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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 809

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (17:15): I rise to speak in support of this motion: that the House expresses its regret at the statement and its contents made on 21 May 2012 by Craig Thomson, the former member for Dobell, much of which has been proven false by the findings of the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 February 2014. This motion also provides for the House to apologise to individuals named in the statement against whom falsehoods were made and to members of the Health Services Union for the spending of $267,721.65 by Craig Thomson.

This is an unusual motion. Most would argue that it is entirely Craig Thomson's duty to make an apology for his actions. However, it is fitting that the parliament has the opportunity to make amends for the way in which one disgraceful member of the House used the devices of parliament, in particular parliamentary privilege, to mislead and to slander. In doing so, Craig Thomson undoubtedly damaged the reputation and standing of this House, so it is appropriate that we take time today to recognise the damage and apologise to those Craig Thomson made false allegations against.

There are a number of individuals who bore the brunt of the falsehoods uttered by Craig Thomson in his statement to the House on 21 May 2012 but, in my opinion, none more so than Kathy Jackson. I particularly note the opinion piece in today's Australian by Gary Johns, the former Labor member for Petrie, where he said:

She withstood the pressure of a culture of corruption in the Health Services Union. She deserves the respect and support of the entire labour movement. Instead, many revile her.

Kathy Jackson is a veteran of the union movement. She has been part of the union movement for many years. In a speech she gave in 2012, she acknowledged that and said:

I am not Joan of Arc. I am not a political virgin. I have been an activist in the labor movement all my adult life, played the political game and have the bruises to prove it.

Kathy Jackson was well aware of the likely implications for her in blowing the whistle on Craig Thomson. In that same speech she said:

Things rarely work out well for whistle-blowers and I didn’t enter into my current endeavour in the expectation of arriving at glory days for me. My expectations are a lot more modest. I want to see wrongdoing exposed. I’d like to see my union put in a position of strength and with the confidence of the membership restored, and I’d like to see reforms made to make union leadership more accountable to members and which would protect against possible future financial and political corruption.

It is a sad indictment of the Labor Party and the union movement that funds and supports it that a woman who has shown such courage as to call out corruption when she sees it is treated with such disdain. The vile acts of threat that were made against Kathy Jackson at the time—like the dirt-covered shovel left on the doorstep of her Melbourne home—are really a window into the culture and attitude within parts of the union movement. There is a growing list of incidents that point to thuggery, intimidation, corruption and, recently, links to illegal activities through bikie gangs. The Craig Thomson fraud is but one example, one very good example, why the royal commission into union governance is both appropriate and necessary.

So why has Labor not welcomed the royal commission? Why would members opposite not support a process that will lead to more transparency and accountability? Why did they continue to accept the vote of the former member for Dobell despite the disrepute he had brought to the parliament with his actions? Why did Labor fund the legal costs for Craig Thomson? These are questions that cast a pall over the Labor Party and the opposition leader who, at the time, expressed his support for the then member for Dobell.

The House should note that Craig Thomson remained a member of the Labor Party right up until April 2012, less than a month before he made his statement to the House. He remained a member of the Labor Party in this place in April 2009 after Fair Work Australia commenced an inquiry into the Health Services Union sparked by the action taken by Kathy Jackson in bringing irregularities to light. He remained a Labor member of this place after March 2010 when Fair Work Australia advised that its inquiry had been made an investigation. He remained a Labor member of this House when Fair Work Australia announced its investigation was complete and that 181 contraventions of workplace laws and union rules were found. He remained a Labor member as the ACTU suspended the Health Services Union. It was only shortly afterwards that the then Prime Minister Gillard announced Craig Thomson's intention to sit on the crossbenches. She said he had finally crossed a line but could not explain what that was. He sure had crossed a line, and Labor had preselected him and supported him.

On the day that the guilty verdict was brought down on Craig Thomson, Kathy Jackson warned that the royal commission would have its work cut out. She said:

The minute that I became aware of what was going on and tried to bring it forward, I was stymied at every point by the executive of that union.

We see the same attitude of blocking and trying to cover up what is going on in a number of high-profile unions, and we see the same attitude of not wanting to reveal the extent of the problem in Labor's reluctance to support the royal commission.

I just want to say to Kathy Jackson that I am sincerely sorry for what Craig Thomson put her and her family through. I am sorry that he used parliamentary privilege in such a dreadful way. The public expect that members will come to this place to earnestly argue differing points of view, to express opinions and to inform the parliament about issues relevant to their electorate and their actions. They expect statements made by members will be what they believe to be the honest truth. It is crucial to the integrity of this House that they are. The member that stands in this place and professes innocence is heard by their peers in silence and with an open mind. To question the integrity of a member of parliament is a most serious matter. But to abuse the privilege afforded a member of parliament is an affront to decency of the highest order.

When a court determines that the evidence proves a statement made to the parliament to be utterly false, then the integrity of the parliament is compromised. But we know that Craig Thomson did not just make accusations against unionists. He also made accusations against other people in his statement, including the then opposition leader, now the Prime Minister. That he has been proved wrong in that regard also is very self-evident and the Prime Minister remains a man of integrity and insight for having argued very strongly at the time that Mr Thomson ought to be removed from the service of the parliament due to the weight of allegations against him and the ill-repute it brought to the parliament.

But there is no doubt that the biggest victims of the fraud Craig Thomson committed are the hard-working members of the Health Services Union, some of whom are amongst the lowest-paid workers in this country. These carers, orderlies and cleaners all work hard, and should rightly be proud of the work that they do. They keep our hospitals running, they offer quality care and they provide comfort to the ill. They do not deserve to be linked with corruption, dishonesty and misuse of union fees.

Their union subscriptions should not be used to support the desires of dishonest officials; their union fees should only ever be used to protect them and their rights. To the members of the Health Services Union, I apologise that a member of this House used your funds to campaign for his own re-election and to meet his own desires. It was not appropriate, and it was certainly not appropriate that Craig Thomson then used this parliament to try and mount a case for his defence, when in truth his actions were indefensible.

The Craig Thomson saga was a sad chapter in the life of this House. I support this motion today and in addition I call on all members of this House to further support the royal commission into union governance so that we can ensure that never again can a union official abuse members' funds in this way.