Parliament as judge and jury
Tony Abbott wouldn’t give a toss about Craig Thomson’s alleged sins if Julia Gillard’s government didn’t depend on his vote and that of 2 of the Independents and the Green in the House of Representatives. Neither would Julia Gillard.
One break in the chain and Labor might be gone as government. Thompson is that weak link.
The allegations if true are a disgrace for a union official. Using union cards to pay for prostitutes is something no unionist can condone.
One of the great achievements of Labor Party neoliberalism for the bosses – the destruction of rank and file influence or control over unions – has led to this situation. Union bureaucrats think they can get away with blue murder without decent rank and file involvement in the union. Some might be tempted to try.
I suspect that abuse by officials of their union positions for personal gain and political advancement has increased as membership control has decreased.
But there is also a sense in which this is Thomson being hung for stealing the goose from the commons while he who steals the commons from the goose (like Bill Kelty) is praised and feted (à la the recent Australian Council of Trade Unions conference).
The greater crime in all of this, that which makes possible Thomson’s alleged crimes and breaches, is the class collaboration of the likes of Kelty, Hawke and Keating, continued admirably by Rudd and Gillard, which set down the framework for a loss of militancy, the massive shift in wealth from labour to capital and the neoliberalisation of politics more generally in Australia with Labor now a CAPITALIST workers party.
I thought Thomson’s defence of the seemingly indefensible was half way decent, what lawyers might call a tough brief well handled. It will continue to buy time and may see Gillard and the others in the rogues’ gallery of the working class survive until 2013.
Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and others expressed their faux outrage about and condemnation of Thomson’s speech.
One problem for them in their apparently new-found parliamentary morality is that fingering Thomson might lead to a wider enquiry into parliamentarians and their behaviour before and after they are elected.
Already we have seen Tony Abbott’s 1978 trial for assault highlighted. Sophie Mirabella is also a Labor Party target. Bill Heffernan’s homophobia – he for example wrongly accused High Court judge Michael Kirby of abusing his travel entitlements to hire male prostitutes – has landed him in trouble with his alleged recent attack on a Liberal Party member.
The dirt file, normally kept secret because politicians know it could cause their side just as big a problem, has been taken out of the cabinet. The only thing holding Labor back is presumably that the Opposition also has a pretty big dirt file.
But as the possibility of unseating the Gillard Government by losing Thomson’s vote moves closer the ALP might be tempted to abandon all the usual niceties that have kept them in check and throw mud, mud, mud. This will do two things.
All politicians will drown in the sewer that is the Parliament. And it will show the Liberals are as big a pack of rorters, cheats, liars and criminals as the ALP.
That at least, so Labor must hope, will nullify Abbott’s successful linking of the ALP to sleaze, something he hopes can destroy this Labor government now but knows will be part of the destruction of the ALP government in 2013.
Something similar happened in relation to travel entitlements in the UK. In the end it snowballed and an investigation into abuses revealed they were widespread, on both sides.
My classic was the Tory who used parliamentary funds to improve his moat. As one would. But even acting in accordance with the rules showed dodgy activity, such as parliamentarians using their entitlements to pay off their private mortgages.
This only reinforced in British voters’ minds that the low regard they had for politicians was totally deserved.
Trashing the brand may be all that Labor in Australia has left.
There has been a bit of talk from Labor and others about how the parliament should not be judge and jury. In the past it has been a kangaroo court, jailing a couple of people for contempt, but they were only Communist Party members or journalists. Hardly worth remembering.
In 1920 the Federal Parliament chucked out Hugh Mahon for sedition after he made comments in support of Irish independence after a hunger strike died.
Move along, it’s only history. Nothing to see here.
Can we rise above the gutter? Here is an alternative vision for a representative body, taken from the insights Marx gained from the Paris Commune.
The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.
Imagine voters having the right of immediate recall. Thomson wouldn’t last a day. Neither would Gillard or Abbott in times of economic and social crisis. Not only that, they were paid the average wage.
Imagine that. Gillard and Abbott on $70,000 a year. Then they’d know how the rest of us live and maybe, just maybe, implement policies favouring the vast majority. Nah, pigs might fly - Not in a capitalist institution like Parliament.
That is the point. Workers have to set up their own state, not take over the capitalist one. ‘[T]he working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’
OK, so what about judges? Here democracy too was to rule.
The judicial functionaries were to be divested of that sham independence which had but served to mask their abject subservience to all succeeding governments to which, in turn, they had taken, and broken, the oaths of allegiance. Like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible, and revocable.
Of course these are working class democratic institutions set up by the great majority of society today, workers, to run society.
Until the revolution, in which power passes from the bourgeoisie to the working class, we will have to put up with the likes of Thomson, Slipper, Abbott, Gillard and the rest of the motley crew or their descendants.
The current Australian Parliament is a good argument for socialism and workers running society democratically through their own institutions.
For those interested in the goose and commons reference it arose and become popular at the time of the Enclosure Acts in the 1600s which turned the commons into the property of the big landlords. Here is one version of the poem.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.