Sex scandal threatens Gillard's fragile government - Australasia - World - The Independent

Sex scandal threatens Gillard's fragile government

Labor MP accused of using trade union credit card to pay thousands to brothel

When you have a parliamentary majority of one, the last thing you want is a sex scandal enveloping an MP in a marginal constituency. But that is precisely Julia Gillard's situation, a year after the inconclusive election that brought her Labor government to power.

Police are investigating allegations that Craig Thomson, a Labor backbencher who used to be national secretary of the Health Services Union, used his union credit card to pay thousands of dollars to a Sydney brothel. He has denied any wrongdoing and claims that another person, not named, took the card and forged his signature.

With support for Labor at rock bottom – an opinion poll yesterday put it 14 points behind the conservative coalition – the affair has the potential to topple Ms Gillard's government. If convicted, Mr Thomson would have to quit parliament, triggering a by-election that Labor would almost certainly lose. The coalition would then either take control or there would be fresh elections.

Last week it was revealed that Labor had paid legal fees of about A$90,000 (£57,000) incurred by Mr Thomson in relation to a defamation action against The Sydney Morning Herald concerning the allegations. The gift saved him from bankruptcy, which would have forced him to resign his seat. He dropped the legal action in May, just before it was due to go to court. The Herald aired fresh allegations this week, publishing excerpts from court documents that appear to show that Mr Thomson's credit card was being used at the same time that calls were made to an escort agency – as well as to Labor and union contacts – from his phone.

The scandal relates to a period before Mr Thomson entered parliament in 2007, but still has the potential to be highly damaging. There is now the possibility of a criminal investigation, which emerged yesterday after the allegations were referred to New South Wales police by the coalition's legal spokesman, George Brandis. Last night, Mr Thomson, whose wife is pregnant, stepped down as chairman of a parliamentary economics committee, saying that the "current circumstances" were a distraction from its work. He holds his seat of Dobell, on the New South Wales coast north of Sydney, with a majority of only 5 per cent.

Ms Gillard, whose minority government depends on the support of one MP from the Greens and four independents, has backed Mr Thomson. Yesterday she told parliament that, because of the police investigation, it would be "inappropriate" for her to comment. The evidence being reviewed by police includes a statement from a handwriting expert concluding that Mr Thomson probably signed one of the disputed credit-card dockets, and documents purportedly showing that he used the card for the same purpose on other occasions.

Police said they were assessing the evidence to determine whether a crime had been committed. Mr Brandis claimed in a letter that the documents showed a "strong prima facie case" of larceny, fraudulent appropriation or fraud. "The overwhelming weight of evidence... suggests that Thomson himself received, signed for and authorised payment for the services," he wrote.

In a radio interview, Ms Gillard attempted to deflect attention away from Mr Thomson, noting that a coalition politician, Mary Jo Fisher, is facing court for allegedly shoplifting groceries from a supermarket and assaulting a security guard. "There is only one member of parliament who's been charged with a criminal offence – it's not a member of my team," she said.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week