(Reprinted with the author’s permission)
After Craig Thomson’s speech to Parliament, many in the media and Opposition side of politics have gone back to their roles as judge, jury and executioner. Peter Wicks looks at some of the discrepancies — in the stories of his accusers.
On Monday, 21st May 2012, the Thomson Circus finally rolled into Canberra.
Twas the day the Honourable Member For Dobell, Craig Thomson, made his long awaited speech before the parliament and a packed press gallery. His aim? To prove the word “Honourable” in his title is justified.
I’m not going to try and convince you it was one of the greatest speeches ever in our parliament; nor am I going to try and convince you that it was a poor effort. You are all able to make up your own minds. Every journalist, commentator, shock jock, blogger and media hack – along with pretty much anyone with a Twitter account – has a view on Craig’s performance. And of course, all of them are right — apparently. I don’t want to talk about that.
What I want to talk about is the fallout from Craig Thomson’s speech. Whether his credibility is enhanced or diminished as a result of his speech and about those, apart from Craig, upon whom the spotlight will fall when some tough questions are finally asked of them — as must surely happen.
Firstly, regarding Craig Thomson’s claim of a set-up — about which in Parliament today Coalition attack dog Christopher Pyne dismissed as totally lacking any credibility.
This appears to be a strange statement, as there appear to be a few fairly obvious discrepancies in the evidence against Craig Thomson, which can be easily identified from the public record.
Firstly, let’s talk about Craig Thompson; that’s right, Thompson — with a “p”.
On the credit card imprints reportedly offered as evidence in December 2010 by Fairfax Media in their defence of Thomson’s defamation proceedings (which were eventually settled out of court) it was a person named “Thompson” (not Thomson, as Craig Thomson spells his name) who had received the notorious escort services.
According to Fairfax reporter Geesche Jacobsen, in a story published on 10 December 2010 (emphasis mine):
‘The court was hearing legal argument in a defamation case brought by Mr Thomson, the Labor member for Dobell, against Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald. The paper last year published allegations concerning the use of a credit card issued by Mr Thomson’s then employer, the Health Services Union.
‘Fairfax’s barrister, Sandy Dawson, told the court credit card statements for $2475 and $385 in Mr Thomson’s name showed two entries in the name of Keywed Pty Ltd Restaurant in Surry Hills, on April 9, 2005 and August 16, 2007. That company name was linked to the escort agency Sydney Outcalls, he said, and it was not unusual for adult services to make the entry on financial records ”look like a culinary experience rather than a more sensual one”.
‘The credit card vouchers for the transactions were issued in Mr Thomson’s name, were signed and noted a driver’s licence number. According to subpoenaed RTA records, a licence with that number was issued to Mr Craig Robert Thomson of Bateau Bay. NSW drivers’ photo licences can be used to verify a person’s identification.’
Evidence reportedly tendered by Fairfax in defamation proceedings brought against them by Craig Thomson.
As you can see by the image above, the surname on the credit card imprint purportedly made by Craig Thomson clearly says “Thompson”.
It is also a manual credit card imprint from one of those old fashioned credit card machines, which results in a receipt showing a carbon copy of the face of the credit card. In other words, the credit card alleged to have been used by Craig Thomson had his name spelt wrong.
Now, last time I opened a bank account they were pretty fussy about ID. They are quite careful to make sure your name is right for rather obvious reasons. Identity theft is, after all, a pretty big issue these days.
I would assume this to be even more important with a credit account — given it’s the banks money you are spending.
This evidence was introduced by Fairfax as “forensic evidence” of Craig Thomson’s use of prostitutes with a HSU credit card. Are they truly saying that Craig Thomson was using an official HSU credit card that was not even issued in his own name?
Has anyone questioned whether the credit card used for the imprint was actually such a poor forgery it didn’t even get the name of the target precisely correct? Bear in mind that the card was swiped manually, not through an EFT console, so any forgery would only need to duplicate the face of the card and not the magnetic strip.
