Consider, for a moment, a reality where Tony Abbott managed to convince the independents that his case for forming government was stronger in 2010. Prime Minister Abbott is about to unveil his very own price on carbon, and the Parliament is working pretty well against any objective indicia. Now consider a reality where a Coalition MP was facing allegations of impropriety in his former profession, and the Labor Opposition was openly calling for his vote to be withheld and actively calling for the Parliament to play the role that has always been reserved for the judiciary.
In some ways this is an entirely possible alternative given that many serious allegations have been levelled against Peter Slipper, who would likely still be a Coalition MP if the Coalition had managed to seize power in 2010. But by considering that alternative, one in which PM Abbott was defending a Coalition MP, we can see how easy it is to lose sight of the facts and reality in such a hyper-partisan and heated environment. It is easy to call for blood because it appeals to the populist segments of the community; it is more difficult to argue that we should be calm and measured while respecting the rule of law because it is not what Herald Sun readers want to read. Just because something might appeal to individuals who are easily persuaded does not mean that it is the right thing to do. Often the opposite holds true.
Craig Thomson has faced nine separate investigations, some of which are still ongoing. On no occasion has there been any substantive adverse finding; quite the opposite is true. Despite the rhetoric and slander, not a single body has been able to find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing on his part while he was the National Secretary of the Health Services Union. There is absolutely no doubt that the HSU East branch is riddled with problems that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but not a single one of these can be attributed to Thomson at this stage. The most significant finding against Thomson was the Fair Work Australia report, but on that there are two points to be made: it did not find any criminal wrongdoing; and it consisted substantively of allegations that were made by his adversaries. I would be questioning the quality of that evidence.
There is perhaps more to be told, more that we don’t know. A Current Affair, always a beacon of journalistic integrity, apparently has paid a sex worker $60000 in return for her claim that Thomson paid for her services. If this turns out to be true, I and other unionists will rightly condemn the actions of Thomson for the spending of union money from workers in a low-paid industry on sex. But we should wait for a potential adverse finding against him by an independent body which is privy to all of the evidence and facts, and one which gives Thomson the opportunity to face his accusers and level a defence. Perhaps others might disagree, but ACA probably doesn’t meet that standard.
I’m not prejudging the outcome of any investigation or proceeding against Thomson that might occur in the future. That’s the point. Those who are calling for his blood are doing so on weak evidence because it is the popular thing to say. “He must go” is something I hear on a daily basis, with very little dissenting voice as to why, exactly, his vote on behalf of the people on Dobell ought not to count. Because the “why?” doesn’t suit the narrative of the Coalition.
The hyper-partisanship of the Coalition on this issue has led to a situation where we have abandoned principles that weren’t really up for debate just a short time ago. To abandon the rule of law to make a political point, and maybe seize power, shows how lacking in judgement Tony Abbott really is. I don’t recall any person from the ALP calling for a duly elected MPs vote to be withheld due to, for example, the Australian Wheat Board scandal. Such an argument would be hysterical, and the same holds true for much of the anti-Thomson rhetoric coming from an Opposition that is more concerned with wrecking the place to seize power than actually being a credible alternative.