Labor’s besieged federal MP Craig Thomson will not be charged by NSW Police.
Amazing, isn’t it? Given that Thomson had already been indicted, tried by ordeal, drawn, quartered, sentenced, electric-chaired, excoriated and lashed by the occasionally sickening thrill-kill culture of Lord of the Flies politics, you’d think the Police might have found some fire causing all that smoke.
They didn’t, as today exclusively revealed by the Daily Telegraph which embraced and extended the original claims made in the Fairfax press against the Labor MP by a journalist Mark Davis now working for Labor’s Climate Change minister Greg Combet. A small world it can be in national politics. Worthy of a Yes Minister episode.
WHERE THERE WAS SMOKE THERE WAS NO FIRE
Craig Thomson has been thoroughly investigated, in the most adverse and prejudicial circumstances where Fairfax Radio shock-jocks and the best and bruising News Limited journalists had decreed the man to be Jimmy Hoffa meets Chris Skase.
It was a great story, it had everything: sex, crime, power, huge stakes (if Thomson fell so would the government went the theory, ignoring the fact that Slipper and Katter and Crook don’t go to Abbott if he’s forming a government). But the story lacked credibility.
Criminal law academics joined VEXNEWS at the time in questioning whether Thomson (even if the claims against him were true and they have been vigorously denied) had committed any crime at all despite the faux certitudes expressed by the Coalition’s supposedly erudite Oxford scholar George Brandis SC who over-reached by phoning the NSW Police Minister to lobby for a criminal investigation and appears to have got the law very substantially wrong despite holding himself out as a legal know-all. No wonder, Queensland conservatives think he’s no good. Fundamentally, expenses claims are not necessarily theft unless there’s a clear breach of guidelines and an intention to steal. If it were otherwise, we’d have plenty of empty ritzy restaurants and plenty of full jail-cells.
“Bottom line is a crime hasn’t been committed,” a senior police source told the Daily Tele.
Could a constantly-travelling union national secretary run up $100,000 unreceipted expenses over five years? Absolutely. Is it inconceivable people within the union – whoever they might be – could have stretched the concept of legitimate corporate hospitality to include hiring escorts? Sure. Is it necessarily a crime? That all depends on whether it was correctly approved. It doesn’t make it right, but that was never what this little fracas was about. It was about whether an MP had committed a crime and whether he’d therefore be ineligible to serve in Parliament and therefore his fragile minority government would break. That’s now clearly not going to happen.
While Thomson will be relieved, there’ll be little joy for the father-to-be. He’s taken the mother of all hidings. And all because of a letter sent by his successor’s lawyers which mysteriously found it’s way into Mark Davis’s hands.
There’s an emptiness left after dramas like these. A longing for justice even when there’s little chance that scores will ever be settled. Fires raged leaving ashes and in some cases a smouldering ruin.
His apparent nemesis successor Kathy Jackson – who was reportedly privately running Thomson and his allies down in the most sensational terms to many journalists during the furore – is a casualty of the affair too. After a nervous breakdown she is now in a psychiatric ward of a Melbourne hospital. Even writing that sentence gives us pause. Illness of whatever kind is a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. We don’t know Thomson. But we know Jackson well. And miss her friendship from simpler times. We’re not game to do what we wanted to do which is send her the biggest bunch of flowers VEXNEWS could afford with a picture of my beloved, sanity-preserving kind-eyed pooch (named after a great union leader turned great president – Ronnie) she and other homies gave me six long years ago but we pray for her happiness if not her victory.
Kathy Jackson is one of the toughest, bravest, most resilient and self-assured people we know and for her time at the HSU to end this way will fill her friends and foes alike with great shock and surprise. If she can’t make it, what hope is there for the rest of us? We hear she’s on the mend and wish more than anything that this be true. Nothing would make us happier than to hear of a new burst of outrage from her about VEXNEWS, her alternately least favourite or most favoured online publication.
There’ll be many victims of Jackson’s spectacular lashings who’ll be relieved she’s not around to crack the whip. News that she’s been replaced by an acting national secretary clearly closely aligned to Mike Williamson and the tone of the words used by Kathy’s partner suggests a new era beckons. Kathy has many foes. We spoke with many of them this week. We thought we’d find at least one person happy about the demise of their enemy. We haven’t yet. One person she really hates even cried when talking about old battles and the shock of hearing what happened. Hopefully this outbreak of decency can be infectious and can cause the “world peace” beauty contestants crave.
I remember mis-quoting to a barrister friend of mine the words of a philosophical Prussian called Friedrich who died of syphillis “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and he considered the proposition very carefully and said “you know, that’s complete bullshit.” What doesn’t kill you, in the big bad world he argued, can leave you hurt and bruised and broken. If you let it.
