accounted for by receipts presented to the HSU’s financial controller, and that any unused cash was handed directly to the financial controller — despite Nassios stating that after questioning the financial controller, he found that she could not remember Thomson ever doing so.

And in what would appear a textbook example of what is wrong with trade unions and their political activities, Thomson simply dismisses the $250,000 spent by the HSU on his campaign for the seat of Dobell, saying, and I quote from The Australian:

“(His) poorly-paid members, who often relied on penalty rates which were under threat from a Coalition government, would have expected nothing less from the union than for it to fund campaigns…to avoid the danger of a Howard government re-election.”

Were “his” poorly paid members given a say in that expenditure? “The danger” of a Howard government re-election? What a load of rubbish. And what about the 44% of the country who voted for the Coalition? They didn’t have unions sluicing quarter of a million dollars into individual marginal seats, so why should Labor?

But coming to the central point, for Thomson’s “I was framed” defence to hold water, it would need to be related to a completely different set of events than those for which he is under investigation.

Indeed, as shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey observed of the FWA report, it was a “damning indictment” of Thomson and others at the HSU, and that — given FWA is a statutory authority — its report represented findings, and not allegations.

Even Paul Howes — an arch unionist and savagely loyal ALP man — indicated Thomson’s story was difficult to believe.

I’d like to leave readers with some questions; they are, in fact, questions for Craig Thomson, and were there answers to hand then they might clarify a whole lot of things.

  • If Thomson was receiving threats of harassment, intimidation and bastardry — which is what his claims amount to — as far back as 2004, why were these never actioned or pursued?
  • The counter-allegations Thomson makes in his defence involve criminal misconduct, fraud, conspiracy, falsification of financial records and misuse of a telecommunications device under relevant Commonwealth legislation; failure to act on these raises questions of interference with or potential obstruction of the process of justice;
  • Why has this story never surfaced until two days ago, when these matters have been under investigation for several years?
  • If Thomson were genuinely innocent of all accusations, why would he allow his own name, and the name of the ALP (which he professes enduring commitment to), to be tarnished and besmirched in such a way?
  • As the responsible member of the HSU executive, why did Thomson sign off on expenses claims and expenditure without checking them?
  • Despite effective claims of a forgery, how was Thomson’s union mobile phone available to others — as indicated in phone records — to place calls to brothels during business hours in which Thomson required his phone at all times, and how is this not an explicit dereliction of his duties as a union official?
  • Why does almost every element of the new Thomson story directly contradict the official findings of the FWA investigation, including where statements and evidence were collected on a one-on-one basis between the inspector and witnesses?

I would also challenge Thomson to explain who is now paying his legal bills to keep him out of bankruptcy; what the circumstances are that place him at risk of such a bankruptcy; and whether any public monies, directly or indirectly, have been diverted either to Thomson’s defence or to the squalid activities that have been the focus of the FWA investigation, and which remain the subject of Police investigations in NSW and Victoria in which findings — and potential further action — are yet to be made or taken.

ALP figures outside federal Parliament are abandoning Thomson; journalists such as The Age‘s Mischa Schubert write of “an incredible tale” and The Australian‘s Chris Kenny of “a fanciful scenario;” and it is undeniable that as convenient as the prospect of a by-election in Dobell (or a general election) might be for the Liberals, Thomson’s continuing presence in Parliament is rotting the supports from under the Gillard government as key Independents indicate, for the first time, that they may yet call time on the ALP as a consequence of this disgusting saga.

But Thomson’s story is just that — a story; one which (if the hard details of it are stated without the coward’s veil of parliamentary privilege) may very well do Thomson more harm than good.

And unless it is 100% true, it is a story Thomson would be well advised never to utter in the vicinity of a Police inquiry, a courtroom, or any other instrument of justice.

Because if this apparently cock-and-bull story is the sack of hot air it seems to be, a perjury charge might be the next thing to appear on Thompson’s litany list of woes; and whilst perjury doesn’t physically harm anyone, the law tends to fall on it like a ton of bricks — and quite rightly so.

What do people think?

Please keep comments relevant to the issue; no partisan rants, and nothing defamatory — such postings will be deleted as soon as I spot them.

Sham “Standards”: Panicked Gillard Dumps On Thomson And Slipper

In a frenzied fit of panic, Julia Gillard today forced Craig Thomson’s departure from the ALP, and decreed Peter Slipper to be sidelined indefinitely. She possesses neither authority nor credibility, and her role as PM — and perhaps that of Labor in government — is now untenable.

Let’s speak bluntly and candidly about a few things.

The Australian public is fed up with Julia Gillard and her government; fed up with the lies, the deception, the intrigue, the manipulation, the double standards, the incompetence, the condescension, the holier-than-thou outlook, the scandals, the crises, and the sheer chaos that goes hand in glove with this Prime Minister and this government continuing in office.

Australians, overwhelmingly, want an election; but this Prime Minister would as soon sell the country to the devil than she would listen — really listen — to anything other than a gratuitous and self-serving recipe for survival, self-preservation and clinging to the trappings of green ministerial leather.

