The collapse of the case against Craig Thomson

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(Image screenshot from heraldsun.com.au)

The collapse of the Craig Thomson case yesterday was no surprise, says Paul Montgomery, as the case was always about smear, not justice.

YESTERDAY'S collapse of the Craig Thomson case comes as no surprise.

Following closing submissions by both parties, magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg appeared to indicate the prosecution had made a fatal mistake in alleging Thomson had defrauded the credit card issuing bodies rather than the Health Services Union.

From a report by Shannon Deery in today's Herald Sun:

Mr Rozencwajg said instead of alleging a deception of the Health Services Union, the charges alleged a deception of the Commonwealth Bank and Diners Club, the lending institutions that issued the cards at the centre of the alleged offending.

But he said he couldn't see how either institution had been defrauded.

Any alleged fraud, Mr Rozencwajg said, would have been committed on the Health Services Union.

"Isn't his fraud on the HSU ... but you haven't charged it that way," he told prosecutors.

Obviously, the object of the case was never to actually convict Thomson, since this flaw in the charges should have been plain to all before it got underway. The surprise was that it ever got to court.

That was the win condition for the prosecution, since the whole point of the case was solely to produce media coverage like the Daily Telegraph front cover this week, shouting 'I HAD SEX WITH CRAIG THOMSON'.

Smear was the game, not justice.

One has to ask why it is that the Health Services Union didn't bring a civil case, as the magistrate suggested.

From Shannon Deery's report:

While prosecutor's argued Mr Thomson had no authority to use the bank cards for non-union business, Mr Rozencwajg said that didn't prove he had deceived either the Commonwealth Bank or Diners Club.

He said the cards were issued to Mr Thomson, were valid cards, bore his name and could be used to purchase goods and services.

The comments echoed arguments put forward by Mr Thomson's defence barrister, Greg James QC, who picked apart the prosecutions case during his closing submissions.

He said the case against his client was largely circumstantial and said while the HSU may have a civil case against him, Mr Thomson had not broken the law.

The answer no doubt lies in Thomson's successor Kathy Jackson, who doesn't want the publicity, because she's allegedly a far greater example of the kind of financial misbehaviour that its alleged got Thomson into hot water.

As became clear from evidence during the trial, the amount of money at stake here – less than $30,000 across five years – is dwarfed by the amount of money which is drawn out on HSU credit cards in cash by Jackson on an annual basis with no accountability. In addition to the $100,000 in cash she now withdraws every year, no questions asked, she went on a $22,000 ski trip with her husband to Mt Hotham on the Union's coin in 2005.

When the right talks about this case and are presented with these facts, their attack normally turns to accountability for union spending, as if this case will be the moral catalyst for the dissolution of all left wing unions. However, what Thomson and Jackson have been allegedly doing is no worse than what happens in a lot of Burnsian corporate environments.

All of the sins of the corporatised union movement were learned from the gorilla-vested original sinners in Martin Place and Collins St. The money at stake here is pocket change compared to the vast amounts of shareholder funds wasted on executive benefits in Australia every day.

That is not to condone this waste; both types of greed are distasteful. It would be disingenuous to bring the opprobrium only on unions for hosting convicted rorters like Michael Williamson and alleged graspers, Jackson and Thomson.

The problem is the lack of accountability for all elites. Pretending that it is a union-only problem will not solve it.

The magistrate has begun his deliberations but may call the parties back to court on Friday if he needs any further clarification. A decision has been reserved.

This piece was originally published, in a slightly different form, on Paul Montgomery's blog Loaded Dogma and has been republished with permission. You can follow Paul Montgomery on Twitter @m0nty.

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