Victoria’s Labor government has apologised for a $388,000 election campaign rort and has repaid the money, but Premier Daniel Andrews won’t step down over the scandal embroiling several of his senior ministers.
The state ombudsman on Wednesday published a damning report naming 21 Labor MPs, past and present, found to have breached parliamentary guidelines during the party’s victorious 2014 election campaign.
They used taxpayer funds intended to staff electorate offices to instead pay personnel acting as campaign officers, who ran Labor’s Community Action Network, or “red shirts” brigade, taking the party message to marginal seats.
Mr Andrews said the money had been repaid in full and refused to stand down over the scandal.
“I am sorry this has occurred, and really the most important thing here is to ensure that we prove that we are sincere in that apology,” he said.
The premier also said there was no need for the sitting MPs and ministers named to quit.
The ombudsman has made it very clear that everyone involved in this acted with the not unreasonable assumption … in good faith, deriving no personal benefit.”
Opposition leader Matthew Guy said Labor had “cheated” its way into government and people should lose their jobs.
“If you take money from your employer, you usually lose your job,” Mr Guy told reporters.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass earlier said: “The evidence is that MPs who participated in the arrangement and signed time-sheets believed it was legitimate and that they were contributing to an approved pooling arrangement.
“But while they received little or no personal benefit from the use of parliamentary funds for campaigning purposes, which almost invariably benefited the election prospects of others, 21 members of the 57th parliament breached the Members’ Guide.”
Among the MPs named by the ombudsman are Attorney-General Martin Pakula, Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, Families Minister Jenny Mikakos and Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings.
The premier added that Labor will not use the same electioneering tactics at the November state election.
The upper house asked Ms Glass to investigate whether Labor breached the rules after reports emerged that the party used electorate office funds to pay 26 staff for two days of campaigning a week at the 2014 state election.
The move would not “pass the pub test” among voters, an internal report found.
The report will be damaging for the Andrews Government and Labor, but it stopped short of recommending any criminal charges or referral to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.
Electorate officers are banned from “political” campaigning.
Ms Glass estimated the electorate officers working on the campaign were paid nearly $388,000.
MPs ‘believed payments were legitimate’
In the report, the ombudsman said MPs who participated in the arrangement and signed timesheets believed it was legitimate.
“I make no criticism of the campaign or the field organisers,” Ms Glass wrote.
“But while some electorate officer work was done for some Members of Parliament, the arrangement to employ field organisers as electorate officers was an artifice to secure partial payment for the campaign out of parliamentary funds, and was wrong.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said all the money had been repaid.
“Those payments have been made in full after discussions between myself, as the leader of the party, and the state secretary,” he said.
“[It] is the appropriate thing to do in relation to the findings in the report that has been tabled today.”
Former Victorian treasurer ‘crossed the line’
Ms Glass named former state treasurer John Lenders, who retired at the 2014 election, as the architect of the scheme.
The report noted that guidelines for MPs and electorate officers were not enforceable, and were often not consulted by MPs.
“There is undoubtedly a blurred line between permissible and impermissible uses of parliamentary funds, and what is or is not political activity prohibited by the guide,” Ms Glass wrote.
“But in seeking to maximise the use of resources available to the party, Mr Lenders crossed the line.”
The report also called for a tightening of the rules around the use of parliamentary funds.
Those named in the report
CABINET MINISTERS AND THE SPENDING THEY APPROVED:
- Jenny Mikakos (Families and Children, Youth Affairs) $21,148.
- Gayle Tierney (Training and Skills, Corrections) $20,559.
- Gavin Jennings (Legislative Council leader, Special Minister of State) $20,539.
- Lily D’Ambrosio (Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Suburban Development) $5364.
- Martin Pakula (Attorney General, Racing) $5354.
- John Eren (Tourism and Major Events, Sport, Veterans) $2358.
- Marsha Thomson – $21,148
- Nazih Elasmar – $21,148
- Adem Somyurek – $15,717
- Anthony Carbines – $8823
- Shaun Leane – $2358
- John Lenders (former Treasurer, identified by report as chief architect of the scheme) $44,732
- Elizabeth Beattie – $24,773
- Margaret Lewis – $24,358
- John Pandazopoulos – $21,757
- Brian Tee – $21,148
- Jochen Helper – $21,148
- Johan Scheffer – $21,148
- Lee Tarlamis – $19,931
- Matthew Viney – $18,790
- Candy Broad – $5925
NAMED IN REPORT BUT NO FINDING OF WRONGDOING:
- *Cesar Melhem – $3538
- Joanne Duncan (retired) – $16,078
-With ABC, AAP