ABC News Radio

Subjects: Craig Thomson; Abbott proposal for MPs to exclude other MPs from Parliament.

Transcript, E&OE

14 March 2012

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: Well here at home the scandal-plagued Labor MP Craig Thomson is under continuing pressure to respond fully to findings that he misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in union fund on prostitutes and political campaigns. The response given by Mr Thomson at the weekend, when he claimed to have been set up by union rivals, has been widely dismissed. And there are continuing calls for Parliament to take action against him next week. For a Government view on the scandal which has derailed Labor’s bid to sell last week’s Budget, Marius Benson is speaking here to the Trade Minister Craig Emerson.

MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, Peter Beattie, your Labor Queensland colleague, says that if Craig Thomson can’t do better than he did on Saturday, he should be suspended from Parliament. Do you agree with that?

CRAIG EMERSON: No. My view is that Craig Thomson, given that he will be making a statement, is and remains entitled to the presumption of innocence. My own view is that parliamentarians themselves should not be making these sorts of judgements. People in the general public can, and that’s a right that they exercise. But when politicians come to a position, which seems to be where Mr Abbott wants to take us, that they will be judge and jury before due process has been allowed to take its course, then I am of the very strong view that that is a very dangerous path for our democracy.

BENSON: Of course a lot of process has taken place: a three-year investigation by Fair Work Australia, and definite findings against Craig Thomson of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars for prostitutes and political purposes. It’s not without findings.

EMERSON: No, well they are not a brief of evidence, as indicated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. And my argument is simple: that the investigating authorities, the police, and any judges in any courts, rightly have the responsibility for dealing with this matter.

BENSON: So is your position that Parliament should do nothing about Craig Thomson?

EMERSON: Mr Thomson is making his statement. What I’m saying is that Parliament should not exclude parliamentarians, and especially during a process that is underway.

BENSON: When Craig Thomson addresses Parliament next week, does he have to do better, in your mind, than he did on Saturday in terms of providing an explanation?

EMERSON: It is not for me to judge Craig Thomson. I understand that during the course of a hearing to say ‘well what’s your opinion judge, please give me your opinion pending that final judgement’, a judge won’t ordinarily do that. And I think that politicians are in a different category, therefore, than members of the general public. And that’s why I don’t respond when people say ‘well what’s your opinion: do you think Craig Thomson is guilty?’. I’m not going to answer that question, simply because I am a Member of the Federal Parliament and I think it’s inappropriate to do so.

BENSON: Some statements from your side of politics have led people to believe that you’re threatening to fight scandal with scandal. Do you have material on Coalition members? Do you have dirt files you intend to use?

EMERSON: No, I don’t. But I do think that Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne and their henchmen ought to at least reflect upon the personal vilification and denigration that they conduct daily of people on the Labor side of politics. This is a leader who said he wanted a kinder, gentler parliament. Well, how absurd that he would ever say that when they have moved more than 50 suspension motions, many of them attempted censure motions, and used those opportunities to absolutely denigrate both the Prime Minister and the Office of Prime Minister, because Mr Abbott has still not found the dummy that he spat out after the 2010 election when he didn’t get the gig from Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor and the other Independents. He can’t believe that he’s not Prime Minister.

BENSON: But Labor has no dirt files on the Opposition?

EMERSON: Well I’m not aware of anything. I’m not aware of anything and I’m not going to on your program, therefore, start going into particular situations. What I will say, though, is that if the new standard is that any MP who is the subject, not necessarily even of criminal allegations but of civil allegations, is to be subject to vilification, to denigration and to potential exclusion from the Parliament — which is what Mr Abbott is now saying; that if you are the subject of civil allegations you’re not fit to be in the Parliament — then that sets a new, very low standard as well.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, thanks very much.

EMERSON: Thank you, Marius.

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