Friday, 25 May 2012

The strange affair of the beleaguered Member for Dobell

Craig Thomson, ex union leader, ex member of the Australian Labor Party, who was elected to the Federal House of Representatives as member for the Division of Dobell, New South Wales for the Australian Labor Party at the 2007 federal election, has managed to avoid being charged for union fund misappropriation for so long that he really justifies the title 'Teflon' Thomson.
Some journalists have referred to the ‘Thomson saga’ which arguably devalues the word ‘saga’. This case is a long, involved story, account, or series of incidents, but it can hardly be called a heroic achievement.

The long awaited Thomson address to parliament in defence of the accusations of misappropriation had all the hallmarks of the summing up by a very expensive defence lawyer or spin doctor. The speech barely addressed the issues in contention and obfuscated the matter by making more than twenty five, at times passionate, references to issues that had little or no bearing on the subject. At the start of the speech Thomson said he was going to bore us with his past achievements and he didn’t disappoint.

An unscientific poll by the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ showed that 71% didn’t believe Thomson, 15% thought he was convincing and 14% were unsure. I think some people were swayed by the tears, a technique perfected by Bob Hawke, another ex union leader, when he was Prime Minister.

During Thompson’s one hour speech he gave a detailed resume of his working life. He was elected as the National Secretary of the Health Services Union (HSU) from 2002 to 2007 where he claimed to have personally cleaned up the financial procedures of the union and stopped rorting of union funds. However, in 2008 the HSU requested its lawyers to retain forensic accountants to investigate allegations of impropriety around Thomson's use of a union-issued corporate MasterCard.

Thomson denies any impropriety and insists that he was framed by former colleagues who wanted to destroy his political career. One of those named is Michael Williamson who is accused of being engaged in a conspiracy to ruin his reputation through associations with prostitutes and misappropriation of union funds. This accusation is in conflict with Thomson’s maiden speech given on 19 February 2008 when he said:
“The support I received from the entire union movement but in particular from Unions NSW, the TWU, the CFMEU mining division, the PSA and, of course, my own union, the Health Services Union, was phenomenal. Michael Williamson, the HSU national president, was a marvel in relation to the long-term support he provided to me.”

The people that Thomson named as conspirators have all denied any part in the conspiracy with at least one stating that they didn’t even know Thomson at the time. Those named as character references seem to be fending Thomson off with a very long barge pole with one retired lady academic saying she hadn’t seen him in 25 years.

The seat of Dobell is considered one of the seats critical to keeping the Labor Party in Government and Thomson received enormous support from the unions and the Labor Party in 2010, this in spite of the ongoing HSU scandal and failed civil court action by Thomson to prove his innocence. The Federal Labor Party subsequently paid Thomson’s legal bills to prevent him from being declared bankrupt. A bankrupt cannot sit in parliament and the minority Labor Government, with Julia Gillard as PM, desperately needs Thomson’s vote on the floor of the chamber. The NSW Labor Party later repeated the funding but for some reason it was not declared to Parliament as it should have been.

The investigation into the HSU was done by Fair Work Australia (FWA) who took an extremely long time to complete the investigation, from 2008 until 2012, and then had to be coerced into releasing the report. The report was then referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who then handed it on to the Victorian and New South Wales Police Forces. The DPP states that the FWA report does not contain any signed statements by witnesses and cannot itself be used as an instrument for prosecution. Thomson has yet to be charged by any police force and he strongly proclaims his innocence, he points out that the police have yet to question him. The police say that he refuses to talk to them.

The majority of independent MP's, who hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives, are reluctant to pass any motion that will expel Thomson from the House on the grounds that Parliament is not a courtroom and that a man should be presumed innocent until found guilty. Some MP's have said that they did not want parliament becoming a ‘Star Chamber’. A widely held view is that the independents are more interested in self-preservation and prolonging the life of the current parliament as long as possible.

Whether or not Craig Thomson is found guilty or innocent, or he just fades off into the sunset is irrelevant, the public’s eyes have been opened up to what actually happens in our democracy. Is it really a democracy or actually an oligarchy where a clique of trade unionists and Labor Party officials are deciding what we do, how we do it, what we will spend our money on, and who we vote for? 

1 comment:

  1. I belong to this union ...and I spend almost $500 a year to belong.... they do nothing for us and the sad thing is... we are not allowed to join any other union! .... I know this because I tried to change unions!