And as symbols go, Australians are fed to the teeth with the ongoing saga of Craig Thomson and his credit cards, and latterly with the new-ish but equally despicable storm that has engulfed the government’s hand-picked but utterly unsuitable Speaker in Peter Slipper.

And on this last point, Gillard has today kicked perhaps one own goal too many.

Gillard this morning said that she “(felt) keenly that Australians are looking at this Parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it,” going on to add that  “the views of the Australian public matter. I have made a judgment call that I believe is right because I want Australians to look at the Parliament and respect the Parliament.”

Claiming to be acting in the interests of “standards,” Gillard today announced that she had informed Craig Thomson that he should “no longer participate in (the Labor) Caucus;” Thomson, accordingly, will sit on the cross-bench.

Similarly, Gillard announced that she had informed Peter Slipper that she had decided it would be best if he stayed out of the Speaker’s chair “for a further period of time.”

Gillard claimed that “a line had been crossed” which made today’s developments necessary; pressed by journalists, she proved unable to say where the line was, or what constituted it being crossed.

I would argue that any “dark cloud” hanging over the Parliament is one entirely of Gillard’s own making; likewise, the indisputable and growing lack of respect many Australians feel toward Parliament and its occupants can be directly referenced back to the matters I outlined in the third paragraph of this article.

Stripping away the legalese and gobbledygook so favoured by Gillard, let’s look at what she really announced this morning as her solution to the issues she claimed to be addressing.

Firstly — Craig Thomson. Far from being kicked out of the ALP as Gillard’s message was designed to imply, Thomson has simply entered into a voluntary suspension of his membership of the Labor Party.

He hasn’t been expelled; he hasn’t even (yet) been disendorsed as the Labor candidate for Dobell; and if no charges are forthcoming from the various investigations being undertaken into Thomson and his time at the Health Services Union, he will be free to resume membership of the ALP — and to again sit in the Labor Party Caucus.

Secondly — Peter Slipper. Gillard’s announcement amounts to no more than an agreement with Slipper for him to spend an unspecified additional period of time on the cross-bench; in the meantime he remains on the salary package that goes with the job of Speaker, and he retains the benefits and perquisites that go with the role to boot.

The acting Speaker — Labor’s Anna Burke — performs the role in the interim on her salary as a backbencher.

Gillard’s announcements, therefore, are effectively nothing; a ruse, a smokescreen, smart answers designed to hoodwink people into the mistaken belief that she has acted decisively to resolve two festering and rancorous problems that have bedevilled her government.

She has done nothing of the kind.

And those announcements, delivered in Gillard’s usual patronising tone of moralising condescension, stink of the smug, righteous, too-clever-by-half approach that went a large way toward landing Gillard in the mess in which she finds herself in the first place.

In the case of Thomson, when did he cease to enjoy Gillard’s full and unqualified support? That support is something that Gillard has gone well out of her way to express for many months, and — innocent or guilty as he may be — there have been no new developments in the Thomson saga in the past few days, so why the change?

In the case of Slipper, Gillard and a coterie of her ministers have been adamant that he should return to the Speakership as soon as the latest questions surrounding his use of travel entitlements are resolved, possibly even as soon as the commencement of the budget session on 8 May. Again, there have been no new developments overnight, so why the change?

The answer to these, and all other relevant questions, is simple: Gillard’s standing with the electorate is toxic; her poll ratings continue to deteriorate; and her government is now confronting the prospect of a successful vote of no-confidence for the first time since the inconclusive election of 2010.

The other motive for today’s developments centres on the ALP leadership, and on Gillard’s weakening grip on it; as we discussed a couple of days ago, the mutterers are muttering, and having crucified Kevin Rudd as planned eight weeks ago, their gaze is now turning in the direction of their leader.

Readers will note that none of this — none — is motivated by quaint ideals like running a functional government, or delivering on election commitments, or advancing living standards for ordinary Australian people.

No, it is motivated solely by a desire to keep Labor in office, and to keep Gillard’s backside in the chair behind the Prime Minister’s desk.

An election at this time — favoured by a majority of voters — comes with all sorts of problems and drawbacks attached to it, mainly arising from problems of timing and the fact any election before next August would throw the electoral cycles for the Senate and the House of Representatives out of kilter; these are serious and complicated issues which could be resolved, but with difficulty.

Compare these considerations with Gillard’s reason as stated today for not calling an election: “We (Labor) have a superior economic plan, so I won’t be calling an election.”

Superior economic plan?” That’s another one of those stupid slogans regurgitated over and over on rote during the ALP’s 2010 election campaign (moving forward, anyone?)

But alas, glib slogans and smart answers is all Labor has to offer.

Today’s developments will be analysed and picked apart in the next few days by journalists and commentators across the country, but they point — again — to a simple and inexorable truth.

Julia Gillard is finished. She is completely unsuited to the office of Prime Minister. And the time is nigh at which either she goes, or the whole government will have to go.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Australian federal politics.