Behind the Craig Thomson scandal: Labor’s cynical political game

The house where politics now appears to trump principle.

“I just don’t think (the denials) passes the believability test.”
Paul Howes, former head of AWU

I respect Paul Howes.  He is right.  He is a union leader who tells it as it is.

What is he right about?

Accused of being a customer to a prostitute, the media is out with torches and pitchforks for federal MP Craig Thomson | Image Credit: news.com.au

The Craig Thomson scandal has cast a dark stain across parliament and the union movement.  If the union movement, if Labor does not address the alleged corruption at the source of these allegation, it will destroy the credibility of the union movement.

As for Craig Thompson should not trail him by the media, and we should afford him a fair trial.  At the same time though, we have to ask carefully how much the process is being abused in bad faith.

Craig Thompson stands accused of misusing union funds to pay for prostitutes and to fund his re-election campaign (claims which he denies)

The rules are:

  • If Craig Thomson is convicted of a Criminal offence with a jail term of one year or more, he must leave parliament
  • If Craig Thomson is bankrupted, he must leave parliament
  • If Craig Thomson leaves parliament, the Labor Party would face a no-confidence vote that would force an election because it would not have the numbers, even with the Independents, to stave off the vote

The implications are:

  • If the allegations that a union credit card was used to fund the Dobell election campaign and was not declared on the electoral register, electoral fraud may have occurred.  Since then the investigation has progressed and $17,000 of the $200,000 still remains under question
  • If the allegations of union credit cards are true, this may count as supplimentary income from the standpoint of the ATO, which may mean backtaxes must be paid.  If back-taxes must be paid, Craig Thomson may also be bankrupted
  • If union funds were defrauded in the way alleged, it would call into question the legitimacy of union leaders.  Do they really represent workers, or are they using hard-earned members’ dues of some of the poorest workers in the country to finance a lifestyle of debauchery at their expense?  Who would join a union and pay dues knowing this?

Ordinarily, the court process should be sufficent to determine his guilt or innocence.  Despite this, the political system is being cynically “gamed” by the Labor party in bad faith, to stall a no-confidence vote before this goes to course.  These are all stalling and delaying tactics to slow down the passage of justice. The ways this is happening are:

  • Using “spin” to claim one thing while using the lawyers to lawfully do the reverse.  In effect what is said (the “spun” words used to protect the brand of the Labor party) is entirely at odds with the actions of the Labor government
  • Using the “spin” of presumption of innocence to stifle debate on the issue.  I agree that we should avoid a trial by media, but this issue still raises the issue of parliamentary standards, whether or not it is embarassing to the Labor party.  In addition, the Labor Party happily ignores the presumption of innocence whenever it suits it politically, such as the case of Commodore Bruce Kafer.
  • Making statements that are not frankly believable and are an insult to the intelligence of the public, with the intent of “spinning” the public opinion in favour before a court of law determines guilt or innocence

I accept the following quote should be accepted with a grain of salt, but nevertheless illustrates the absurdity of the spin the defence is using to deflect trial by media.  The following could have happened:

One – Mr Thomson did it.

Two – Someone knocked off his card, then knocked off his licence, then forged his signature.   They also knocked off his phone, and used his phone from the area where he lives up the Pacific Highway, then used the phone coming down the highway to Sydney and used that phone to call the same escort agency where the knocked off credit card, forged signature and knocked off licence were presented.   Then his card, his licence and his phone were returned to him without him even noticing they were missing.

Physical imprint's of Craig's Thompson's cards

The executive that allegedly set up Craig Thomson apparently got physical copies of Craig Thomson’s driver’s license at the escort agency. Believable?

  • “Suspending” Craig Thomson from the Labor Party while he sits as an independent, while accepting his vote.  This is a cynical attempt to contain “brand damage” to the Labor party.
  • The FWA investigation “went slow” (whether or not allegedly by political interference) in such a way that the statue of limitations of two years on some of the accusations expired
  • The NSW Labor Party is paying the legal fees of Craig Thomson to prevent him from being bankrupted.  The Prime Minster’s office is disavowing the internvetion by saying it’s “NSW Labor, not Labor that is bankrolling his legal bills”, in an attempt at blatant and naked spin
  • A grubby diversion in equating Mary Joe-Fischer’s misdemeanour with the accusations levelled against Craig Thomson, somehow equating that misdemeanour which would not disqualify her from parliament with the accusation of defrauding union members of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The disparity in orders of magnitude is again an insult to intelligence, and shows Labor’s desperation in attempting to redirect the allegations back to the accusers.
  • The proposal on “ministerial standards” is another committee group to belatedly “spin” this Labor government into looking like it is doing something about the problem.  It is a smokescreen, a fig leaf meant to save face.  It is window dressing, again, meant to minimise the escalating damage to Labor’s brand.

