Craig Thomson was today found guilty by Fair Work Australia of illegally spending union funds on prostitutes and electioneering. FWA investigating officer Terry Nassios’ 1100 page report has completely dwarfed today’s budget in the nation’s media, where the opinion columns have been surprisingly chaste — the gory details are scandalous enough.
The report details Thomson’s $5793 spend on escort services, $103,000 in cash withdrawals he attempted to cover up, $250,000 on his campaign for election in Dobell, $73,000 tab for long lunches, not all of them for union business, and $1425 of HSU funds spent after having left the union altogether.
Thomson notched up $2475 at Sydney Escorts, a brothel run by a company called Keywed, in April 2005. The Australian took particular pleasure in reporting Thomson was attending the 2005 ALP National Conference when he spent another $418 at a Surry Hills brothel called Tiffany’s.
At issue were six credit cards issued to Thomson which had been used to pay for escorts. As the scandal has unfolded, Thomson has repeatedly claimed the cards were used fraudulently by others. In one case two union credit cards — a MasterCard and a Diner’s Club card — were used to pay at the same venue, leading Nassios to infer "If the transactions were all incurred by another person [as Mr Thomson had suggested], that person must have been able to transact on both cards".
It would be appropriate, given the evidence, to make "an inference that it was Mr Thomson who used his own credit cards to make these transactions," Nassios concludes.
Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten is already in damage control mode, describing the 181 breaches of the Fair Work Act as "disturbing" and the investigation’s three-year duration as too slow.
"The volume of the findings is concerning, and under no set of circumstances can some of the issues which have been reported be tolerated in the union movement or indeed in the ranks of employers. The procurement of escort services using union members’ money is unacceptable. Corruption is unacceptable," he said.
He proposed new powers for Fair Work Australia to investigate unions, to be floated at the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council later this month.
The Age’s Political Editor Michelle Grattan approves of Shorten’s proposed new powers, but says it’s too little, too late for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whom she has previously urged to resign over the Thomson and Slipper scandals:
"…the government would be in a much better position if it had unveiled them long ago, when it became clear how appalling things were in the HSU. Just as Julia Gillard would be on stronger ground if she had banished Craig Thomson to the crossbenches much earlier."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has continued to argue that Thomson’s vote in the House of Representative is "tainted", and repeated calls for the Member for Dobell to resign.
"I think that the best thing Craig Thomson could now do would be for him to leave parliament and let someone else represent the people of Dobell," he told Sydney talkback radio station 2UE.
"Look, it is a disgrace, it is an embarrassment to the Labor Party which spawned and nurtured and protected this person and it’s a disgrace to public morality that this has happened."
Although the government has banished Thomson to the crossbenches, they continue to rely on his vote to retain government. Both Shorten and Finance Minister Penny Wong have today defended Thomson’s right to defend himself and retain his parliamentary seat if he so chooses.
Thomson shouldn’t expect any respite now that the report’s been released — the findings have spawned new investigations and bolstered others currently in process. FWA has referred Thomson’s breaches to the Federal Court of Australia for civil action, the Victorian and NSW Police are conducting criminal investigations into the HSU, and the use of union funds for electoral purposes may be investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission.
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