Waiting for his 15 minutes … Craig Thomson in Question Time / Pic: Kym Smith Source: The Daily Telegraph
FORMER Labor MP Craig Thomson is embroiled in a new controversy, with revelations he has “for months” been receiving legal assistance from the ALP to fight his sleaze allegations.
The ALP last night confirmed it agreed last September to engage lawyers Holding Redlich to assist him in the Fair Work Australia inquiry, which found he improperly spent $500,000 of Health Services Union funds.
Mr Thomson appears to have broken parliamentary rules by failing to declare the assistance in the MPs pecuniary interest register.
He updated his register last night after The Daily Telegraph began making inquiries into the breach.
Mr Thomson last night claimed he had not broken parliamentary rules because he had only received financial assistance from the ALP “within the last two weeks”.
“I am well within my timeframe. The rules are that you make a declaration within 28 days and I have amended it tonight,” he said.
But a spokesman for the NSW ALP said last night: “The ALP finance and administrative committee resolved to provide him assistance in September last year.”
The spokesman said the assistance had been provided by Holding Redlich “for months” and the lawyers had been paid regularly.
He said Labor stopped paying Mr Thomson’s legal bills when Prime Minister Julia Gillard suspended him from the party last month. A spokesman for Ms Gillard last night said she “was not aware of Mr Thomson’s legal arrangements”.
Failure to disclose financial benefits is deemed a serious offence and traditionally triggers an official parliamentary inquiry.
Under the rules, Mr Thomson has to update his register within 30 days of receiving a gift or donation.
The latest revelations are another blow to the Gillard government as it struggles to sell its budget amid ongoing political scandal.
And they will put more pressure on independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to support Coalition moves to suspend Mr Thomson from parliament.
The fresh controversy comes after The Telegraph revealed last August the ALP had spent more than $150,000 settling an aborted defamation claim Mr Thomson had taken against Fairfax in an attempt to stop him going bankrupt, which would have forced him out of parliament.
After that revelation, Mr Thomson was also forced to amend his pecuniary interest register to declare Labor had paid for that settlement.
Yesterday Mr Thomson bowed to pressure and announced he would finally deliver a statement to parliament later this month to explain how he spent $500,000 of HSU funds on prostitutes, his 2007 election campaign and other personal spending.
“There has been a comprehensive and very long Fair Work report of some 1100 pages which we didn’t have access to until late Monday night,” he told parliament.
“It is appropriate I have time to go through that so that I can make a comprehensive statement, which is what I intend to do.”
His statement came just hours before the State Government passed legislation which could put the HSU into administration in days.
In a late sitting of the NSW upper house last night, a bill passed to give the Industrial Relations Commission the power to appoint an administrator to unions where gross misconduct occurred.
The government had wanted to give finance minister Greg Pearce that power.
However, following an array of amendments by Labor, the Greens and the Shooters and Fishers party, that power was given to the IRC, with Mr Pearce allowed to make the decision if the commission did not do so within 28 days.