Today’s allegation that Labor MP Craig Thomson made calls to escort agencies while working as a union boss is just the latest development in a slow-motion scandal that could bring the Gillard government undone.
The Thomson affair is the scandal that keeps on giving: from prostitutes paid on a union credit card to accusations of bullying to news that Labor paid up to $150,000 to stop the MP going bankrupt. And with a raft of investigations and audits currently underway into Thomson’s conduct, you can expect more bombshells in the weeks ahead.
The Liberal Party is supremely confident that if Thomson is forced to resign they will win the ensuing by-election and force Labor from office. Thomson is the member for Dobell, a marginal seat on the NSW Central Coast.
To help you keep track of the sordid affair, The Power Index has compiled the following timeline.
November 2007: Craig Thomson, who had been boss of the Health Services Union since 2002, is elected the member for Dobell, defeating the Liberal Party incumbent Ken Ticehurst. In his maiden speech he pays tribute to the Labor powerbrokers Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar.
April 2009: The Sydney Morning Herald publishes allegations that Thomson’s Health Services Union credit card was used to pay for prostitutes and to bankroll his election campaign. Thomson denies the allegations and launches a defamation suit against the paper.
August 1 2011: Thomson admits on Radio 2UE that he approved thousands of dollars worth of Health Services Union payments to a Sydney escort agency. But he says that he was unaware that the money was being spent on prostitutes.
August 4: Shadow Attorney General George Brandis calls for the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions to launch a criminal investigation into Thomson. Under the constitution, if an MP is found guilty of a crime that carries a sentence of over a year they have to leave parliament.
August 10: Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts tells the NSW parliament that his department has served notice to deregister Coastal Voice, an organisation Thompson set up in 2006. Liberal MPs have previously claimed that Coastal Voice was a campaign vehicle for the MP, rather than the aged-care support organisation it purported to be. Thomson denies the allegation and says that an Australian Electoral Commission investigation into the matter had cleared him of any wrongdoing.
August 11: It is revealed that the Liberal Party has been approaching potential candidates, including former opinion editor of The Australian, Tom Switzer, to run in Dobell in the event of a by-election. Switzer tells The Power Index that, although tempted to run, he turned down the offer because of work and family commitments.
August 14: Thomson is accused of verbally abusing a Salvation Army charity worker at a poker machine rally on the NSW central coast. It is claimed that he called her a “disgrace” and threatened to finish her career. He vehemently denies the allegation.
August 18: Thomson updates the pecuniary interests register to show that the Labor Party paid up to $150,000 worth of legal bills to avoid him going bankrupt. Had he gone bankrupt he would have been automatically disqualified from serving as an MP. The money was paid to Fairfax Media after Thomson dropped his defamation suit against the company. Seven News also reports that Fair Work Australia is investigating whether Thomson misled the workplace watchdog when it investigated the credit card allegations against him in 2010.
Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard is treating Thomson like a “protected species who can do no wrong” but refuses to call for her to sack him. He says he does not want to present himself as a “paragon of virtue”. Julia Gillard says she has “complete confidence” in the MP.
August 19: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that bills and credit card statements they have obtained show that Thomson made calls to escort agencies from hotel rooms in Melbourne in April and June 2006.
Read the rest of this story over at The Power Index.