Federal Politics

License article

Thomson move shakes Gillard government

Embattled MP Craig Thomson has finally agreed to address parliament about Fair Work findings he used union funds to pay for escort services and fund his election campaign.

Thomson's dramatic question-time backdown narrowly averted defeat for the Government on the floor of Parliament, as independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott were expected to side with the Coalition.

Labor's quest to drag its political narrative away from the Thomson scandal to focus on the benefits of its ‘‘battlers' budget’’ was hijacked by the opposition.

Manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne moved a motion to suspend standing orders demanding the MP, who has been suspended from the Labor party, make a ten minute statement to parliament over the damning Fair Work Australia report.

After more than 50 previous attempts to suspend standing orders, the opposition came closer than ever before to succeeding.


Mr Pyne said Mr Thomson had promised last year he would make a comprehensive statement ‘‘in the near future’’ but had failed to make good on the pledge.

‘‘Now eight months later we are still waiting to hear it,’’ Mr Pyne said.

Mr Thomson then took the unusual move of asking for the indulgence of the house to say he would make a ‘‘longer statement’’ during the next sitting week.

The Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor had been under mounting pressure from the opposition to support the demand for Mr Thomson to explain himself - and it was expected they would support the motion.

But it is understood Mr Thomson met with Mr Windsor this morning to inform him he intended to make a statement in the next sitting week.

Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor voted with the government.  

‘‘I will be seeking to make a statement probably in excess of 15 minutes,’’ Mr Thomson said. ‘‘On the next sitting week, I intend to make a statement.’’

Mr Thomson said he hasn’t yet had time to go through the 1100 page Fair Work Australia investigation report which he said he first received late on Monday evening.

He later tweeted: ''Looking forward to setting the record straight on the HSU in the next parliamentary sitting fortnight.''

The report found Mr Thomson had repeatedly provided false and misleading information during the course of the four year investigation into the national office of the Health Services Union.

The report contained damaging allegations against Mr Thomson, who was national secretary of the HSU from 2002 to 2007, when he entered Parliament.

Denying he had ever used his HSU credit cards to procure escort services, Mr Thomson had provided ’’information that is false or misleading’’, the report said.

He was found to have provided false or misleading information about the $103,000 in cash withdrawals made during the period he was national secretary.

Allegations were also levelled against Mr Thomson that he spent more than $250,000 of HSU funds without authorisation ’’to advance his prospects of becoming elected to Parliament’’ when contesting the central coast of seat Dobell in 2007.

As national secretary, Mr Thomson spent $73,000 on wining and dining. Not all of this was on HSU union business, the report found. Even after he had left the union, Mr Thomson spent another $1425 of HSU funds for his personal benefit, the report revealed.

Mr Pyne said the opposition had moved on six previous occasions to suspend standing orders to call on Mr Thomson to explain his use of Health Services Union funds to pay for escort services and in his 2007 election campaign.

The Liberal powerbroker said at the time Mr Thomson was negotiating for HSU members to receive a meal allowance of $11.40 a day, he was using union credit cards to pay $551 for meals at an exclusive Sydney restaurant.

‘‘It would have taken an HSU member 12 weeks of cleaning a hospital to pay for the escort services the member for Dobell is alleged to have paid for ... in just one night,’’ he said.

Mr Thomson, who was elected as a Labor MP but now sits as an independent, survived an opposition move yesterday to suspend him from parliament for 14 days.

Mr Thomson strenuously denies the allegations and says he will defend them when FWA brings civil action against him in the Federal Court.

twitter Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU