Could lose pension … Mr Slipper. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The former speaker, Peter Slipper, risks losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits if he is convicted of using his government Cabcharge card to tour restaurants and wineries.
When he retires, Mr Slipper can expect a yearly pension of about $157,000 for the rest of his life. But if found guilty of the alleged fraud, he is likely to lose everything besides a refund of his superannuation contributions (without interest).
Mr Slipper's retirement package is especially lucrative because of his long service - 23 years as an MP - and his occupation of highly paid roles, including Speaker of the House of Representatives, where he earned an annual salary of $371,463.
The threat to his entitlements gives him an incentive to resign before he faces court next month, if he fears a guilty verdict and wants to protect his pension.
There is little precedent for Mr Slipper's predicament but legal experts and public servants familiar with politicians' entitlements said an early resignation would likely protect his lucrative pension package in the event of a later conviction, although they could provide no guarantee.
If he remains in Parliament and is convicted, he will lose much of his entitlements regardless of how severe any sentence is.
Mr Slipper has been accused of using a taxpayer-funded hire car to tour half a dozen of Canberra's finest wineries.
The summons document, released on Tuesday by the ACT Magistrates Court, alleges that on three occasions in 2010, Mr Slipper took a hire car to visit wineries including the top-rated Clonakilla winery, well known for its $100-a-bottle shiraz viognier. The trips described in the document - including journeys within Canberra - cost $1194.
Mr Slipper has not responded to calls and emails. But he has described earlier accusations of Cabcharge fraud as a ''complete fabrication''.
He has employed Brisbane lawyer Peter Russo, who defended Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef when he was wrongly accused by the Commonwealth of assisting a terrorist organisation. Mr Russo would not comment on the case.
If convicted, Mr Slipper will have to resign as an MP because his offence is ''punishable under the law of the Commonwealth . . . by imprisonment for one year or longer'', according to section 44 of the Constitution.
The former Speaker faces a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. But even if he is sentenced to less than a year in prison he would still be forced to resign because his alleged offence carries a maximum sentence of longer than one year, said Anne Twomey, a constitutional law expert at the University of Sydney.
If Mr Slipper is forced to resign because of a conviction the Constitution says he is entitled to ''a refund of his [superannuation] contributions, but to no other benefit''.