Bill's Speeches

Statement to the House of Representatives




For health workers who were members of the Health Services Union, Craig Thomson's actions are a deep and unforgivable betrayal. For all of us in the Labor Party, Craig Thomson's actions, as outlined by the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 18 February this year, are a deep and unforgivable betrayal. These actions were contrary to the fundamental principles of Australia's trade union movement and everything it stands for. These actions were contrary to everything that the Australian Labor Party stands for. I have spoken to people who had the privilege to know Bill Dobell, after whom the seat of Dobell is named. Bill Dobell was a staunch Labor man. He would have been horrified. These actions are a violation of the standards that Australians expect of their parliamentary representatives. But, worse than that, as I said at the opening, Craig Thomson's actions are a betrayal of hardworking Australians whose rights he was duty-bound to protect. There is no question that the members of the Health Services Union suffered as a result of Craig Thomson's actions, and he owes the members of the union and all those involved with the union that he falsely attacked a deep and heartfelt apology. Mr Thomson abused the trust of this place, his constituents, his colleagues and thousands of hardworking Australians in the health services sector.

Today this parliament expresses our regret for the contents of Mr Thomson's speech in this place. I hope that this motion can assist the members of the Health Services Union, who have been let down and betrayed by Mr Thomson. We support this motion without qualification or reservation. We support this motion without equivocation, because we on this side of the parliament take our responsibilities as parliamentarians seriously. It is a privilege to represent Australians in this place. Parliamentary privilege is an important, ancient right that must not be abused. Misleading the House is a grave and serious matter. It is incumbent on all of us who stand in this place to uphold the highest traditions of respect and the highest levels of respect for those that we represent, for those who rely upon this institution, and the highest traditions of respect and the highest levels of respect for each other and for this institution, which is fundamental in the exercise of Australian democracy. Mr Thomson failed this most fundamental test and, in doing so, he failed all of those who placed their trust in him.

Australia's trade unions are overwhelmingly member focused and professional organisations. It is a terrible shame that Craig Thomson's reprehensible behaviour has besmirched the reputation and cast doubt on the motives of a movement that is dedicated to providing safe workplaces; productive, profitable and competitive enterprises; and decent conditions for so many hardworking Australians. No institution in Australia outside of the parliament has done more to lift the standard of living for working people than unions. As a former union representative and as a member of parliament, I have always supported measures that fight corruption. Two years ago, as workplace relations minister, I supported placing the HSU East Branch into administration. That step was extremely serious and unprecedented. The court agreed that the level of dysfunction within the union meant that it should be put into administration. The court did so because the members of some branches of the HSU were victims of a poisonous culture of dysfunction and corruption among their leadership and it needed to stop. Many HSU members do not earn a lot of money, but they pay their union dues. The end of this torrid chapter in the history of the Health Services Union has come.

Just as Labor will always stand up for low-paid workers and competitive businesses and fight for job security, we will always cooperate with the agencies that are responsible for uncovering the truth and fighting corruption. We supported the reference to the Privileges Committee on these matters previously, just as we supported the reference to the Privileges Committee yesterday. I have committed publicly that the Labor Party will cooperate with the royal commission. Two weeks ago I proposed a police task force led by the Australian Federal Police, working with state police agencies, to tackle criminal behaviour and corruption, including in the building and construction industry. Today I welcome the government's new indications of support for our proposal. We are pleased that they are adopting our proposal and will now be allowing our police officers in the Australian Crime Commission to do what they do best: catch and prosecute criminals.

We are pleased that, as a result of the work of this task force, those engaging in criminal behaviour, whosoever they may be, will feel the full force of the law. We are pleased that justice will be done. All of us in the Labor Party have no tolerance for corruption wherever it occurs. It is a profound insult to everything we believe in and everything we stand for. Corruption cannot go unpunished. No-one is above the law, not union representatives, not business people, not politicians. It is a clear message and a strong lesson for all of us. Labor will be supporting this resolution without equivocation, without reservation. We will support this resolution because what happened in May 2012 was an abuse of the privilege of parliament in our opinion.