GAME CHANGER: HSU boss Kathy Jackson appears to drop Craig Thomson and the ALP right in it

KathyjacksonThe HSU national secretary Kathy Jackson, with insiders saying she was left with little choice, appears to have made a “referral” to the NSW Police that will continue the difficulties faced by her predecessor Craig Thomson.

It was an effort sufficient to prompt lavish praise from principal Thomson-hunter 2UE’s Michael Smith in an interview today who congratulated her for her “moral fibre” and expressed “tremendous admiration” for her as she said she wasn’t interested in defending the ALP “now or ever.” Jackson, of course, is a prominent member of the Labor Party and, indeed, is a member of the Victorian branch’s board of directors, its Administrative Committee so her remarks will cause raised eyebrows among a few comrades.

When Smith – an ex-cop – told Jackson he was “inspired to aim a little higher” by her example, I thought it was possible he could then play the Bette Middler track “Wind beneath my wings” as a little tribute to her heroism. It is well worthwhile listening to the whole interview.

Many in Labor circles expected the union had long since settled any outstanding matters related to Thomson’s reign and the contentious issues that surrounded internal disputes in the occasionally toxic Health Services Union.

The Police don’t usually pursue theft investigations unless the supposed victim complains. Very few expected the HSU to make any complaint, although the language Jackson used was “referral.”

Those within the union have told VEXNEWS they worry the matter will not just damage the Labor government but further damage the good name of the union and officials, if public and law enforcement scrutiny of Thomson spreads wider.

Jackson’s own enemies, defeated by her forces in union elections last year, say she could potentially face serious issues herself. We doubt that, but it’s certainly being talked about in union circles today.

While many in Canberra were fuming at Jackson’s decision, union insiders said that in their view she had little choice but to be seen to take action. Whether Thomson, and the Labor government he serves, are the only victims remains to be seen.

Kathy Jackson unkindly depicted in Daily Telegraph toon

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MARRIED TO THE MOB: Abbott urges Gillard to "make an honest woman of herself"

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, riding high in the polls due to concerns over the unilateral imposition of a tax on carbon emissions, has used an expression while addressing the “No Confidence Convoy” protest against the government that is a clear reference to her unmarried status.

The Canberra Times reports he said:

“I am giving the Prime Minister an opportunity to redeem herself. I am giving the Prime Minister an opportunity to make an honest woman of herself … to overcome the honesty deficit that she currently displays.”

The Cambridge Idioms dictionary explains:

make an honest woman of somebody (humorous)
if a man makes an honest woman of someone that he is having a relationship with, he marries her You’ve been living with Jean for five years, isn’t it time you made an honest woman of her?

And Wiktionary:

to make an honest woman
(idiomatic, informal, now, usually with “of”) To marry (a woman), especially if she is having a sexual relationship.
I thought about just asking Rosalyn to move in with me, but I decided it was time to make an honest woman out of her.

Perhaps this was a Freudian slip by Abbott but in the context of personal sledging in Parliament House corridors by Chris Pyne and Joe Hockey, it does suggest that the Coalition is deliberately targeting the PM in a strongly personal way.

It’s an awkward and somewhat old-fashioned expression, at best. Speaking to protest gatherings full of enthusiastic people can often provoke excitable remarks from those roped in to addressing them.

Given how far the Coalition is ahead in the polls, the heavily personal tactics are a perplexing and gratuitous approach from which they cannot gain, in our view.

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A SLEDGE TOO FAR: Bullying the PM in Canberra's corridors not a good look for Pyne & Hockey

pynehockeyThe revelations in Phil Coorey’s column that the Coalition’s own Laurel & Hardy Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey had engaged in corridor sledging of the Prime Minister in Parliament House don’t reflect well on either of them.

He wrote:

It was raining heavily in Canberra on Wednesday so, after question time, Julia Gillard walked the corridors back to her office rather than cut across a courtyard as she usually does.