Perhaps Fairfax’s investigative crime journalist Kate McClymont, who wrote 12 stories about Craig Thomson without interviewing him once, as he noted in his speech, can explain this apparent discrepancy? We look forward to this obvious question being answered.
On the face of that, Craig Thomson’s arguments about identity theft appear to gain weight.
Secondly, Thomson stated in his speech that he had a water-tight alibi for three of the occasions he was alleged to have used a brothel.
Craig Thomson said:
“Of the seven occasions that are set out, three of them could not be me. There are alibis: on two occasions my being with other people, and on one occasion being in Perth and not being in Sydney for the month around the alleged incident.”
Craig Thomson did not have an immediate alibi for the other four occasions, he said, which the usual talking heads in the media world and the Opposition seem to be inferring proves guilt. But, wait a minute… if he had an alibi for three of the occasions, doesn’t that actually actually show that his identity had been stolen for at least three of the incidents. There is no other way to look at this — if Thomson truly can prove his whereabouts for those three incidents, then his argument about identity theft is proven. If this is the case, then the rest of the incidents must be called into question. Or, put another way, if Thomson’s identity was stolen on three occasions, then there obviously is a conspiracy against him — which throws the entire matter into doubt.
We would urge Thomson to come forward and show evidence to categorically prove his whereabouts for any of the incidents. If he cannot do this, his story loses credibility; but if he can, his assertions gain weight.
Without a thorough analysis of the source and circumstantial evidence, it is impossible to adjudicate on Thomson’s guilt or otherwise. But in any case, as we have shown, Thomson’s alleged use of prostitutes is not as clear-cut as it has been portrayed in the media, or by the Opposition, and should be left for the proper authorities to consider with all the appropriate facts at their disposal — not through a media/political Kangaroo Court as is currently, depressingly, occurring.
Next is the allegation that Thomson misused Union funds for his election campaign. Indeed, HSU Acting President Chris Brown alleged, after Thomson’s speech, that the money taken by Thomson for election campaigns had not been approved by the Union. After all, said Brown, as he was on the committee, he would have had to approve the expenditure. That leads me to a couple of queries.
Firstly, why has the Union not asked for the funds to be returned?
More importantly, if Chris was in charge of the Union’s funds, why did he not notice these funds go missing without sign-off? We are talking about a substantial sum of money here. Was he asleep at the wheel, bad at his job, just plain dumb, or maybe even complicit? These are reasonable questions that do not seem to have been asked by anyone.
Craig Thomson’s address to Federal Parliament made mention of the behaviour of the press — in particular Channel Seven. Thomson broke down when he spoke about them lurking outside the bathroom window as his pregnant wife showered.
This is not the first time this Network has been attacked for going the extra mile in its portrayal of the news.
Who could possibly forget Tony Abbott criticising Channel Seven for their job on the infamous “shit happens” story last year.
Before that, in NSW, we had the legendary David Campbell incident. MP David Campbell was filmed leaving a gay club one night, with the flimsy public interest purpose offered by Seven being an allegation that he had driven a Government car to the premises.
Nevertheless, Channel 7 denies Thomson’s allegations of hovering outside bathroom windows and, it seems, the majority of us accept it.
Some of you may have seen Kathy Jackson being interviewed on 7.30 by Chris Uhlmann, or heard her having a chat with Chris Smith on 2GB last week; if not, I have included links to the full interviews.
Chris Smith knows a little about workplace relations, having had some interesting experiences himself. Smith, prior to introducing Jackson, gives a summary of events that was, at best, a gross exaggeration and, at worst, a total fabrication.
But, rather than focus on that, I wanted to go over Jackson’s responses to Chris Uhlmann — who was a more objective interviewer than Smith. The following is taken from the transcript of the programme, to which I have added my comments underneath.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Did you witness a confrontation where a union official Marco Bolano said he would ruin Craig Thomson by setting him up with prostitutes?
KATHY JACKSON: I have never witnessed such a confrontation or meeting or clash or whatever you want to call it. That has never occurred.
