[Read Part One: Independent politics and the ALP]
JULIA GILLARD AND MISOGYNYCraig Thomson may be Australia’s most slandered man ‒ with the possible exception of Peter Slipper ‒ but there is a woman he knows well who has been subjected to, arguably, even more vicious treatment. I ask Craig whether former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was the victim of misogyny.
He doesn’t hesitate a second.
“Undoubtedly she was. There has never been a Prime Minister in Australian history who has been the subject of such poor treatment and the primary reason for that was her sex. That’s beyond doubt.Is this a reflection of our national psyche, I ask him.
“The insults, the criticism, the subject matter, none of that would have happened had she been a male prime minister. I felt it was a particularly poor reflection on all of us.”
He pauses as he formulates his words.
“I’m not … sure … we were ready for a female Prime Minister, unfortunately, in all parts of this country.”Thomson changes tack — suggesting Gillard was, at least to some extent, an architect of her own misfortune.
“Having said that, she made some poor decisions and judgement calls that opened her up for some legitimate criticism.Thomson laments the fact that, in most other democracies, Julia Gillard would just be starting her political career — but now she’s finished. I tell him I doubt she will struggle to find a job.
“My sadness for Julia is for what her prime ministership could have been."
EXTREME ABBOTTWe move on to Tony Abbott. I recall Thomson giving Abbott a fierce serve in an hour-long speech to Parliament last year:
I ask what role Abbott has played in creating a very divided public discourse. Thomson is scathing in response, saying Abbott has used the declining standards of the old media for his own petty political purposes.
“Tony Abbott has given the media the go ahead for the treatment a lot of people have received, including myself. At a time when the media is going through enormous changes and cost pressures, he has given them the go-ahead for them to go the dirty cheap road in terms of what they call journalism.
“I mean, there are stories about me that are so fantastically fabricated that they are simply beyond belief. But you find that once the media reports a story, the rest of the media just copies it and never looks to shoot it down.
“Tony Abbott has encouraged this and sought to take advantage of it for his own selfish political purposes. I believe he will not be judged very kindly by history.”
I ask Thomson whether the country would change if Tony Abbott was elected. Thomson is unequivocal.
“I think it would be a terrible thing for the country if Tony Abbott is elected,” he replies.
He says that although he is an Independent and would look at each piece of political legislation on its merits no matter who put it forward, Abbott’s aggressive style, which seeks to exploit every division and difference in a “fighting way” would be “a terrible thing for a country like Australia”.
“He is the most extreme, aggressive, politician in Australian history and it frightens me that we are starting to develop some of the politics of the deep south of the United States here in Australia.
“I believe he is too extreme even for his own party and they dare not move on him at the moment because they hope he will deliver them Government. But they talk amongst themselves about the problems with Tony and getting rid of him.
“He should not be the leader of a major political party and, if he became prime minister, I doubt he would stay as leader for long — he is too extreme.”
MEDIA REFORMDespite being hounded by Australia’s press, Thomson surprised many by voting against Stephen Conroy’s media reform bill earlier this year. I ask him why he did this.
He says the process was rushed and the legislation was lacking. If the Government had taken more time and ironed out all the problems, he has no doubt legislation could have been passed.
“When I looked through the reforms with my own eyes, there was nothing in there that looked like it would change anything one bit.”
Thomson says he thought it was about giving a leave pass to the Party — so that they could say they had done media regulation and, so, never need to talk about it again. He says the issue is too important for that.
“I think it needs debate. It doesn’t need to be rushed through. It needs to take time and be done properly.
“And where was the one regulatory body that was going to oversee all media: new media and old media.”
KATE MCCLYMONT’S VENDETTA
I note that the “incomparable Kate McClymont” was praised by former ABC Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes for her “investigative reporting” in his outgoing broadcast just the previous week. Thomson is unsurprised by this example of mainstream media mutual admiration.
I ask Thomson how he feels about Fairfax “investigative journalist” Kate McClymont, who seems to have displayed a single-minded determination to “get” him.
He replies that, as he said in his address to Parliament, McClymont has written 12 stories about him without ever asking him for his side of the story once.
“She won a Walkley for a story which has now been completely discredited based on verifiable facts," he says.
“Well they have to do that. The problem with the mainstream media it that it is a kind of club where they protect their own. They can’t say another one of them has done anything wrong or else it undermines the way they work themselves.”
Thomson says the mainstream media’s influence is waning.
“What is it, about 7 per cent of people actually read newspapers these days? Kate McClymont is a symbol of a segment of the media that’s dying. So McClymont can write whatever she wants — who really cares?”
I don't quite believe what he says, as it seems like a bit of bravado. I suggest that it can’t have been good for Craig's standing in the local community to have these sort of stories bandied about. Thomson says few people believe what they read in the newspaper anyway and most of the people in his electorate are only interested in how he performs as a local MP — not scurrilous media scandal.
“People don’t buy the papers for the same reasons they do in the past. They don’t buy them for news and they certainly don’t believe them. Newspapers are just entertainment value in many cases.
“There are some people who believe everything that is written — that put me just on the right side of Satan. For them, I can never do anything right.
“But for the vast majority, they are only interested in what I have done locally. They aren’t interested in this trial by media and say to me, they want to know what I have done in this electorate. That is why I have such good support up here.
THE THOMSON TRIAL
I ask Thomson about his criminal trial, in which he is due to face court again later this month over $26,000 — and almost as many charges. As IA has reported, Thomson says he is confident about clearing his name.
“All I can say is what the magistrate was saying about the strength of the case — and indeed every legal and criminal expert right from the start in this case. I’m confident because not only are all the allegations against me just wrong, but because of what the magistrate was saying and inferring about the strength of the prosecution case.
"And I am totally innocent of all the charges."
Thomson says the sad thing about the case is that it has taken four years and millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money to get to this point. Over the course of those four years, he says, the allegations levelled against him have shrunk from $850,000 down to $26,000
"...and we still haven’t even started the trial yet.
"We have the Fair Work Australia report totally discredited by their own internal investigation but still it keeps going on.
"I think if anyone wanted to backtrack they would say — if Craig Thomson wasn’t a politician this matter would have been put to rest a long, long, time ago. But the fact is there is an agenda and these allegations have a cheer squad.
"We just steel ourselves that we have to go through it and just complete every step until it’s done."
I allude to the hounding of Peter Slipper and ask Craig whether he believes there has been some sort of political interference in both cases.
“I don’t know. In terms of criminal investigations with me, the NSW police looked at it and said there was nothing. The DPP looked at it and said nothing. The Victorian Police looked at it and decided to run with it.
"The original NSW police verdict was emphatic, that there was no evidence of fraud by me at all and they took two or three days. The Victorian Police have taken 18 months and interviewed people from Western Australian to Victoria – from one side of the country to the other – and come up with a massive number of charges for not a lot of money.
A significant amount of money, but not a lot of money. And they still haven’t faced any of the issues they really need to look at.
Without needing a question from me, Thomson goes on to speak about the shabby reporting of the trial.
“Going back to the issue of mainstream media, the main reporting on this issue – apart from yourselves – has only looked at the big bad bogeyman that is Craig Thomson and ignored the massive and obvious holes in this case, or the dramatically smaller amount of money, in favour of reporting that I am somehow trying to avoid a jury trial.
"I asked some of them after they had written their story – not asking them to change their story, but just asking them – why they had written that I am trying to avoid a jury trial? Why have you written that as if it was some legal or unethical trick I was pulling?
"I asked them, what are the advantages of me doing that? I invited them to speak to any lawyer. I said the simple matter is we know the weaknesses and strengths of the prosecution case and are keen to have the matter dealt with as soon as we can. If we had any doubts about this, we would obviously go for a jury trial.
“A jury trial is far more likely to result in an acquittal; especially, I would have thought, in a high profile case such as this where there is bound to be at least one or two jurors who would have doubts. But I’m prepared to give that up so we can move on as quickly as we can so we can get on with our lives.
"But the media refused to portray that fact accurately and that demonstrates sometimes the unthinking and unenquiring nature of the mainstream media. They didn’t ask anyone a single question about that and that, to me, is completely ridiculous."
FEELING SORRY FOR KATHY
IA's investigations suggest Kate McClymont's primary source for her many stories about Craig Thomson is, almost certainly, Kathy Jackson.
Jackson, however, is an extremely dubious source — given she is herself now being investigated by Victorian Police on extremely serious allegations of fraud and rorting — largely based on our Jacksonville investigations.
I ask Thomson how he feels about what Jackson.
“In some respects I feel sorry for her given she has, quite frankly, some mental issues that she is dealing with. I don’t feel sorry for her in the sense of what she has tried to do to me. I just feel sorry for her current mental state of health and what she is going through."
Thomson refers to the reams of HSU credit card statements IA has reported for Kathy Jackson’s ex-husband Jeff Jackson, as well as bank statements and other documents for Kathy Jackson herself — all of which point to allegedly serious misuse of Union funds by the pair — something ignored almost entirely by the old media.
"I think it comes back to the way the media frame an issue and Kathy Jackson has successfully framed herself as the brave whistleblower in relation to these issues and she was probably ably assisted by what was occurring to Michael Williamson, which added a veneer of legitimacy to it.
"But with her track record it is unbelievable the mainstream media haven’t reported on those issues. I mean the mainstream media has had a couple of goes at it. Simon Cullen with the ABC had a couple of stories. Benson in the Telegraph did one. But it shows you, if it doesn’t fit the agenda they won’t carry on with it.
"Those allegations against Kathy, if they were made against me or any other member of the minority Government, there would have been a very, very, different treatment."
I mention Steve Cannane's comment about the media not reporting Rares judgement against Mal Brough because it happened over Christmas, against their blanket reporting of the AWU allegations against Julia Gillard.
"The difference between Slipper, and Gillard and me is that the issues relating to us both happened well before we were in Parliament, whereas Slipper’s happened while he was in Parliament.
"However, the Rares decision relates to a former MP who is trying to get elected for Parliament and there is not much at all in the media. It is difficult to comprehend.”
IA AND THE CANBERRA PRESS GALLERY
Recently, IA was rejected for a spot in the Canberra Press Gallery. The president of that body, Sky News presenter David Speers, claimed it was largely because IA was an "opinion website". I asked Craig whether IA deserves admittance.
“Absolutely. It is an absolute no-brainer. The reasons given for your rejection were totally absurd.Thomson goes on to suggest that it is just another example of the siege mentality of the old media and their jealousy of new media. He says that outside of the press gallery, IA has significant support in Canberra.
"I mean, David Speers is from Sky News, which is pretty much 24 hours of opinion. If that is meant to be the benchmark, then you guys are well in front of them in terms of investigative breaking stories and so the excuse was an absolute nonsense."
"It was very pleasing to see Peter Slipper ask the question in Parliament about your rejection and I should say that there were quite a few on the Opposition side who were saying 'hear, hear!'We end the interview with Thomson thanking IA for presenting the other side of the story — something the mainstream media used to do.
“The Opposition has many MPs with ethics and morals who are interested in free speech and so I was very heartened by their reaction to that question.
"There were quite a few cheers from the Labor side but also quite a few cheers from the Liberal side as well. I think that’s good all round for democracy."
“We really appreciate the terrific work you do there.
"It is great to read IA in a more general sense, but personally it has been very good for my family to read the other side of the story as well.
"It is a role that used to be fulfilled by a more investigative and diverse traditional media that just doesn’t happen anymore and you are fulfilling that role.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License