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Who said they were so incompetent that they couldn’t . . .

August 22, 2011

This hopeless Labor government can’t even run a simple political sex scandal properly.

Classically, here’s how these things work: male politician is accused of non-marital affection involving someone usually several years younger and several degrees hotter than his wife, politician denies any wrongdoing, politician is seen as a lyin’, cheatin’ horn dog, politician either rebuilds reputation or slinks away to obscurity.

That’s the way it’s gone with everyone from former US President Bill Clinton and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards to British Conservative politician John Profumo and former Australian deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns – although, in the case of Cairns, there was a gap of more than two decades between accusation and confirmation of his mid-1970s affair with Junie Morosi. Cairns denied the affair before a Supreme Court jury in 1982 but admitted it on ABC radio 20 years later.

Maybe his memory just needed jogging. Those Whitlam era chaps always did seem a little slow. And members for Lalor, as we’ve discovered, aren’t the brightest.

The curious thing about the current debacle involving Labor’s Craig Thomson, representing Dobell since 2007, is that it apparently isn’t really about sex. Rather, it’s about who used a union-supplied MasterCard (and therefore union funds) to pay for sex with several prostitutes, which is at least a degree or two removed from the sex itself, yet appears even more tawdry as a result.

It’s as though the sexual element is merely incidental; just evidentiary background to some kind of Labor/union squabble over the freelance disbursement of pre-emptive stimulus funds. “We should all just calm down about these matters,” Defence Minister Stephen Smith said defensively last week, “and let the proper processes take their part.”

In other words, to misquote Basil Fawlty, don’t mention the whores.

Besides giving us a carbon tax they promised would never happen and insulating homes by setting them on fire, Labor is now putting on a sexless sex scandal. Bill Clinton’s denial of an affair with Monica Lewinsky was as direct as it was dishonest: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The denials offered in Thomson’s case are infinitely more obtuse, with personal sex-for-money aspects being the least part of them.

According to Smith, the accusations levelled at his Labor colleague are of the same character as those faced by South Australian Liberal senator Mary Jo Fisher. “One of the Liberal Party senators is actually the subject of criminal charges and we have been respectfully silent about that as we let the processes take their course,” Smith told the ABC.

How very decent of him.

Fisher is charged with nicking $92.92 worth of food from an Adelaide supermarket. By contrast, Thomson is accused of significantly more extravagant breaches, which if true came at considerable cost to Health Services members. Who knew that union bosses (or unnamed people who are close to union bosses) were living so large during the repressive Howard years? As the Age‘s Tony Wright put it: “The electors of Dobell are on average among the poorest in NSW, and may, perhaps, find themselves puzzled about the creative way union credit cards have been used.”

Creative or not, Thomson claims innocence. He insists that during his five years (2002-2007) as national secretary of the Health Services Union it wasn’t he but another unnamed man who repeatedly used Thomson’s union-issued card to buy sex – possibly by forging Thomson’s signature.

Whoever this bloke is, you might say he’s outsourced a great deal of in-house union work to the private sector:

• In February 2003 the union card bearing Thomson’s name took a $330 hit from North Sydney’s Aboutoun Catering, an escort service.

• In the same year, a payment of $570 was made to a Surry Hills escort agency.

• On April 9, 2005, a $2475 fee was paid to the same escort agency.

• A brothel called Tiffany’s, also based in Surry Hills, charged $418 for services rendered in June 2005.

• On April 5, 2006, someone reportedly contacted the Young Blondes escort agency and another agency called Confidential Models from Thomson’s Melbourne hotel room, using Thomson’s union credit card.

• On June 7, 2006, an unknown individual phoned Melbourne escort service Bad Girls (again from Thomson’s hotel room and again using his card).

• On August 16, 2007, a fee of $385 was recorded on Thomson’s card following another outsourcing episode with an escort agency in Sydney.

Remarkably, Thomson authorised all of those payments (his precise statement to 2UE’s Michael Smith: “Yes, I authorised all the credit card bills”). Let’s accept his word – as we’re bound to, until we see absolutely conclusive evidence determining otherwise – that he’s innocent of any personal Tiffany’s-style shenanigans. That still leaves the matter of Thomson’s inability to detect and question dodgy payments on his union credit card statements.

Presumably this holder of law and commerce degrees was confuzzled by the wily practices of escort agencies and the like of using bland-sounding company names as a front for their actual activities. Whatever else emerges from the Thomson matter, Sydney’s recreational short-term personal hiring community won’t be happy about revelations that prostitution providers operate under billing titles like “Aboutoun Catering” and “Nolta Pty Ltd”, which might have led to intense examinations of credit card records this past weekend by curious wives.

Now, if someone is that easily tricked into handing over thousands of dollars to brothels and escort agencies, what sort of role should he play in federal politics? Well, something in finance, obviously.

As it happens, Thomson is the chair of parliament’s economics committee, and is scheduled this Friday to question Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens about his stewardship of Australia’s financial health.

Should be an interesting chat. Hopefully Aboutoun Catering hasn’t damaged Labor’s planned return to budget surplus by 2013.

It isn’t all bad news for the Gillard government. To gently paraphrase a line going around Canberra at the moment, the Labor movement has finally proved that – contrary to all previous evidence – at least someone in its ranks is capable of organising an act of sexual intimacy in a brothel.

It’s just that we don’t know who that someone is.

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