As she strolled past opposition MPs’ offices, Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey, like two schoolyard ne’er-do-wells, trailed about 10 paces behind, heckling. Hockey was bellowing the Engelbert Humperdinck lyrics: “Please release me, let me go, ’cause I don’t love you any more …” Pyne, doing his best to affect a menacing gravitas, was taunting repeatedly: “You’re drowning Julia, not waving, you’re drowning.”

By any measure, it was disrespectful behaviour towards a prime minister but Gillard, whose government has plumbed record depths in unpopularity, is getting used to such treatment and ignored her tormenters.

VEXNEWS has learned that this was not an isolated incident and while the PM is apparently unfazed by it (a background in student politics and in representing various union rough-heads probably made Pyne/Hockey’s efforts seem rather limp) it is not smart politics by Hockey and Pyne.

Parliament House sources say these antics – directed at the nation’s first female PM – usually flare up when the Coalition has had a bad day in the chamber. That itself is rather damning as it reveals the behaviour is not even a political tactic so much as a venting of frustration and rage.

It seems unlikely the leaders of many nations would be subjected to this kind of thing. President Obama, while attacked by some as foreign-born, the Devil and an over-enthusiastic leisure-time seeker, is unlikely to be heckled by even the loopiest members of the US Congress in private in the stupid way of Pyne & Hockey.

Politics at its best is passionate. But the Coalition’s lesser performers – perhaps inspired by their hyper-aggressive and highly effective leader – rarely seem to get the tone right.

Hockey has more identity issues than a schizophenia convention.

Desperate to be loved, and naturally apparently a conflict-averse chap, he plays out of position when he tries to be the tough-guy.

His recent muscling-up on fiscal policy, where he apparently leaked against himself plans to make $70 billion on spending cuts, was calculated to make him look like the tough-guy.

Instead, most of his colleagues immediately knew he’d done it and instantly knew why. He was desperate to assert his fiscal manhood. Even if it set a trap for the Coalition at the next election where one of Labor’s best cards to play is talk up the consequences of cuts to services etc. A high price to pay for Hockey trying to pretend to be something other than what he is: a nice bloke who is probably not a natural Shadow Treasurer/Treasurer.

That job needs a tough-guy, not a nice bloke.

And there’s one big b*stard just waiting for the call. Malcolm Turnbull.

While his political ineptitude as Leader scaled new heights of folly, it did reveal his Keating-style determination to get his own way.

And that’s the quality successful Treasurers need to have. Strong communications skills but also an unreasonable level of self-belief. Turnbull certainly has it. Hockey doesn’t and never will.

Abbott is a risk-taker in external politics but is reputedly very risk-averse in the management of his colleagues. But he’d go a long way to sealing the deal on his election if he boned the nice-guy Hockey and put up Turnbull in the Treasury role.

It would be a self-confident move that would send a strong message to the business community that occasionally wonders about the statist reputation of Tony Abbott who loudly opposed pretty much every economic reform ever discussed in his time in the Howard cabinet.

The broader truth that to be effective in any area of human activity you’ve got to play to your strengths, and be true to yourself. The only effective muscling up we’ve ever seen Hockey do is on the Rugby Union field. He’d be well advised to leave it there.

We’ve left out Pyne from this analysis because Coorey pretty much said it all:

Pyne, doing his best to affect a menacing gravitas…

If everyone else around you is laughing, and you’re not sure why, then you can reasonably surmise that you are, in fact, the joke.

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SCREWED POLITICS: Thrill-kills fill public life with noise but no light

What do Labor MP Craig Thomson, former Labor Senator Graham Richardson, Liberal Victorian Legislative Council government leader David Davis, Liberal newbie MP Michael Gidley and Liberal Senator Mary-Jo Fisher have in common?

All of these politicians have been accused of serious wrongdoing.

In Thomson’s case, he’s been caught up in a bizarre and hysterical campaign of vilification about his supposed improprieties while serving as national secretary of the occasionally toxic Health Services Union.

