Menu lock

Australia

Jan 31, 2013

Craig Thomson isn’t going anywhere — innocent or guilty

Craig Thomson faces 150 fraud charges after being arrested today. But the ex-Labor MP will stay in Parliament for the duration of the trial -- at least until he's dumped at the election.

Craig Thomson’s arrest on 150 fraud charges will cause reputational damage to the Gillard government but is extremely unlikely to topple the 43rd parliament prematurely.

As Crikey noted last October following the last New South Wales Police raid, absent of a Thomson resignation there are at least five flaming hoops that would need to be jumped through — including a charge, a conviction and an unsuccessful appeal (or appeals) and a byelection before July for the independent Dobell MP to be forced off Capital Hill.

The much more likely impact is that preselected Liberal candidate Karen McNamara will more easily rein in Thomson’s 5.1% margin and snag Dobell — as expected — on September 14.

Under the constitution, an MP must leave Parliament if they are convicted of a crime that carries a penalty of over a year. But there is zero chance a Thomson trial, conviction and various appeals will be completed before mid-year — the last point the Coalition could legitimately argue that the government should call an early byelection that must be held, like a general election, between 33 and 58 days after writs are issued. The process can take three months from go to whoa.

On the floor of the House, where Labor has 70 MPs, it needs five of seven crossbenchers to pass legislation or four to defeat a motion with Anna Burke to break a tie. Thomson will rightly ignore Coalition demands that Labor offset his vote, with Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, and Adam Bandt all but guaranteed to remain in the government column. As we wrote last year, assuming Peter Slipper continues to vote with the government, Gillard would still hold a 76-74 advantage in the House before the exclusion of the Speaker, or 75-74 with Burke in the chair.

If Slipper votes with the Coalition in a motion of no-confidence we’re getting closer to a new poll, although all indications are he won’t act to bring down the government. Andrew Wilkie has already said he probably won’t back any no-confidence motion unless it relates to a proven instance of sleaze.

Thomson is protected under the Parliamentary Privileges Act from appearing in court if the hearing is scheduled five days either side of a parliamentary sitting day or a meeting of a parliamentary committee — he’s currently on the House economics committee.

Thomson’s lawyer, former Australian Workers Union official Chris McArdle, told Sky News yesterday his client would plead not guilty to all charges “because he hadn’t done anything”. He says any money spent by Thomson during his five-year term as Health Services Union national secretary between 2002 and 2007 was done so “lawfully and in accordance with the rules of the union” and reiterated his client’s claim he had been setup by union rivals.

NSW Police appear to have tipped off a Channel Seven camera crew to the impending raid and humiliating “perp walk”, currently being beamed around the nation. McArdle says Seven cameramen were stationed outside Thomson’s Central Coast electorate office since 7am — suggesting the force’s savvy media unit was getting busy on the secret texts.

McArdle also questioned the amount of muscle present — five officers; two from Victoria and three from NSW — who walked Thomson to a nearby unmarked station wagon. The NSW fraud officers including Colin Dyson were acting on behalf of Victorian fraud squad detectives who commandeered boxes and handwriting samples from Thomson’s house last year and have been busy combing through the records of the former national office. Their burly presence was tailor-made for a media feast.

“What were the other three doing then? Handing out press releases?” McArdle told Sky. The unit was certainly on the front foot: at 1.22pm yesterday afternoon, NSW police posted on its website a release eagerly informing the public an arrest warrant had been issued for a “48-year-old man” for “fraud against the Health Services Union”.

Thomson appeared in a Wyong court yesterday and will appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Monday. But McArdle says Thomson won’t be “extradited” but simply travel to Victoria to appear, precluding any Mrs Petrov-style forced embarkations. He told the ABC his client has effectively been charged with “buying an ice cream” and told Sky that he’d spent $300 on ancillary expenses.

The VicPol-auspiced swoop will no doubt raise questions as to whether its separate probes of the Victorian No. 3 and No. 1 branches, previously controlled by Kathy and Jeff Jackson respectively, are close to completion, and if so, whether anyone else will face charges.