If it’s true Jackson entered into a coalition with the titan HSU NSW leader Mike Williamson at the time of the last contested union election and then betrayed him recently in what is apparently an internal power-play or some other unexplained act of aggression from her, it was inevitably going to end in tears.
The press has been keen to report that Jackson is the independent of the ALP person and Williamson the ALP insider. That’s not really true and I doubt their dispute had much if anything to do with the ALP at all. It seems to have been about control of the union itself.
From what we understand, Jackson was far more involved in day-to-day Victorian ALP matters than Williamson had ever been active within the NSW branch. Jackson’s lawyer and close mate – apparently on permanent retainer – barrister David Langmead regularly attends all Victorian ALP Disputes Tribunal matters involving members of what its foes argue is the extreme “Taliban” faction of the ALP which includes traditional foes the SDA and NUW. Some believe the union has even been paying Langmead to represent “Taliban” interests, although this is unconfirmed. Langmead’s involvement is a powerful indication of just how intimately involved in the internecine state Labor politics the HSU has been. Until recently, it’s been considered unusual to attend Disputes with legal counsel. Langmead is now a regular, defender of a varying roster of what their foes would describe as “branch-stackers,” “rorters” and “stand-over men.”
TITAN LEFT STANDING AND JUSTICE DONE
Within the union movement, Williamson is a highly regarded and serious figure, building up the NSW HSU into one of the most successful and quietly effective unions in the nation. By contrast, the Victorian HSU was without doubt Australia’s most dysfunctional union, for a time. Insiders say it’s stabilising now that Williamson’s steadying hand is on the wheel. The merger of the NSW and Victorian branches was a curious manoeuvre but will probably serve its members well if it can now move on from the error, the drama and self-indulgence of the past.
Some thought it odd we’d go out on a limb about the Craig Thomson matter. But we’re glad we did. Back your instincts. Stand by your principles. Quote Rumpole quoting Shakespeare. The quality of mercy and all that.
The truth is that in the eyes of the law, Craig Thomson did nothing wrong. He has now been cleared of a crime he did not commit. Justice has been done.
He had powerful enemies though. And perhaps unwisely got between punchy Tony Abbott and the shiny keys to the Lodge. A health hazard, indeed.
Did Thomson make mistakes? Sure, like Victorian Legislative Council Liberal government leader David Davis, he forgot to disclose a loan/gift from his party to help cover defamation-related legal bills. Not a hanging offence. All the other hysterical suggestions about him could all have an innocent explanation, one that it now appears the NSW Police have accepted.
Can he politically survive these mistakes? With such big swings against the government indicated in the current polls, he’ll struggle to hold his seat but will almost certainly be given another chance as the pre-selected ALP candidate.
A second chance. The Gillard government will be hoping for some of that second-chance love right now.
Like all of us, it has to earn it.
They have two years and a working majority in both houses to make a go of it.
They have a booming albeit two-speed economy, with the booming Aussie dollar booming so much it hurts. Unless you’re buying King-size sheets in a discount-outlet on the outskirts of Vegas.
They have the NBN. A nation-building project so vast, so important, that it’s almost enough reason on its own to keep feeding the ailing regime.
Mark our words, the next generations will look back at the fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure we’re building now and say “ah, OK, they spent some of that mining bubble’s proceeds on permanent communications infrastructure that helped keep this huge island continent competitive. Makes sense.”
And, yes, they’re taxing carbon as a local fix to a supposedly global problem that the global conference in Copenhagen failed to tackle despite apparently compelling scientific evidence mandating action. It’s self-evidently stupid to act unilaterally on this and if imposed here but not among our competitors will export our jobs to them. But what might slightly exceed its stupidity is Tony Abbott’s proposal to repeal the carbon tax after it’s imposed (and compensation distributed), also scrapping the market-based cap-and-trade system designed to “price” carbon, being proposed by Tony Abbott. Chances are he’ll never do it, maybe even never pursue it, despite looking like being elected on that basis. The cost and buying back permits issued under the emissions trading scheme could be massive. Once implemented, it will never be repealed. We doubt the Coalition will want to talk about that much.
And the government is doing some good things. They are amazingly still on track to surplus. They’re banning scarcely-disclosed kickbacks for financial planners when they invest client monies. A national disability insurance scheme promises an end to the shamefully Dickensian situation facing too many people with disabilities and their carers. The Malaysian solution, no matter what the inconsistent Chief Justice French and his high-horse High Court says, is a good idea and should be actively pursued by the government even if Greens and the Coalition vote it down. Let the nay-sayers own the consequences of failing to stop the boats.
The government needs to win more arguments. It is always so agonisingly defensive and reactive. It needs to take more risks. Put a bit of stick about, as that ‘House of Cards’ government whip said to camera.
