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."