Australian lawmaker Craig Thomson, whose survival in parliament is crucial to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority government, dismissed allegations he used a union credit card to pay for prostitutes and said a former colleague had threatened to set him up.
Thomson, who was national secretary of the Health Services Union before becoming a lawmaker in 2007, said he was subject to intimidation at the union and that a fellow official had threatened to ruin his political career.
“I had many enemies in the HSU; many enemies who didn’t like increased transparency,” Thomson said in a statement to parliament. “I was the subject on many occasions of threats and intimidation.”
Gillard, who ordered Thomson to step down from her Labor party last month while the allegations are investigated, still needs his support in the 150-seat lower house to pass legislation. If he resigned or was convicted of a charge carrying a jail term, the government -- trailing in opinion polls -- may lose its majority and be forced to call national elections before they are due in November 2013.
Gillard, in Chicago for a NATO summit on Afghanistan, declined to discuss Thomson’s statement earlier today.
“I’m not engaging with these matters half a world away,” she told reporters in Chicago.
Fair Work Australia, the nation’s workplace tribunal, has found 181 violations of industrial relations laws and union rules by former and current HSU officials and last month referred its probe to the public prosecutor.
Thomson, now sitting as an independent lawmaker, has said he will continue to support the government and hoped to return to the Labor party when investigations are completed. His leaving office would trigger a by-election in his consistency that could shift the balance of power in the house to Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition opposition if Labor loses the seat.
Abbott on April 30 called for new elections, saying that Thomson’s was now a “tainted vote” and Gillard has “no integrity.”
The government has battled to build a reliable parliamentary majority since the August 2010 election. The government has 74 votes in the lower house, with the backing of Thomson, independent lawmakers Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, and Greens member Adam Bandt. Independent Andrew Wilkie, who has distanced himself from Gillard over disagreements on gambling reform, has said he can no longer guarantee the government his vote.
The Liberal-National coalition has 73 votes with the backing of independent Bob Katter. In the event of a tie on the floor of the house, acting speaker Anna Burke, who is a Labor lawmaker, gets a deciding vote.
Labor’s primary vote trails the opposition by 15 percentage points, according to a Newspoll survey of 1,204 people conduced May 11-13 and published in the Australian newspaper on May 15. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at firstname.lastname@example.org