Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Hookergate: Liberal senator and hardman George Brandis closes the trap.

Yesterday during Question Time in the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister was asked by the Member for Mackellar whether she retained complete confidence in the Member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson. She was further asked whether she had conducted an investigation of her own into the allegations surrounding the Member for Dobell. The Prime Minister did not answer the second part of the question. However, she did tell the House of Representatives that she had complete confidence in the Member for Dobell, that in her opinion he was doing a fine job and that she was looking forward to him doing that job “for a very long, long, long time to come”. Because the Prime Minister avoided answering the second part of the question, we do not know what, if any, investigations she has made into allegations concerning Mr Thomson. We do know that on Monday night Ms Gillard said:

These matters have been and are in the process of being looked at through various investigations.

She did not elaborate on what those various investigations were, but she did say that she had not held any detailed discussions with Mr Thomson. In view of the severity of the allegations that have been made about Mr Thomson, there are certain inquiries which the Prime Minister herself must make and certain questions which she herself needs to address. I know that Mr Thomson has denied allegations of wrongdoing made against him. Those who are observing the Thomson case carefully will be able to form their own conclusions about the credibility of those denials and about the credibility of the Prime Minister’s evident reliance upon those denials. But there are many facts now in the public arena which are not in dispute.
Those undisputed facts include the following. Between 2002 and December 14, 2007, when he resigned after his election to the House of Representatives, Mr Thomson was the national secretary of the Health Services Union. In that capacity, Mr Thomson was issued with a corporate credit card held by the union, transactions upon which were paid for from union funds. On two occasions - on April 8, 2005 and August 16, 2007 - calls were made from Mr Thomson’s mobile telephone to the telephone number of Sydney Outcalls, an escort agency. On April 9, 2005 and August 16 2007, the HSU credit card issued to Mr Thomson was used to pay for services provided by Keywed Pty Ltd, which is the corporate entity which trades as Sydney Outcalls. The payments were in the amounts of $2,475 and $385 respectively. The credit card vouchers were signed in Thomson’s name, and a driver’s licence number which corresponds to the number of Thomson’s driver’s licence was endorsed upon the receipts. On April 7, 2009, Thomson denied allegations of improper use of the union credit card and told the Sydney Morning Herald that the allegations against him were the result of feuding in the union’s Victorian branches, with “more and more outrageous claims and counterclaims being made” by his factional opponents. In the time since, Mr Thomson has continued to deny that he was responsible for the use of the union credit card to obtain escort services. As recently as the week before last, in the course of an interview with Michael Smith on radio 2UE in Sydney, Thomson asserted that the credit card had been used by a third party and not by him. Let me read into the record some extracts from that interview:

Smith:  Hang on, mate. I’m repeating it. I’m saying your signature is on that voucher. Your driver’s licence has been transcribed on the back of it. How did all that get there?

Thomson: Well, I’m not saying that’s my signature for a start. That’s the first thing that’s there…
Smith:  OK, so did someone forge your signature for the procurement of those services on your credit card?
Thomson: Well, it certainly wasn’t me and in fact on over half of the occasions that I’m alleged to have been using that card in those sorts of establishments, I actually…
Smith:  Let’s talk about one…
Thomson: I’m not going to go through the details of stuff…
The transcript proceeds after a few minutes:
Smith:  OK, well, you were the boss of the Health Services Union at the time the Health Services Union credit card was used to procure those services, weren’t you?
Thomson: Yes, I was.
Smith:  OK. Did you take the matter to the police if you believe the credit card was used improperly, did you go and report it to the police?
Thomson: The union reached a settlement with another gentleman who paid back $15,000 in relation to use of credit cards at an escort agency.
Smith:  Did he forge your signature?
Thomson: I don’t know whether he forged my signature or who forged my signature...
As is the practice in New South Wales, Thomson’s signature appears on his driver’s licence. Paul Westwood OAM, a former director of the document examination section of the Australian Federal Police, who is a handwriting expert with 45 years experience as a forensic handwriting examiner, has compared the signature on Thomson’s driver’s licence and the signature on the credit card voucher and has concluded that they were made by the same person.
Photographs of Thomson’s driver’s licence and the credit card voucher were reproduced in the Sydney Morning Herald on December 1, 2010, and they appear to the untrained eye to be identical. If Thomson did not sign the credit card voucher, then it was signed in his name by an expert forger who eluded Mr Westwood and who also had Thomson’s driver’s licence.
In the same interview with Michael Smith, Thomson admitted that in his capacity as the secretary of the HSU he had authorised the payment by the union to the credit card provider of the credit card accounts, which included debts for the services provided by Sydney Outcalls on both April 9, 2005 and August 16, 2007. Let me read a little more of Michael Smith’s interview with Mr Thomson into the record:

Smith: Ok. Craig, when you got the credit card statement for that month with $2,475 appearing –
Thomson: Michael, I’ve said the difficulty we have in terms of going through these issues -
Smith: Hang on a sec, mate, it’s a simple question. A simple question, Craig. Did you authorise it getting paid?
Thomson: Um… in terms of the actual bills that have been paid? Yes, I authorised all the credit card bills -
In the same interview with Michael Smith, Thomson also asserted that an unnamed third party had repaid some $15,000 to the HSU in respect of escort services. Reading again from Michael Smith’s interview:
Smith: OK, well, you were the boss of the Health Services Union at the time the Health Services Union credit card was used to procure those services, weren’t you?
Thomson: Yes, I was.
Smith: OK. Did you take the matter to the police if you believe the credit card was used improperly? Did you go and report it to the police?
Thomson: The union reached a settlement with another gentleman who paid back $15,000 in relation to the use of credit cards at an escort agency.
Smith: Did you go to the police though, Craig?
Thomson: We have gone through the appropriate bodies in terms of that and you know there has been a person who has paid back some money.
Smith: Who was that?
Thomson: Well, I am not at liberty to say, again, because I am very careful in relation to defamation action. There has been a private agreement signed.

In light of these facts and Mr Thomson’s assertions and admissions, the Prime Minister must satisfy herself in relation to the following matters. First, given the amounts of money involved and the entity to whom the credit card payments were made, why did Thomson not query the accounts before authorising them for payment? Secondly, given that Thomson’s mobile telephone number was used to contact the service provider and that his driver’s licence was produced to verify payment, how did his credit card, driver’s licence and mobile phone find their way into the possession of another person? Thirdly, why was their loss or misappropriation not reported? Fourthly, in what circumstances were they returned? Fifthly, as Mr Thomson now claims that his signature was forged, why was that matter not reported to the police? Sixthly, what is the name of the person who allegedly repaid $15,000 to the HSU and what was the reason for the repayment? Was that person an officer or employee of the union and is that person still employed by the union? Seventhly, if it is the case that another person has accepted responsibility for the fraudulent use of the credit card, why has that version of events not emerged from other sources and why was no evidence disclosed or adduced to that effect in the Fairfax defamation proceedings? Finally, if a third party accepted responsibility, why would a settlement of a matter in which Thomson’s reputation was potentially so gravely affected preclude him from taking any steps to protect his reputation? Moreover, the version of events given by Thomson on August 1 contains inconsistencies with Thomson’s previous versions of events. The Prime Minister must therefore satisfy herself of this: given that Thomson now admits that he personally authorised the payment of the credit card account, why did he allege that his enemies had falsified HSU records and does he still allege that?

I regret to say that there is more that the Prime Minister should be asking the Member for Dobell in order to satisfy herself that he should have her confidence. In April 2009, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Thomson, when national secretary of the HSU, obtained cash advances on the HSU credit card totalling over $100,000. An external audit has not been able to locate any receipts or other records to justify those cash advances. Those matters, I understand, are currently being investigated by Fair Work Australia.
Finally, yesterday the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported that New South Wales Labor Party headquarters had paid $40,000 towards legal fees which Mr Thomson had incurred in bringing his private defamation proceedings against Fairfax, the publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald. This morning the Melbourne Herald Sun reported that this amount was in fact $90,000. That payment was apparently made in May of this year. Thomson discontinued the proceedings on about April 28, having failed in December 2010 to prevent the disclosure of his credit card and telephone records. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that it is proper for the Australian Labor Party to contribute some $90,000 towards the member’s private defamation action against Fairfax, which claim he abandoned shortly after the court compelled the disclosure of his credit card and telephone records which appear to give the lie to his claim that his signature was forged?
Finally, it was only yesterday, when this matter was brought to light, that the member for Dobell sought to amend his register of a member’s interests by lodging with the Register of Members’ Interests for the House of Representatives a letter that identified the payment of a sum of money in May 2011 by the Australian Labor Party’s New South Wales branch, in settlement of a legal matter to which I was a party. Why was that amendment made only after its disclosure was revealed?
I have in the course of this speech suggested many questions that the Prime Minister must ask, but there is one simple question that she must answer for the Australian people: why does she continue to believe that the conduct of the Member for Dobell is acceptable, and how can she possibly continue to assert that he is doing, in her words, “a fine job”?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...