Julia Gillard, Australia's embattled Prime Minister, has addressed two scandals besetting her government ahead of a crucial budget by moving against two key lawmakers facing sordid sex and expense misuse claims.
Gillard — who heads a minority government already struggling amid polls predicting a landslide defeat in an election due by next year — has ordered Craig Thomson to leave the ruling Labor Party until persistent claims he misused the funds of a major health union during his time as its national secretary are dealt with, Australian news media reported.
Gillard has also told controversial lawmaker Peter Slipper to stay away from his usual duties as parliamentary speaker until fraud and sex harassment allegations against him are settled.
According to Sky News, Gillard's move was a bid to reassert her leadership, with the leader saying she had acted to restore respect and confidence in the parliament.
"Australians are looking at this parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it," she said in the capital, Canberra.
"I do believe a line has been crossed here and because a line has been crossed, I have acted."
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Thomson, whose vote is key to the Gillard government, is alleged to have used a Health Services Union credit card to pay for prostitutes and meals, and to make cash withdrawals, according to Agence France-Presse.
Slipper, formerly a representative of the conservative Liberal Party, is accused of sexually harassing a male aide and misusing taxpayer funded taxi vouchers
Thomson, while agreeing that is was best he leave the party, has opted to stay in the parliament as an independent.
“I have completely maintained my innocence and that there is no wrong doing,” he said, according to the Herald Sun.
His departure leaves Labor holding just 71 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, compared with the conservative opposition's 72.
Gillard must rely on a Greens MP and Thomson, who said he would support the government against any no-confidence motion and in supply bills, to give her control of the lower house, AFP wrote.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Gillard should prevent Thomson from voting in parliament until the allegations against him are resolved.
"While she has disowned Thomson, she hasn't disowned his vote," Sky News quoted him as telling reporters in Sydney.
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