MORE than half the allegations against former Labor MP Craig Thomson could be thrown out on the grounds that their statute of limitations has been exceeded, Fair Work Australia concedes.
The Federal Court is still considering an appeal in a separate case between the Fair Work Ombudsman and Toyota Material Handling, which found there was a two-year statute of limitations for actions under the former Workplace Relations Act, the provisions of which were rolled in the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009.
That is the same act Mr Thomson is alleged to have breached 37 times - each of which is potentially punishable by fines of up to $6600.
All of those 37 alleged breaches occurred when he worked for the HSU, a job he left to enter Parliament in 2007.
If they were thrown out because they exceeded statute of limitations, Mr Thomson would continue to face 25 alleged breaches of the Health Services Union rules. They do not attract a financial penalty, although he could be required to pay compensation in relation to some of them.
The prospect of up to $450,000 in fines is the most immediate political ramification of the Fair Work proceedings for the minority government, because it raises the possibility that Mr Thomson could be bankrupted and therefore disqualified from sitting in Parliament.
Being found guilty of civil charges does not preclude an MP from serving.
A spokeswoman for Fair Work Australia said proceedings had been brought on the basis that there was a public interest in the matter and a reasonable chance of success.
She said the decision in the Toyota Material Handling appeal was outstanding and could have an impact on the Thomson case, but even if it did 25 alleged breaches of HSU rules could still proceed. If they were upheld they would result in a "declaration" by the court, and possibly compensation payments, but did not attract a financial penalty.
"Under the former Workplace Relations Act, time limits were set for certain proceedings and not for others. Toyota Material dealt with a proceeding where there was no time limit. The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act has the same feature, so a ruling on Toyota Material should also be applicable to any case against Mr Thomson under that act," said Adelaide University workplace law expert Professor Andrew Stewart.
Mr Thomson maintains his innocence and says he thinks all the civil charges against him will be thrown out. Labor ceased providing legal and financial support for Mr Thomson in April.
Separate police investigations into Mr Thomson and the HSU are continuing.