Australian police yesterday said they would investigate allegations that a government MP used a former employer’s credit card to pay for prostitutes, in a move that could derail Labor’s fragile rule.
Craig Thomson allegedly paid for sex workers and escorts with a card issued by the Health Services Union during his employment there in 2003 and 2005.
The Labor politician denies the allegations, first made public two years ago by local newspapers, and he has received the support of the ruling Labor party.
Labor helped pay for Thomson’s defamation case against the newspapers involved, lending him more than A$90,000 (US$94,000) after the legal action threatened to bankrupt him, which would have forced him to quit parliament.
Parliamentary rules stipulate that bankrupts or anyone convicted of a crime that carries a possible penalty of a year or more in prison are forbidden from holding office.
Thomson has since abandoned the defamation action.
Labor holds power with a wafer-thin majority of just one seat after deadlocked elections last year, and the loss of Thomson’s seat — which would likely swing to the conservatives in a by-election — could end their rule.
Police said they were examining information “in relation to a number of matters concerning a federal Labor MP,” which had been referred by opposition legal spokesman George Brandis.
“This correspondence has now been referred for internal assessment to determine whether a criminal offence has occurred,” police said in a statement.
The police have not specified which crime or crimes they are investigating, but paying for sex is not illegal in New South Wales.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has steadfastly supported Thomson and yesterday called for the investigations, which also include a probe by the workplace ombudsman, to run their course.
The legal fees were paid for by the regional branch of Labor, not the national party, she added.
‘DOING HIS JOB’
“In the meantime [Thomson] is doing his job as [a] local member in this parliament,” Gillard said.
However, Gillard’s staunch support and her repeated expressions of confidence in Thomson’s claims that someone else had his credit card and mobile phone when the events took place could prove damaging if they are found to be untrue.
The opposition has hammered Labor on the issue since the legal fees revelation, hoping to force Gillard to sack the MP or see Thomson himself resign, destablizing a government that is less than one year old.