The entire stalling exercise, or so it would seem, is to ensure that Labor serves a full term before the next election by stalling the progress of (inevitable) justice as long as possible.

This does not wash with the public: Labor should know that rational thinking Australians will not buy this.

Ultimately it is for the public to decide on polling day.  But, by treating us in this way, the Labor party is treating the voter and the parliamentary process with contempt. This contempt shown disgusts me as a citizen and a voter.

This has broader implications: by treating the public with contempt, the above “gaming” of the system endangers both credibility of the Labor party and the Union movement. To claim otherwise is to say “black is white” with a straight face.

And I haven’t even started on Peter Slipper, who has also been targetted with claims which he denies.  At least Peter has maintained some sense of propriety with dealing with the allegations by stepping aside, unlike Craig Thomson.  I accept as well that the scandal may have been confected by Liberals equally “playing the game” with Mal Borough’s counselling of the accuser. Ultimately for Slipper, however, his fall to those accusations was a liability from years of form on the issue.  The Liberal party had no shortage of ammunition that he left behind after his defection, and those with nothing to hide should have nothig to fear, but this is an aside. On Slipper’s case , it may be proper but still smacks of desperation: the government is trying to avoid Slipper’s case going to court by a bid to have the criminal charges struck out or dismissed before they are tested

Politicians should be accorded fair process, but should at the same time be held to higher standards, because they are the paragons who make our laws and should be without blemish .  Instead the Labor party seeks to delay the passage of justice with brinksmanship in order to prevent being ousted from parliament; it is choosing power over principle.   This brings the parliament into disrepute, and no wonder the public is so disallusioned.  The Labor party used to stand for the workers, now it is protecting its own and spitting in the face of HSU members.

To say that that this is a byproduct of minority government is a cop out.  The alleged stalling illustrates a painful truth: playing the political game has become more important than actually running the country.

What I would admire more is if Labor were to suspend Thomson, lose the vote and face the no-confidence motion.  At the very least they could say, “we stood on principle,” in order to defend parliament.  I would expect the same from a Liberal party, if one of their members was similarly facing serious criminal or fraud charges for, at the minimum, full and transparent co-operation with the authorities in the timely carriage of justice.

The name of the game now, however, is no longer honour, but to hold on greedily to the mantle of power as long as possible.  This is the game played by Labor and by the independents, Rob Oakshott and Tony Windsor, in the name of staying in power as long as possible and prolonging the life of a deeply unpopular government, with the public itching to reduce Labor to a Queensland rump over the deeply unpopular Carbon Tax.  No MP wants to be the traitor who breaks ranks, even as this farce continues, and it drags the Labor and union movement through the mud.

That is why ranking Labor elders such as Peter Beatie are calling out against this.  Delaying tactics like this, which treat the public with contempt, may prolong time in office, but will entail the wipeout of Labor for a generation.  Just ask Queensland Labor what happens what happens when politicians fight the dirty and grubby fight.

The Polls for Labor do not look good, and it is entirely of their own doing, despite their attempts to blame “the Abbott” for all of their own waste and mismanagement.  If Labor did not back disasterous and deeply unpopular policy they would not be in this precarious position.  As it stands, Labor is looking politically to set up as many “gotchas” as it can, such as giving handouts as a trap after installing a punitive carbon tax.  It is running a scorched earth policy to destroy the country before the next administration.

This is not a footy game, where clever plays rule.  This is meant to be about running a country.  I would laugh at the pantomime but am constantly reminded that the real losers are the voting public.

It will be very interesting to hear Craig Thompson’s statement on 21 May 2012 where he will use a 30 minute speech to name his betrayer under parliamentary privilege.  Thompson cannot lie, or he will be held in contempt of parliament.

Will he name Kathy Jackson and simply add to the circus?  Will he, knowing he is to be sacrificed to keep Labor in power, willingly lie bald-face as a delaying tactic to keep Labor in power as long as possible?

By stalling and winning this battle, Labor may indeed sacrifice it’s very survival.

I have very little hope for our parliamentary system.