They all say they worship Keating. I even saw him mobbed recently at an electorate office opening where true believers shoved books and momentos in his direction for an autograph. But who among the caucus has his sense of daring, adventure, aggression, mischief-making and killer-instinct? Frankly, we see much more of it in Abbott.
Labor stares an enormous defeat in the face. Accepting that as a highly likely possibility can be liberating, even refreshing.
We suspect many voters – or certainly enough voters – have made up their mind about this federal Labor government. They have truncated the normal political cycle and will in 2013 be facing their 1975, 1983, 1996 or 2007 election, long ahead of time.
But it’s in the recognition of that likely scenario that there’s opportunity.
If we were in government service, thankfully an unlikely prospect, we’d dust off Ros Kelly’s whiteboard and start brainstorming on the chemical high from those whiteboard markers a whole bunch of crazy stuff that could pass the strangely configured cross-bencher-Greens-party-veto Parliament and that would drive Abbott into a state of high anxiety:
■ Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Commission with those looney sweeping powers and Star-Chamber style public-hearings. Fully-funded in time for the election of a new Abbott government, just in time for Clive Palmer to fly down with some friendly requests about being allowed to flog a coal-mine or two to the various arms of the Chinese state. A CACC would be a bad-taste gift as foul as leaving a shovel outside a foe’s door.
■ Statutory ban on the appointment of ex-politicians, staffers, and political donors from the diplomatic service. Oh, the LOLs. Hey, if it’s good enough that former electorate officers can be banned from the board of the ABC, then this is a perfectly valid move, by comparison. At least there’d be a swing to Labor among the DFAT lefty-toffs who think all those appointments belong to them anyway.
■ A reduction in the number of lower-house MPs, back to the 125 of the pre-Hawke era and the commensurate reduction in the Senate. That way Stroganoff portions in the Parliamentary dining facilities could be expanded to just terms.
■ Scrapping a number of popular lurks and perks of upper-middle-class life, including the tax deductibility of “negative gearing” or one’s losses in financing assets, especially residential property. It’d almost certainly cause a crash in property prices but for those not owning that’s a good thing. Some of the cross-benchers might go for it although they’d probably draw the line at scrapping first home buyer’s grants and other market-distorting gimmicks that achieve nothing except announcement value for politicians. This wouldn’t be popular – when Keating did it, it nearly caused riots – but it’s certainly sound policy.
■ The sale of the Lodge and Kirribilli House. Mrs Abbott has all but measured the premises for new curtains so I’d sell them to Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer or perhaps most deviously to Therese Rein, who could afford to buy both.
■ Draconian bans not just on big political donations but also caps on campaign spending to introduce some Scandanavian style sobriety to our polling processes. Once passed, the Coalition would have a dreadful time trying to repeal them too. If candidates over-spent, there’d be an AEC-led jihad against them, public inquiries, printers summoned, leaflets carefully assessed, TV ads valued and prosecutions galore. A delightful farce.
■ Private jet/helicopter tax. Pointless and possibly destructive of a perfectly valid industry, to be sure, but good politics. Call it $1 million a year per jet/chopper. Only Sol Lew would weep.
■ A constitutional amendment enshrining a whole bunch of ACTU-approved workplace rights that would cause former IR advisers Mary Jo Fisher, Jamie Briggs and Ian Hanke to head to the supermarket, pig out or shave their head respectively. The referendum could be conducted at the same time as the election, just for a lark.
■ The outlawing of non-cattle-class travel by any politician/public servant or any other person using public funds.
■ While we’re amending the constitution, perhaps we’d throw in proposed provisions mandating an “independent speaker” too. Abbott would dread it but would probably not like to be seen to oppose it. Lock it in, Eddie.
Just to be clear, the only thing we actually support on that list is the scrapping of negative gearing. But we put those out there to share what some midnight musings could create in terms of terrorising the hyper-aggressive Tony Abbott. When was the last time the government wedged him? Instead he is constantly giving them wedgies in what has been – so far – a tour de force.
Lateral thinking. Crazy ideas. Political hand-grenades. We suggest them not as vote-switchers but as examples of what could be done to do unto Abbott what he so regularly does to the government. He’s always on the attack. Appears not to play by the rules. The truth is he’s a lot more cautious than he appears. Latham, he aint.
Which is why we think he’s quite a bit vulnerable to counter-aggression. At least our whiteboard agenda would add some spice to the sometimes dreary predictable government ghoulash. On a good number of these issues, he’d struggle to deal with them.
If we can dream up a few and tack them on to an article about Craig Thomson in violation of several known laws of journalism then presumably the Cabinet and some of their staff could get out their whiteboard markers and have a crack too.
There’s no-one as dangerous as those with nothing to lose.