South Australia’s Liberal government has been forced into minority after first-term Liberal MP Fraser Ellis told State Parliament he had been charged after a probe by the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.
At the end of a marathon late-night sitting where Parliament passed a contentious abortion bill, Mr Ellis rose to his feet after 2:00am to reveal he had been charged with offences arising from an investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC).
“I’d like to take this rather unconventional time to inform the House that yesterday I was charged with alleged offences arising from the recent ICAC investigation into the Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance,” Mr Ellis said.
“I am completely innocent and I will be vigorously defending these allegations to the full extent of my resources and the law.
“These charges are mere allegations, not proof of what is alleged against me.”
“I make this statement now, Mr Speaker, knowing that there has been no public statements from the ICAC or the Department of Public Prosecutions because I have nothing to hide, my conscience is clear.”
Mr Ellis was one of several government MPs investigated by the corruption watchdog over their use of the Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance.
The probe was sparked by a series of exclusive stories by the ABC.
Mr Ellis has repeatedly maintained his innocence, but repaid $42,130 he had claimed under the scheme while staying at the Adelaide residence of a parliamentary colleague.
“I’ve never acted dishonestly,” Mr Ellis told Parliament.
“Any error in a claim form completed by a relatively inexperienced member was simply that, an error.
“There is a significant difference between an error and any proof beyond reasonable doubt of a crime in a court of law.
“These were the result of genuine errors by a new member for which I’ve already apologised.”
Mr Ellis told Parliament that he informed the Premier Steven Marshall about the charges yesterday.
He said he had suspended his Liberal Party membership and would move to the cross bench while the case against him proceeded.
His move to the cross bench means the Liberal government now holds just 23 seats in the 47 seat parliament.
Government ‘in chaos’
Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said it was a “stunning revelation”.
“People are also rather alarmed about the fact that he’d informed the Premier and the Premier has said absolutely nothing about it, despite having opportunity to do so,” Mr Malinauskas said.
“This speaks to a degree of secrecy that … I think South Australians are alarmed about.
“We now have a Marshall Liberal Government that was elected with a majority and has lost it and that has sent the government into chaos at the very time South Australians are looking for stability in leadership.”
-more to come