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Craig Thomson’s Statement To The House Of Representatives

Craig Thomson has delivered a 59 minute statement to the House of Representatives defending himself against allegations of misuse of Health Services Union funds.

Craig ThomsonThomson’s speech began with a lengthy history of his working career with the union and his work as the Labor member for Dobell.

He attacked the veracity of the Fair Work Australia report and quoted the Australian Electoral Commission’s report with approval.

Thomson repeated his earlier claims that he had been set up by his factional enemies in the union. He named the deputy secretary of the HSU, Marco Bolano, as the person who threatened to set him up with “hookers”.

He maintained that he was elsewhere at times he was alleged to be with prostitutes.

Thomson attacked Kathy Jackson at length over her activities within the union.

Thomson also attacked the media for its coverage of the HSU issues, at one point providing a list of journalists he respected. He broke into tears when he claimed photographers had attempted to take pictures of his pregnant wife whilst she was showering.

Tony Abbott should “hang his head in shame”, Thomson said in conclusion, attacking the Opposition Leader over his attitude to the presumption of innocence. “He is unfit to be prime minister, he is unfit to be an MP.”

Transcript of Craig Thomson’s statement to the House of Representatives:

‘Go cut your wrists or, better still, hang yourself.’ ‘Go out the back, cut your throat—that’s the only way.’ ‘Have you slashed your wrists yet?’ ‘You are dead. A bullet between the eyes will save taxpayers’ money.’ ‘You have unleashed the lynch mob and you have fanned it and for that you’re, ultimately, responsible.’

These are the types of emails, letters and phone calls that my family, myself and my staff have received. Since these allegations were first raised I have consistently and on many occasions made it clear that I have done nothing wrong. I have, in fact, wanted to make a statement for some time but sought counsel, sought advice, from a variety of people—including legal advice—and took that advice not to make a statement. Can I say that is something that I probably regret in hindsight. I did not realise that this was going to go four years, but once that decision had been taken, of course, then the next opportunity to speak really is when a report is concluded—and Fair Work have done that.

In making this statement I am very conscious that in the eyes of many of the public I have already been charged, convicted and sentenced. The public will hold these views because of the quite extraordinary media coverage which has taken place. I, like every member of this House, understand and value the importance of an independent and robust news media and the important place that it can play in our democracy. However, all of us who have regular dealings with the news media know that the news media can often get it wrong, and sometimes seriously so—particularly as today the media is dominated by self-important commentators, not reporters, and I will say a little bit more about that later. So I think it is important to once again remind the House that I have not been the subject of any conviction, not even the subject of any legal proceedings; none of the allegations have been tested in any court or tribunal.

I am going to bore you a little bit now because I am going to talk a little bit about my history—my work history. One of the things that my friends say to me is, ‘We read about this Craig Thomson; we don’t know who that person is because we see a very different person—we know you in a very different way.’ So I am going to take some time and talk about, firstly, the young industrial officer who joined the Health Services Union and worked there for 19 years. Can I say that, despite the coverage, unions are not a dirty word. Unions are a very good thing and are very much part of this country’s history and culture and have made enormous contributions to the wellbeing of ordinary Australians over many years.

My first job at the university was as an industrial officer and I used to look after university workers. Can I say that I still get regular letters of support from people like Richard Black at the University of Sydney, Ellis Skinner at the University of New England and Ted Davies at Macquarie University. I was very proud of the work that I did representing general staff at universities around the country. I an also very proud of a lot of the work that I have done at the union. I was able to personally prosecute, in the Industrial Relations Commission, the first ever award for radiographers working in private practice. I was responsible for the first national agreement with what was then the Mayne Health private hospital chain, later becoming Ramsay Health Care. I have spent a great deal of my time, both when I was at the New South Wales branch and nationally, looking after aged care workers and, in particular, looking at making sure that we can try and push for better staffing levels—minimum staffing levels—in aged care so that the elderly, the most vulnerable, are guaranteed some level of support and care in those places.

I am particularly proud of two issues: negotiating the first ever staffing level agreement for ambulance officers in New South Wales. My friends the ambulance officers and paramedics on the Central Coast tell me, of course, this agreement, which was only meant to last for 10 weeks because it was the first time it was there, is still in operation some 10 years after it came in. Guys, it does need to be updated and upgraded, but it is good that there is a floor that is there. The other issue that I am particularly proud of when I first joined the union was a 17 per cent pay increase over three years for New South Wales public sector workers, particularly the cooks, the cleaners—those most in need. Seventeen per cent over three years is a very big increase. They certainly deserved it and they certainly deserve more. So I have had nothing, can I say, but letters of support from many HSU members, both past and present.

One would think, given the media coverage and certainly from some of the emails that I have had, that the allegations against me were made while I was a member of parliament. Of course that is not the case. These are allegations that arise from my time at the Health Services Union many years ago. But it is worth talking about my wonderful electorate and the people who live there. Since 2007 we have been able to achieve some great things. It is important to point out that, in 2010, there was a swing to me in that seat based on the good work that we had been able to do in that electorate—a swing to me when there was a big swing against Labor in New South Wales. We have been able to achieve more than $330 million in funding for my electorate since 2007. That is more money that has been spent on infrastructure in the last five years than in total for the whole time that that seat has existed since 1984. There are a whole range of projects, and I will just list them briefly. The schools project, of course: over $100 million. Trade training centres: $13 million. The Apprentice Kickstart program. The Central Coast campus of the university—a campus that was brought about under a Labor government in the first place: $20 million. Very importantly, the Mardi to Mangrove pipeline: $80 million, making sure that the Central Coast was drought-proof. We got down to 13 per cent of our water supply. A Labor government made sure that those issues never happen again. Two brand new surf clubs. Major clean-up of Tuggerah Lakes: some $20 million over five years. $10 million for a centre of sports excellence. A GP superclinic that I know is often derided here, but can I tell you: the people in my electorate are very proud of having a GP superclinic, which has been used ever since it, opened some months after it was promised, on a temporary basis.

