ABC News Radio

Subjects: Craig Thomson, Bill Heffernan.

Transcript, E&OE

21 May 2012

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: Here at home Federal MP Craig Thomson will speak in Parliament today to present his defence to findings that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds on prostitutes and political campaigning. Mr Thomson is expected to repeat his claim that he was set up by union rivals and to call on police to check surveillance tapes at brothels, which he says will show he was not there at the times claimed. For a Government view on the much anticipated speech due at midday, Marius Benson is speaking this morning to the senior Labor Minister Craig Emerson.

MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, according to all reports this morning Craig Thomson is likely to tell Parliament today that he wants police to release or to examine tapes from brothels — surveillance tapes from brothels. He says they'll establish he wasn't there at the time he's accused of using prostitutes. Is that the sensible way for him to go?

CRAIG EMERSON: I haven't had any discussions with Craig Thomson. I'm aware of media reports. Craig will make his statement today, in good time. So let's see what he actually does say. But this is something that people have been asking: for Craig Thomson to make a statement. He's now doing it. I think we should just let him get on with that.

BENSON: Some reports suggest he might be naming names of those he says set him up in terms of being with prostitutes. But there are warnings to him, according to these reports, that if you start naming names, those people will demand a right of reply in Parliament. It'll go on forever. Would it be a bad idea to name names?

EMERSON: Again, I've seen those reports but it's not for me to give advice to Craig Thomson. There have been constant requests, indeed demands, that Craig make a statement. He's making a statement. I think people should now wait for that statement. And I notice that some on the Coalition's side are telling him what he must say and what he must not say. I think Craig will make his own judgements about that.

BENSON: There are also reports that Craig Thomson, because of the pressure he's under, might quit.

EMERSON: Well, again, Craig Thomson has been under a lot of pressure. I think people should give at least passing consideration to that. I don't have any sense that Craig's going to quit the Parliament. But with all these matters there's a human dimension, and a very clear human dimension here for Craig, Zoe and the two little daughters they have — and I think people should actually reflect on that. The conduct of the Coalition in particular has been nothing short of vicious.

BENSON: But you say you have no sense that he's going to quit yourself?

EMERSON: That's correct. But I do know that the Coalition has sought to apply maximum personal pressure to Craig Thomson, and they should back off.

BENSON: What assistance is Labor giving Craig Thomson?

EMERSON: On that matter I'm not aware. But obviously he does have friends who are seeking to support him. I note that there is some commentary that says he's guilty as all hell and then immediately followed by the statement that he might need some help. I think making those sorts of statements, delivering those sorts of judgements, in advance of any police investigation completing its course or any court hearings have even been held, is quite disgraceful, quite outrageous. But we should expect that from the Liberal Party. I wish that they would apply a consistent set of principles.

And, of course, in relation to Senator Heffernan seeking now to trivialise the allegations of assault: assault or alleged assault is no trivial matter. And if Mr Abbott is true to his principles he will demand that Senator Heffernan step down or sack him today.

BENSON: Craig Thomson, you say, still has friends in the Government — because he looks pretty friendless lately. He still looks friendless in Parliament and outside Parliament.

EMERSON: No, well, he has friends inside and outside Parliament. He has very strong adversaries who seek to prejudge and apply maximum pressure on Craig Thomson. Let him make the statement and for the Liberal Party now to demand that he include certain information in the statement and exclude other information from the statement is the sort of pre-emption that we've seen from Mr Abbott, Mr Pyne and the Liberals from day one on this. They have no respect for due process. They have no respect for the presumption of innocence. And it is a thorough and total disgrace that Mr Abbott has the temerity to appoint himself as Chief Judge in these matters. There is a justice system in Australia; not two justice systems: one for the Liberal party, one for everyone else. But if Mr Abbott is to be true to his principles he should sack Senator Heffernan today.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, thanks very much.

EMERSON: Thank you.

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