Craig Thomson, political football

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.

Ahem.

I’d like to pause here for a moment, and suggest you ruminate on this portrait of Craig Thomson:

Craig Thomson, Member for Dobell

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.

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23 Responses to Craig Thomson, political football

  1. […] The Parliament’s reputation was in danger! It was a ‘stinking, putrid mess’! Et cetera. They lost no opportunity to cram it into questions to Ministers, interviews with obliging media, […]

  2. tqft says:

    Anyone know how busy the ALP’s dirt digging unit is?

    If the LNP is demanding people start standing down wrt to allegations, one wonders what is going to come out of the woodwork and whether the LNP can manage a triple back-flip with turn and pike to avoid their own suggestion.

    • There’s already been dirt come out about Pyne, Mal Brough and possibly Julie Bishop colluding with Ashby on the Slipper allegations. It’s all rumour, mind you – looks like an attempt to muddy the waters.

  3. Iain Hall says:

    There is just no viable defence for Thompson’s activities when he was secretary of the HSU and to be honest if it was the only issue plaguing Gillard your argument might have some merit but the fact is that this scandal is only one of many that Gillard faces.

    To misquote Oscar Wilde:

    “To have one scandal is unfortunate but to have many is the sign of something seriously wrong”

    • Confected outrage is NOT a scandal! The only true flaw in the Government is that it is to blame for keeping Tony Abbott, our rightful overlord, out of the Lodge!

      Oh yes, And it is led by a WOMAN, who should be in in her rightful place – the kitchen or somewhere nearby! Unforgivable scandals!

      All else is a smokescreen for these extreme mortal sins!

    • Gillard does not face this scandal, any more than Abbott faces the scandal of having personally recommended Peter Slipper for pre-selection. There is no suggestion in the FWA report that Gillard knew anything about any alleged misuse of union funds or electoral fraud.

      Thomson’s conduct is at issue here – and the FWA report has done its job, which is to recommend a course of action to police and courts. Whether he can mount a ‘viable defence’ is up to those bodies. If he can’t, he’ll pay the price in civil and/or criminal penalties. If he can, then he’ll almost certainly lose pre-selection at the next election, regardless of his innocence – simply because both parties decided to use him as a political football.

      As for your suggestion via Wilde’s quote: don’t forget the Howard government was plagued with scandals, as were those of Keating, Hawke, Whitlam, Menzies, etc. It’s a sordid truth that governments attract scandal, and Gillard’s is no different.

      • Iain Hall says:

        Gillard faces this scandal for a couple of reasons, firstly the FWA investigation was creature of the act that she personally drafted and it is scandalous that it has taken this long to deliver its report. Its also scandalous that Gillard has been running interference for Thompson for the last year or so and that she has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to finally act to distance herself from his tainted love.
        Your attempt to down play my Oscar Wilde reference is not unexpected but lets be real here its a far longer list of stuff ups missteps, mistakes and just plain bad calls than it is to make a list of things that Gillard has done right in office.
        I challenge you to try to make a list of things that Gillard has done right and done well.

    • I’d say successfully negotiating and operating a functioning minority government, shepherding over 200 pieces of legislation – including major health reforms, carbon pricing and the MRRT, and running the BER (which, despite Coalition rhetoric, was a proven success, with the only exception being a series of rorts from builders in NSW), would count for a start.

      The Gillard government’s major failing is not that it does nothing. It’s that it fails to comunicate its achievements and plans well, and lets the Opposition have far too much air. Keating’s government would never have let Abbott grab so much of the media that he appears more often than the Prime Minister – he would have taken the fight to Abbott and damn the torpedoes.

      Whoever’s giving Gillard the advice to stay away from media and ‘play nice’ with the Thatcher-ite persona is way off base. Under Rudd she was a forceful and effective communicator, and more than a match for any Opposition attack dog. Now, she’s attempting to be above it all, and failing miserably.

      • Skyring says:

        Any government passes hundreds of items of legislation. The vast majority are non-controversial and have bipartisan support. Gillard’s problem isn’t the media. She gets all the airtime she wants and senior ministers are seized upon by the media. And then grilled relentlessly over the latest scandal.

        Her problem is that she does political deals which might work fine in a union headquarters or party room, but don’t resonate in the real world, where voters get to express their opinion. The carbon tax is a disaster because the world price of carbon credits is a fraction of what it would have to be to create change, and no foreign government in their right mind is going to follow Julia’s lead, given the poor level of popular support the tax enjoys.

        And did you see Wilkie today? He’s just itching to land a kick right where it hurts.

        I’d love for Julia, our first female PM to be a raging success in the polls. I don’t particularly like Tony Abbott. But Julia’s low support means that she is stuffing up big time. The voters are now just itching to demonstrate where the real power lies.

    • Marilyn says:

      Ianai, the problem is the FWA report is largely fiction because it claims Thomson breached the non-existent travel and credit card rules.

      If something does not exist it cannot be breached.

      I would suggest you dive into the arcane and deranged “”reasonings”” – the fact is FWA has no jurisdiction here and Kathy Jackson is a raving lunatic stirring up crap for nearly 20 years to be head of the union.

      There is no scandal, just confected outrage.

      • Iain Hall says:

        Marilyn
        I have seen you run this line elsewhere in your typical style you entirely miss the point with you quest to play bush lawyer and to desperately rely upon legal semantics and some of your usual conspiracy theory based assertions (as in your reference to Kathy Jackson). Now anyone can see from just watching Thompson’s interview with Laurie Oakes that the man is lying through his teeth about the payment of union funds to a brothel. His explanations are totally unconvincing, as unconvincing as a five year old with chocolate icing smeared all around his face insisting that his imaginary friend ate the cake from the fridge.