Image Header source:  http://socpol.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/Australian_house_of_representatives04.jpg

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Crime, Politics, Law

Author:Richard Lee

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12 Comments on “Behind the Craig Thomson scandal: Labor’s cynical political game”

  1. May 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    ”If Craig Thompson leaves parliament, the Labor Party would face a no-confidence vote that would force an election because it would not have the numbers, even with the Independents, to stave off the vote”

    Rick, there are 150 members of the House of Representatives made up as follows:

    The ALP has 72 members plus the support of 3 independents and 1 Green = 76. But take away Thomson and take away the Acting Speaker Anna Burke and that leaves them with 74

    The Coalition has 72 (they had 73 before Slipper quit) plus the support of Bob Katter (maybe) = 73

    The final member is Peter Slipper</b< a former Liberal who is presently not sitting in the house but might return either as Speaker (in which case Labor regains Burke) or as an independent.

    So if Thomson leaves and there is a no confidence vote, Labor would have 74 votes to 73, as the house presently stands.

    And even if Slipper returns and votes with Abbott (which is unlikely) the vote would be tied at 74 – 74, leaving the casting vote to Acting Speaker Anna Burke, an ALP member.

    So tell me how Labor needs Thomson to stave off a no confidence motion?

    Btw, it’s Thomson, not Thompson.

    Maybe stick to writing food reviews.

    • May 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Btw, it’s Thomson, not Thompson.

      I accept the correction and have ammended the article

      So tell me how Labor needs Thomson to stave off a no confidence motion?

      Good point on Slipper’s defection shifting the number of seats required to two. So that would mean that Thomson is more free to make vacant his seat to restore the public’s confidence in parliament

      The final member is Peter Slipper a former Liberal who is presently not sitting in the house but might return either as Speaker (in which case Labor regains Burke) or as an independent.

      Isn’t it ironic that the Gillard Government, in a very grubby deal, could choose a Speaker who is quite so damaged and whose past would come to bite Labor later? The Speaker is meant to enforce order in the house and be the picture of good conscience and incorruptibility. Yet the appointed speaker is absent due to a scandal.

      Slipper has done the right thing by vacating the seat until the scandal is resolved.

      Nevertheless it would seem seem that Slipper’s initial appointment, and the scandal that has erupted, has brought the Parliament into disrepute.

      Maybe stick to writing food reviews.

      Free speech is dangerous business, yes? Instead of mild invective against me, perhaps accept the challenge of writing a spirited defense of Thomson, it that is even possible.

      • May 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

        What has Slipper done, exactly? The civil case against him on sexual harassment? That looks rather hopelessly compromised. Besides, it’s not a crime. Besides #2, if Slipper was such a flawed character why did the Coaltion keep him on for 20 years. Storm Tea Cup.

        And I am not defending Thomson. Just saying your whole premise – that Labor is somehow ruining the parliament by allowing him to stay – is both wrong and fundamentally flawed.

        First of all, as I’ve demonstrated to you, they don’t need his vote. Secondly – and more importantly – the Govt has no authority (none whatsoever) to make him leave. He’s an elected member, answerable only to his electorate. If he wants to stay in the house he can. And he can cast his vote as he sees fit.

        He’s as entitled to be there as Sophie Mirabella is (Sophie’s being sued over her dubious dealings with an old man’s estate, in case you didn’t know).

        • May 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

          Thank you for your comment.

          the Govt has no authority (none whatsoever) to make him leave. He’s an elected member, answerable only to his electorate. If he wants to stay in the house he can. And he can cast his vote as he sees fit.

          The government somehow has authority, however, to pay his legal bills to prevent him losing his seat.

          It brings the whole of parliament into disrepute when a government would sacrifice its own credibility on a fatally compromised member, political poison, one would say. They would rather prop him up and hold onto power while dragging the name of parliament through the mud. That’s probably the source of a lot of anger within politics today: the electorate knows this is not right. I don’t care who is running the country, as long as the people who run it have some form of propriety and integrity.

          The contention of the article remains: the Labor party is treating the electorate with contempt, with its grubby deals. The Indepenents are helping them to prolong their own time. Both are out of reach of the electorate at the moment, and the citizens feel powerless. It stinks to high heaven. But such is politics.

          Who is right, you or me? I would say we’ll find out at the next election. Hopefully Labor learns something about respecting the electorate or Queensland will be repeated. Watch what happens when the electors get hold of Labor…

          … hopefully they don’t wreck the country first with scorched earth…

          He’s an elected member, answerable only to his electorate.

