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Labor finds unexpected ally

Bob Katter speaks out for proper process in Thomson affair, Abbott's budget reply, and Coles and Woolies to front food processing inquiry, Tim Lester reports.

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COALITION hopes that the Craig Thomson affair will bring down the Gillard government have been set back with the independent MP Bob Katter saying the courts, not Parliament, should judge the former Labor MP.

Mr Katter told the Sydney Morning Herald he would not support any vote suspending Mr Thomson from the Parliament, or forcing his resignation, until the matters against the MP had been heard by the court.

He accused the Coalition of double standards for pursuing Mr Thomson's alleged misdeeds of past years when it turned a blind eye for more than a decade to the alleged indiscretions of Peter Slipper when he was a Coalition MP.

Portait of Bob Katter on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait Island

"I don't want to be cast in the role of judging" ... Bob Katter. Photo: Nic Walker

''There's no qualitative difference in the actions of the Liberal Party and the Labor Party here,'' he said.

''I don't want to be cast in the role of judging either of them.''

Mr Thomson was found by Fair Work Australia to have misused about $500,000 of members' funds while national secretary of the Health Services Union between 2002 and 2007.

The findings have been referred to the Federal Court for civil action but the opposition is demanding that Mr Thomson leave Parliament now.

On Tuesday it sought to have him suspended for 14 days but the motion failed because the crossbenchers Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Adam Bandt backed the government. Mr Katter abstained.

Mr Thomson will make a statement to Parliament the week after next and the independents said they will reserve further action until they hear what he says.

While they might support something that censures Mr Thomson, none will support anything that will bring the government down. Mr Oakeshott told the Herald that the Liberals should lead by example and expel the South Australian senator Mary Jo Fisher, who was found guilty of assault last year without a conviction.

The government gave notice it would fight fire with fire and tabled newspaper reports from 1978 when the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, was charged with the indecent assault of a female student.

The charge was later dismissed but the government's leader in the House, Anthony Albanese, noted that Mr Abbott was cleared by the court, not a politicised student council.

Mr Albanese also said Labor would start going after the Coalition frontbencher Sophie Mirabella, who is subject to civil claims over a deceased estate. Ms Mirabella remonstrated angrily with Mr Albanese afterwards.

The opposition pursued reports yesterday that Labor had been paying Mr Thomson's legal fees until his ALP membership was suspended two weeks ago.

The opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said that had Labor not paid the fees, Mr Thomson would be bankrupt, no longer eligible to sit in Parliament and the government would have fallen.

Meanwhile, the legal stoush over the contents of a black bag belonging to the HSU boss Michael Williamson will head to court after Mr Williamson's lawyer and police failed to agree on the nature of the documents in the bag.

During a police raid on the HSU East branch in Sydney on May 1, officers seized the suitcase from Mr Williamson and his son Chris, a union employee, in a nearby basement car park.

Mr Williamson's lawyer Vivian Evans claims the documents are of a legal nature and therefore attract legal professional privilege.

As the police are challenging that claim, the bag's contents have been sealed and taken to Parramatta Local Court.

With Kate McClymont

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