Julia Gillard’s attempt to seize the election initiative was rattled yesterday when former Labor MP Craig Thomson was charged with defrauding his former employer, the Health Services Union, and warned to expect another 149 similar charges.
After a 16-month investigation by Victorian police into alleged rorting of HSU funds, Mr Thomson was arrested at his electorate office on the NSW Central Coast yesterday.
His lawyer claimed last night Mr Thomson was strip-searched in an attempt to intimidate him.
And the Opposition is demanding that the Federal Government refuse to accept mr Thomson's vote.
Manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne said the government should not accept Thomson's vote when parliament resumes next week.
But Trade Minister Craig Emerson accused the coalition of hypocrisy, claiming they accepted the vote of Mary-Jo Fisher "on multiple occasions" despite the former Liberal senator facing shoplifting and assault charges.
Mr Thomson maintained his innocence after being granted bail during an appearance at Wyong Local Court, where he was charged with one count of misusing his credit card to the amount of $330.
“On legal advice I’ve been asked not to give a speech, and as a politician that probably goes a little against the grain,” he said.
“And particularly when every fibre of my being is screaming out to say how wrong this is. I will be vigorously defending these charges. I have done no wrongdoing.”
The investigation into Mr Thomson was launched after allegations he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of members’ money on prostitutes, travel, dining, unauthorised cash withdrawals and electioneering while national secretary of the HSU between 2002 and 2007.
As part of his bail conditions, Mr Thomson is banned from contacting any person whom he allegedly engaged for sexual services.
NSW Police, who made the arrest on behalf of Victorian detectives, said Mr Thomson had been served with papers for another 149 fraud charges.
The MP, who became an independent after his Labor Party membership was suspended in April, will appear before Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, a parliamentary sitting day.
The union watchdog, Fair Work Australia, has already laid civil charges against Mr Thomson. A directions hearing will be held in the Federal Court today on that case.
Mr Thomson is the second crossbench MP facing charges as Parliament comes back for the first of nine sitting weeks before the September 14 poll, announced by the Prime Minister on Wednesday.
Former House Speaker Peter Slipper has been summoned to appear in the ACT Magistrate’s Court on February 15, when he will be charged with misusing taxpayer-funded taxi receipts.