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Federal

Aug 19, 2011

Labor MP in prostitute
scandal

Crikey media wrap: Prostitutes, an MP and a precarious government who can't afford to lose someone to a scandal: the allegations against Labor MP Craig Thomson have all the elements of a intriguing film script.

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Prostitutes, an MP and a precarious government that can’t afford to lose someone to a scandal: the allegations against Labor MP Craig Thomson have all the elements of a intriguing screenplay.

Phone calls were made to brothels from a hotel room hired by Thomson when he was secretary of the Health Services Union, and paid for by his union credit card. It’s the latest in a string of allegations over the past few years about Thomson’s time at the HSU, including using credit cards to pay for prostitutes, withdrawing cash advances of more than $100,000 and that union money funded his election campaign.

Nick O’Malley and Phillip Coorey in The Sydney Morning Herald had the latest scoop:

On April 5, 2006 a call was made from Mr Thomson’s hotel room at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne to Young Blondes escort agency and later to Confidential Models escort agency.

On June 7, 2006 a call was made from his room at Pacific International Suites in Melbourne to an escort agency called Bad Girls.

Another bill shows that on May 15 of that year, Mr Thomson spent $805.50 on lunch at the Melbourne restaurant Langton’s. It appears only $102 was on food — $540 was for four bottles of wine and the rest on beer and coffee.

But this trio of sex, money and politics could force a minority government to election.

Labor paid Thomson’s legal bills as he launched and lost a fight against Fairfax for a 2009 SMH article that claimed he’d used a union credit card to pay for prostitutes, for withdrawing cash advances equalling more than $100,000 and that union money funded his election campaign. The original estimate of legal costs for Thomson’s defamation action was $90,000, but it has blown out.

As Andrew Clennell reports in The Daily Telegraph: “The ALP bailout of Craig Thomson could be more than $150,000 — and federal minister Mark Arbib is understood to have brokered the deal between Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office and NSW Labor

Labor’s been quietly covering the costs because  if Thomson is declared bankrupt, he is therefore unfit for office and an election forced on a embattled minority Gillard government.

“In a parliament held by the slimmest majority, the political demise of a single member is enough to tip the balance and trigger a byelection that could usher in a new government,” reports Lauren Wilson in The Australian.

As Michelle Grattan notes in The Age, NSW Labor needs to be better vetting procedures for its candidates, because right now Gillard is forced to defend him simply to maintain government. Grattan writes:

“Assuming, however, Thomson survives, what is Labor going to do about his preselection? An exquisite dilemma. If Labor dumps him for the next election, it would be, in effect, conceding he was not a fit candidate. But how could it run him again? That would be extraordinarily disdainful of the people of Dobell, who might have something very sharp to say about it.”

Thomson has become the new Belinda Neal of NSW Labor, says Dennis Atkins in The Courier-Mail. “Politicians crave media attention, forever suggesting story lines, news ideas and tips in an effort to get their name high up in any story. But every parliamentary term has one politician who gets lots of media attention that’s unwanted.”

If Thomson really did have his signature forged — which is what he claims — then why aren’t the NSW police involved? asks Piers Akerman in The Daily Telegraph:

“It is now time for Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to order an investigation into this matter and put these doubts to rest.”

But as Labor heavyweight Graham Richardson notes on the precarious nature of politics in The Daily Telegraph:

“He [Thomson] may survive, however, because stupidity is not a bar to holding public office. His situation is illustrative of the awful truth that scandal can rear its ugly head at any time. This government needs all its MPs to behave perfectly for whatever time they have left — and that is a very big call.”

Amber Jamieson —

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

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235 comments

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235 thoughts on “Labor MP in prostitute
scandal

  1. Peter Ormonde

    Frank…

    You cranky old meliorist you!

    I’ve known Gillard for about 30 years Frank. And for what it’s worth I regard her as a True Believer. Whether she can do much with the clods and circumstances she’s got I’m not sure. But I know she’ll be giving it her best shot.