          Why not let him leave parliament (by standing down or bankruptcy) then and let the by-election in Dobell decide it? Let me guess, because the people of Dobell would not re-elect a Labor MP.

          He’s as entitled to be there as Sophie Mirabella is (Sophie’s being sued over her dubious dealings with an old man’s estate, in case you didn’t know).

          Come on Ray, this is a unicorn, and you know it. 🙂

          Somehow a bitter family / legal dispute with no criminal investigation is equivalent to the alleged ripping off of $500,000 of members funds (some of the poorest workers in our society) for prostitutes, luxury holidays and election to the seat of Dobell. How exactly is this equivalent? I think the media have similarly judged this and , other than that piece in the Age it remains buried, with little or no air-time. Why is it buried? Because it is insignificant. Families spats can be complicated.

          Allegedly ripping off union members is not quite so complicated.

          A desperate distraction on your part. Please try harder.

        • May 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

          Having read both the Age piece and the Australian piece, and accepting that both papers are partisan, I come to the conclusion that Labor is spinning hard to manufacture a desperate distraction from Craig Thomson and the damage he is doing to the Labor brand.

          In short, a unicorn.

          http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/party-lines-put-private-lives-on-public-display/story-fn59niix-1226352518919

          http://www.theage.com.au/national/power-love-and-money-20110922-1knb7.html

  2. May 25, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    The legal bills that the ALP (not the Govt per se) paid were $150,000. I doubt he’d go bankrupt for that – he has a house. There’s nothing new, or wrong, about political parties footing their member’s legal bills. The Libs do it too.

    Your comments appear to be merely your own political opinion but the fact is Labor has suspended Thomson from the party and they can’t do more than that, nor need they. And don’t you think that you (and Abbott) are prejudging someone who hasn’t even been charged?

    As for what the people want, I don’t think you can speak on everyone’s behalf. The next election will be decided on a whole range of issues and, yes, Labor will probably lose it, but that’s regardless of this matter.

    I repeat: The Thomson saga does not require the Govt to fall on its own sword and only die-hard Coalition supporters are suggesting they should. As for saying “why not let him leave”, maybe he doesn’t want to go. It’s his choice, not theirs.

    As for Mirabella, it’s hardly a ‘family spat’. She is in no way related to the family who are contesting the will and claiming possible manipulation. Taking power of attorney over an elderly and mentally impaired man’s finances, using them to buy a $700,000 home and then to inherit his entire estate including his $1 million Carlton home under dubious circumstances is hardly a piffling matter and, if it’s proved she violated that trust, I’d say it’s every bit as bad as Thomson’s alleged dealings, if not worse. No doubt the story will get more legs when it goes to court, unless she backs down and gives the money back to the family.

    Look, the reality is that Abbott (and his diehard supporters) will stoop to anything to reduce the Govt’s numbers including, it seems, conspiring with a staffer (a LNP member) to bring down Slipper. Oh, but that’s another “distraction” I suppose?

    You can have the final word. I’m done here. It’s fairly obvious that you don’t take a balanced view on this matter.

    (Btw, your heading should read “Behind the Craig Thomson scandal”, not “Thomson’s”)

    • May 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      The legal bills that the ALP (not the Govt per se) paid were $150,000. I doubt he’d go bankrupt for that – he has a house. There’s nothing new, or wrong, about political parties footing their member’s legal bills. The Libs do it too.

      Please give an example of this, and the bill for which it is being paid for, so that I may deplore it. I would still contend that, by paying those bills, there is tacit acknowledgement that keeping Thomson in parliament is more important than having him answer for those allegations- a delaying tactic, again contempt for the electorate.

      And Gillard said, “I’m not paying for it, NSW Labor is.” Pretty shifty, yes?

      Your comments appear to be merely your own political opinion but the fact is Labor has suspended Thomson from the party and they can’t do more than that, nor need they.

      It’s pure spin to contain brand damage to Labor. It is self serving. They are still accepting his vote in parliament.

      And don’t you think that you (and Abbott) are prejudging someone who hasn’t even been charged?

      There are two things here. Firstly, Labor pre-judges all the time whenever it suits them, such as the example of Commodore Kafer.
      Secondly, sometimes the importance of a public office is more important than any individual who holds a seat. Thats why various bodies have a disciplinary charge saying, “bringing the organisation into disrepute.” The delaying tactics, in bad faith, are an abuse of this.

      Thomson will have his day in court, I accept that. But it will be a lot longer in coming as Labor cynically puts every roadblock it can in the way.

      he Thomson saga does not require the Govt to fall on its own sword and only die-hard Coalition supporters are suggesting they should.

