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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8617

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (22:11): I will continue with the next sad and sorry episode of the Craig Thomson saga. I have spoken of Coastal Voice in the past. This evening I would like to place on the record some important evidence given to the New South Wales Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 5 on 27 October by New South Wales Fair Trading.

Mr Jones, the Assistant Commissioner, Compliance and Enforcement, gave evidence of some key transgressions by Coastal Voice which raise even more questions about the veracity of Craig Thomson's comments on this matter.

The PRESIDENT: You need to refer to the person by their correct title.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Mr Thomson, the member for Dobell. In summary, his evidence was that Coastal Voice had no bank account and there were no donations to Coastal Voice, yet there were admissions that it got Health Services Union funds and that it failed to meet its statutory duty to notify Fair Trading. How did Coastal Voice produce a series of glossy newsletters plastered with Craig Thomson photographs if it never received any money, never had a bank account and never produced financial reports?

It is also clear that statements by Mr Thomson are at odds with records of Fair Trading. Given Mr Thomson has a serious credibility problem, I am sure we all know who is not being truthful.

Mr Jones gave evidence that Fair Trading's records still show that Mr Thomson was and always has been the public officer of Coastal Voice. He stated:

Our investigation focused on Mr Thomson still being the then current public officer. Recently he provided a statutory declaration indicating that he had resigned his position as public officer in 2007. We then took action to interview members of the management committee of the association and we spoke to the nominated secretary of the association.

We have no details about the resignation—no records, no documents—just Mr Thomson's word, which is hardly of any value.

Mr Jones also gave evidence regarding Ms Criselee Stevens, the secretary of the association. He stated:

Ms Stevens provided us with a statutory declaration just in the past week, which indicates that she believes that the organisation became defunct in a period around 2007 because it had insufficient members to hold a quorum …

But when she was asked when in 2007, Mr Jones said:

She did not state when in 2007, but she did say 2007. She indicated also that the association had no bank account and had never received funds or raised income. On the basis of that statutory declaration, which is a sworn statement, we have decided to cancel the registration of the association.

So, with no bank account and no funds, Coastal Voice produced this series of glossy brochures. Where did the money come from? Who paid for it? Was it put on Craig Thomson's American Express card?

The PRESIDENT: You need to refer to the person by—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Was it put on Mr Thomson's American Express card? Of course, there is a special offer doing the rounds: the Craig Thomson American Express card—

The PRESIDENT: You need to refer to the person by their correct title.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I was referring to a document, Mr President. I return to Ms Stevens, who after all these years is now seeking to rewrite the record. Mr Jones stated:

In her declaration to Fair Trading she indicates that she contacted Fair Trading at some stage and had a discussion with Fair Trading. She was not precise about the dates on which that occurred or who she spoke to, but she has made that statement as part of her most recent response to us.

She can point to no records, no documents, so how can anyone believe what she says? It is clear that, despite Mr Thomson's assertions of having resigned, there are no documents with Fair Trading that show that he or Coastal Voice took any steps to nominate a new public officer. Any assertion by Mr Thomson that he did resign and had no further involvement with Coastal Voice are questionable in the very least and lies at the worst.

Let us be clear here: Coastal Voice was a front for an Australian Labor Party campaign by Craig Thomson to get himself elected. It put out glossy brochures, yet it appears to have had no discernible source of income. As I said, where did the money come from? Mr Jones stated:

As I understand it, Ms Stevens indicated—not in these terms—to one of my officers that she believed funding had been received from the Health Services Union, or other sources, to fund some of the activities of the association.

But, despite her telling Fair Trading officers this, Mr Jones stated:

It is not reflected in her statutory declaration.

Mr Jones was asked:

Did your officer, in conversation with them, form the opinion that there was other than Health Services Union money being channelled into this body, Coastal Voice?

Mr Jones's response leaves the question open:

On the basis of that conversation alone we would have no knowledge about whether there were other funding sources or other organisations paying for products badged under the title of the association.

Mr Jones was asked to clarify whether the assertion is that financial statements were not lodged because they never existed or they simply were not forwarded to Fair Trading. He responded:

The assertion is that they never existed. There was never a bank account and you cannot make financial statements if you do not have a bank account unless someone runs it in a somewhat unique way.

'Unique' is an understatement. 'Dishonest' is a more appropriate description. As Minister Anthony Roberts told the New South Wales parliament on 10 August 2011:

Coastal Voice had a website whose domain was registered to the national office of the Health Services Union—a union that was run by Mr Thomson.

There is no doubt of the clear connection between Coastal Voice, its president and public officer, Mr Thomson, and the Health Services Union.

So let us look at Mr Thomson's obliga­tions as the public officer. Coastal Voice was incorporated on 3 May 2006. At the time, incorporated associations were governed by the Associations Incorporation Act 1984, which was subsequently replaced by a 2009 act. Given the ramshackle state of the records of Coastal Voice, one assumes they did not bother about passing their own rules and the model rules applied. Clause 39 of the applicable rules at the time placed the onus on Mr Thomson as the public officer to keep the records, books and other documents relating to the association. Given the recent evidence, Mr Thomson has clearly breached this obligation. Clause 35 refers to the source of the association's funds. It states:

(1) The funds of the association are to be derived from entrance fees and annual subscriptions of members, donations and, subject to any resolution passed by the association in general meeting, such other sources as the committee determines.

(2) All money received by the association must be deposited as soon as practicable and without deduction to the credit of the association's bank account.

(3) The association must, as soon as practicable after receiving any money, issue an appropriate receipt.

Therefore, was there a required resolution of Coastal Voice to receive funds from the Health Services Union? I suspect not. We know there was no bank account, so any funds from the HSU were clearly not deposited in any bank account. So the question is: into whose pocket did the moneys go? As for any receipt, forget that. I am sure Coastal Voice did not even know what a receipt book looked like.

As the public officer Mr Thomson has clearly breached his obligations in relation to the source of funding and the keeping of appropriate records. He asserts he advised Ms Stevens of his resignation. He was also the president, although no mention is made of any resignation from that position. As the president and public officer he was the keeper of the records, yet Craig Thomson cannot point to any record to back up anything he says. Indeed, one has to question whether there are no records because they have been deliberately destroyed. Hence, the evidence given to the committee raises even more questions about the conduct of Mr Thomson.

Firstly, how did an organisation like Coastal Voice, which had no bank account and no records and produced no financial returns, manage to print and distribute widely a number of glossy brochures promoting Mr Thomson and criticising the then incumbent Liberal MPs? It is hoped that the current inquiries by the New South Wales and Victorian police will shed light on what appears to be further misappropriation of HSU funds in relation to Coastal Voice.

Secondly, Mr Thomson has recently provided a statutory declaration to Fair Trading. Why did it take so long for him to provide information? Given Mr Thomson's track record with the truth, one must question if all assertions in his statutory declaration— (Time expired)