Australian Lawmaker Thomson to Seek Court Hearing Delay

Craig Thomson, a former parliamentary member of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor party, will seek a two-week delay for his first court appearance on 150 fraud charges, his lawyer said.

Parliamentary privilege makes it illegal for a sitting lawmaker to be required to attend court while the legislature is in session, lawyer Chris McArdle told reporters outside a court in Sydney today. Thomson is due to appear at a hearing in Melbourne on Feb. 6, he said.

Thomson, a former national secretary of the Health Services Union, faces 150 fraud charges in Victoria state related to allegations he misused a union credit card to pay for prostitutes, air travel and cash advances between 2002 and 2007. The alleged misconduct occurred before he entered parliament

“Members of the houses possess some minor legal immunities, principally exemptions from compulsory attendance before a court or tribunal when the Parliament is sitting,” according to a document on the government’s website outlining parliamentary privilege.

Victoria police said in an e-mail a Feb. 6 court appearance is scheduled and they would make no further comment.

In April last year, Gillard ordered Thomson to resign from her 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 announced on Jan. 30 that an election will be held Sept. 14.

Strip Search

McArdle today reiterated that Thomson is innocent. He said the lawmaker was distressed and humiliated by the arrest, which included a strip search in a police station.

Fair Work Australia, the nation’s workplace tribunal, sued Thomson to recover money it claimed he misused. The suit has been delayed by the criminal charges, with Federal Court Justice Christopher Jessup today postponing a hearing in the case to March 1 to let lawyers determine whether the criminal charges and civil lawsuit result from substantially the same conduct.

Australian law requires civil lawsuits to be put on hold while a criminal case, based on substantially the same allegations, proceeds.

The civil case is General Manager of Fair Work Australia v. Craig Thomson. VID798/2012. Federal Court of Australia (Melbourne)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.