News State Victoria Labor red shirts investigation cost taxpayers three times more than rort

Labor red shirts investigation cost taxpayers three times more than rort

daniel andrews red shirts investigation ombudsman
The ombudsman spent $745,000 on the investigation itself. Photo: AAP
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Investigating Victorian Labor’s so-called red shirts saga has cost taxpayers a total of $1.3 million, three times as much as the amount misused by the party.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass on Wednesday revealed $879,000 was spent probing Labor’s misuse of $388,000 by partially funding campaign staff through parliamentary allowances before the 2014 election.

That expense comes on top of the $139,000 spent by the government and $330,000 by the Legislative Council fighting over whether the ombudsman could investigate.

Together, it means it cost taxpayers $1.3 million to get the investigation done.

The ombudsman costs, revealed in her annual report tabled in parliament on Wednesday, included $745,000 on four full-time staff, transcription costs and enhanced security.

Another $134,000 went to external legal fees after the ombudsman and government fought over the investigation through the supreme, appeal and high courts.

The report noted the office received separate funding from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to carry out the investigation, as it was outside the ombudsman’s usual core work.

Ms Glass in March said while the scheme was an “artifice”, the 21 Labor MPs involved did not set out to deliberately deceive.

The party has since repaid the money to parliament.

But Wednesday’s revelation prompted opposition calls for Labor to repay the ombudsman office’s costs.

“By repaying the money rorted you admitted guilt,” Opposition Leader Matthew Guy told Premier Daniel Andrews in Parliament.

“Now that the ombudsman has revealed the true cost of your cover-up, will you pay that money back as well?”

But the premier hit back at the Liberal leader.

“The leader of the opposition seems to think you can refer these matters to the ombudsman and it will all be done free of charge, it will all be done with no cost – what fantasy land are you in?” Mr Andrews said.

The premier suggested the ombudsman’s office will face a similar cost to investigate entitlements misuse by the Liberals and Nationals, an allegation referred to her by Labor in August.

The rorts scandal, first revealed by the Herald Sun, involved Labor using taxpayer money in the form of parliamentary allowances to partially pay party campaign staff known as red shirts in the lead up to the 2014 election.

The party said it was part of their wider staff pooling arrangements.

The Legislative Council referred the matter to Ms Glass for investigation in November 2015, sparking a legal battle between the government and ombudsman’s office about whether she had jurisdiction to look into the matter.

The two-year probe was hampered by lower-house MPs who used parliamentary privilege to avoid talking to investigators.

-with AAP