Marco Bolano recalls things differently; he did recall the meeting, though he denies any mention of prostitutes. He said the meeting was with a “half brother” of Thomson’s and that it was, indeed, a heated exchange.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you aware of any union officials before Mr Thomson being accused of consorting with prostitutes?
KATHY JACKSON: No.
For somebody who constantly refers to Thomson as “delusional”, this is an interesting answer. (In fact, Jackson calling Thomson delusional is itself an interesting statement, given Kathy Jackson herself reportedly suffered a mental breakdown and was committed to psychiatric care in a Melbourne Hospital just last year.) But her disavowal here of any knowledge of any other officials being accused of visiting prostitutes is very interesting, when we consider the following link to a story in The Weekend Australian, which describes exactly the same kind of allegations being made against her very own ex-husband, Jeff Jackson, in 2009 — and which mentions her throughout as someone intimately involved in the whole affair.
Brad Norington writes (11/4/2009):
‘The allegations against Jackson, a senior figure in the ALP’s Victorian Right faction, have only come to light because of leaks after a nasty power struggle within the HSU’s No. 1 division. No one emerges as a cleanskin in this battle: certainly not Jackson’s main opponent, the HSU branch’s president Pauline Fegan. But the sloppy and sometimes sordid details of union spending at the HSU have emerged in the same week that one of its former officials, federal Labor MP Craig Thomson, has been forced to fend off allegations that he, too, used his union credit card on prostitutes before entering parliament at the 2008 federal election.’
Are we to believe that Kathy Jackson has an incredibly short memory span? Or is perhaps delusional herself? It would seem difficult to forget ABC Lateline filming you and your ex-husband only 3 years ago, as Norington writes in the same piece — at the same time as providing some tantalising clues about Jackson’s possible motivations:
‘The position of Kathy Jackson in the HSU’s accounting mess is particularly crucial, because she was the whistleblower who alerted her union’s executive to the need to review credit card expenditure by her union predecessor Craig Thomson.
‘She is also central to the puzzle as Jeff Jackson’s feisty former wife and the head of a Victorian HSU branch in her own right (known as HSU No. 3). During an interview with ABC TV’s Lateline program on Thursday evening, Jackson could be seen telling her intruding former husband, “Thanks Jeff, shut the door.”
While the pair are estranged personally, they are believed to be on the same side politically. So Kathy Jackson’s method in seeking mass resignations and fresh election could be a tactical move, based on the belief that her ex-husband has enough support within the union to win back his position at the expense of Fegan.
Now, back to the ABC 7.30 interview between Uhlmann and Jackson:
CHRIS UHLMANN: Well Mr Thomson’s made many accusations about you as you have of him. He points out that you drive a union paid for Volvo, that your child care and gym fees are paid for, you have taken numerous overseas trips at the expense of the union and that you’re salary doubled in the weeks after he left at $270,000.
KATHY JACKSON: I reject all those claims. What I do say about the salary I’m quite interested in, what did he say …
She rejects all those claims? Jackson does, in fact, drive a union paid for for Volvo SUV.
KATHY JACKSON: [Discussing her $270,000 salary.] At mediation last week in the courts, as part of that mediation process, I put my hand up and said that I should get at least $100,000 salary cut, and that was rejected.
Wait up. Last week? Well, that’s timely. Her pay was, according to her in the same interview, massively increased to $270,000 in May last year — why did she accept such an increase if she thought it was exorbitant? And Jackson brought this up at a “mediation”? Now, unless the issue is within the terms of that particular mediation, it will be thrown out automatically as irrelevant to the proceedings. This seems to me to be a pre-planned tokenistic gesture….
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there a conflict of interest here because your partner Michael Lawler is the vice President of Fair Work Australia?
KATHY JACKSON: No, not at all and I reject that claim totally. And Craig Thomson’s allegations are totally wicked against him. Michael Lawler is the Vice-President of Fair Work Australia, formerly the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Michael Lawler has suddenly gone on what FWA are calling “Long Leave”. This happened last Friday in such a hurry that even his PA was unaware of it when I spoke to her. The question must be asked: why has Lawler suddenly vacated the scene – without his partner – if there are no suggestions of a conflict of interest?