Here’s what Crikey wrote last October on the extreme unlikelihood of Thomson’s predicament leading to an early poll. With Julia Gillard anointing September 14 election day, an unlikely by-election would have to be called by July 10 at the very latest if it were to occur before writs are issued on August 12. And even then the opposition would still lack the numbers in the House …

  1. The constitution mandates an MP is banned if they are convicted of a crime that carries a penalty of over a year, regardless of how much time they are actually sentenced to. So, for example, if Thomson was ever convicted of fraud or theft under the Victorian Crimes Act he would be banned from federal Parliament because that crime is “punishable” by up to 10 years in prison. But an early exit from parliament would require a subsequent trial and all appeals would have to be exhausted.
  2. The other option is bankruptcy stemming from Fair Work Australia’s civil claims — that could (although probably won’t) attract penalties of up to $450,000. But as McArdle and industrial relations academic Andrew Stewart explained last year, those could well fail on a two-year statute of limitations provision, pending the outcome of an appeal in the Toyota Materials Case currently before the Federal Court.
  3. Assuming one or both of those bans eventuated, a byelection in Dobell would then need to be won by the Liberals’ Karen McNamara (held by Thomson by 5.1%).

We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola

47 comments

Leave a comment

47 thoughts on “Craig Thomson isn’t going anywhere — innocent or guilty

  1. Mike Flanagan

    Sounds to me like a repeat of the Lynch inspired Kemlhani affair. Much ado about nothing and manipulation of the legal processes to advance an empty head’s ambitions.

  2. Madonna

    Sad to hear the news about Mr Thomson!
    What a turnaround, I thought ‘it’ was all behind him.
    After all, the case before the court is circumstantial until facts prove otherwise. Time will tell.
    I’m wondering if the PM was privy to this news about Mr Thomson and he was a catalyst to her ‘sudden’ election announcement?
    Nonetheless, it must be a horrible time for Mr Thomson’s wife and family with him back in the media spotlight.
    My perception is that he has vicious enemies in high places.
    Personally I hope he has a good Criminal Lawyer to
    successfully defend the allegations.

  3. Mike Flanagan

    Oh so true Sheperdmarilon but it takes irksome people to play in dietritus because they usually end up covered in it themselves.

  4. Suzanne Blake

    Interesting that Gillard announced an election date yesterday and Thomson arrested today and the Speaker could delay by-election, as date of Federal election is known.

    Gillard knew this.

    Jimmy from the spin office – well done

  5. Patriot

    Always amusing to see the mental hoops lefties can jump through to preserve their fantasy that everyone on their side is above reproach – corrupt, politically motivated detectives, vicious enemies in FWA and, of course, the amazing HSU ninjas who impersonated Thompson, stole in and out of his hotel rooms unseen and spirited documents and credit cards out of and into his possession at will.

    Still, this is good practice for lefties who will construct a similar conspiracy theory when Gillard is arrested and extradited by Victorian and/or Western Australian detectives over her role in the AWU fraud.

  6. fractious

    That Ch 7 (and presumably 9 and 10 and… pause… ABC) and Limited News were on the Thomson’s doorstep some time in advance of the NSW/Vic Polis turning up is, some assure me, happenstance. That the entire event took place right at the point Abbott was in the middle of the Q+A session of his NPC appearance is, I am told, pure coincidence. That the meeja scrum were there well before the last raid on Thomson’s residence is not, some insist, of any relevance whatsoever.

    So, nothing to see here, move along…

  7. fractious

    That Ch 7 (and presumably 9 and 10 and… pause… ABC) and Limited News were on the Thomson’s doorstep some time in advance of the NSW/Vic Polis turning up is, some assure me, happenstance. That the entire event took place right at the point Abbott was in the middle of the Q+A session of his NPC appearance is, I am told, pure coincidence. That the meeja scrum were there well before the last raid on Thomson’s residence is not, some insist, of any relevance whatsoever.

    So, nothing to see here, move along…

  8. fractious

    Apols for the double post, but my first attempt apparently vanished.

  9. Sascha

    Apparently a byelection does not have to be called in this time frame if the date of the general election is known.

    Any chance she knew yesterday that one of here mps was getting arrested?

    Any chance she didn’t?

  10. geomac62

    Patrat
    Your as delusional as that HSU spiv Kathy Jackson .

Leave a comment