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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 795

Mr PYNE (SturtLeader of the House and Minister for Education) (16:16): I move:

That this House, in relation to the statement made on 21 May 2012 by Mr Craig Thomson, the then Member for Dobell:

(1) expresses its regret for the statement and its contents, much of which has been proven as false by the findings of the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 February 2014 in relation to Mr Thomson; and

(2) apologises to:

(a) those individuals named in the speech against which egregious falsehoods were made; and

(b) the members of the Health Services Union, some of the lowest paid workers in Australia, for the spending by Mr Craig Thomson of $267,721.65 of Union members’ funds on his re-election campaign and further private expenditure not authorised by the Union.

This motion gives us the opportunity to do two things in this House this afternoon. Apart from the opportunity to apologise to the individuals named in the former member for Dobell's statement on 21 May, it gives us the opportunity to, firstly, indicate that privilege should never be used in the way that we say it was used by the former member for Dobell again; secondly, that it will not be used by any member of this House in the future.

Those members of the parliament who have been in the parliament for a lengthy period of time and those new members all know that it is a standing part of this House that telling the truth in the parliament is one of the most pre-eminent responsibilities of any member of parliament, particularly ministers in answering questions at the dispatch box. They are under a strict dictum not to mislead the House; and, if they do mislead the House, particularly deliberately, their tenure as a minister comes to an end.

For the rest of the House, the attachment of parliamentary privilege is a privilege—hence its name. It gives members of parliament the opportunity to make statements in this place which might otherwise—if made outside the House—expose the member to be sued for defamation. It is a particular right of members of parliament which no-one else enjoys in our society, because it is a privilege that needs to be protected and nurtured and only used to ensure that we are protecting the constituents that we seek to represent and to do what is right in this place, and not for any other purpose.

It is the government's contention that the former member for Dobell deliberately appeared in the House and used the parliamentary privilege to defame individuals in the parliament who he knew could not defend themselves, and under parliamentary privilege created a fantastic story, a fantastic alibi, designed to protect and save his own political skin at the expense of the reputations of others. That is why it is a very serious matter. That is why I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition is in the House and clearly intends to speak on the motion, because I am sure that most decent minded members of the Labor Party were just as horrified—and still are—with the statements that the member for Dobell made in this place and just as horrified by the fact that he used them in the way that he did.

I notice also the former Speaker of the House is in the chamber, the member for Chisholm. I remind her of something she said, at the end of the debate on 21 May, at the end of the statement by the former member for Dobell:

I want to thank everyone for their graciousness in listening to the member for Dobell.

It reminded me, when I read that, that we had listened with grace to the member for Dobell. He was not cat-called upon by the members of the opposition at the time; he was listened to in eerie silence in some respects. We gave him that grace, and he returned the favour by misleading the parliament and by defaming individuals who could not defend themselves under parliamentary privilege. For that reason, we take this motion very seriously today.

The Manager of Opposition Business said today in the media: 'Of course we vote for a resolution, because we are deeply, particularly, offended by what happened and in the way union members were cheated of their funds and everything that has been found out in court.' I am grateful that the opposition is supporting this motion; I am very grateful that they are. But I wonder if, by supporting this motion, they are indicating, they are admitting, that they got it wrong for three years while they defended the member for Dobell. They defended the member for Dobell very strongly. The phrase 'running a protection racket for a protection racket' has been bandied about in this place and in the media.

I will use the words of the ministers at the time. On The 7.30 Report, Anthony Albanese, the member for Grayndler and the then Leader of the House, was asked:

Do you have complete confidence in Mr Thomson?'

He answered, 'I do.' On ABC News 24, on 17 August 2011, Craig Emerson, then a cabinet minister, was asked:

So you think Julia Gillard is right to express her full confidence, as she has done in the Parliament, about Mr Thomson?

Mr Emerson replied, 'Yes, I do.' On the same channel, the minister at the time was asked:

Does Craig Thomson have your full confidence?

He said, 'Yes, he does.' The current Leader of the Opposition himself has been asked these questions over a period of time. On 24 August 2011, he was asked on Radio 3AW, by Neil Mitchell:

You've run a union, you understand these things, do you support him?

He replied:

Oh, yeah, I believe him.

He was asked:

… you got complete confidence in him?

He answered, 'Yeah'. That was the then minister, now Leader of the Opposition. Only as recently as 19 February, the Leader of the Opposition was asked at a doorstop in Melbourne:

Will you or the Party apologise for how much you stuck by Craig Thomson given what has happened in the court this week?

The Leader of the Opposition's statement was:

As I said yesterday, no-one is above the law.

