Combet Rules Out Tilt At Mp's Seat

The Age

Monday March 12, 2007

Tim Colebatch, Canberra

ACTU secretary Greg Combet has ruled out a tilt for the federal seat of Wills, backing its MP Kelvin Thomson to remain in the seat, despite his resigning from Labor's front bench.

But Treasurer Peter Costello stepped up pressure on Labor over Mr Thomson's admission that he gave a character reference in 2000 to drug dealer Tony Mokbel, now wanted over Melbourne's gangland killings.

A search of newspaper files has found that Mokbel, for all his notoriety now, was anything but a household name in June 2000, when his solicitor approached Mr Thomson's office for the letter of reference.

Mr Costello said the letter made it clear that Mr Thomson or his office knew of Mr Mokbel's criminal record.

"They knew there was something up," he said. "The interesting thing to know would be, who brought Tony Mokbel to Kelvin Thomson, and why."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was targeted by Mr Thomson over his role in the AWB affair, hit back yesterday. "I've always thought Kelvin Thomson is a pretty grubby sort of character," he said.

"He's one of those people who's been happy to make pretty base allegations against people in the Government."

Shadow treasurer Wayne Swan returned fire, calling Mr Downer's attack "conduct unbecoming of a senior minister".

Mr Combet flatly dismissed speculation that he might move into Mr Thomson's seat of Wills.

"I don't think he should pay the price of losing his preselection, personally," he said.

"It was a very silly thing to do, extremely ill-advised. Everyone knows what activities it appears Tony Mokbel has been up to, and it's not acceptable to be writing references for such people."

But a search of newspapers suggests that in 2000, few people would have known what Mokbel was up to. In the five years before Mr Thomson wrote his reference, Mokbel was mentioned only once in any Melbourne newspaper - and that was in a favourable context, when the Sunday Herald Sun wrote of his plans as a Brunswick property developer.

In 1999 The Age's chief racing writer, Tony Bourke, reported on a Victoria Racing Club inquiry into betting plunges on racehorses owned by his then wife, Carmel. But no Melbourne paper reported Mokbel's 1998 trial when he was sentenced to three years' jail for conspiracy to traffic methylamphetamine, or his 1999 appeal, which led to his acquittal.

It was only after police arrested Mokbel in August 2001, and named him as the ringleader of a drug gang importing ephedrine worth $2 billion, that he became a household name. By then, liquor licensing authorities had rejected Mokbel's application for a licence, and Mr Thomson's character reference, on advice from police.

© 2007 The Age

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