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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 804


Mrs McNAMARA (Dobell) (16:55): I stand here in the federal parliament representing the people of Dobell. My electorate is made up of decent, hardworking Australians with strong goals and aspirations. The people of Dobell have much to be proud of. Over the past few years my local community has been the centre of a national scandal—a scandal that has exposed some of the darkest elements of the trade union movement and corrupt trade union officials.

Mr Thomson put Dobell on the national map for all the wrong reasons. He let down the people of Dobell, its families, seniors and businesses. After six years of lack of formal representation in Dobell, the people of Dobell became the forgotten people. He let down some of the lowest paid workers in Australia, members of the Health Services Union, as he spent $267,721 of union members' funds on his election campaign and for other private expenditure. Perhaps most disturbingly he stood before this parliament and defended his name, in the process telling falsehoods that have now been exposed by the Melbourne Magistrates' Court. Most importantly, he showed no regard for the victims of his immoral and illegal behaviour during his time as secretary of the Health Services Union.

The motion before the House seeks to address these wrongs. We acknowledge that not only did Mr Thomson deceive the people of Dobell but he showed complete disregard and contempt for the members of the Health Services Union who were misled by Mr Thomson. The Fair Work Commission found that Mr Thomson spent more than $260,000 on his election to the federal parliament, using the funds to pay for staffing costs and other electoral expenses; made cash withdrawals of more than $100,000 on his Health Services Union credit card; and made claims for more than $73,800 in dining and entertainment expenses. This much has become evident through the findings of the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

On 18 February 2014 the Melbourne Magistrates' Court found Mr Thomson guilty of fraud and deception relating to the misuse of his union credit card while national secretary of the Health Services Union. This finding was welcomed by members of the Health Services Union, who through no fault of their own found themselves thrust into this scandal. Like the residents of Dobell, members of the Health Services Union spent years listening to Mr Thomson's claims of innocence. He claimed that he had been set up and betrayed by those who were envious of his political career. On 21 May 2012 Mr Thomson stood in this parliament and delivered a speech which is now truly seen for what it was: a betrayal of the members of the Health Services Union and a betrayal of the people of Dobell.

When attempting to excuse the evidence before him Mr Thomson said in this place:

One of the things that I have difficulties in making an explanation about—and I am certainly not going to use parliamentary privilege to lie or change that—is in relation to phones and how records were on my phones.

This is just one of many statements made by Mr Thomson in his address to the parliament that have now been exposed in the findings of the Melbourne Magistrates' Court. That is why we, this parliament, should support this motion and apologise to those impacted by Mr Thomson. It is appropriate that this House apologise to the individuals named during Mr Thomson's statement of 21 May 2012. In speaking about Mr Marco Bolano, Mr Thomson claimed Mr Bolano threatened him by saying:

… he would seek to ruin any political career that I sought and would set me up with a bunch of hookers.

Mr Thomson concocted a grand conspiracy and sought to shift the blame to his colleagues. When members of the Health Services Union spoke out against his actions he went before national media and attacked their character.

While these actions in themselves warrant an apology, it is the membership of the Health Services Union that has truly been betrayed by Mr Thomson, who was in a position where he should have been looking out for and protecting their interests. As I have mentioned, the Health Services Union represent some of the lowest paid workers in Australia, health workers including kitchen staff, porters, cleaners and clerical and security officers who work in the aged-care, community and disability-care sectors—those caring for the most vulnerable members of our community. While the Health Services Union seeks to improve outcomes for health workers across Australia, Mr Thomson took it upon himself to spend $267,721 of funds collected through union membership fees to finance his election campaign. Mr Thomson put his interests ahead of the interests of the union and the interests of the union's membership.

While I have spoken of the members of the Health Services Union, we must not forget the people of Dobell and how they have been impacted by Mr Thomson's actions. Mr Thomson won the 2007 election as the Labor candidate for Dobell. Whilst Mr Thomson should have been grateful to the Health Services Union for promising and delivering him a seat in parliament he showed complete disregard to those who put him there.

Mr Thomson was parachuted into Dobell from Melbourne, with the explicit purpose of contesting the seat of Dobell. Mr Thomson had no understanding of the Central Coast and the aspirations of its hardworking residents. Unfortunately for the people of Dobell, Mr Thomson's role as their local member charged with the responsibility of representing their interests in the federal parliament became a sideshow in the quest to clear his name. Mr Thomson's treatment of his electorate was not lost on the people of Dobell.

I would like to take a moment to share with the parliament some of the reasons why the people of Dobell should feel entitled to an apology for Mr Thomson's actions. I will never forget door-knocking a house in Hamlyn Terrace. The gentlemen who answered the door told me of his disgust in Mr Thomson as his local representative and that, as a Health Services Union member, he would never vote Labor again. In our shopping centres, the disgust of shoppers was clear. They would talk to me desperate for the opportunity to rid Dobell of this misrepresentation and eager to see our region promoted for our achievements. Unfortunately, Mr Thomson didn't have a strong record of local achievements to take to the people of Dobell. The people of Dobell were all too aware of the betrayal by Mr Thomson. The people of Dobell were all too aware of the fact that Mr Thomson's tainted vote was being used to prop up the then government. The people of Dobell were aware that $350,000 of Mr Thomson's legal fees were paid for by the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party while he was a member of the Labor Party.

Mr Thomson was so convinced of his innocence that he had a strong desire to continue as the member for Dobell. In order to do so, he sought to distract the people of Dobell from his record as the secretary of the Health Services Union and his record as the member for Dobell. In his desperate attempt to win votes he sought to deceive the good people of Dobell with his claims that he would stop the potential development of a coal mine. Mr Thomson knew full well that on two occasions his government had refused to have his private member's bill be debated by the parliament. Mr Thomson knew full well that the matter lies in the jurisdiction of the New South Wales state government. Mr Thomson could not promote his record as a local MP; instead, he had to defend his record as secretary of the Health Services Union. And, as he did before this parliament, he stood before the people of Dobell and attempted to distract from the truth.

The reality is that long before the Melbourne Magistrates' Court found Mr Thomson guilty, the people of Dobell had made up their mind. The people of Dobell no longer wanted Mr Thomson to represent them in the federal parliament. This was evidenced during the 2013 federal election. Mr Thomson cut a lonely figure on the ABC's 7.30 as he walked through Tuggerah Westfield shopping centre. The people of Dobell had heard enough and wanted to move on with their lives.

This parliament now has an opportunity to right some of Mr Thomson's wrongs. Although we are unable to pay back the hard-earned money contributed by honest workers of the Health Services Union, we can tell them, loud and clear, that this parliament is on the side of decent, hardworking Australians and not on the side of dodgy union officials. We can apologise to the people of Dobell, who for six years have been dragged through a national scandal on the sordid dealings of corrupt trade union officials. Let us not forget the $267,721 of union fees collected from the honest workers of the Health Services Union that was spent on Mr Thomson's self-interest and on Mr Thomson's election campaign on behalf of the Labor Party.

Senator Abetz was right in saying that this ordeal demonstrates the need for a royal commission into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions and the establishment of a registered organisations commission to introduce more effective governance for trade unions to help prevent such conduct occurring in the future. I wholeheartedly support the motion before the parliament—for the people of Dobell, the members of the Health Services Union and those misrepresented by Mr Thomson's statement in this parliament. I want to see Dobell prosper. I hope we can put this disgraceful episode in our history behind us and get on with the real task at hand.