It is an indictment on the entire profession of journalism in this country that the story of the year was broken by a blogger named MadWixxy. To summarise:
- Tony Abbott, when he was Workplace Relations Minister, appointed a guy called Michael Lawler to what is now Fair Work Australia (FWA), where he attained the position of Vice President (and because it isn't a merchant bank, the position of Vice President is actually a real position) ...
- Lawler and Abbott get along well, even though ...
- Lawler's partner is Kathy Jackson, head of the Health Services Union, who succeeded ...
- Craig Thomson in her current role, where ...
- Thomson's ally, and Jackson's ex-husband, was also accused (with seemingly solid proof) of having spent union money on what looks like highly self-indulgent expenses (prostitutes, meals etc.), but unlike Thomson he isn't an MP in a hung parliament so nothing has come of it ...
In 2009, Thomson sued Fairfax after it raised allegations about his behaviour with union money. Fairfax has since settled with Thomson, yet it has not shared with us the reasons why it did so. Thomson appears done for no matter what he does. He may as well tell the truth and let such legal action come what may, but he'll probably pull his punches and die wondering.
To get an idea of the conventional wisdom in the press gallery on this, you have to go straight to press gallery drone and Fairfax company-man Phillip Coorey:
In April 2009, Thomson's aspirations went pear-shaped when the Herald received a leak and published the allegations of credit card misuse, cash withdrawals and the use of union funds for electoral purposes.It's amazing that no reporter who covers industrial issues would have a look into the HSU. That leak could have been an opportunity to explore the whole Jackson-Lawler-Abbott nexus, but they squibbed it.
If Kevin Rudd had inquired about the suitability of preselecting Thomson for the 2010 election, he was assured by the NSW Right there was nothing to be worried about.If Coorey's experience in the press gallery was worth more than it is, he would have realised that this was the very period when the NSW Labor Right were plotting to get rid of him. As if they would give up one of their own to that prick!
Thomson was preselected again and on February 17, 2010, the local paper, the Central Coast Express Advocate, ran a piece clearing him of all allegations.Do I have to do the investigation myself?
The week before, the Australian Electoral Commission had cleared him of breaching the Electoral Act for not disclosing as donations the union money used to fund his campaign. It made the same finding again last week.
... The article concluded, without attribution, with two stunningly incorrect statements.
"Fair Work Australia, which was investigating the union's claim that Mr Thomson misused union money, has also said he was no longer under investigation."
And: "The union branch which made the initial allegations has gone into administration and a new executive has been appointed."
The first statement is attributed. It attributes to FWA the fact that he was not under investigation. Who knows what was going on inside FWA at the time? As with the NSW Police declining to investigate the HSU, then launching a highly publicised raid on their offices, it's clear that there is more to the question of an FWA investigation than Coorey will allow.
As to the second: the HSUeast branch, which is the focus of all the attention on this matter, was formed in 2010 from a combination of the union's NSW branch and the Victoria No. 1 branch. So, at the time Thomson gave his interview, he was right in making that statement.
Time for Thomson to ring his lawyers back and pump some more money out of Fairfax.
On August 21, 2010, in defiance of a national trend against Labor, Thomson romped home in Dobell with a swing towards him.First of all, Thomson didn't drop the action against Fairfax; they settled, which means that both sides agreed to "drop" it for consideration between themselves and Thomson not revealed to us.
Even though Labor was reduced to minority government, the opposition was still not interested in Thomson. By the end of 2010 and into early 2011, as uncomfortable details were beginning to emerge from the defamation hearing, Tony Abbott was fixated on the carbon tax.
The Liberal frontbencher and Victorian senator Michael Ronaldson pushed the issue and he ramped it up a year ago when Thomson dropped the action against Fairfax.
Second, Abbott should be called for playing a double game, attempting to take the high ground over this issue while shunting it off to his party's attack dog for the purposes of deniability.
By August last year, the shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, was warning colleagues to watch their public comments on the matter to avoid prejudicing any potential trial should action be launched.They are that desperate, and they know the press won't call them on it.
That, too, is no longer a concern for the opposition. Brandis recently stated Thomson, who has been charged with nothing yet, had committed crimes.
He was thinking of contending, as he has in the past, that Kathy Jackson, who succeeded him as the Health Services Union national secretary, destroyed the paperwork that would have accounted for the expenditure by Thomson during his five years at the union's helm.She would say that, wouldn't she. The fact that she says it is the starting point for further investigation, not the end as Coorey would have it. The fact that the Coalition have become unhinged the closer they get to victory is worth examination, and may tell you what they'd be like if they actually got into office.
If he does raise this, Jackson will deny it as she has in the past.
The opposition's position is already clear. It believes the civil findings of Fair Work Australia are a sufficient basis to drum Thomson out of Parliament, either temporarily or for good, thus bringing the minority government to a premature end.We come back to the central political question of this Parliament, and again Coorey's judgment bears examination here: how is Abbott going in persuading the independents to get on side? He has no words, because there are no words.
The independents are not so sure and the constitution most definitely is not.
More likely, there will be a censure against Thomson at most, a symbolic but ultimately benign gesture.After more than fifty failures to suspend standing orders, at what point does that gesture lose its symbolism? At what point do you blame the media for not actively looking into this "saga" and just waiting for various interested parties to drop things into their laps?
For the government, this saga, which could have been avoided years ago, will become a dull ache that will plague it until election day.
Thomson may be able to shift the media narrative onto FWA and the Jackson-Lawler-Abbott thing, but even if you leave the gate open the sheep won't necessarily run out. There is no reason why they should continue to run a five year old story other than sloth and butt-covering on their part. It is possible that a thorough investigation of FWA will increase pressure on the legislation that made it possible: legislation that was the crowning achievement of the current Prime Minister before her ascent to that office, legislation that goes to the core of what this government, and Labor, are about (if they can be said to be about anything at all).
There is more to this story, and of course the fact that Peter Wicks is ahead of people who fancy themselves as professional journalists is cause for the entire profession to rethink the way it works. Wicks has broken the story, give him the Gold Walkley or have it rendered as a sub-Logies joke. The fact that there is so much at stake should increase the pressure to broaden the scope of this story, not decrease it as the stress-bunnies would have it. Thomson may tell Parliament enough to force a reconsideration of his situation, or his words (and silences) may be hammered to fit a pre-existing narrative.
When Thomson rises at midday to give his much-anticipated statement to Parliament, what he says should not matter so much as the reaction he receives.Indeed it will, and those who do the reacting will be judged accordingly: can Fairfax be trusted to report this issue given that it is a participant? Will there be any follow-up on Heffernan, will Abbott refuse to accept his tainted vote, can a broadsheet newspaper focus on more than one issue ...