Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Craig Thompson

Craig Thomson has promised a response to the 1,100-page report of Fair Work Australia. At first he wanted speaking time of 10 to 15 minutes - now he wants half an hour.

Personally, I would give him as much time as he wants. Someone should move an amendment that allows the Member for Dobell to speak for as long as he wants to answer the claims against him. He says the allegations against him are all false, so let him explain how and why he is right and everyone else is wrong.

Rob Oakeshott said Thomson should answer the FWA claims line by line. It could take hours if he has a defence. The Australian public are surely entitled to hear how, as now claimed by Thomson, the reputation of the Parliament has been trashed by persons unknown acting in a conspiracy against Mr Thomson.

Personally, I would like to know who these people are. Is it the man that Thomson once said had paid back $15,000 in relation to credit cards used for an escort agency? Is it his successor Kathy Jackson or her former husband with whom he has been in dispute?

Will he expose the names of those conspirators who since 2004 have been out to get him? Will he tell us their motives?

Will Mr Thomson tell the Parliament why he never went to the police about his allegations? Will he explain why he signed off on his credit card statements even though he now says that the expenditure was not by him and presumably unauthorised?

Will he seek to table documents that show that the cash he took was all accounted for and used for union business? And will he say that using union funds for his campaign was authorised by the HSU membership?

Will he produce minutes of the meeting that agreed to this spending? Or perhaps he will provide evidence that many unions behave this way so he thought his behaviour was OK? Will he produce declarations, for tabling in the House, from other union bosses who have also had their union financially back their political ambitions?

Did Mr Thomson raise his concerns with other trade unions? Has he known of this happening elsewhere in the union movement? Was the alleged threat to Mr Thomson sparked by some factional infighting? Did he seek assistance from his colleagues in the broader union movement or was he terrified that there may be repercussions if he told anyone of the threat?

And will he also explain his relationship with the Labor Party in the period since 2010? When did he meet with the PM? What was said? What were the terms of the financial support he received from Labor? Who was party to that decision? And does he intend to seek preselection again from Labor?

And when he has finished his address will he then think Labor should lift his suspension? Will he think that the police will soon drop their investigations? Will he be looking forward to be endorsed for the next election? Does he expect that his union, the HSU, will want to support him again with the hard-earned wages of low paid HSU members?

There are many questions for Mr Thomson to answer. I doubt he will evoke a sense of sympathy in the electorate; maybe the appearance before the court of public opinion will finally bring him undone. Whichever way it goes, he will have had his say, for now.

For more than three years, Craig Thomson has been protected by Labor and the independents. They are the Thomson backers, the Thomson supporters. Every imaginable tactic to delay an inevitable conclusion of the issues surrounding Thomson has been employed.

For what seems an aeon in politics the Opposition has never given up its questioning his behaviour and Labor's continuing support for him. And yet last week, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and senior Ministers were finally pressured into conceding the Opposition demand that Thomson explain himself.

They dropped the mantra that the Thomson issues had to undergo due process. Their constant but false claim was that the Parliament could never be judge and jury on Thomson so the only intervention would have to be by due process i.e. the FWA and the police.

Labor reckoned this course was not too bad because these issues can take forever and by the time the courts were involved and then the appeals, Thomson would be out of the Parliament and dispensed.

The trouble was that that tactic was not working. The public pressure and Abbott's fierce condemnation of Gillard became too much, especially when the 1,100 page report from FWA was published thanks to the Coalition's demands in the Senate committee system.

Tony Windsor must now be blaming himself for pressuring Thomson to concede to Coalition demands.

Windsor has reason to worry that he is seen to be too aligned to Gillard so he has come up with another talk fest. He has no intention of pulling the plug on Labor by undermining Thomson. So he invites discussion on a proposal that has been discussed on many occasions, a proposition that has never been agreed on, let alone seen as necessary, in the more than 100 years of our Parliament, and a proposition that would require MPs to submit to someone other than their constituents for behaviour that is not illegal.

Former democrat Andrew Murray says one requirement on MPs could be "to strive to maintain the public trust placed in them". Wow, under that vague obligation lots of MPs would soon be kicked out; at least the lawyers would do well out of the court cases that would ensue – all at public expense.

The only issue for the independents is whether they are remembered as the MPs who kept themselves in their seats as long as possible by propping up a discredited government mired in corruption (the word used by Bill Shorten) or as two MPs who championed higher parliamentary standards.

Until now, Thomson has resisted making any statement. It will be interesting if he does make the promised statement. Don't be surprised if he doesn't turn up.

The Honourable Peter Reith was a senior cabinet minister in the Australian Liberal government from 1996 to 2001 and then a director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 2003 to 2009.

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