    Now when I say we’ve lost class in every sense … it’s this: I think you learn about class in universities and in books. But to have a class, to be part of a class – a class of and for itself – acting consciously and with a self-awareness – you live it, you are born into it, you join into it, it comes through shared experience, through institutions, through parents, suburbs, towns, through your mates in the school yard.

    It is part of who you are – not what they teach at Uni. That’s where those old Trot mates of yours got it so wrong…what they could never really understand or be a part of.

    This class structure – class consciousness, the identification of oneself as part of a larger social grouping – has gone. It has been buried, demolished, swept away by a tsunami of individualism, consumerism, and what passes for “popular culture” in this sit-com pre-packaged world we live in. The figures you yourself quote are evidence of it … the collapse of trade unions suggest a massive change in how we are organised – and we are no longer.

    I don’t share the Trot book-learned notions of class as some sort of “economic category”. It is much more complex and subtle than that – a product of history and culture as much as of economic forces. And those more subtle, political and social elements have disintegrated, both from within and without.

    I’m not blaming anyone – or maybe I’m blaming everyone – it’s history… it is how things have happened. We must adapt to it and move on. Or just get nostalgic and grumpy.

    And a core part of that moving on is to remind people that there is more to life and more to living than grabbing as much stuff as one can carry and then dying. Building understanding, empathy, sympathy and co-operation is the key to it I reckon. But hey what would I know?

    I do know that I’ll never convince you about Gillard though … not while she is destroying Life As We Know It with her carbon tax and her accursed windmills. But then for me of course, that’s a Good Thing. Except for the silly little windmills.

  2. Peter Ormonde

    Morning Frank,

    Can’t argue with most of what you say above. Wish I could.

    But as I’ve said elsewhere and repeatedly, the right thing to do is refer these matters to the coppers and let the mill of the law grind on…. despite the sleazy nature of the allegations and Thomson’s lame response, I don’t think even he should be lynched.

    Historically the unions threw some great leaders into the ALP. This stems from the days when unions were actually representative of their members, when officials were leaders of their troops and when they cut their teeth infighting for rights, wages and conditions.

    Hawke marked a turning point – didn’t cause it, just marked it: the rise of the settler, the fixer, the negotiator. I remember when Cliff Dolan was asked how he would change the ACTU when he took over from Hawke, he put it simply: “My job’s about winning disputes, not settling them”. But the days of “winning disputes” were disappearing fast. It was all about productivity, efficiency and being “team players”.

    Since unions became “responsible”, since they were integrated into arbitration, into tripartite chat groups, into being managers rather than organisers, to become super fund managers rather than agents of change, the Cliff Dolan’s are just a memory – a smiling joke… a dinosaur. And the calibre of the “new leaders” coming out of unions reflects this: lawyers, administrators, fixers, deal-makers…. not leaders in the sense that included the Chifleys, the Curtins and the like.

    There was a curious little snippet on ABC’s history show a couple of weeks back – a recording of Chifley addressing Australia about the upcoming census of the time. My goodness… no buzz words, no carefully manicured phrases and glib one-liners… just a straight up chat from a bloke trying to explain what was going on. A blessed relief and a sad one. He would never be preselected let alone elected nowadays. Too simple. Too much like us. Not one of our “betters”. How could we ever have confidence in such a bloke? A train driver? Preposterous!

    Now I’m not adopting some sort of Trot “workerist” romanticism here – Gough Whitlam was never – could never – be the bloke next door. But he could lead. He could convince and spoke to people’s hearts and hopes. He was rooted in the culture of working class leadership, of debate and of reforming ideas. It was not about being PM and staying there like the Tories – it was about what you did with it while you were there.

    So for me at least it’s not about unions and the ALP, it’s about unions and Australia, about what they have become and what they have lost, what we all have lost as a result.

    Now instead of leaders, the unions produce careerist, smart suited corporate deal makers who see no difficulty in sliding from union to parliament to merchant bank, and indeed that is their overwhelming ambition. Has been since their teens.

    We have lost class… in every sense. And it is global.

    I do not know how Labor can unshackle itself from the decaying corporatised classless union machinery. I hope they can. I know they must. I hope they aspire to something more than just aping the US Democrats or Blair’s New Labor.

    For all her faults, Gillard – lawyer, deal-maker and negotiator – has her roots firmly planted in a reforming tradition and culture. She’s not just about attaching herself like a barnacle to the Lodge and the pomp of office. She will try and get what she can to make Australia a better place for battlers and people on the receiving end of life. And that’s a good thing in my book… as good as we can get anyway.

    I just wish she’d listen to a few of Chifley’s speeches. We all should.

  3. Frank Campbell

    It’s quite right of Albanese et al to say the Libs are hypocrites when it comes to sleaze, the denial of it and the protection of perpetrators (as long as possible). The Lib. ministry was a revolving door of lies, deceit etc. The hyperactive conman Rottweiler Reith comes to mind.

    But these protestations are irrelevant. The question now is Thomson. Thomson apparently used HSU funds to live the high life. His claim that an imposter used his credit card, driver’s licence etc is preposterous and the media is right to treat it so. Now the union says he failed to pay back $100,000 in cash advances. If so, there will only be one outcome. As I said the other day here, the govt. must know this and is already acting as if an early election is likely. Presumably they will fund Thomson to slow up legal proceedings as much as possible, as they bailed him out over the futile Fairfax defamation action.

    The current HSU boss should be kicked out too because she knew of Thomson’s credit card rorts from May 2008 and did bugger all ’til yesterday. Maybe her silence was to protect her place on the union-official conveyor belt to a safe seat- Bruce Hawker, ALP advisor, recently enumerated the obvious: in 1987, 11 out of 35 ALP senators were ex-union officials; by 2011 the score was 23 out of 31. In the same period, union membership fell from 46% of the workforce to 18%. By 2005, 67% of all federal Labour members were ex-staffers or union officials, up from 24% in 1971.

    This overwhelming union patronage ensures that those still on the conveyor belt remain obedient.

  4. Suzanne Blake

    Maybe Craig Thomson needs an iPhone, so he can use the Apple Find My Phone feature.

    P.S. Great for Crikey readers who what to find their kids….and check where they say there are is where they are….

    SMH today

    “CALLS made from Craig Thomson’s mobile phone appear to cast more doubt on the embattled Labor MP’s denial that he was responsible for using his Health Services Union credit card to pay prostitutes.

    Since the Herald revealed the spending in 2009, Mr Thompson has denied the allegations, saying other people had access to the card and, by implication, to his mobile phone. But the Herald can reveal that the phone used to contact escort agencies was also used to call senior Labor and union figures.

    Court documents show that on April 7, 2005, Mr Thomson’s phone was used to call escort agencies at 11.12pm and 11.13pm, and again at 12.05 the following morning, April 8.

    The same phone was used to call a media contact for the Labor MP Stephen Smith at 6.43pm and 8.25pm on April 7, and in the previous 24 hours the phone had been used to call Michael Williamson, the then general secretary of the Health Services Union.

    As the Herald revealed, Mr Thomson’s card was used to pay $2475 to an escort agency on April 8.

    Early on the morning of August 16, 2007, Mr Thomson’s phone was used to call two escort agencies. In the two preceding days the same phone had been used to contact two staffers of the Health Services Union, a close friend of Mr Thomson’s and a staff member of Labor MP Mark Arbib. Also on August 15 a payment of $385 was made to an escort agency from Mr Thomson’s credit card”

  5. Suzanne Blake

    More allegations of alleged abuse

    MP now embroiled in bus bill drama

    UNDER siege over his credit card bill, Craig Thomson is now embroiled in a drama over a bus bill for a vehicle used during his election campaign.

    Claims have been aired on Ray Hadley’s 2GB morning show that Mr Thomson and fellow Central Coast Labor MP Deb O’Neill are to be served for bills totally more than $38,000 for two Mercedes buses used during their election campaigns last year.

