Tim Lester, Judith Ireland April 03, 2012
Craig Thomson has been under investigation by Fair Work Australia for over three years. Photo: Nic Walker
Fair Work Australia has referred its investigation into the Health Services Union's national office – formerly run by Labor MP Craig Thomson – to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Thomson has been under investigation by Fair Work Australia for over three years for alleged misuse of union members’ funds.
He has been accused of using a union credit card to hire prostitutes and make cash withdrawals. He has denied the claims, and this afternoon released a statement reaffirming his innocence.
Fair Work’s general manager Bernadette O’Neill announced the referral to the Commonwealth DPP in a press statement today, saying she had received the 1100 page report last Wednesday and had been examining it since.
In her statement, Ms O’Neill said: “I am satisfied that the report raises many significant matters which may be appropriate for the DPP’s consideration.”
However, she qualified the referral, saying she had “not sought to satisfy myself that the material considered by the Delegate in his report establishes any particular likelihood of criminal conduct, as that is a matter for the DPP.”
The report found 181 contraventions of workplace laws by the HSU's national office reporting unit, three former or current officials and one individual who was not an HSU official. The officials are not named.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said this afternoon Australians had a right to know if Mr Thomson been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Fair Work Australia report must be released immediately.
Mr Abbott said if the full report was not released immediately, it will further increase community suspicion that Fair Work Australia is working to protect the Gillard government.
Health Services Union (HSU) boss Kathy Jackson called for a judicial inquiry into FWA, saying the length of time taken for FWA to table its report shows the agency is either ''extremely incompetent'' or ''something strange is going on in there''.
''I just can't believe that it's taken till now for them to come back and say it's appropriate now to refer this to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions),'' Ms Jackson told Macquarie Radio.
''I think the time has come for a judicial inquiry into Fair Work Australia and into the allegation about officers of the HSU.''
Ms O’Neill conceded Fair Work Australia had turned down requests from the New South Wales and Victoria police for information in relation to the HSU national office investigation, but had done so on the basis of legal advice.
Last month, Fair Work handed down a report into the Victorian branch of the HSU, which recommended civil proceedings against three other union officials. The report found that union members’ money had been used for holidays as well as instances of unauthorised leave and credit card transactions and the writing of blank cheques.
Mr Thomson maintained his innocence this afternoon.
''I maintain my innocence and will continue to do so," he said in a statement. ''I will also continue to fully co-operate with any further investigations relating to this matter.''
Mr Thomson was national secretary of the Health Services Union from 2002 to 2007.
Mr Thomson’s vote in the House of Representatives is seen as vital to the stability of the Gillard government with Labor in a minority government and reliant on the support of independents and a Greens MP to govern.
Today’s referral is not likely to force Mr Thomson from Parliament but will almost certainly raise pressure from the opposition on the issue.
It has been targeting Mr Thomson knowing if he is forced to quit there will be a by-election in his NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell which the Coalition would almost certainly win. Labor would then be in danger of losing office.
An MP has to leave Parliament only if convicted of a criminal offence carrying a jail term of one year or more.
This morning Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that "on the admitted facts of this case" there had been an abuse of union members’ money and called on the government to see that justice was done.
"If something like this happened in business there would have been prosecution launched months, if not years ago," he told reporters in Cairns.
"Now, I think it’s absolutely incumbent on the government to ensure that justice is done here and justice has not been done for over three years. So the report has got to come out and then appropriate action has got to be taken urgently by the relevant authorities.’’
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