A few thoughts while I’m still working on my next main article. You’ve heard me mentioning in the last thread the tenuous situation currently existing on the Australian parliament’s Lower House, the House of Representatives. Of the 150 seats, Labor holds 72, and has formed government in coalition with four non-aligned members: Adam Bandt, Australian Greens member for the seat of Melbourne, Andrew Wilkie, independent member for Denison (centred on Hobart), and two independent former National Party Members, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who represent New England and Lyne reprectively, two conservative, rural NSW electorates. A majority of just one vote. And that including that of the speaker, Labor’s Harry Jenkins.
In such a circumstance, Gillard cannot afford to lose a single member—through retirement, death or resignation: forced or otherwise. I’m fairly certain Gillard is insisting on regular health checks on all her parliamentary colleagues. The aortic valve replacement operation Kevin Rudd is scheduled to undergo on 1 August has been described as routine and low-risk, but as I explained the other day, could give him the perfect pretext to resign from parliament, should he so choose; he has any number of reasons to want to do so, one of which I’ll be writing about shortly.
Scandal is another thing Gillard could well do without; but given the recent history of Labor, that may be too much to ask for. In the years leading up to this year’s NSW state election bloodbath, we saw a virtual parade of Labor members forced to resign in disgrace, each scandal more tawdry than the last: harassment of parliamentary staff, financial indiscretions, public marital infidelities, and worse; one former MLA, Milton Orkopoulos, is even currently a guest at Her Majesty’s Iron Motel, courtesy of a string of child sex and drug offences. It makes you wonder what it takes to become a Labor representative in the first place.
Which brings me to one Craig Thomson, Labor MHR for the electorate of Dobell, centred on Tuggerah Lake, about 100 km north of Sydney. The former Health Services Union official’s alleged misuse of union funds and credit cards went beyond the venal—a catalogue of over $100,000 in ATM cash withdrawls and payments for nightclubs, brothels and so on—when Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson last Friday accused him in parliament of misusing HSU funds to finance his 2007 election campaign, then filing false returns with the Australian Electoral Commission: an offence which, if proven in court, could land him a berth in the same cell as the abovementioned Orkopoulos. It’s happened before in Australia. These accusations, originally made by Senator Ronaldson in the Melbourne Age, resulted in defamation proceedings by Thomson; the Age defended their story on the grounds the accusations were true, following which, Thomson filed a notice of discontinuance of his suit: an effective admission. Ronaldson then repeated his allegations in parliament; the full Hansard record is here.
Gillard has painted herself into a corner here: she has no honourable recourse whatsoever, other than to let justice take its course; if the matter is taken up by the Crown Prosecutor (and the Opposition has yet to recommend this) it will be out of her hands in any case. Who knows how long such a case would take to bring to trial? In the meantime, the credibility and legitimacy of this government, for this and many other reasons, hangs by a thread.
Update 4 August 2011 0500: Well, the Federal Opposition has indeed now called on the Crown Prosecutor to press charges against Thomson. If I followed the gist of the story correctly, Labor is going to get one of their own to act as Thomson’s fall guy. I guess it’s now down to the integrity and diligence of the prosecutors. We do live in interesting times.
Update 19 August 2011 1500: This thing is getting ridiculous; I’ve updated it in a new thread here.