Call for Gillard to explain 'curious' election timing

Call for Gillard to explain 'curious' election timing

Call for Gillard to explain 'curious' election timing

Updated 1 February 2013, 9:56 AEDT

The Opposition says the Prime Minister must rule out any link between Craig Thomson's arrest and her early call of the federal election.

Shadow attorney-general George Brandis says the Prime Minister must rule out any link between Craig Thomson's arrest and her early calling of the federal election.

On Thursday the former Labor MP was arrested on 150 fraud charges relating to allegations he misused Health Services Union money when he was the union's national secretary.

This morning his lawyer accused Corrective Services of changing their story on whether Thomson was strip-searched after his arrest, saying "goons with gloves ... shook out all his items of clothes as he took them off to make sure he didn't have any state secrets in his undies."

Thomson case: the legal angles

  • Constitutional lawyers say it is highly unlikely the Thomson case will force Labor out of office before the election.
  • The court case against Thomson is likely to take several months.
  • Parliamentary commitments take precedence over court commitments, so Labor is still able to pass legislation.
  • Under Section 14 of Parliamentary Privileges Act, a court cannot compel an MP to appear within five days of, or on, a parliamentary sitting day.
  • To be disqualified from Parliament, Mr Thomson would have to be convicted of a crime which carries a sentence of a year or more in jail, or declared bankrupt.
  • If by-election required in Mr Thomson's seat, it would be up to Speaker Anna Burke to set date.
  • Prime Minister rejects Opposition suggestions she knew about Mr Thomson's arrest before announcing election date.

Senator Brandis told Lateline that Julia Gillard must explain whether the reason she called the election so far ahead of time was because she knew of Mr Thomson's impending arrest.

"It is a curious fact that this very, very surprising - indeed, historically unprecedented - announcement of an election seven-and-a-half months into the distance, took place literally 24 hours before Mr Thomson was arrested and charged," he said.

"Now, I'm not saying that there was a cause-and-effect relationship between those two things, but it is curious.

"The Prime Minister needs to make it clear that there was no such cause-and-effect relationship."

Ms Gillard took the nation by surprise on Wednesday when she announced the federal election would take place on September 14.

Just a day later, NSW police executed an arrest warrant at the request of Victorian police as part of their investigation into the Health Services Union (HSU).

Mr Thomson, who sits as an independent for the federal seat of Dobell, was arrested and appeared in Wyong Local Court yesterday afternoon, where he was granted bail to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court next week.

Questioned about the timing of the election announcement yesterday, Ms Gillard responded "Of course not" when asked if she had any prior knowledge of Thomson's arrest.

One of the conditions of bail is he must not contact any person he is alleged to have engaged for sexual services.

He said he would "vigorously defend" the charges against him.

"As I have said from the start, I have done no wrongdoing and that's what will be found in these matters," he said.

The Opposition is continuing to use the Thomson scandal to question the Ms Gillard's political judgement.

Senator Brandis told Lateline that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did not go too far in saying that Ms Gillard had run a "protection racket" for Mr Thomson.

"The fact is that the Prime Minister, exhibiting her characteristically poor judgment - the same poor judgment we saw when she picked Peter Slipper to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives - was for months, and indeed years, Craig Thomson's principal political defender and protector," he said.

Meanwhile, the civil case against Mr Thomson is due to begin in the Federal Court today.

The case is in regards to Fair Work Australia's allegations that Mr Thomson used union money to pay for prostitutes and support his election campaign.

Mr Thomson is not expected to be in court and his lawyers believe his arrest over fraud allegations yesterday will see the civil case postponed.