The alleged improprieties relate to events as long as six years ago.

They arose as a result of claims made by the current national secretary of the union, Kathy Jackson, against her predecessor. Jackson didn’t like him very much, and is notoriously vigorous in her loves and hates, even declining to speak with Thomson when occasionally sharing a union elevator, according to well-placed sources.

Jackson was motivated to make her claims by a genuine dislike of the bloke and perhaps an equal dislike of her own foes within the HSU accusing her own allies (including her then husband) of similar things.

She was not to know that years later the accusation would come to haunt Thomson and potentially destroy the Labor government she strongly supports.

It is widely assumed that when Thomson refers to someone paying back monies to the union in relation to those improprieties that he is referring to Kathy’s then husband.

There’s certainly a puzzling aspect to the whole affair which is that even though Thomson and Jackson’s then husband were not really mates at all they were both accused of using the services of Keywed Pty Ltd, which presented as a restaurant on the receipt but was later discovered to be used by sex workers.

We presume there is not one big company employing the ho’s of Melbourne and Sydney. It appears to be a highly competitive market, with low barriers to entry, if you’ll forgive the expression.

So it’s certainly puzzling that they happened to use the same company. Or appear to have. Perhaps a coincidence but a weird one. Quite possibly an exculpatory one for Thomson. But in the raucous killing-spree atmosphere that our politics can easily become, innocent explanations often fall on deaf ears.

Our next target of slagging is Graham Richardson. We must concede we grew up admiring Richo in the same way we grew up revering Essendon legend Tim Watson. Our view is a little more nuanced these days. Playing footsie with the Greens as he advocated was probably not the smartest thing Labor ever did. Chopping down elected Premiers was not exactly brilliance personified either.

Richo has now become a political commentator and is always interesting and well-grounded in his views.

A victim of quite spectacular scandal sagas himself, one of them relating to the provision of sex workers at the Sea World Nara Resort back in the days when he was a federal minister. It was never suggested he’d paid for them though. It was – as we say in Vegas – “comped” in circumstances later deemed unrelated to the exercise of his public duties.

So when he called Craig Thomson stupid for using credit cards (union-paid ones at that), his criticism might have been more limited and specific than it appeared.

He did point out one obvious truth though which is that failing Police charges against Thomson, he’s not going anywhere.

Coalition hysteria about it, that they can seize office in a smash-and-grab operation without an election, seems to be a constant refrain from some of them who should know better.

I don’t get it.

They are likely to win the next election, far more likely than not.

They lost the last election, to be fair, mostly due to some shrewd local campaigning from Sussex Street in NSW marginals that Labor probably should have lost. And, of course, the occasionally fragmented NSW Liberals ought to have been better organised to win.

The desperate desire to get into government can start to look a bit unseemly. The Coalition has a history of near own-goals in this territory. They nearly made the unelectable Whitlam government into martyrs for democracy with Senate antics in 1975 and in Victoria in 1992 got Labor its first good press in years when then Opposition Leader Jeff Kennett threatened to confiscate Labor MP’s superannuation if they didn’t have an early election.

Questioning the legitimacy of one’s opponent’s election belongs in Banana Republics and among the once chad-obsessed far-left of American politics, it usually backfires here.

The doctrine to which we subscribe is that the voters are always right. It’s very risky politics implying otherwise. It’s also something of an insult to the democratic system practically every Australian says they support.

The Coalition must know what we know which is if the HSU has internally resolved the matter of monies being taken from it improperly and they are not willing to make complaints to the authorities then the matter will go nowhere. There is no theft – in practical terms – if there’s no victim complaining of it.

George Brandis SC is a highly experienced lawyer and would know this.

That’s why the faux excitement about Thomson resigning out of shame or being forced out (by some unexplained mechanism) or being prosecuted and then convicted and then punted all prior to 2013 does seem silly.

It’s not going to happen.

