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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2437

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (13:49): Today I will detail how the member for Dobell, Mr Thomson, has pursued a personal and political vendetta at the expense of unemployed young people on the Central Coast. For months now media focus has been on Mr Thomson's alleged crimes and misconduct as former HSU boss. Meanwhile, in the hope that she can make it to the next election, the Prime Minister has clung steadfastly to the line that Mr Thomson is a good local member. Sadly, especially for unemployed young people on the New South Wales Central Coast, this is completely untrue.

Since August last year I have repeatedly raised the sad and story saga of the promised youth skills and employment centre or jobs incubator in Wyong, some of which was traversed on the 7.30 program yesterday evening. This is a grubby tale of broken promises, of personal favours being sought, of threats and political thuggery, with young job seekers being the pawns.

Last August, using the FOI Act, I sought copies of documents regarding the jobs incubator, including representations by Mr Thomson. Eventually, I received 44 folios, mostly of blank pages. Key parts were deemed conditionally exempt because they traversed business or professional affairs. Pertinently, the decision maker noted that certain such sections contained unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct or unlawful, negligent or improper conduct but ruled that there was more public interest in nondisclosure than disclosure.

The FOI documents showed that on 20 May 2009 Mr Thomson wrote to Minister O'Connor supporting Central Coast Training Group's proposal for a new centre. I also have a copy of a glowing 'To whom it may concern' letter of support dated 20 May 2009, outlining the escalating trends of youth unemployment—22 per cent in 2000 to 2008 but now 36 per cent, Mr Thomson says—and that this was an innovative proposal by CCGT that had the support of Wyong council.

An ALP statement during the 2010 federal election campaign by Minister Albanese and Mr Thomson dated 20 July promised:

The Gillard Labor Government will provide $2.7 million to build a new Youth Skills and Employment Centre in Wyong on the Central Coast.

The event was recorded by the local media, complete with a cake and smiles all round, at the offices of CCGT but then comes the rub: in March 2011, at the same time as CCGT were seeking the federal funding for the promised centre, Mr Thomson lobbied them for a job for his ex-wife. An email to CCGT from his aph account reads:

Hi Alison, here is Christa's resume as discussed. I will get her to call you on … Regards, Craig Thomson.

When things did not go his way, he got nasty and started making threats. On 13 July 2011 there was a motion before Wyong council about the Warnervale GP Superclinic and criticisms that after four years the project had become a fiasco. Not only was it delayed but also it would now only be a quarter of what was originally promised. Councillor Greg Best, who is also the CEO of CCGT, spoke about the motion on local radio on 15 July. Following his interview, at 06:10 that morning, Councillor Best received the following threatening text message: 'bye-bye jobs incubator'. Councillor Best replied, 'Craig, this morning's radio grabs on the GP super clinic were not attacking you. You have got it wrong and to take it out on CCGT's incubator is plain unfair. You know how much work we have put into it for the kids. Am happy to discuss, Greg.'

Lo and behold, we know now that a few days later Mr Thomson wrote to Minister Garrett. A short extract from one of the otherwise blank folios provided under FOI states that on 20 July 2011:

Mr Craig Thomson MP wrote to Minister Garrett raising concerns about interaction between … and DEEWR.

I have no doubt that Mr Thomson's alleged concerns were the unsubstantiated allega­tions of unlawful, negligent or improper conduct, which were exempted from my FOI request, which he made against CCGT out of sheer spite. Strangely, DEEWR then extended the deadline twice for applications, and Wyong council lodged its own application. How did these extensions occur? Was there any interference with proper processes? Of course there was. Why? So that Wyong council could lodge its own application, independent of CCGT, which it did on 22 August at 10:20 pm, hours after the closing time. This application of some 10 pages did not comply with the guidelines, but was also rejected as noncompliant, principally, because it did not involve CCGT as per the government's election promise.

Undeterred, Mr Thomson has now again taken matters into his own hands. An audio recording which I obtained from Wyong council of its meeting the 22 February 2012 reveals that Mr Thomson had rung his mate Wyong Mayor, Bob Graham, and also contacted ALP councillors urging them to reject DEEWR's position that the jobs incubator should be a joint project. Extraordinarily, the audio reveals Mr Thomson told them he would meet with two ministers in Canberra the following week and get the guidelines changed to allow Wyong council to proceed alone and not in partnership with CCGT as per the election commitment. In a briefing earlier that day, ALP councillor Matthews apparently outlined Mr Thomson's proposition that would also enable council to get a five-month extension to resubmit its application and get the $2.7 million, a process described by the general manager at that meeting as 'highly irregular'. We do not know if those meetings with ministers occurred. If they did, there are certainly some serious questions this government has to answer. It is clearly an interference with proper processes.

Then, on 9 March 2012, Mr Thomson cynically issued a press release professing to support the joint CCGT-council proposal publicly, trying to fool people that he was supporting it while behind the scenes for months and months he had been trying to kill it off. Despite council staff recommending the go-ahead, the ALP-Greens majority with Mayor Graham in tow voted down the partnership between Wyong council and CCGT at its meeting on 14 March with ALP Councillor Matthews telling all about her phone call the night before with Mr Thomson. This was clearly an attempt to interfere with proper processes. A recision motion has been lodged and I would urge Wyong council to cut the scheming member for Dobell loose, to think about the high youth unemployment on the Central Coast and to get on with doing something about it.

On 15 March I lodged an order for the production of documents, which is returnable today. I am seeking all documents pertaining to the unsubstantiated allegations made by Mr Thomson to Minister Garrett or to Minister O'Connor regarding CCGT. Given the stench that surrounds this matter, clearly the balance of public interest demands that these documents be released immediately and be released in an unredacted form. In the interests of transparency and proper conduct by parliamentarians, the full record of Mr Thomson's conduct should be available on the public record. If this government has got nothing to hide, then this government will release those documents and stop protecting the member for Dobell.