    The bill is for damage allegedly caused to the outside of the vehicles by advertising for the MPs.

    Ms O’Neill has been billed $12,800 while the owner claims Mr Thomson owes $25,280 for advertising damage and mechanical repairs needed when the bus was returned.

    Mr Hadley said both MPs had refused to pay the bills.

    Deb O’Neill’s office told 2GB they had been over charged for the buses and that work which had not been agreed to was carried out.

    Meanwhile, another senior government minister has today defended the embattled Mr Thomson.

    “I have a view in life that when someone tells you something that you believe, I have no reason to think otherwise,” Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said.

    Mr Albanese said he believed people were innocent of any allegation until proven otherwise.

    Mr Hadley said the buses were owned by Daniel Parish, who previously lent a bus to former NSW independent MP Peter Besseling who now works for Rob Oakeshott.

    The bus lent to Mr Besseling had an oil leak which caused a crash on the Oxley Highway on the mid north coast.

    Mr Besseling claimed the bus had been sabotaged.

    Police were unable to determine the cause.

    Ms O’Neill’s spokesman and Mr Thomson are yet to return calls from The Daily Telegraph.

    But a spokesman for the Commissioner says police would be “happy” to conduct an investigation should the union complain about the use of the credit card to hire prostitutes.

    Meanwhile, more allegations have come to light against the embattled MP, with court documents claiming he breached electoral laws by spending nearly $40,000 on his union credit card for his 2007 election campaign.

    As pressure intensifies for Mr Thomson to give a detailed explanation to parliament, it can be revealed he also allegedly embarked on an almost $30,000 personal spending spree – using his union credit card on travel for his ex-wife and hotels and restaurants.

    Court documents allege the spending was “not for work purposes” and also included $2050 on sporting memorabilia, $1893 on whitegoods from Bing Lee and The Good Guys, $175 on Margaret River wine and $354 at Strandbags.

    The spending took place while Mr Thomson – now embroiled in scandal after his union credit card was used to pay for prostitutes – was Health Services Union head.

    The documents suggest Mr Thomson, whose resignation would trigger the likely demise of the Gillard government, enjoyed the good life as a union boss – dining at a raft of upmarket restaurants including Beppis in Sydney, where he spent $1500.

    Last night, Mr Thomson said the personal spending items “have already been dealt with in the Fair Work Australia investigation”.

    Fair Work Australia launched an investigation into “compliance by the national office of the Health Services Union with its financial reporting obligations” in March 2010. That inquiry is ongoing.

    The documents also claim Mr Thomson used his access to a union credit card to spend $18,733 on radio advertising and $7253 on mail-outs in the lead-up to the 2007 election.

    And $13,648 was allegedly spent on printing campaign material through two firms using Mr Thomson’s HSU-issued MasterCard.

    Mr Thomson was elected as the Member for Dobell on the NSW Central Coast, defeating Liberal Ken Ticehurst as part of the Rudd-slide poll.

    According to the documents – filed in the NSW Supreme Court after Mr Thomson sued Fairfax Media for defamation – the Labor MP “failed to disclose election campaign spending to the Australian Electoral Commission”.

    Mr Thomson said: “As regards the HSU election declaration made after I was in parliament there is an AEC report on those matters.”

    Mr Thomson – who has previously denied using his union credit card to pay for prostitutes – is also facing a likely police investigation.

    Shadow attorney-general George Brandis is expected to write to NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione today calling for a full probe into Mr Thomson’s credit card use. Senator Brandis is expected to set out the evidence so far and argue there is now sufficient grounds for a police investigation.

    The letter is expected to say there are only two outcomes police can reach: that either Mr Thomson is telling the truth or not telling the truth.

    The continuing scandal surrounding Mr Thomson will dominate parliament this week with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday demanding the besieged MP stand aside from chairing the influential parliamentary economics committee.

    The pressure on Mr Thomson is mounting with court documents alleging how union funds were used to pay for a raft of personal items.

    These include $13,809 on 19 separate flights on Qantas booked for his ex-wife Crista Thomson over a four-year period from January 2003 to October 2007.