      If a coalition member was accused of the same impropriety I would be similarly demanding that they fall on their sword to preserve the integrity of parliament.

      It’s his choice, not theirs.

      Labor has a choice between encouraging him to stand down / leave or trying to insist that he delay his departure. It has chosen the latter. There are consequences to both choices and I would contend that the latter choice will be far more damaging to Labor in the long run.

      including his $1 million Carlton home under dubious circumstances is hardly a piffling matter and, if it’s proved she violated that trust, I’d say it’s every bit as bad as Thomson’s alleged dealings, if not worse.

      Are there criminal allegations that can be substantiated? It is an ugly saga but the difference, I would say, is that Sophie’s case does not strike at the very foundation of the union movement. Not only is Labor choosing short term expediency leading to a gory demise, it is choosing a gory demise for the union movement as well by continuing to support Thomson. Being “suspended” from the Labor party is spin; that may be my opinion, but I’m sure many of the public will see it for the spin it is. Call a spade a spade.

      There’s a reason that the media isn’t hounding Sophie. Why? Maybe because it’s much harder to prove, and its effect much more localised.

      No doubt the story will get more legs when it goes to court, unless she backs down and gives the money back to the family.

      It doesn’t appear that she is being investigated by 9 seperate bodies. If she is found guilty I will condemn her. Nevertheless what happens between two lovers and a family spat is less significant than the governance of a union. There are family court battles all the time, over custody and division of property, and every slur imaginable is used in proceedings. I think that’s the reason it hasn’t grown legs yet.

      Oh, but that’s another “distraction” I suppose?

      I acknowledged that Mal Borough’s dealings with Ashby are troubling, and the Liberals have not been entirely forthcoming on that one. Interestingly , Ashby has lashed out at both Carr (Labor) and Barnaby Joyce (National), would he lash at Joyce if he was a plant?

      What contrasts is that Slipper has stood down because he understands that the importance of his office is bigger than himself. Even if this has no effect on the numbers in parliament, I respect him for that.

      You can have the final word. I’m done here. It’s fairly obvious that you don’t take a balanced view on this matter.

      Thanks, I appreciate your comments. Have a great weekend, and be dry if you are in Melbourne.

      For the record, I don’t like Abbott either, right now the election is a contest between evil and stupid, and stupid is winning. But when it stinks to high heaven , we should be able to look at our institutions with respect. With these scandals in full flight, who can look at parliament with respect? That is what concerns me, that the erosion of values will make all sorts of nefariousness permissible.

      At the end, the electorate suffers.

      I’m definitely not voting Labor at the next election.

    • Richard Lee
      May 27, 2012 at 8:11 am #

      An interesting development, may swift justice prevail:
      http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/new-rort-claims-hit-embattled-liberal-mp-geoff-shaw/story-fn7x8me2-1226367889801

      The Liberal Party may lose its wafer thin majority in Victoria as a result.

      Rorting of parliamentary office is serious, as is doing a job on the time you are being paid to do another. At the same time, I would say the gravity of the allegations pale in significance to the alleged misuse of the dues of some of the poorest workers in our country.

  3. Roberto
    May 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    We must have a Royal Commission into Labor’s Unions, the result will shock all Australians.

    • Richard Lee
      May 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

      Not sure if a Royal Commission is the right answer. The current media inquiry is used to cow critics who are not supportive of Labor’s position and give them bad press. A Royal Commission could be a similar weapon of political expediency rather than a tool for justice.

      If Thompson is found guilty, it would probably mean unions need to be more transparent about their dealings to guarantee to members that their dues are not being spent on rorts… OR there would be no more members. I think that is fairer.

      The way to make sure that is fair is to make sure that the courts delivered complete, unbiased and transparent judgement, and political expediency cannot be used to conceal this.

    • Richard Lee
      May 28, 2012 at 8:12 am #

      Vanstone is partisan, but her point echos yours: if Julia Gillard seeks to put Murdoch on the millstone for hacking scandals on the other side of the world (the implication is the “rot” has spread here), why hasn’t she put the unions on the millstone after there is local rot detected in the HSU?

      The answer… politics of course.
      http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/sadly-this-lady-is-for-turning-20120527-1zcw1.html

      As for Ray Dixon, I would say the answer is not about “teams”, but about accountability:
      http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/a-duty-to-scrutinise-20120527-1zcvy.html

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