The worst thing Thomson has fessed up to is failing to disclose that the ALP gave/lent him some money to compensate them for some of the expenses incurred in suing Fairfax for making the lurid claims against him in the first place. It was a good get by the Daily Telegraph which has taken what was a Fairfax yarn and made it their own.

This is a lapse but hardly warranting his removal as an MP.

Which brings us to Victorian cabinet minister David Davis. Davis is regarded by both sides of politics as a bit of an ass and that came into stark relief when former Labor state secretary and campaign mastermind Stephen Newnham wrote him a niggling letter, winding him up about something everything has now forgotten about. Davis’s response was a nasty sh*t-sheet in press release form accusing Newnham of various imagined high crimes and misdemeanours. None of it was true.

None of it was said under parliamentary privilege.

Newnham, almost as if he’d planned it all along, then sued him in the lead-up to the last state election. Davis was caught dead to rights and, after much expensive legal manoeuvring, settled.

It was a confidential settlement but it is understand that it cost over $100K and that much of the money was provided by the Liberal Party.

Davis didn’t disclose it.

There was a mild kerfuffle about his failure to do so but he stayed on as a minister and as an MP, somewhat easier work than his previous gig of chiropractor where he was forever rubbing the tennis elbows of the ladies of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

To use Tony Abbott’s description of Craig Thomson, he is most certainly a “protected species” of the Baillieu government.

His omission – like Thomson’s – was unfortunate but nowhere near enough to justify his sacking.

And then there’s Michael Gidley MP, the newly elected Victorian Liberal MP accused of intimidating a couple of ALP staffers, one a young woman, at Parliament station.

It’s the cover-up that can kill you with Gidley’s denial in Parliament causing him considerable hassle now.

Fiona Richardson, the shadow transport minister, who employs the staffers, was at her most lethal and chilling in the chamber this week, calling for Gidley to be referred to the Privileges committee for deceiving the house.

The motion succeeded and is apparently the first time in twenty years such a thing has happened.

Gidley will ultimately get off pretty lightly in terms of the Privileges committee although what looked particularly unusual was the occasionally partisan Liberal Speaker Ken Smith seeming to cheer on Richardson’s remarks and give the impression he didn’t like the talented Mr Gidley one bit.

It’s well worth having a look at the Hansard.

VEXNEWS hears on the grapevine that Gidley might have another potential storm-cloud on the horizon with a QC already interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence for a potential civil suit against the MP. The tort of assault is being considered. Gidley is also thought to be concerned about the prospect of closed-circuit vision of his excitable antics becoming publicly available as a result of the judicial process too.

Gidley has a fair bit of sweating to do and has already paid a high price for losing his cool and – unthinkingy perhaps – throwing his weight around with a young lady considerably smaller than he.

Last of all is Senator Mary-Jo Fisher.

Unlike those chaps, she’s actually been charged with criminal offences relating to alleged shoplifting and assault.

However, the word is that she’s suffered from depressive illness and has had many personal challenges to deal with. These will come out in court and she’ll get off pretty lightly as many others would in a similar situation.

So what do Fisher, Gidley, Davis, Richardson and Thomson all have in common?

They are all a powerful reminder of the high price those in public life pay for the privilege of serving.

They are judged by harsh standards.

Their right to privacy is checked in at the front door of the Parliament.

None of them are villains of the most perfidious kind while all have done things they might regret.

With very rare exceptions that prove the rule, we’re generally very lucky to be as well represented as we are in this country.

VEXNEWS – in pursuit of a yarn – is not known for its subtlety or caution. But our years of reporting on politics and its practitioners persuades me that mostly we are blessed by honest, decent, committed and hard-working people who’ve bravely put up their hands, motivated by a mix of a desire to do good, maybe a desire also to be noticed and to change the world while doing so.

In some of the reporting around politics, you could easily reach a contrary view.

Wrongdoing ought meet justice but it also should be kept in proportion.

