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.
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