The Tale of Thomson and the Two Questions
The allegations surrounding Craig Thomson have never been far from the headlines. In fact the Thomson saga has been one of the most constant topics raised during the 43rd parliament. Today, the long-running investigation took a dramatic turn, as we all know, with the Member for Dobell arrested by New South Wales police on 149 charges of alleged fraud. The former Labor MP was arrested at the request of Victorian police and was today bailed before being required to appear next week in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.
Of course today’s events triggered a flurry of discussion about just what the arrest and charges will mean, not just for Craig Thomson himself, but for the Labor Party, the parliament and the election. Much of this debate has played out in the past, particularly after the Fair Work Australia report was released and when the police investigations commenced. But it does seem that some of us have forgotten the state of play.
First and foremost it is extremely important to reiterate that today the NSW MP was charged, and, like every Australian, is entitled to be subject to due process. That means that the Member for Dobell is innocent until proven guilty, regardless of what our personal opinions and political predilections are.
There were two common questions being asked today as the debate ensued after Thomson’s arrest. The first was: ‘what will this mean for Labor now and in terms of the election?’ The second questions was ‘hmm, is it just a coincidence that Julia Gillard called an election yesterday and now, today Craig Thomson is facing criminal charges?’.
The answer to the first question remains exactly the same as it was when it was first raised as the investigations into the matter began. The Australian Constitution has this to say in s44 (ii):
“Any person who –
(ii.) Is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer…
shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”
So that makes things pretty clear for those who have missed the point again today. A conviction needs to be recorded against Craig Thomson first before his parliamentary future is affected in any way. Further, the offence has to be punishable by imprisonment for one year or more. Well, there is no problem with the latter if the MP is convicted.
In terms of the election, Craig Thomson’s arrest is likely to mean absolutely nothing except, as you would imagine, certain electoral defeat. It is extremely unlikely that any trial involving the now Independent MP will be concluded before the 2013 election which we now know will take place on September 14th. The only way it would be possible for action to be required under the provisions of s44 is if Mr Thomson were to plead guilty and he has already indicated that will not happen.
In terms of the election and Labor’s prospects, even the charges alone will surely prove to be yet another nail in the electoral coffin for Labor. They will add to the narrative, already well constructed, of distrust.
Above all, Labor will survive until the election.
The second question is an interesting one. It posits that the Prime Minister knew of the impending arrest of Craig Thomson and therefore decided it would be best to call an election.
It is entirely possible that the Prime Minister knew that Craig Thomson was going to be arrested. The media were indeed tipped off so it is understandable to question whether or not the PM was aware of the imminent charges against Craig Thomson. Julia Gillard denies that she was made aware of the arrest before it happened.
Even if Prime Minister Gillard was aware that charges were about to be laid against Mr Thomson, and then decided to call an election as the conspiracy theory posits, one simple fact remains – there is absolutely no benefit, political or otherwise, to be gained from the PM calling an election early because of the Craig Thomson matter.
The charges are a sensational development, but frankly, almost nothing changes.
Posted on January 31, 2013, in Federal Politics and tagged 2013 election, ALP, Australian Constitution, Australian politics, Craig Thomson, criminal charges, federal politics, Julia Gillard, s44, Thomson arrested. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.