The Lord of the Flies “kill the pig” moments that hurt many in public life eventually don’t do much to improve our democracy or the way we live.

For those in the game who occasionally see a moving red-light target on their shirt, there’s nothing to do but to “stay frosty,” keep focused on what motivated an interest in public life in the first place and follow the sage advice that when going through Hell, just keep going.

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BUBBLY: Tim Flannery has much to celebrate

While the environment apparently faces imminent destruction, the global economy is in trouble and politics seems combative and unpleasant as rarely before, none of that is slowing the nation’s well-paid Climate Czar Tim Flannery down.

The former Austraylian of the Year has just been sighted by a member of the VEXNEWS Investigations Unit enjoying a quiet champagne or two in the Canberra Qantas Club before embarking on a Thursday escape flight from the nation’s capital.

Chairman’s Lounge membership – currently enjoyed by vocal Qantas critics Nick Xenophon, Bob Katter, Sarah Hanson-Young and Dr Adam Bandt PhD (Marx) – has not yet been provided to Mr Flannery but we’re sure this honour is just a matter of time.

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DUFFERS: "Charity worker" who had spat with MP is $400-an-hour spin-doctor for pokies

Federal MP Craig Thomson has had a dreadful time of it lately, still living down his tenure at the sometimes toxic Health Services Union, and becoming a target of the ferociously feisty Daily Telegraph.

Ex Tele-editor and student-leftist David Penbethy asserted today:

Thomson is accused of starting a slanging match at the weekend with a female member of one of the most benign organisations on the face of the earth, the Salvation Army. It’s about as classy as getting into a fight with a nun. Thomson was attending a protest meeting against poker machine reform on the Central Coast on Saturday night, after which he clashed with its moderator, Salvation Army worker Louise Duff.

The only trouble with that is that Louise Duff is not a nun and nor is she a “Salvation Army worker.” Some dispute she is a member of the organisation at all. She is the chair of one of the committees that helps with Salvo’s annual fundraising drive for the central coast area. Kudos to her for that but it doesn’t make her a Salvo any more than my regular attendance at Essendon matches makes me centre-half-forward.

The VEXNEWS Investigations Unit can reveal that Duff is in fact a $400-an-hour spin-doctor for a highly successful central coast PR company “Brilliant Logic”.

In fact, she’s the owner and managing director of the PR and marketing firm.

Her site boasts she is “comfortable negotiating seven-figure sponsorships from multi-national organisations”. Her client roster includes the Sydney Roosters, NSW government departments, financial services companies and even the Country Music Association.

Contrary to a misleading impression that Ms Duff has allowed to be created, at the event where Thomson had a go at her, she wasn’t moderating a community function out of any sense of charity. VEXNEWS has learned it was a paying gig, paid for by the organisation representing pubs and clubs who are rightly concerned about federal government meddling with pokies machines. Nothing wrong with taking a lobby group’s money but it ought to be disclosed and Duff has not done that in any reporting we’ve seen on the mini-saga.

And in so doing she appears to have duped even the savviest of scribes, Penbo.

It’s a sleazy effort of the kind that could give the PR racket a bad name.

Yes, Duff is involved with the Salvo’s by doing pro bono PR work for them and has agreed to “chair” the Salvo’s local annual fundraising appeal but calling her a tamberine-tapping charity worker is like calling Bill Gates Mother Teresa.

She should have made that very clear when she had the opportunity.

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RUMOURS: Vic Labor deputy leader Rob Hulls quitting Parliament?

There is as yet unconfirmed talk around Spring Street this afternoon that former Labor Deputy Premier Rob Hulls is going to quit his deputy leadership position and his seat of Niddrie, which would cause a by-election.

He qualifies for his superannuation, it’s thought, during September so some think he might have been waiting for that.

Developing…

UPDATE: A rumour spread far and wide but is vigorously denied, in fact Hulls chaired a shadow cabinet meeting today and is telling chums he’s quite enjoying Opposition.

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