Craig Thomson: it wasn't me
Photo © 2012 AAP One/Lukas Coch
Australia this week became the first country in the developed world to announce a return to a budget surplus.
Luckily we don’t have to talk much more about that any more, because a guy may or may not have used a work credit card to pay for hookers.
Former Labor-turned-newly-independent MP Craig Thomson, the former head of the Health Services Union (HSU), has given his first detailed explanation of allegations in the Fair Work Australia report that he misused some $500,000 of union funds on escort services and on personal and election campaign expenses.
Mr Thomson said the HSU was a very dysfunctional union and rivals had warned they would ruin his political career by "setting me up with hookers".
Mr Thomson has promised to provide a more detailed explanation, including naming names, when he addresses the House of Representatives when parliament resumes on May 21.
The Federal Opposition is using the scandal to smear the Gillard Government with as much mud as it can, insisting that Prime Minister Julia Gillard should not continue to accept Mr Thomson’s vote on the floor of the house.
The implication, of course, is that without Mr Thomson’s vote, the minority government is one step closer to falling.
Liberal MP Mathias Cormann is one MP questioning the PM’s credibility and judgment.
“How much longer will she stand by Craig Thomson and accept his vote on the floor of the parliament?" he told Sky News.
"His story was completely unbelievable and bizarre."
Senator Cormann said Mr Thomson wanted people to believe that some phantom stalker in the union movement went into his home, stole his credit cards, driver's licence and mobile phone, used them for prostitutes, then returned them all to his home, and that Mr Thomson had then signed off on the credit card payments.
Government MPs, for their part, insist that the investigation should be allowed to run its course without judgement or interference from Parliament.
The implication, of course, is that as long as the investigation is ‘running its course’, Mr Thomson’s vote will continue to help the government maintain its shaky grip on power.
"Let the independent agencies, whether it be the police or anyone else who has a legitimate interest in these as independent agencies, do their work without the parliament being heavied by Mr Abbott saying there now needs to be a vote to exclude Mr Thomson from the parliament," trade minister Craig Emerson told Sky News.
The saga is now broadening, with Government MPs accusing the Coalition of expecting Labor to meet standards that the Coalition has failed to apply to its own members when they were under scrutiny.
Dr Emerson said three MPs in the former government faced investigation for theft from the commonwealth through misuse of printing entitlements.
"At no stage did Labor say they are not entitled to vote," he said.
"Mr Abbott as leader of the house and Mr Howard as prime minister said ... they were entitled to the presumption of innocence and the investigative processes should be able to go to conclusion. It's the same principle."
Dr Emerson said he sincerely hoped the parliament didn't go down the path where politicians could vote other politicians out of parliament and deny the people of their electorate representation because of some allegation.
Key independent MP Tony Windsor has rejected any suggestion of kicking Mr Thomson out of parliament before the matter is heard before a court.
"What I won't do is support moves that undermine the separation of powers and convert a hung parliament into a judiciary," Mr Windsor told Sky News on Sunday.
Mr Thomson was entitled to a presumption of innocence until a court made its verdict.
"The findings do look pretty damning but everyone is entitled to their day in court, including Craig Thomson," Mr Windsor said.
As it stands, MPs are able to stay in parliament as long as they are not convicted of criminal offences attracting jail terms of a year or more or they go bankrupt.
As rumours of dodgy behaviour by other MPs fly across the chamber, on and off the record, the issue arises as to how much an MP’s private life should be subjected to public scrutiny.
Criminal behaviour aside, do MPs deserve to maintain some degree of privacy, where their personal lives do not impede their performances as Parliamentarians?
Or do voters deserve to know exactly who they’re voting in to Parliament… and what they’re into?
(You can tell us yourself in this handy web poll!)