    It is claimed Mr Thomson used his HSU Diners Club to pay for the flights. Lawyers for Fairfax argued this was “contrary” to his obligations as national secretary of the HSU.

    “The use of the Diners Club to purchase airline tickets for (Mr Thomson’s) then wife was not for work-related purposes,” an affidavit to the court said.

    The former union boss is also said to have spent $2050 on signed sporting memorabilia from Golden Years Collectable, a business in his NSW electorate. John Buckmaster, a director of Golden Years, confirmed Mr Thomson used the credit card in November 2006 – possibly on a signed poster of motorcycle champion Mick Doohan.

  6. Frank Campbell

    Quite amusing to see Crikey posters saying this sort of thing: “Do you have any facts to back up this rather blanket opinion, or is it that you cannot abide disagreement?”

    A sudden outbreak of “let’s be reasonable”, “let 100 flowers bloom” etc…
    anyone would think the partisan punch ‘n judy show of the past couple of years never happened…

    The reason isn’t far to seek: the ALP is in disarray, demoralised. The tatty Right is on the march, a march made possible only by the implosion of the Left. There is now some opposition to what passes for progressive politics in Crikey comments. There are a lot more Judys whacking Punch now.

    A related symptom in the Crikey commentariat- hardly a mention of climate change and the idiotic policies which stemmed from climate millenarianism. Gone (at least for now) are the high priests of the cult- Hamilton, Chapman, Rose etc etc…it’s as if real politics has chastened Crikey’s coffee-stained editorial table.

    There’s no point Crikey banging on about climate catastrophe when even the perpetrators of the cult (Mann et al) are wallowing in new hypotheses to explain the plateauing of global temps. The rest of the world has moved on. Crikey isn’t a sect, so it shouldn’t behave like one.

    As for the truck convoy, it’s neither Tea Party nor a bunch of ordinary folk having their say. The net political effect of this noisy, macho, flag-smothered, road-clogging parade of Rightist primitives is to increase Gillard’s vote. And none of us want that, do we?

  7. steeleye

    Thank you for the response, Suzanne. I would say in reply:

    1) Fair enough, in part. However, I have observed that the only poster who you seem to agree with on a regular basis is TTH (one or two others occasionally do post in support), while you regularly throw barbs at pretty much everyone else who dares to disagree with you. You also regularly make general statements about the ALP spin room being out in force when people disagree with the things that you say. If posters repeat content that is ‘almost identical’ to ALP Labor Connect emails, why don’t you call them on it, instead of making blanket statements that many people (myself included) will never take seriously? Indeed, if Crikey was as rabidly left-wing as some would have us believe, why would the ALP waste resources on trying to counter the few right-wing views? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    2) This is a non-answer. Let’s try again: if you have ‘no idea’ what the people in PM&C do, how can you extrapolate your ignorance of that Department to the statement that they are here on Crikey ‘trying to alter public perceptions’? My opinion of what PM&C does is irrelevant to the question.

    3) This is also, I’m disappointed to say, a non-answer. I asked you for the basis of this ‘fact’ that this is the most hated Federal Government of all time. If I can paraphrase your response: ‘Because the media say it is and Graham Richardson also said so on his program’. I’m not sure that I would extrapolate that observation to ‘fact’, after all it is the Australian media we are talking about here and Graham Richardson long ago went commercial, so to speak.

    Why do you think that you have disappointed me? Now, at least, I have an appreciation of how much substance lies behind some of your posts.

    Cheers

  8. Suzanne Blake

    @ Steeleye

    1) Why do you think that everyone who disagrees with you and TTH is from the ALP spin room? Do you have any facts to back up this rather blanket opinion, or is it that you cannot abide disagreement?

    Not everyone, just at time some of the posters have content almost identical to the ALP Labor Connect emails (that I get as well).

    2) If you have ‘no idea’ (your exact words) what the people in PM&C do, how can you extrapolate this ignorance of that Department to the statement that they are here on Crikey ‘trying to alter public perceptions’?

    The PM was asked as well and her response what spun, to something like The Government is a a major reform agenda…….. and did not answer the question. As a taxpayer, I would like to know why her department was increased by 200 people to around 980. Do you have an answer?

    3) You state: �the fact remains, this is the most hated Federal Government of all time�. What is the basis for this unequivocal statement of �fact�? Do you have access to opinion polls going back 110 years (assuming they have much value, which is arguable) that support your statement? Perhaps your statement is based on the fact that you ‘speak with retailers from Esperance to Cairns and Hobart to Darwin weekly or fortnightly, they are all saying the same or similar things and so are their customers’? This sounds a rather strange new approach to opinion polling, particularly if you want to gauge opinions of more than 100 years ago, wouldn’t you agree?

    The media is widely reporting this – and that is all media, not just the loathed Murdoch press. Even ex Labor MP Graham Richardson said this on his weekly current affairs show a month ago. This was at the same time he said that Labor could not recover regardless when an election was held. This latter comment was reported in the media.

    Steeleye – sorry to dissapoint you, but I do speak to people from all walks of life on a weekly or fortnightly basis in various paid and NFP roles. You can blame whomever you like, but the wide perception out there is that this Federal Government has to go. I have not spoken to anyone who wants the carbon tax, except my sister, who lives close to a former Labor Federal Leader (and Union leader) and is brainwashed.

  9. geomac

    Well he paid it back. Thats called taking responsibility.
    No its called avoiding being charged and heeding party pressure because the situation was politically untenable. He was serving minister not a backbencher and the fraud was against the commonwealth. Thompson is not a declared bankrupt or for that matter has he incurred any situation for him to be removed from parliament. I,m guessing that Howards brother avoided responsibility by allowing the taxpayer to pay for cover ? Hang on , should that be the ex PM avoided scrutiny of his brother by using taxpayers money or do both come under the same scenario ?
    I find the trucky thing a bit amusing and slightly bizarre. Thats a lot of juice and time wasted for no freight carried or I presume picked up for return trip. There is not one but several various gripes which surely confuses what they are on about ? I wonder if they will have the absurd accusation of the death of democracy while carrying a coffin like the other rally last week ? Attending a rally , carrying placards against the government outside parliament and death of democracy just doesn,t gel without the riot police attacking . A water cannon at the very least should have been present.
    Wonder if Gina is picking up the bill for fuel and wages ? One thing for sure and thats no TWU wage earner employee is driving without being paid. I was both a forky and driver for the flying H ( Hoffmans transport ) many years ago and unless its to do with wages and conditions none would join this convoy.

  10. geomac

    I realise it seems off topic Venise but it comes to the faux moral indignation heaped on Thompson when the same standard or more correctly lack of doesn,t apply to people such as Reith or many others. Illegal or unlawful but illegal is used knowing full well that it is incorrect but plays out better. It comes down to hypocrisy as in someone falsely saying Reith took responsibility by paying 30,000 for government fraud. Well no he didn,t because the amount was 50,000 in total and he resisted paying until it became untenable not to . He didn,t lose his position although he was moved to defence so calls for Thompson to be sacked or lose his position on a committee are not consistent with liberal practice in government. I use Reith as an example because he was guilty of fraud while a government minister and suffered no penalty or demotion. Thompson has not been to court for anything and in any case a sentence of 12 months or more is required to lose a parliamentary seat or at least thats my understanding. Thompson can,t be under the pump for the parliamentary register because Abbott neglected for two years to declare a 700,000 dollar loan so the right won,t pursue that line.
    Howard lost 6 or 7 in his first term and after that the high bar was lowered to a level where the AWB scandal was acceptable behaviour. Abbott has gone lower with Labor not far behind in respect to asylum seekers and to an extent Thompson. However unlike Reith , Vaile and Downer Thompson has done nothing in his performance as an MP.
    Trial by media or politicians who don,t apply the same rules to their own misdeeds are not worthy of consideration.

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