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.