        You are backing a lost cause here Marilyn and endorsing a former Union heavyweight who has become a dead weight that is dragging down the Gillard government. In fact if the state of the house were different he would have resigned his seat long ago but Gillard needs his tainted love to survive and there in lays the real scandal.

      • Skyring says:

        “Confected outrage”? I guess the lowly-paid hospital cleaners, porters, kitchen hands etc are unmoved by the fact that their union dues are being used in such a way.

        Thomson acted outside any reasonable standard of behaviour. Sure, there weren’t any union financial rules saying “Don’t spend union money on prostitutes,” but THERE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE!

        I agree that Craig Thomson is a political football, but only for those who see government as like a game between two teams, one of which they support and the other one they hate.

        For the swinging voters, this is not the case, and it’s the swingers who will cast the ultimate judgement. Few, if any, believe Thomson’s story.

        Gillard certainly doesn’t. She threw the “presumption of innocence” away when she forced him out of the ALP. She’s now just mouthing statements she doesn’t believe, and it’s not winning any hearts and minds. There’s a lot of confected emotions around, but only from those of whom you’d have to say, “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

  4. Skyring, I’m saying that this should be seen for what it is, and that the Opposition and government should stop playing dress-ups with it. (Oh dear, I’ve mixed my metaphors.)

    As for my own contribution? I’m calling for politicians on all sides to let the police and the courts do their job, and stop pre-empting the outcome of investigations, or using the weight of their offices to attempt to pressure the judiciary.

  5. The ignorance of the public is exacerbated by the refusal of the media or their lackey’s, the Federal Opposition, to ever actually quote section 44 of the Australian Constitution. If that were to be done, all the air would be let out of the football and a little sense would come back into the political debate within Australia.

    • You’re not suggesting people actually have any knowledge of how their Parliament works, are you? That’s positively heretical! 🙂

      But you are quite right – under s.44, there is no reason whatsoever for either Thomson or Slipper to resign from office.

    • Skyring says:

      I don’t think there’s any suggestion by either the Libs or the media (and just when did they become the “lackey’s” of the Libs?) that Thomson as a purported independent cannot vote or that he can be somehow removed from parliament. In fact I think it has been mentioned many times in the media including today (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/pressure-grows-on-pm-to-disown-thomsons-vote-20120507-1y9e1.html) that Thomson is eligible to vote. The point is made that Gillard is propped up by Thomson and her government is therefore tainted by the apparent corruption.

      • @Skyring; You misread me. It is the Libs and the Nats who are the lackeys of Murdoch’s Media.

      • What the Opposition propose is that Thomson’s vote be ‘nullified’, i.e. that he leave the chamber at any time a vote is called. If he won’t do that, the Opposition wants the government to absent one of their members to remove the ‘advantage’ of Thomson’s presence. Either way, it effectively leaves the seat of Dobell unrepresented.

        The language of ‘disowning the vote’ stems from the Opposition’s rhetoric, suggesting that Thomson’s mere presence in the chamber is ‘proof’ that the government is relying on a ‘tainted’ vote. It’s quite disingenuous behaviour – by trying to place the onus on Gillard to institute this pseudo-pairing arrangement, the Opposition creates the perception that Gillard is engaging in un-Parliamentary conduct.

  6. Skyring says:

    You can hardly blame the Liberals for Fair Work Australia’s timing. Reading the report, it presents the evidence and surgically dissects it, revealing the lies and evasions from Craig Thomson. Both government and opposition are making the best of the thing, exactly as you’d expect, but the big deal to my mind is that the fees of union members are being diverted to private purposes. The ALP has a proud history of standing up for workers entitlements, rights and protection and here we have the Labor PM and an ex-national secretary of the ALP making light of the thing. That may be smart politics in Canberra but it’s not going down well with the people, especially the workers.

    • Oh, I’m not blaming the Liberals for the timing at all. I’m simply saying that this is a report from a committee, released by that committee, just before the Budget is due to come down. Both major parties have jumped all over it for their own purposes, effectively making a mockery of due process of law. It’s worth remembering that the report is not a finding in law, nor does FWA have the power to compel testimony or subpoena documents.

      There are two issues here – Thomson’s alleged criminal conduct, and findings made regarding misuse of funds. It’s up to the police and courts to determine what happens next and it’s up to the HSU to clean up its act. And the politicians should stay right out of it.

      • Skyring says:

        Asking politicians to refrain from influencing a political crisis is a big ask. Aren’t you doing exactly the same thing?

      • Marilyn says:

        Thomson is not alleged to have done anything criminal by anyone though.

        The Jacksons and Michael Williamson have.

    • Marilyn says:

      It does no such thing, it makes assumptions like this:

      Thomson moved to the coast, he bought $2,000 of goods in a memorabilia store, therefore according the shop owner, he bought the goods to increase his profile for politics.

      Come on now, no federal court judge is going to read that bullshit and fine anyone, they will laugh.

      It assumes that Thomson did not have the go ahead to set up a branch office in Sydney – what? If he didn’t have the go-ahead they would have called the police and stopped him doing it wouldn’t they.

      the problem is all the media know this is a Jackson battle for the top job that goes back 20 years, if they read their own papers they would know that.

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