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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 4654

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (13:28): I would like to follow up my comments on 15 June this year in this chamber and also follow up the comments of Senator Brandis in relation to the Craig Thomson matter. Honourable senators will know, from my contribution last time around, that I referred to the use of Mr Thomson's mobile phone to ring an escort agency and said that his credit card was used to pay for the services of an escort and also that his licence number was on the credit card slip. But a new piece of information, which has come to light courtesy of Michael Smith from 2UE, is I think probably the most damning indictment yet of this succession of evidence that we are seeing in relation to Mr Thomson and Mr Thomson's veracity in relation to this matter. I will read out this from Mr Smith's blog on 2UE:

I just rang the number that appears on Craig Thomson’s mobile phone records on the night that the $2,475 was paid to Keywed Pty Ltd, trading as Sydney Room Service escort agency.

The phone was answered “Sydney Room Service.”

I said “I’m Michael Smith, I’m from 2UE and we’re doing a story on the use of credit cards for escort services. Can you tell if your clients need to show any further ID if they pay for your services with a credit card?”

The lady who didn’t want her name used said, “Yeah, if you pay with a credit card you must produce photographic ID.

I repeat that:

... if you pay with a credit card you must produce photographic ID.

It goes on:

That’s a standard practice throughout the industry.”

I said, “Are your staff instructed to check the photographic ID against the face of the person in front of them, the person who signs the credit card voucher?”

She said, “Yes, absolutely. They know that if that’s not done they don’t get paid. It happens 100% of the time.”

She explained to me that it had been standard practice for years and that driver’s licence numbers were also recorded on the back of the vouchers for further proof.

This will again explain why Mr Thomson's licence number was taken down and appeared on the back of the credit card slip. So we have again proof that it was Mr Thomson's mobile phone which rang the escort agency and also that it was his credit card and his licence number and now further proof, from the same escort agency, the Sydney Room Service escort agency, that no-one uses a credit card in that establishment unless they produce photographic identity, which is actually compared with the person standing in front of them, and their licence number is then written on the back as further proof.

On 15 June I said that the Prime Minister at that stage should do the right thing and seek this man's resignation. Clearly, as I thought might happen, the Australian Labor Party started to close ranks and within the last 24 hours we have now had further evidence of the extent to which the Australian Labor Party, the Prime Minister, senior cabinet ministers and backbenchers are closing ranks in relation to Mr Thomson. The remarkable allegation is that Mr Thomson's legal fees are being paid by the union movement, by rank and file trade union members, by the people who clean this country's hospitals and who are members of the Health Services Union and who have already complained to Michael Smith about the abuse of these funds. They were their funds. It has also been alleged that nearly $200,000 went towards Fairfax's costs in relation to a defamation case. So we have got loans and we have got payment of legal fees! This is the Australian Labor Party, led by the Prime Minister of this country, which is now closing ranks in relation to this man. And we know that, following this loan, the only thing standing between Craig Thomson and bankruptcy is the Australian Labor Party, with loans and payments being made, and we know the only thing standing between Craig Thomson and section 44 of the Constitution is the payments by the Australian Labor Party because if he were a bankrupt he would no longer be entitled to be a member of this place, this Australian parliament. That is the only thing standing between Mr Thomson and his rightful ejection as an elected representative of this country.

Senator Brandis has already referred to the fact that, remarkably, in the last 24 hours Mr Thomson has updated his entry in the Register of Members' Interests. Now every single person in this chamber, and I have no reason to assume that it is any different in the other place, knows full well what their obligations are, and indeed they are reminded by the clerks about what their obligations are—and I am sure there are people like me who spent 29 June going through and making sure that form was lodged by 1 July, to ensure that we complied with the requirements.

I want to quickly go back over some of the history but not at great length because I do not have the time to do that. We know that Craig Thomson lived the high life on the back of union credit cards. We know that he got cash advances and we know that he got payments for escorts, overseas trips and funds spent on his own election campaign and that, when Kathy Jackson from the HSU came in and took over as national secretary, she saw the extent of the rorting that had been going on and she herself reported this matter to Fair Work Australia. Not me, not anyone from the coalition but Kathy Jackson from the HSU referred this behaviour to Fair Work Australia for them to investigate. They are still investigating and if I have time I will refer to that later on. But, clearly, from the evidence that has come to light the boys club culture which oversees and owns the Australian Labor Party has closed ranks; indeed, even in the face of these most serious allegations they have closed them. I suppose, given the responses of the Prime Minister in the last 24 hours, Craig Thomson is entitled to think that what has happened is absolutely going to continue. And, given events to date, it would seem that Thomson is right if he is going to rely on the Australian Labor Party to cover this up.

