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All in the game: shining a light into the weird world of Craig Thomson

The ALP and the union movement have never liked scabs. But yesterday we witnessed a labour scab of a different sort as The Wound Formally Known As Craig Thomson continued to be bleed rather than heal…

We’ve had a glimpse into the world of Craig Thomson, but he’s trying to justify a view that no one outside the political game can understand. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

The ALP and the union movement have never liked scabs. But yesterday we witnessed a labour scab of a different sort as The Wound Formally Known As Craig Thomson continued to be bleed rather than heal.

Yesterday during Thomson’s statement to parliament, nobody was really expecting convincing evidence of a conspiracy against him. Instead, we were asked to enter Craig’s world – the land of bitter political struggle and the political line of thinking.

Aggrieved and bewildered, Thomson pointed the finger at Michael Williamson, Kathy Jackson and Marco Bolano, all officials of the Health Services Union. The media, Fair Work Australia and Tony Abbott all copped a spray.

Amidst all this, a question goes begging: why were ordinary union members not mentioned yesterday? Where was Thomson’s concern for them? They would not have been impressed by his description of the consistent misuse of expenses by all these officials.

Rather than think of the rank and file of the union, Thomson was too busy fighting other players of the political game. And yesterday’s glimpse into Craig’s world showed us how differently those immersed in it think about the game and how it’s played.

The case for conspiracy

Thomson’s statement showed him to be a man lost in politics, lashing at enemies with the usual tactics of push and shove because that’s how the game has been for him and others in this sorry little saga.

Thomson’s case about conspiracy was at best circumstantial and at worst composed of the kind of supposition that political players often make about enemy moves and intentions, even if it was more outlandish than usual. He expects us to believe this line of thinking, when we are actually incredulous at his story.

The Health Services Union has been decidedly unhealthy for more than 12 years. Thomson has been in the thick of it and has thrived in the melees, beginning with victory in 2002 in a struggle that involved allegations of defamation and gross misbehaviour. Why would Williamson be trying to destroy Thomson at the same time that he was supporting Thomson’s federal election campaign in 2007 and 2010 with election funds subject to an AEC investigation?

Allegedly, Williamson was not only threatening to destroy his erstwhile ally Thomson but also making exactly the same threat against Bolano last November. And Bolano, according to Thomson, threatened him. And, as we know, Jackson has been making allegations against Williamson.

This is a Mexican shootout with everyone aiming at everyone else.

Lost in the game

We know that Thomson’s head was lost in the political ether because he was, he told us, the object of threats that were a “routine" part of “working in this environment”, that is, within the HSU.

We know that Thomson’s head was lost in the political game because he damned Jackson for addressing the H.R. Nicholls Society. This organisation led the economic rationalist charge in the 1980s and 90s and, consequently, is a fierce antagonist of unions. Within Labor, this is the equivalent of a lay-down misere charge of consorting with the ideological enemy and that is how Thomson expected it to be received. It was obvious to him; but why should anyone in the public care?

True to form for a head in the political ether, he blamed the media. He accused some journalists of being commentators and participants and was visibly upset at what must have been abominable intrusions upon his family.

But Thomson has been playing the media game all along. Some nine days ago, he gave an interview to Laurie Oakes without any concern for his party. The government needed clear air for the budget message to get to the public. Instead Thomson polluted the good news because he was concerned for himself.

In the same vein, he promised to give evidence today of the conspiracy against him but provided nothing new and, furthermore, gave advanced notice to the Telegraph where he blamed Graham Richardson for the usual behind-the-scenes moves that happen in this game.

He claimed to have wanted nothing more than give his side after some four years of waiting for the Fair Work Australia case to be investigated. But he has ducked and weaved between the different institutional requirements and rules of Fair Work Australia and the Australian Electoral Commission in his pursuit of both political and legal objectives. And the media has been part of it.

Political gain, public disdain

Thomson has advanced himself by playing the game of politics. Admittedly it isn’t always as brutal as the HSU version but it is a different game to the one most of us know. Now he expects the rest of us outside this peculiar game to understand his predicament, to reconcile two different codes of behaviour, but he is stunned to find an incredulous reception.

Rather than present fresh evidence, Thomson attempted to rehabilitate his reputation by co-opting the public into a game they prefer to avoid but in which he thrived and has paid a price.

To Thomson, everyone within the internal political game has been playing pass the parcel on this issue, except the music has stopped and Craig the one left holding it.

It’s the same game with the current fight in NSW Liberals which is spilling into the public square. For all the po-faced reactions of Abbott & co., we know they’d adopt Labor’s same arguments if in the same position. This is just the adversarial nature of the political game.

Before, we were not privy to these games. Paul Keating’s pre-selection battles for a seat in parliament where boxes of ballots seemed to go missing was not a national news story. Unfortunately, now we have the harsh lights of the 24/7 instant media which will expose lots of matters and details that were once kept in the corners of society. It gives us the illusion of knowing all, including the characters we see so often on our screens. But we don’t. We aren’t participants in that game.

And all that’s left in Thomson’s wake is Labor twisting in the political breeze.

Join the conversation

13 Comments sorted by

  1. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email

    What a quagmire for all who involve themselves

  2. David Boxall

    logged in via Facebook

    Know what? I'm bored with the whole sorry saga.

    I wish everyone would just shut up, leave Thomson and his family alone and let the matter work its way through appropriate channels to a decent conclusion. The fact that it won't happen is evidence that our political system has turned septic.

