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Fair Work denies it was pressured on Thompson -

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ELEANOR HALL: Fair Work Australia investigators told a parliamentary hearing today that they came under no pressure from politicians to bring court proceedings against the former Labor MP, now Independent, Craig Thomson.

The authority laid 62 civil charges against the former Health Service Union official earlier this week.

In Canberra, chief political correspondent Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: On AM this morning, Mr Thomson's lawyer Chris McCardle sounded confident about his client's defence.

He says Fair Work Australia's case has no substance.

CHRIS MCCARDLE: It has to be stated for the record - he is particularly innocent of having paid people to have sex with him, either using other people's money or using his own money, and I advise very, very strongly anybody saying otherwise to stop saying it.

SABRA LANE: And Mr McCardle says most of the alleged civil breaches have been filed too late, indicating he believes parts of the case may not proceed because the statute of limitations has expired.

CHRIS MCCARDLE: Some of it is way out of time - but part of us would really like to have the entire thing exposed for what it is, which is without substance.

SABRA LANE: Opposition Senator Michael Ronaldson followed up that point this morning with Fair Work Australia's general manager Bernadette O'Neill when she appeared before a Senate estimates hearing.

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: Look, I'm aware of that issue. It's a matter that's before the court.

I've obtained advice on the issue and I've taken that into account in deciding that it was in the public interest to commence the proceedings, including that I formed the view that we have reasonable prospects of success.

And can I make the point…

MICHAEL RONALDSON: Sorry to interrupt, just very quickly, I presume that advice is legal advice, or includes legal advice?

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: Yes, Senator.

SABRA LANE: Earlier this week Mr Thomson claimed the authority only started the court action because it was pressured to do so.

Another Opposition Senator, Eric Abetz, asked Ms O'Neill if that was right.

ERIC ABETZ: For absolute clarity, that includes no pressure from politicians, parliamentarians, or the press?

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: No, Senator.

ERIC ABETZ: No. Thank you.

SABRA LANE: Ms O'Neill was also asked to put a figure on the cost of pursuing the case.

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: One point three million.

(audible exhalation)
That doesn't include the costs of the litigation that's been initiated in respect of their Number One branch investigation, nor the costs of the proceedings that I have filed in the Federal Court earlier this week.

SABRA LANE: The authority commissioned an audit of its own processes.

Ms O'Neill says all the recommendations have been adopted, and again the general manager has expressed regret over the time it's taken to investigate the case.

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: All of the people concerned in the investigation have been diligent public servants.

We simply, in my view, did not conduct the investigations as quickly, expertly, and professionally as we ought, and that won't happen again.

SABRA LANE: The case is scheduled for a hearing in early December.

The Opposition's doggedly pursued it, arguing that Fair Work Australia's prolonged its investigations to help prolong the Government's numbers in the minority Parliament.

The Fair Work report into the Health Services Union made a finding that Mr Thomson had given it misleading and false evidence.

Senator Abetz asked if the authority had referred that to police.

ERIC ABETZ: That's a finding.

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: It's a finding that hasn't been tested in the court, Senator, and similarly I'll take that on notice...

ERIC ABETZ: And do you know why it hasn't been tested in court? Because Fair Work Australia hasn't referred it to the relevant authority.

That's why it hasn't been tested in court.

Alright, so has any advice been sought as to whether or not this matter should be handed over to the relevant prosecuting authority?

BERNADETTE O'NEILL: Not that particular question.

ERIC ABETZ: Well, could I invite you to do so, because otherwise we'll have another time limitation, no doubt, being relied upon by Mr Thomson to try to wiggle out of something.

And can I just make the point that somebody can provide false and misleading information aside from whether or not charges against that person are actually upheld or not.

They are two distinct issues.

SABRA LANE: And that's Senate Liberal leader Eric Abetz ending Sabra Lane's report.