Fair Work Australia’s report into alleged misuse of funds by the Health Services Union finally made it to the public last night. And there’s some pretty damning stuff in there. FWA found numerous breaches of the union’s rules, not to mention inappropriate spending on everything from chocolates, to escort services, to political campaign funding. The chief culprit, it stated, was MP Craig Thomson, along with former heads Michael Williamson and Kathy Jackson. FWA further recommended civil action be commenced.
Cue the screaming and the howling from the Opposition.
Thomson must resign! Thomson is a criminal! Thomson’s vote is ‘tainted’, and should not be accepted by the Prime Minister! Gillard is ‘clinging to power’ by allowing Thomson’s vote to count! Hang him! Burn him! Tar and feather him and ride him out of Canberra on a rail!
(Well, maybe not that last part – but the sentiment is there.)
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott thundered that this was a ‘stinking, putrid mess’. Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis scolded the government for relying on a tainted vote. On ABC1’s QandA last night, Kelly O’Dwyer opined that the whole affair smacked of a government cover-up. And let’s not forget that old standard – we want an election, right now, dammit!
Meanwhile, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has promised to ‘rectify any deficiencies’ in legislation, so that this sort of ‘disturbing’ event can never happen again. Of course, he added quickly, Thomson was entitled to the presumption of innocence, and the union movement just had a few ‘bad apples’, so no one should jump to any conclusions.
I’d like to pause here for a moment, and suggest you ruminate on this portrait of Craig Thomson:
No, I’m not kidding.
This isn’t about decency, or morals, or integrity. It isn’t about some kind of endemic corruption in ‘the union movement’ (which, contrary to the best propaganda of conservative politics, is not a great monolith of Australia-hating Communists). It’s not about whether the Parliament is cast into disrepute – if it can survive the Whitlam dismissal and the Australian Wheat Board scandal, it can survive one MP under investigation for alleged misuse of funds before he was a Parliamentarian. (After all, it survived investigations into Senators Mal Colston and Mary Jo Fisher, not to mention former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.)
It’s about Thomson being used as a political football.
The government think they’re playing keepings-off with him, by booting him out of the Labor Caucus and sending him to the cross-benches. The Opposition think they’re in the last quarter of a Grand Final, with an open goal in front of them and an imminent election win as the trophy – and Abbott’s lining up with his boot. The media are right there with kick-to-kick commentary.
And the public are falling for it.
Thomson is an innocent man, unless a court of law proves him to be otherwise. Just like Fisher, Colston, Downer, and any number of other MPs who’ve been the subject of investigations, Royal Commissions and trial-by-media. The people of Dobell, who voted for him, have the right to remain represented in the Parliament unless Thomson is proven guilty. The FWA’s report may well represent definitive evidence – but it’s not up to the government, the Opposition, the media, or the so-called ‘Twitterati’ to say so. That’s why we have courts of law. That’s why we have s.44 of the Constitution, which sets out the grounds for disqualification from Parliamentary office, and which clearly shows that Thomson is more than eligible to remain in his seat as matters stand. (And thanks to commenter archiearchiveFCD for the Constitutional reminder.)
But all of this is beside the point. Thomson is a political football, being skilfully deployed to deflect attention from the imminent Budget with its long-promised surplus, the allegations against Speaker Peter Slipper, possible Opposition collusion with staffer James Ashby in those allegations, and the lack of any tangible Opposition policy whatsoever.
I recommend we let the police and the courts do their jobs, and turn off the Sports Channel.