Tuesday 23 August 2011

The noose tightens around the Gillard Government.

Federal Labor MP Craig Thomson quits key committee post as police probe allegations
EMBATTLED Labor MP Craig Thomson has bowed to opposition pressure to quit a key parliamentary committee post, as he faces a police probe into the alleged misuse of a credit card.

His decision to step down as chairman of the House of Representative economics committee comes after NSW police said they were looking into the alleged misuse of a credit card issued to Mr Thomson when he was general secretary of the Health Services Union.

He will, however, continue as a member of the committee. "Today I have advised the secretary of the House economics committee that I have decided to resign as chair of the committee," Mr Thomson, the member for the NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell, said in a statement this afternoon.

"The current circumstances will clearly distract from the important work of the committee. "I continue to reject claims of wrongdoing." NSW police will launch a preliminary investigation into allegations Mr Thomson, when secretary of the Health Services Union, misused the credit card to pay for the services of prostitutes.

It's an accusation he has repeatedly denied, saying another person who he has not named used the card instead. The NSW police investigation follows increasing pressure by the federal Coalition over the issue which, should it cost Mr Thomson his NSW Central Coast seat, could lead to the downfall of the Gillard minority government.

In a statement today, the NSW police said: “Shadow attorney-general George Brandis has provided information to police in relation to a number of matters concerning a federal Labor MP.” “This correspondence has now been referred for internal assessment to determine whether a criminal offence has occurred.

“As with any other matter where information is brought to the attention of the NSW Police Force, standardised assessment and investigation protocols will be followed.” Senator Brandis wrote to the NSW police yesterday, urging them to investigate the matter. He said police should ignore the political implications of possible charges against Mr Thomson and investigate the matter.

Julia Gillard has repeatedly expressed her “full confidence” in Mr Thomson and today said any investigation into his conduct should be allowed to run it's course. "In relation to any member of parliament, I think the appropriate thing to do is for people to allow proper investigated processes if they are being undertaken to go through," she said.

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott should apply a similar standard to Mr Thomson as he was to Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher, who is facing shop lifting charges. Ms Gillard said she had spoken with Mr Thomson, but the NSW ALP's decision to cover $90,000 of Mr Thomson's legal expenses, following the withdrawal of a defamation action related to the allegations, was a matter for that branch.

“Let's remember here in this very parliament we've had members of parliament, members of the Howard government, investigated by the Australian Federal Police and ultimately the police found they had no case to answer,” Ms Gillard said.

“In the meantime the member for Dobell is doing his job as a member in this parliament.”
Senator Brandis said later that Mr Thomson's expenditure when union secretary was primarily a legal rather than a political matter.“It raises one question, at least so far as the NSW Crimes Act is concerned: has a criminal offence been committed? That's the matter the NSW Police are looking at and I am completely satisfied that they will approach this in an appropriate and professional manner,” he said in Canberra.

“There are other dimensions to the Craig Thomson issue as well. There is the Fair Work Australia investigation, which my friend Senator (Michael) Ronaldson has pursued. “There are other dimensions as well, in particular concerning the terms of the settlement of Thomson's legal action against Fairfax and the involvement if any of the Prime Minister and sanctioning the use of Labor Party money in order to that settle that case.

“Whether there have been breaches of Commonwealth Electoral Act, whether there are fringe benefits tax and other revenue implications. All these are other questions that will be pursued.” Senator Brandis backed calls for Mr Thomson to be sacked as chair of the house economics committee.

He said Senator Fisher was not taking part in parliamentary committee work while the matters against her remained unresolved.Senator Fisher is facing one count of dishonestly taking property without the owner's consent and one count of assault after an alleged offence on December 15 last year.

Additional reporting: AAP


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