We have given money to netball courts so that Wyong can hold state championships in terms of netball for a first time. We have upgraded parks around the area. We have made sure that our parks have disability access for children. I fought and stood against opening the Wallarah coalmine and continue to be committed to making sure that that coalmine does not upset the pristine environment in which it was proposed to be built. And, of course, we now have the NBN rollout. So, for those of you who have only seen Craig Thomson through the eyes of some of the media glare, these are the things that have been occupying me every day, every night in my electorate—things that I am very proud of and things that I think stand my electorate in the Central Coast in a much better position than when I was first elected.

I want to now go to the HSU national office, which I moved down to and was elected to take over in 2002. I moved to Melbourne to be there because that was where the national office was at that stage. This was a union that had a very poor history of factional infighting. It had started, I think, with left against left, which became left against right, which became right against right. The only common practice was that the HSU was the battleground for these political fights.

When I took over as national secretary the debt levels in the national union were close to $1 million. There was no accountability for the way in which money was spent. The rules of the union at that stage set out that the national council would meet only once every two years and that at that particular meeting you could have proxy votes. So half a dozen people would sit around once every two years and that was the accountability. It rarely had national executive meetings. They rarely met. It did not have budgets. The reason this was the case was, of course, because the union rules make sure that the national secretary has broad powers. Rule 32(n) says that ‘between meetings of the national executive control and conduct’ of the business is in the hands of the national secretary.

So, if you do not want to have transparency, you do not have meetings. If you do not want to be accountable, you do not have meetings. So what did I do when I went down there in relation to these issues? One of the first things I did was make sure the rules of the organisation were changed. I made the rules so that national executive meetings had to happen every four years. I changed the way in which a national council meeting took place. They became national conferences every year with rank and file delegates at which the finances of the union were presented and the auditor was available for questions. There was specific time set aside. I put into the rules a finance committee so that a finance committee had to meet and had to approve budgets. But even that I did not think was enough, because there was a very broad rule saying the secretary can still do whatever they need to do. So at one of the very early executive meetings I set a delegation of how much the national secretary could spend without reference to those bodies. So we put further issues of transparency in place.

The reason I am saying these things is because, if your modus operandi was about ripping off an organisation, you would do none of that, because the rules enabled you—when I went there—to do whatever you liked and be virtually unaccountable. By putting those accounting practices in, that meant that there was accountability, and you would not do that if you were seeking to avoid scrutiny. Was it perfect? Were these A-1, benchmark accounting practices that you would put in place? Of course they were not, but we came from a position of absolute zero where there was nothing, where there were not meetings, and you have to start somewhere. So the HSU was a work in progress. These were the things that were put in place.

You have to ask who was not happy with this. There were two large branches that were not happy with this, and those are the New South Wales branch and the Victorian branch of my former union. That is because they did not like this scrutiny. In fact, I was approached by the now national secretary, Kathy Jackson, and Michael Williamson, saying: ‘What are you doing? Why don’t you just collect your salary and do nothing?’ ‘And do nothing’—that was what they expected you to do in relation to these issues.

We will be coming to the Fair Work Australia report shortly, but the Fair Work report’s allegations are largely based on allegations—I repeat, allegations—made by two people: Kathy Jackson and Michael Williamson. One of the issues with Fair Work Australia is the weight that has been given to those allegations. I raise these next points only in the context of the weight that Fair Work gave to those allegations. You have to look at what standing these people have if you give weight to the allegations. Kathy Jackson drives a union-paid-for Volvo. It is alleged she has child care and gym fees paid for by the union. These are issues that I am raising that are on the public record; this is not something that I am seeking to use privilege for that is not already out there. She has had numerous overseas trips, none of which, as national secretary, I was aware visited any unions. Within weeks after I left, her salary almost doubled from the salary that I received, allegedly now being around some $270,000. She sat on the board of HESTA, collecting board fees for many years, rarely attending meetings. But when the union decided the board fee should go to the union, she left the board. She got an $84,000 golden handshake from her branch when they merged and formed the HSU East branch of the union, the branch that is in so much trouble and the subject of so many inquiries. She rarely attended national executive meetings, and when she did it was to have her name marked off and then she would leave.

That is the record of this person, someone who wants to address the HR Nicholls Society in relation to where she is. She may have had a conversion on the road to Damascus—and I will come to those sorts of things later—but this certainly is not someone who comes to this issue with clean hands. She is also accused, of course, most seriously—and again this was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and is the subject of a police investigation—of paying money to contractors and then receiving it back privately with it being paid to her. She is entitled to the presumption of innocence in relation to those issues, but they are issues that she has to answer for. The other person is Mr Williamson. There has been a great deal of coverage following the release of the Temby report in relation to the activities there. These are the two people who primarily put those allegations.

The Fair Work report, can I point out, is the report of one man on the national office of the union. Its so-called findings amount to no more than assertions. I find it curious that after four years of w

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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