The Craig Thomson scandal will only rob the Gillard government of its majority if most of the lower house independents support his suspension from parliament. The government’s numbers would then be so tight it could often have to rely on the casting vote of acting speaker Anna Burke to pass legislation. This looks unlikely, but much hinges on how detailed — and convincing — Thomson is in his address to parliament later this month.
So what noises have the lower house powerbrokers been making about the Thomson affair?
Of all the independents, the member for Lyne has been the most strident in his condemnation of the former HSU boss. Oakeshott has not ruled out supporting a censure motion against Thomson or a motion suspending him from parliament — even though this would cost the government a crucial vote in the house.
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“Bugger the numbers,” a frustrated Oakeshott told Fairfax earlier this week. “It’s not about the numbers. This is about dealing with the merits of the issue.”
This morning, he is reported as saying the scandal is making him question his support for the minority Labor government and Julia Gillard’s legitimacy as prime minister.
“Have I entered a good faith agreement with someone who doesn’t have the authority to do it because they actually don’t have the legitimate numbers in the House to enter that agreement because it’s based on people who are dodgy?” he told The Australian Financial Review.
Oakeshott, however, has planted a landmine for the coalition by arguing they should lead by example and expel SA senator Mary Jo Fisher, who was found guilty of assault last year without a conviction.
The member for New England, while appalled by the FWA findings against Thomson, has been far more circumspect in his public statements. He says he will stand by the government and won’t throw Thomson out while there are no charges against him.
“I will be adhering to that agreement until I find good reason not to,” he said earlier this week. “My arrangements with the government don’t include Craig Thomson.”
Windsor dismissed the Coalition’s attempt to suspend Thomson from the lower house this week as a stunt and says he does not want the parliament to act as “judge and jury” on the allegations against him.
The maverick Queensland MP came to Labor’s aid yesterday by saying that he would not support any vote to suspend Thomson, or force his resignation, until the matters against him have been heard by a court. This approach is far friendlier to Thomson, and Labor, than Oakeshott’s.
Earlier this week, Katter said he was “really very sensitive to kangaroo courts, and the Parliament of Australia would be the worst possible kangaroo court known to man”.
“The argument on the other side has been there has been a quasi-judicial tribunal that has held there is substantial evidence but I still think that falls short,” he said.
Earlier in the week, the jilted Tasmanian independent backed the coalition’s bid to have Thomson suspended for 14 days, describing the scandal as one of the most important issues to confront parliament in recent years.
“It was weighing very heavily in the chamber yesterday, those dreadful findings of the Fair Work Australia report,” Wilkie said on Wednesday. “I think it has left everyone very troubled and I think some of my cross-bench colleagues as well are thinking deeply about this, and how we do respond.”
However, Wilkie, who recently met with Thomson to hear his side of the story, later said he expects the furore to die down after Thomson gives his explanation to parliament. ”As long as he gives a meaningful explanation, I will be prepared to wait for the investigation to take its course,” he said.
Greens MP Adam Bandt has been the least critical of Thomson. He has sided with Labor and the other independents to block Coalition moves to suspend the troubled MP from parliament.