I will talk briefly about the Mark Davis article on 9 April 2009 in the Sydney Morning Herald that Thomson withdrew $101,533 in cash advances during his time as the national secretary, with the allegation that $104,000 of union funds, which were not properly disclosed, were also used as a result. I have discussed the records that were there before. I want to turn to an event that occurred on 6 June this year concerning Mr Thomson. This was a man who had sued Fairfax for defamation and virtually on the door of the court on 6 June he withdrew these proceedings—and, of course, that begs the question as to why that might have happened. For ordinary Australians, one of the reasons for him withdrawing might have been that he had no money. We know from evidence that has been put forward in the last 24 hours that he had as much money as he wanted from the Australian Labor Party. So the reason for pulling out could not have been the fact that he could not fund the case. The only sensible and rational explanation for him withdrawing virtually at the door of the court was that he was advised by his legal advisers that he could not win this case. That is the only reasonable assumption to be taken from this, given everything that has happened. Also, given Mr Thomson's complete denials of the allegations against him, he had an opportunity, which every Australian citizen has, to have his peers judge his evidence in relation to this matter, and he chose not to do so. Every single person who is listening today, every person who is reading this transcript and every person who is now taking a keen interest in this issue will ask the very same question: why did Mr Thomson withdraw?

Senator Brandis has referred to some of the discussions that took place with Michael Smith, and I will not go through them. What I want to do now is talk about the Prime Minister and her response. The only response that we have had from the Prime Minister—and Senator Brandis read this into the Hansard, and I will do the same—is:

I have complete confidence in the member for Dobell. I look forward to him continuing to do that job for a very, long, long, long time to come.

Steve Lewis from News Ltd went to the Prime Minister two days ago and asked her whether she had had conversations with Mr Thomson in relation to this matter. Remark­ably, the response was that she had not had detailed conversations with this man. This matter has been going on for in excess of two years and the Prime Minister of this country, who continues to use wafer-thin excuses to maintain her wafer-thin majority, has refused to speak to this man in detail about the allegations against him. So is this a Prime Minister who does not care to inform herself of the circumstances surrounding this case because she will protect Mr Thomson regardless; or is it that, if she had those discussions with him, she would have no choice but to act? They can be the only two scenarios which would explain her failure to do so.

The other information that has been put forward recently is that of the so-called handwriting expert, which Mr Thomson himself engaged to look at these credit card slips and his signature. Not once have we heard about this from Mr Thomson, despite his vehement denials about the allegations. A letter that he sent to colleagues, which I have seen, says that these allegations against him are false. Not once have we heard about the handwriting expert. He withdrew from the case—a case he had run with great vigour and at enormous expense. When he had the chance to put the handwriting expert on the stand to prove that this was not his signature, what happened? He squibbed it and pulled out. Again, you can only answer that question with one answer: he refused to put that handwriting expert on the stand because the handwriting expert refused to support his new allegations that someone else was involved in this. As Senator Brandis said, if you have got someone who picked up your credit card and your mobile phone and went and passed themselves off as you at a brothel, it beggars belief that this matter would not have been reported to the authorities, that we would not have heard something about this mystery man repaying $15,000 when it was Mr Thomson who actually authorised those payments and saw the signatures on the credit card. If his evidence is correct, he must have known at that stage that that was not him. We have not heard one single word about this latest excuse for the lies that have been told in relation to this matter.

I just want to talk briefly about some of the investigations that are still underway. Fair Work Australia is investigating this matter on behalf of the Health Services Union. The HSU asked Fair Work to do that. What we want to know is whether Fair Work Australia will be investigating the recent breaches which we have heard about in relation to Mr Thomson's conduct. The AEC now has further evidence about Mr Thomson's claim that no union funds were put into the Coastal Voice—and my colleag¬≠ue Senator Fierravanti-Wells knows all about this, particularly after last Sunday. Money was put into Coastal Voice, which Mr Thomson has denied. Ms Criselee Stevens from the union has again confirmed that. This is a matter that demands the immediate intervention of Australia's Prime Minister. She can run, but she can no longer hide from this matter. (Time expired)