    There was a time when politics in this country was adversarial within limits. The limits served the nation's interests. Now, it's pathological. Self-interest rules and the nation's interests are not considered.

    1. Andrew Hack

      IT Project Manager

      In reply to David Boxall

      Under normal circumstances, disgraced MPs usually resign. Those who resist usually have their hand forced by internal party politics.

      The difference here is that Gillard can't afford to lose a single seat. So the government must back Thomson in this instance. Unfortunately for them, it has turned out to be shooting themselves in the foot as the toxicity of it all tarnishes an already discredited party.

    2. Andrew Hack

      IT Project Manager

      In reply to Andrew Hack

      But on the other hand, Craig Thomson should really be seen as a Labor Party hero. Finally they have someone who can organize a root in a brothel. Am I right guys? :D :D :D

  3. Jack Arnold


    Rolfe has failed to disclose that he is a card carrying member of the LIberal party & a staunch supporter of Tony Abbott aka the "Mad Monk".

    Thomson has exercised his legal right to silence in this matter, proper legal advice in these matters. The interpersonal relationships in the HSU matter appear to sully the waters somewhat.

    Abbott is desperate to become Prime Minister & lacks the confidence of the Australian people to become PM.

    The media are baying for blood, anybody's blood, because it is good for circulation. Moreover, rehashing Liberal Party press releases is easier & cheaper than conducting old fashioned investigative journalism.

    Perhaps the best question is "Does Tony Abbott have the numbers in the Liberal Party to remain Opposition Leader with a majority of one (1) now that his patron Minchen has retired & Slipper has resigned?"

    1. Jack Bloomfield

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      If as you say Rolfe has affiliations with the Liberal party why isn't this disclosed as per "DISCLOSURE STATEMENT ...and has no relevant affiliations".
      Makes "The Conversation provides independent analysis and commentary from academics and researchers" sound a little hollow.

    2. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Jack Arnold: "Rolfe has failed to disclose that he is a card carrying member of the LIberal party & a staunch supporter of Tony Abbott ..."
      If so, the fact that he chose to leave it out of his disclosure statement is evidence for what I said earlier: His statement that he "has no relevant affiliations" would be a lie.

      Jack Arnold: "Abbott is desperate to become Prime Minister ..."
      I don't particularly like politicians, but acknowledge that some are worse than others. What we have in government at present seem to be the least-worse of our options.

      The Craig Thomson I saw on TV was clearly not a well man. If his health collapses under the strain, it will serve Abbott's interests. I would not put it past Abbott to deliberately precipitate that outcome. In my eyes, the man's a psychopath.

    3. Bella Counihan

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Hi Jack, John and David, Mark Rolfe has confirmed that he is not a member of of any political party.

    4. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Bella Counihan

      I doubt that it's relevant anyway whether Mark Rolfe belongs to a political party or not, pointing the finger like that is cheap and grubby.

      The simple fact is that politically at least, Australia remains a parliamentary democracy. It works by critique and review. It fails the moment we stop criticising. Criticism from opposition especially is even more credible than coming from the government benches, that's what they are there for.

      If it is to be insisted that political affiliation be declared…

      Read more
  4. Mark Rolfe

    Lecturer, School of Social Sciences at UNSW Australia

    Arnold has written a complete lie for whatever reasons he/she/it has (we don’t know if this person is Arnold since they write from a hotmail account).

    I am not nor have ever been a member of any party, let alone the Liberal Party.

    I don’t see what is favourable to the Liberals in this article. The bone in Arnold’s head seems to have difficulty absorbing the complex argument:

    1) there is a political game that we members of the public don’t always understand as it is composed of different codes of behaviour

    2) it is a political game composed of both sides of the adversarial system we live in

    3) I had a go at Abbott as “po-faced” with his own party problems just like Labor

    I have always been more interested in the complexities of politics rather than the simplistic dogmas satisfying some minds.

    Respondents should not be quick to judge either myself or The Conversation based on the statement of a person that they presumably do not know.

    1. Marilyn Shepherd


      In reply to Mark Rolfe

      Oh dear, that is hilarious as you dare to judge Craig Thomson on what I don't know.

      There is nothing to judge on because he has not been charged with anything or found guilty of anything.

      Now do dry up.

    2. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Oops, sorry, here's another who logs in anonymously through a Hotmail account with no evidence of legitimate affiliation with any university, who posts abuse in place of informed comment, or clear effort to comply not with political or legal rules but required academic standards.

      Here we have finally a forum sponsored by the major universities, explicitly seeking expert opinion and informed discussion, still being encroached upon by anonymous lurkers and trolls of various shades, none of whom…

      Read more
    3. Jack Arnold


      In reply to Mark Rolfe

      I apologise Rolfe, being a member of the Liberal Party having a political 'leader' without a majority in his own caucus is a distasteful situation.

      Still, in my defence I note that the best legal advice in these situations is the right to silence, the duration since the alleged crimes for which Thomson has NOT been charged is likely expired beyond the Statute of Limitations, the standard of proof required in criminal matters in "Beyond reasonable doubt" of which there is much in this case & trial by media is never an acceptable criminal procedure.

      To my reading this article is full of opinion and short of facts with a pro- LIberal Party bias against the best interests of the Australian community.

      There is nothing wrong with the usually informed standard of discussion on The Conversation website.