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Craig Thomson And The Gillard Government

This is the text of a speech in the Matters of Public Interest debate by Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson.

The speech was given at 1pm on June 15, 2011.

The transcript is taken from Hansard.

Michael RonaldsonAt the heart of this Gillard Labor government lies the truth that it is an illegitimate government. The government is not only illegitimate but also hopelessly divided. Only today we read how Labor backbenchers are at war with each other about policy decisions taken by their own party. It is a tale of zombies and daleks. The members—described by one of their own as ‘zombies’—are generally too frightened to speak out. The factional warlords—the ‘daleks’, according to one past leader—are angry at their loss of power and influence.

Today’s media reports describe a vicious exchange in yesterday’s caucus meeting between a backbencher from the New South Wales Central Coast, the member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson, and his New South Wales Labor colleague Senator Doug Cameron.

Paul Keating famously declared that where New South Wales Labor goes, so too goes the nation. This is indeed a troubling omen for our nation. Today I wish to discuss renewed allegations against the said Mr Thomson—all of which are on the public record. Mr Thomson’s actions go to the heart of this government’s legitimacy. Mr Thomson is now into his second term as a member of the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, serious concerns remain about Mr Thomson’s past as a union heavy in the Health Services Union. There are serious allegations including allegations of fraud and electoral misconduct. It is time to end Labor’s deafening silence concerning these very serious allegations. Put simply, it is time for the Prime Minister to show leadership. Mr Thomson is not fit to be a member of parliament and he should be stood down immediately. Of course, the Prime Minister knows this. In normal circumstances the member for Dobell would not be allowed to continue. But, in the so-called ‘new paradigm’ where the government has only a wafer-thin majority, the Prime Minister lacks the courage and the leadership authority to deal with the member for Dobell appropriately.

Before he entered parliament, the member for Dobell was National Secretary of the Health Services Union. His union provided him with a credit card which was to be used for union related expenditure. The member for Dobell was entrusted by the union to spend its funds appropriately—something he ultimately would not do. It is alleged that over a five-year period the member for Dobell withdrew $101,533 in cash advances from his union credit card. Further, it is alleged he used his union credit card to fund his election campaign for Dobell. Without any authorisation to do so, Mr Thomson allegedly spent over $104,000 of the HSU’s money on his own election campaign. This alleged breach of trust by the member for Dobell resulted in both the HSU and Mr Thomson filing false election expenditure disclosure reports with the Australian Electoral Commission. So cavalier was the member for Dobell with his union credit card that it is alleged by Fairfax media that on at least four occasions he used the card to pay for prostitutes. Fairfax detailed those allegations, and I will not repeat them here today. Is this what the hardworking members of the HSU expect their union dues to be spent on? Is it right that the money that mums and dads gave to their union to represent them in the workplace is siphoned off for such activities? The answer is, of course, an emphatic no.

I will turn now to the HSU investigation. Ms Kathy Jackson took over as National Secretary of the Health Services Union when Mr Thomson entered parliament in 2007. She was reportedly appalled by the rorting that went on during Mr Thomson’s tenure. Ms Jackson advised the union’s lawyers, Slater and Gordon, to engage BDO Australia to conduct a forensic audit of the HSU national office. The member for Dobell was owed $191,913 in employee entitlements when he resigned from the HSU. However, due to the cloud that hung over his head concerning misuse of union funds, the HSU instructed its lawyers to write to Mr Thomson informing him that he would not receive his entitlements. Ms Jackson, courageously, reported the member for Dobell to Fair Work Australia for further investigation. Fair Work Australia’s investigation into the member for Dobell is ongoing. Amongst other things, the investigation will determine whether his credit card expenditure breached any fiduciary duties which he owed to the union.

On the back of media allegations against him, Mr Thomson’s inappropriate dealings have been raised on a number of occasions in Senate estimates with both the Australian Electoral Commission and Fair Work Australia. It has now become apparent that, despite his serious breach under the Electoral Act, Mr Thomson will avoid being charged with the serious indictable offence of providing a false declaration to the Com-monwealth. We have also learned that 12 people have been interviewed during the Fair Work Australia investigation and that several demands have been made for documents to be handed over. While Mr Terry Nassios of Fair Work Australia still has conduct of the day-to-day affairs of the investigation, and he believes that it would not compromise the investigation for it to be made public exactly who was interviewed, he has been overruled by the Gillard government at Senate estimates. The reason for being overruled remains unclear. Or is it? We are not allowed to know the names of the people interviewed or what they said. The investigation, we are told, will be completed in the latter half of this year. Following the investigation, Fair Work Australia will seek advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether to prosecute Mr Thomson. The matters I have raised today are not new. They were revealed exclusively by Mark Davis of the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 April 2009. At the time, the member for Dobell denied the allegations. He began defamation proceedings against Fairfax. He complained to Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph, ‘Unfortunately as a politician you have to go through a legal process to prove your innocence.’ Mr Thomson’s defence was that he was interstate at the time of some of the escort agency transactions. However, in interlocutory proceedings it was revealed that phone calls were made from Mr Thomson’s own telephone to one of those agencies. It was also revealed that his drivers licence number matched the licence number taken down on the credit card slip when he paid for one of the escort agency services. At one point during the interlocutory proceedings, Mr Thomson was ordered to pay Fairfax’s costs. On Monday, 6 June 2011, we found out that just days before a three-week jury trial was scheduled to begin Mr Thomson filed a notice of discontinuance with the Supreme Court of New South Wales. What does this mean? It means that, despite every opportunity to prove that he did not rip off his union and spend their money inappropriately on himself and his election campaign, Mr Thomson surren-dered. It shows that, despite the opportunity to prove in court, before a jury of his peers, that the serious allegations against him were false, Mr Thomson folded.

On 6 June this year, in a Sydney Morning Herald article headed, ‘Labor MP drops case against Fairfax’, Geesche Jacobsen wrote:

Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald, was defending the case on the basis the allegations were true. It alleged that Mr Thomson was unfit to be a federal MP. Fairfax stands by the allegations published in the articles, which appeared from April 2009.

By filing a notice of discontinuance in his defamation proceedings against Fairfax, Mr Thomson has ensured that the allegations have now become the truth. It was reported in on 8 June that Mr Thomson is now alleging that Fairfax breached the terms of a confidential settlement and that he has again referred the matter to his lawyers. It is another action designed to stall the inevitable. It is another action that we know will not be followed up with completed legal proceedings.

In conclusion, this issue no longer rides on the back of the Fair Work Australia investigation or Mr Thomson’s defamation proceedings, which is the subtle message being pushed by the ALP. The Prime Minister knows the truth. If she does not, then she should read the newspapers and Hansard more carefully. She must act now. These very serious allegations require her full attention. Her crumbling credibility and the diminishing authority of her government rest on her satisfactory handling of this matter. It is time for the Prime Minister to say whether or not she supports Fairfax media’s statement. If she believes Mr Thomson is fit to be a member of parliament, the Prime Minister must make a clear statement explaining why. In doing so, she must publicly refute the allegations of fraud, inappropriate use of union funds for pros-titutes and syphoning of funds to support an election campaign; if not, she must immed-iately sack Mr Thomson. Mr Thomson refused to defend his credibility at trial and, as a result, the Prime Minister’s credibility is now on trial.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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