SHORTLY, one of the most heavily publicised legal cases in Australia since the Lindy Chamberlain trial will come to a close.
December 15 is the day of reckoning for Craig Thomson, as the judgement on his appeal is due to be handed down then and, with a bit of luck, so too will the trial by media.
The appeal was against convictions of obtaining financial advantage by deception. The total of these convictions amounting to approximately $24,000 over a five year period.
These convictions were based on Thomson’s use of his Health Service Union credit card and covered a range of expenditure, from cash withdrawals to taking his wife away to the occasional Union function.
One thing that has always puzzled me about this case is the word “deception”.
For example a large part of the case involves Thomson’s wife accompanying him on business trips. They weren’t exactly raking in the frequent flier points, with Thomson’s wife accompanying Craig on seven trips over five years. However, I do wonder who was actually being deceived — after all, this expenditure was not hidden in any way whatsoever.
In fact, there is nothing in the charges that show anybody being deceived at all, from what I can tell; there are no disguised payments, or expense forms, or cheque requisitions claiming to be for something that they are not — such as staff benefits or uniforms for a child care centre that has no uniforms.
The last time Thomson was in court, there was confusion over the difference between admitted facts and admissions. Facts admitted to court for evidence does not necessarily mean all parties agree on them.
This time, there is confusion around lies and Thomson’s attempts to save himself embarrassment.
In keeping with their longstanding tradition of bias and misrepresentation, News Ltd stated the following in their online article:
‘Former MP Craig Thomson lied about using a union credit card to pay for prostitutes because he was ashamed, his barrister says.’
The quotation marks are because I am quoting News Ltd, not because News Ltd are quoting Greg James QC. In fact, James said, or intimated, no such thing whatsoever.
What Greg James was referring to in court is that the prosecution had in their evidence a section entitled ‘Lies’. This contained allegations of lying to the media, including the Laurie Oakes interview.
The point that James was making is that even if there were lies to the media, this could have been done for a number of reasons, including trying to save himself from embarrassment — but they are irrelevant to the case. It was not any form of admission of Thomson was lying, merely pointing out that it is a waste of money and court time to debate the alleged lies, they may as well debate global warming as discuss media coverage of Thomson's interviews.
The fact, this topic is even spoken about tells us that the prosecution has designed their case for media consumption rather than to seek justice.
If Craig Thomson had done the Laurie Oakes interview and introduced himself as Barack Obama, it would still have had no relevance to the court case at all and would not make him any more or less guilty, or change whether or not he had authorisation to use a credit card bearing his name.
In court, a mockery was made of the prosecution’s alleged facts that had been admitted into evidence. One such example, that also shows the difference between admitted facts and admissions, is the trip to Adelaide.
The fact Thomson and his former wife went to Adelaide, paid for with union funds is a fact that has been admitted — the rest is speculation.
The trip to Adelaide, Thomson has explained was for a visit to the psychologists association. The prosecution’s case was that, because the SA Secretary of Branch 3 of the HSU was unaware of Thomson’s visit, it must have been a personal trip. This is not fact but rather pure speculation — and is in many ways fanciful.
A fact not highlighted by the prosecution is that the Adelaide Branch Secretary in question did not get along with the psychologists association at all, hence the reason for not being involved.
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Another part of the prosecution’s case that seemingly defies logic is the claim that somehow the bank has been defrauded by Thomson’s use of their credit card.
If Thomson uses a credit card with his name on it, his signature on the back and the bank is repaid what is spent on it, then how is the bank being defrauded? This is legal idiocy and, frankly, these charges should have been dumped long ago and the person responsible for them sacked. If the credit card issuer had a claim, I’m sure it would make one.
However, if the matter didn’t involve the credit card issuer, then the legal matter would be between Thomson and the Union making it a civil matter which would not have played out so well for those seeking to take political advantage of the situation. It would seem a lot of creative thinking has gone into making this a criminal matter rather than a civil one.
I am sure Thomson would have relished the opportunity to argue out every fact alleged in this case in a trial, rather than have to instead base his freedom on the sole matter of authorisation — however this was not possible.
In a case where you have had senior politicians proclaiming your guilt and a mainstream media baying for your blood, the burden of proof is put firmly on Thomson’s shoulders. It no longer becomes a matter of being proven guilty, with all of the political and media pressure one has to prove their innocence.
Unfortunately, for Thomson to argue every aspect of the case on its merits would mean a six-week trial and around a $1 million legal bill — and who has that sort of cash lying around? We aren’t all Kathy Jackson, after all…
Therefore, Thomson was forced into the far cheaper option of arguing based on the authority issue, because if authority was proven it knocked over all of the charges.
Thomson faces a prosecution with the unlimited funds of Victorian taxpayers at its disposal.
The media coverage of this appeal has been far lighter than in previous cases, which must make Thomson feel better. The strong prospect of a Labor victory in the Victorian election may also mean less political pressure on the matter.
So, now, Thomson waits until 15 December to find out how this drama will finally finish.
Thomson’s family just hope that Craig will be home for Christmas.
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