Australia Lawmaker Thomson Arrested at Electoral Office

Craig Thomson, a former parliamentary member of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ruling Labor party, was arrested at his electoral office north of Sydney over 150 fraud charges, police said.

Officers were executing a warrant issued by Victorian police in arresting Thomson, Colin Dyson, a detective superintendent of the New South Wales police, said today in remarks broadcast by Sky News. Thomson is scheduled to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court next week, Dyson said.

The lawmaker emerged from Wyong Local Court after being granted bail, telling reporters he was provided with legal advice not to give a speech even though “every fiber of my being is screaming out at how wrong this is.” He said he had done nothing wrong and would appear at the Melbourne court, before getting into a car and driving off.

Thomson, a former national secretary at the Health Services Union, has been investigated by police in the past 18 months over claims he misused a union credit card to pay for prostitutes, air travel and cash advances between 2002 and 2007. The alleged misuse took place before he entered parliament.

According to Australian law, anyone convicted of a criminal offense that carries a penalty of one year in jail or more would be forced to resign from parliament.

If Thomson is proved to have intentionally obtained a gain dishonestly from, or deliberately caused a loss to, a person or commonwealth entity, he could be jailed for as long as five years under the law.

Independent Support

In April last year, Gillard ordered Thomson to step down from her parliamentary Labor party while the allegations were investigated. He remained in parliament as an independent, with Gillard relying on his support to pass laws in the legislature, where her party has a minority of the seats.

Gillard had also relied on support of former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper, who was ordered to appear in court next month on three fraud charges over the use of travel vouchers.

“This is a government that relies on the presumption of innocence for its very existence,” George Brandis, deputy leader of the opposition in the Senate, said in a Sky Television interview.

The prime minister, speaking to reporters following a tour of flood-stricken areas in Bundaberg, Queensland, said she didn’t know anything about the arrest except for some media reports. She said it was a matter to be left for the police.

‘Thomson Matter’

“The Thomson matter isn’t just about what Craig Thomson may or may not have done,” Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told reporters in Canberra today, a day after Gillard said an election will be held Sept. 14. “It’s always been about the judgment of the prime minister,” Abbott said.

An investigation by Fair Work Australia, the nation’s workplace tribunal, found 181 contraventions of industrial relations laws and union rules by three former or current officials of the health union.

Fair Work sued Thomson in a civil case to recover money it claimed he misused, and is seeking unspecified financial penalties, the tribunal said Oct. 15. A preliminary hearing is scheduled tomorrow in Melbourne and Sydney via a video link.

Thomson said in a May statement to parliament that he had enemies in the union who didn’t like his push for increased transparency.

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