PHILLIP COOREY June 02, 2012
Concerned ... the acting Speaker, Anna Burke, says standards of civility are among the worst she has seen in her 14 years in Parliament. Photo: Mal Fairclough
MEMBERS of Parliament's powerful privileges committee are unenthusiastic about pursuing Craig Thomson and will mount a go-slow inquiry and hand out only the minimum penalty if anything untoward is found.
The Herald understands that Labor and Coalition MPs on the committee are uncomfortable with having to pass judgment on whether one of their own has misled Parliament, the accusation the Coalition has made against Mr Thomson.
The revelation comes as the acting Speaker, Anna Burke, joined the growing chorus of concern about the lack of civility, which has escalated on the back of the Thomson affair.
Ms Burke told ABC radio yesterday that the hung Parliament had the place constantly on edge because there could be an election at any moment.
She said standards of civility were among the worst she had seen in her 14 years in Parliament.
This week, Ms Burke pulled MPs into line during question time when an unknown Coalition MP called the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, ''a dead man''.
Ms Burke was a friend of the Victorian Labor MP Greg Wilton, who committed suicide in 2000. Mr Wilton's death had been invoked last week as concerns grew for Mr Thomson's wellbeing, given the enormous pressure he was under in Parliament, which was additional to official police investigations and a pending court hearing.
Sources have told the Herald that MPs of all persuasions on the privileges committee are fearful of creating a precedent in judging Mr Thomson that could be used against their own in future, when other MPs are referred to the committee.
Additionally, the findings against Mr Thomson by Fair Work Australia are also going to be tested in the Federal Court and the committee is wary of the Parliament acting as a court, either in parallel with, or before, the civil court proceedings.
The committee met again on Wednesday night but there is little enthusiasm to meet outside parliamentary sitting weeks, ensuring the hearing will drag on for months, if not longer.
Mr Thomson was referred to the privileges committee by the Coalition. It charged that the now-independent MP had misled Parliament on several counts during his hour-long statement on May 21 to reject the claims relating to his alleged misuse of $500,000 of members' money when he was the national secretary of the Health Services Union.
If the committee ever finds against Mr Thomson, sources said it would reprimand him at most.