CHRIS UHLMANN: Has Michael Lawler ever been involved with you in any of the strategy meetings with the HSU about any of the actions that you have got going?
KATHY JACKSON: Well, obviously, as my partner I talk to Michael about what I’m doing and as my partner I talk to him about not just HSU issues but other issues as well.
Now, this shows the colossal conflict of interest. The police operation set up to investigate the HSU, Strikeforce Carnarvon was set up after Michael Lawler made the original police complaints about union corruption. The prospect of the Vice President of an investigative body being the partner of, and discussing the case with, his partner, who is head of the body under investigation, is an atrocious look for any investigation. Indeed, there are excellent grounds for this situation to be investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It is somewhat akin to Ivan Milat going out to dinner and spending the night with the judge at his trial.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Does Michael Lawler have connections with the Liberal Party as Craig Thomson suggests?
KATHY JACKSON: Not that I know of.
Should that perhaps be “No Specific Knowledge”, the Coalition’s current standard get-out clause, used ad infinitum by Pyne, Brough and Abbott over claims they assisted James Ashby in his case against Independent MP Peter Slipper?
CHRIS UHLMANN: You mentioned the HR Nicholls society, who is paying your legal bills?
KATHY JACKSON: I’m paying my legal bills. Um … I’ve got a $40,000 debt already. That the union won’t pay for. And Brett Shields for Reid Zafp are doing all the work pro-bono and so is Stewart Ward.
With Chris Smith on 2GB, Jackson stated “no-one is paying those fees”, and that “all are doing it pro-bono” — so, where did the $40,000 debt figure come from?
CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you still using Harmers workplace lawyers?
KATHY JACKSON: Yes I am.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And are they doing that work pro-bono?
KATHY JACKSON: Yes they are.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you aware that it’s the same law firm that’s representing James Ashby the man who has accused the Speaker of sexual harassment.
KATHY JACKSON: I am now.
Given the media attention, it would seem to be beyond belief that Jackson would not have been aware of this fact by last night. In any case she did not look in the slightest bit shocked or surprised at this revelation.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And why do you think Harmers workplace lawyers is representing you pro-bono?
KATHY JACKSON: I think they are representing me pro-bono because they believe in my case. I’m not making this up. The allegations that I have taken to the police are serious and genuine. I have not made these allegations to set Craig Thomson up or anybody up.
How nice of them. If legal firms operated in that manner, they would only charge a fraction of their clients, because I’m sure they believe in many, if not most, of their cases. By Jackson’s logic, if Harmer’s charge a client for their services, they must think they are guilty, or not believe in their case — a ridiculous proposition and one that showed poor faith.
In my view, for the reasons described – and others – Kathy Jackson did not seem to me to be at all a convincing witness, especially given her statement contained significant unexplained discrepancies with the public record. Her response on 7.30, in all, would appear to further support to Craig Thomson’s claims. Of especial note is that Jackson did not deny that Michael Lawler was involved in strategy meetings with the HSU.
Of course, all this may be entirely innocent and the Jackson Lawler connection may be entirely innocent. Thomson may, indeed, be guilty. However, he deserves the presumption of innocence — especially given the waters are so murky.
In any case, the debate about Craig Thomson’s guilt or innocence will rage on for a while yet, since the Independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor say they will not support any motion to suspend him from Parliament.
If there is a positive outcome from yesterday’s speech, it is that it was good to see and hear another side to the story starting to come out at long, long, last.
We can’t know who is guilty of who is pure at this stage. At this stage, only one thing is really for sure — and that is that the accusations will keep raining down thick and fast.
It will be interesting to see who is best covered, and who remains dry after the downpour…
(Read more from Peter Wicks on his blog WIXXYLEAKS. You can only follow him on Twitter @madwixxy.)