The House of Representatives has made an unprecedented apology over the false statement made to the parliament by disgraced former Labor MP Craig Thomson.
The apology, moved by Leader of the House Christopher Pyne, was directed to individuals who were the subject of “egregious falsehoods” in Thomson’s May 2012 speech, and to the members of the Health Services Union whose money Thomson spent on his election campaign and for private purposes, including prostitution services.
Previous apologies have been rare and to make a national statement, most notably when Kevin Rudd made his 2008 historic apology to Australia’s indigenous people and especially the stolen generations.
In his parliamentary statement, Thomson protested his innocence and attacked figures in the HSU and the Fair Work Australia. This month he was found guilty on multiple charges involving the misuse of union money.
Thomson was eventually forced to join the crossbench before he lost his NSW seat of Dobell which he contested as an independent at the 2013 election. Despite the political cost, Labor had been reluctant for a long time to drop him because of its precarious position in the hung parliament
Pyne, in a highly partisan speech, harked back to the Labor members who had defended Thomson, including Bill Shorten, now leader of the opposition, who said in 2011 “I believe him”.
Pyne said Thomson had used $267,000 of union money to fund his election campaign in 2007. “If the Labor party really wanted to put behind them the last three years, they would pay that money back”.
He said among those named in a negative way by Thomson in his speech was the HSU official Kathy Jackson - “a revolutionary”, who “will be remembered as a lion of the union movement”.
Shorten used his speech to distance Labor from Thomson and from union corruption in general.
“For all of us in the Labor party, Craig Thomson’s actions … are a deep and unforgivable betrayal.”
He said Labor had supported the government’s reference this week of Thomson to the privileges committee
The Labor party would also cooperate with the royal commission into union corruption – the setting up of which it earlier opposed.
Shorten said he had proposed a police task force working with state police agencies to tackle corruption, including in the building industry. He welcomed that the government was adopting this proposal.
The government had hoped to embarrass Labor with the apology and the privileges reference, but the opposition’s support of them has minimised the impact for the ALP.