That should get the punters in. Plus, I feel like a bit of light relief (pun most definitely intended).
The scandal surrounding the man LibertyGibbert first visited back here and here, Labor MHR for Dobell Craig Thomson, has now descended into the kind of farce that is fodder for years’ worth of late-night television comedian’s jibes; great value for them, but it’s also making our parliament a laughing stock and harming our image abroad.
Thomson, to refresh your memory, has been the subject of an investigation by Fair Work Australia into his activities as Secretary of the Health Services Union. Allegations that he took over $100,000 in ATM cash withdrawals, all unaccounted for, plus charged exorbitant travel expenses and even escort services to his union credit card, are the juicy bits, on which the tabloid newspapers have been feasting. But the ones that threatened to torpedo his political career were the charge that he used over $200,000 of union funds towards his 2010 election campaign in Dobell, and that he and fellow HSU boss Michael Williamson received secret commissions in the form of premium Amex cards, from a Sydney publisher whom they were paying way over the odds to produce a bi-monthly union newsletter.
These crimes are punishable by imprisonment and would force Thomson to resign from parliament, meaning that in all likelihood, a no-confidence motion against the Gillard government would pass on the floor of the House, bringing that government down. Polls currently have Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition so far ahead, that an election would not only see Abbott replicate the recent electoral bloodbaths in New South Wales and Queensland, but in a half-Senate election (which can be held any time from 3 August onwards) it’s highly likely he can gain control of the Upper House as well, meaning the Carbon Tax will be history by Christmas.
The evidence against Thomson was pretty overwhelming—mobile phone and hotel phone records show Thompson dialling various Sydney and Melbourne escort agencies, then credit card charges racked up to the same agencies on the same dates as the phone calls. Plus photocopies of Thomson’s photo drivers’ license taken by the agency as security against the card. So why did the Labor-leaning Fair Work Australia drag out its investigation into Thomson for over three years? I’ll give you the very smelly reason in a moment.
Of course, Thomson denies it all. In an interview last weekend, he claimed rival union bosses threatened to bring him down, and frame him with the offences he is now accused of. An effort, if true, worthy of Mission: Impossible. What Thomson is asking us to believe is, that someone stole his mobile phone and/or broke into his hotel room and used the house phone to call these escort agencies. Then this individual stole Thompson’s credit card and drivers’ license, slided off to the aforesaid knock shop, wearing a rubber Craig Thomson mask, pleasured himself as alleged, expertly forged Thomson’s signature on the bill, and then… went back to the hotel room, returned the credit card, mobile phone and drivers’ licence to Thomson’s person without him ever realizing it—and he did all this on multiple occasions! The CIA, MI6 and Mossad all working in cahoots could barely have pulled off a sting this comprehensive.
Or we could just use Occam’s Razor, and call B.S. when we see it.
Well, FWA have just released their findings. But it is not yet clear what criminal charges, if any, will be laid against Thomson, and in what jurisdiction. The Australian Electoral Commission has said it cannot pursue electoral fraud charges against Thomson under the Electoral Act—because the FWA investigation took so long, the statute of limitations on electoral fraud has run out. Fair Work Australia now has a serious case of its own to answer.
As do independent MHRs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. These two men bear singular responsibility for the debâcle that has occurred, for without their support in 2010, Julia Gillard could never have formed a viable government. Both embittered former National Party members, representatives of rural NSW electorates centred on Tamworth and Port Macquarie, they represent the two electorates with the lowest Labor votes in the entire country—8% and 13% respectively. More than anyone else, these two men had no mandate by the electors who sent them to Canberra, to help form a Labor government. I rather expect the coming electoral bloodbath will extend to these two “Honourable” gentlemen, if they bother to run.
And all the while, the Peter Slipper saga provides even more comic relief. Slipper has voluntarily stepped aside as Speaker of the House while a variety of civil and criminal charges are pursued against him. The one that stands to skewer him is the charge that he spent over $3,000 helping a colleague run for office in the recent Tasmanian state elections and, as this charge is not going to be delayed by another protracted FWA investigation, he cannot count on the statute of limitations running out, as it did for Thomson.
All very ugly, and coming in the week in which Treasurer Wayne Swan handed down the annual Federal Budget, it isn’t the distraction Gillard wished for, in what was possibly her last chance to persuade the public that her government actually stood for something. Anything.
I’ll leave the last word to the great Pickering (click pic through to his blog):