PAUL SHEEHAN May 14, 2012
Enough about prostitutes. Enough about Craig Thomson's antics. What we haven't heard are the big questions on the big issue that is taking the Gillard government into a death spiral, even as it delivers a disciplined budget at a time of economic prosperity.
The big questions don't involve the conduct of Thomson. They involve the long-running and broad-ranging cover-up which has served to undermine the course of justice, bypass the electoral laws and deform the democratic process.
A systematic process of concealment has inflicted collateral damage not just on Prime Minister Gillard but on her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, because both were conveniently myopic while the NSW Labor machine was protecting and promoting one of the most reckless politicians ever elected to federal Parliament.
During the weekend, Thomson continued to rampage through the realm of incredulity, promising to name people who have framed him when he speaks in his own defence in Parliament on May 21, under the protection of parliamentary privilege.
It should be incredible, in every way. It should confirm the decadence of the NSW Labor Party and push the credibility of the government past the point of irrevocable decline.
No matter who the Labor machinists might throw into the breach if they think pushing another leader under another bus will save them, every member of this government is complicit in the process of concealment.
The 1100-page report released by Fair Work Australia last week found Thomson to be entirely lacking in credibility. As was obvious. And the report is only part of a larger mosaic. Why did it take FWA so long to commence an investigation in the first place? How did one journalist achieve in two weeks what both FWA and the Australian Election Commission did not achieve in two years? It was not until after a year of intense pressure by the media that the FWA was roused to any vigour.
On April 8, 2009, the Herald published a detailed summary of alleged improprieties by Thomson, using union funds. The story's accuracy was vindicated by the FWA inquiry.
The story should have caused alarm within the AEC and FWA. Yet last week a lawyer from the AEC complained that because it took three years for FWA report to appear the statute of limitations has expired on Thomson's alleged offences.
Why did the AEC not act after the Herald's serious revelations published more than three years ago? It raises in my mind questions about what advice, if any, was sent to the minister responsible, the then special minister of state, Senator John Faulkner. Or to the man who replaced him as minister in June 2009, Senator Joe Ludwig.
The passivity of the AEC on this matter is alarming.
The Labor Party was not passive. It went on the offensive. As soon as the scandal broke, Thomson sued the Herald for defamation. He was in no position to fund the lawsuit, but the NSW Labor Party was. The FWA report revealed extensive legal representations on behalf of Thomson by Holding Redlich, the law firm for NSW Labor.
To get a sense of how the government has obfuscated for three years around this matter, here is an extract from the Senate Hansard on August 22 last year. It is typical:
Senator Michael Ronaldson (Liberal): ''Can the minister [Senator Mark Arbib] confirm that he participated in a discussion with the member for Dobell [Thomson] and the Prime Minister, or the Prime Minister's office, in relation to the payment by NSW Labor of the member for Dobell's legal fees following his discontinued defamation action against Fairfax?''
Senator Chris Evans (Leader of the government in the Senate): ''On a point of order, Mr President: I think that puts the minister in a really difficult position … Nothing in the question related to his ministerial responsibilities. On that basis, I do not think there is anything Senator Arbib can say. Therefore, I ask you to rule it out of order … ''
Senator George Brandis (Liberal): ''This question goes directly to whether or not Senator Arbib was, as a minister, party to a cover-up or an attempted cover-up concerning the affairs of Mr Thomson … I can understand why the Labor Party want to cover it up … ''
Senator Stephen Conroy (Minister for Communications): ''Mr President … no part of that question is in order, none whatsoever, nor is Senator Brandis's attempt to drag irrelevant standing orders and irrelevant slurs into the debate … ''
Senator John Hogg (Senate President): ''The minister need only deal with that part of the question which is the responsibility of the minister in his portfolio.''
Senator Arbib never had to say a word.
NSW Labor may not want to reveal what it has spent on Thomson's legal costs but a fair estimate would be at least $400,000 in fees for the defamation action, plus extensive work on the FWA inquiry, whose report Holding Redlich also sought to suppress.
Similarly, when it was time to front up in court against the Herald, Thomson filed a notice of discontinuance. Thomson then claimed, falsely, he had won the case. He also failed to declare the legal payments on the pecuniary interests register.
During the two years the defamation case remained active, Thomson was re-endorsed by Labor for the seat of Dobell, and won the seat, a result which saved the Gillard government, and continues to do so.
The gratitude is mutual. In the first minute of his first speech in Parliament, on February 19, 2008, a year before Thomson became a beacon of strife, he singled out his greatest supporters in the party: ''I need to acknowledge the fantastic advice and assistance I received from Mark Arbib, Karl Bitar and Sam Dastyari from the NSW ALP head office … [and] Wayne Swan and Anthony Albanese need to be acknowledged for the tireless work they put into my campaign.''
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