But we are still waiting for the statement from the Leader of the Opposition where he does not continue to express full confidence in the member for Dobell but, in fact, apologises for a number of things, including the lies that were told in this place by the former member for Dobell. In particular, we are expecting him to apologise to the thousands of Health Services Union members, the workers, who handed over their hard-earned dollars to their union representatives, secretaries, national secretaries and organisers only to find that money funnelled into what the Melbourne Magistrates' Court has found were fraudulent and illegal purposes.

In particular, $267,000 that was used by the former member for Dobell to fund his election campaign in 2007. To all of us who have been elected to this place—I have been elected eight times—$267,000 is a tremendous amount of money. As most of the marginal seat members in this place would know, pulling together the resources for an election campaign is very difficult. A lot of raffle tickets need to be sold and a lot of lunches need to be attended. On our side of the House, a lot of businesspeople are asked for donations. On the Labor side, of course, they have the union movement to support them.

In this case, where, in 2007, $267,000 of union members' funds was used by the former member for Dobell for his election campaign, the very least the Leader of the Opposition could do would be to pay that money back to the Health Services Union. Until he does pay it back to the Health Services Union the stain will continue to on the Labor Party—they are effectively accepting a benefit from the Health Services Union members. They elected Craig Thomson to this parliament and he served in it on the Labor side for six years—three of those in a hung parliament.

If the Labor Party really wanted to put behind them the last three years, they would pay that money back. If the Leader of the Opposition wanted to show that he was a statesman, not just a union official protecting union officials—that he wanted to rise above his background—he would do that, just as Bob Hawke had to do. Bob Hawke was a union official, and he had to rise above his background to become Prime Minister for the whole country. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to be taken seriously, the thing he could do today that would most demonstrate that, apart from apologising to the Health Services Union workers, would be to announce that the Labor Party would pay back that $267,000—especially when you put it in the context that Labor received $1.2 million from Health Services Union members between 2007 and 2013. This is a mere fraction—I think it is about 22 per cent—of what the government could pay back to the Health Services Union if they wanted to show good faith with the workers.

This is where the Leader of the Opposition's rhetoric needs to start matching his actions. He talks relentlessly about being a friend of the worker, but when he gets the opportunities to act he does not take them. When he gets the opportunity to protect the workers' interests by supporting the Registered Organisations Commission, the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the opportunity to pay money back to the Health Services Union workers to demonstrate that he is on their side, he does not take those opportunities. Australians can sniff out insincerity. With this Leader of the Opposition, they can sniff out that he talks a big game but, when he gets the opportunity to deliver, he does not deliver.

In the last few minutes of this contribution, I would like to talk about a couple of the other aspects of the motion. The motion apologises to those people named by the member for Dobell on 21 May 2012. Michael Lawler, Kathy Jackson, Terry Nassios and Marco Bolano were all named in a very negative way by the former member for Dobell. In fact, they were defamed. The current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was also named and defamed by the former member for Dobell. We do extend our apologies to all those individuals, and I am glad that the opposition intends to extend its apology to all of those individuals, particularly to the now Prime Minister, who, of course, stood up for the Health Services Union throughout those last three years.

The person I particularly want to comment on is Kathy Jackson. Kathy Jackson is a revolutionary, and revolutionaries—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr PYNE: See—they are already laughing. Come in spinner. Revolutionaries are not always perfect. Revolutionaries sometimes have to cut corners and do things in order to bring about a result. But she will be remembered as a transforming union leader. I note the opposition laughing and mocking Kathy Jackson. I wonder if they will laugh after they hear this quotation. In an interview on radio 2GB on 16 October last year, Kathy Jackson recalled a meeting in 2011 of the HSU council at Darling Harbour, after these matters were publicly aired. She is quoted as saying:

There would have been 900 delegates … I kid you not … This is after I went to the police … (Michael) Williamson got a standing ovation … they played the Rocky theme when he walked in … there were people heckling me and screaming at me and (fellow HSU whistleblower) Marco Bolano … that I was a traitor to the movement … people were calling out ‘Judas’ from the crowd … this went for four hours.

I do not hear you laughing now, Members of the opposition. What this points to is that in the HSU there was a cultural problem, where ripping off money from workers was regarded as the norm. The former leader of the Labor Party Mark Latham indicated that himself. Craig Thomson was not an embarrassment to the Labor Party; he was the gold standard in how to behave. And yet you are laughing today at Kathy Jackson. You should hang your heads in shame. Kathy Jackson is a revolutionary, and Kathy Jackson will be remembered as a lion of the union movement. As was written by Gary Johns, a former Labor member of this House, a former Labor minister, the royal commission:

… may change the nature of union-employer relations; it may change the ability of trade union leaders to remain in positions for years and hand power to a chosen candidate.

Jackson, Athena, toppled two union leaders … In her wisdom, and in deciding to wage war with the HSU, she may well have strangled the union-ALP umbilical (ac)cord.

More strength to her arm. I look forward to hearing the contribution of members of the opposition.