Grievances - Electorate Office Budgets

Wednesday 28th March 2018

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (14:32:03) — I rise to make a contribution to the grievance debate. Before starting my main contribution, I point out to the member for Macedon that according to the Ombudsman’s report as I read it she was the beneficiary of $16 000 from the former member for Macedon, Jo Duncan. She also shared in $24 000 from the former member for Yuroke, Liz Beattie. The member for Macedon stands here and lectures other people about integrity when she was a personal beneficiary in her campaign, and the Ombudsman’s report says that. It just defies logic that the member for Macedon would have the cheek to stand up in this chamber and talk on this issue. It does not surprise me that she has made her contribution and walked out, because that is what she usually does in these circumstances.

What I want to grieve for today is the whole Westminster system of government here in Victoria. It is in absolute shambles. In three years in this Parliament we have lost a Speaker for rorting the system and we have lost a Deputy Speaker for rorting the system. As I understand it, that is the first time in the something like 700‑year history of the Westminster system that a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker have lost their jobs for rorting in a single Parliament. Not only that but we have had the Deputy President in the upper house lose his job through the rorting of a printing allowance. Three of the four principal officers of our Parliament have lost their jobs through rorting. That is an absolute disgrace and I think a reflection on the morals and ethics of the Labor Party here in Victoria.

I believe that the Labor Party thinks that government is an ATM with which to rip off as much as they can whenever they can, and that is being reflected as we go through. With the Ombudsman’s report we have seen the top law officer of this state, the Attorney‑General, spend something like $1 million of taxpayers funds fighting the Ombudsman, an independent officer of this Parliament, to stop her investigating the so‑called red shirts rort fiasco. We have seen that the top law officer was actually embroiled in it himself. The conflicts of interest just amaze me. You have the top law officer who was embroiled in this and who spent over $1 million of taxpayers money to stop the Ombudsman, an independent officer of the Parliament, investigating these things.

If you go to the Herald Sun of Thursday, 22 March, you will see the rogues gallery on the front page — 21 former or current members of Parliament who have been caught up in this.

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WALSH — As the interjector says, they are the ones who got caught. There are a lot of people who refused to be interviewed by the Ombudsman. She has said in her report that the $388 000 rorted out of the electoral allowance system is only what she could account for. We will never know, unless there is a fully independent inquiry into this, whether there is more money there or not.

What is also I think very damning of the Labor Party in Victoria is that of those faces in that rogues gallery on the front page of the Herald Sun six are current members of the cabinet. Six of those people are members of the executive government. When you go to Government House as a minister you swear to uphold the laws of the state and to act with integrity. I do not know how they can put their hands on a Bible and say that now when you look at the actions of those ministers over that time. What has happened here in Victoria is an absolute disgrace.

The Ombudsman says that something like 1100 days of staff time was paid for by taxpayers to work on other people’s electorate campaigns in order to win government for the Labor Party in this state; 20 staff were involved in that particular issue. What I also find intriguing in this debate is that the day before the Ombudsman’s report came out and the Premier accepted the findings and said that the money was going to be paid back, we had the Deputy Premier of this state out saying to the media pack, ‘Nothing was done wrong. We didn’t do anything wrong’.

As we know with Ombudsman’s reports, all of the people named get a copy of the draft report to read and make comment on before it is finalised and printed. So the 21 people who are named in the report will all have had a copy of the report and they would all have had a chance to make comments on it. The Deputy Premier, when he stood in front of the TV cameras and put his hand on his heart and said, ‘We did nothing wrong’, would have known that the Ombudsman’s report was coming and would have known what it was going to say. No doubt he would have known that the money was going to be paid back, so I think he is embroiled in this whole fiasco as well.

What I also find interesting is the absolute denial by the Premier that anyone raised these issues with him. If you go to the Herald Sun, some of the MPs have broken ranks. There may be some people on that side of the house who actually feel guilty about what went on. They wanted to be reported anonymously because they are frightened of their colleagues, but they feel guilty about what went on. The Premier gave an absolutely categorical denial saying, ‘Let me be very, very clear with you, no such approaches were made’. This is the Premier talking about other members of Parliament coming to him concerned about this rorting. After this became public one of the MPs is quoted as saying:

I don’t believe so … After watching him on the news and denying it, I can’t stay silent even for the sake of the party.

He (the Premier) knew about concerns about the funding model. I and several other MPs raised it with him.

So several MPs are now saying that they raised concerns with the Premier and the Premier is standing in this place and saying that no‑one raised it with him. We need the truth to come out about this issue. They go on to say:

We were willing to back him, but he’s just thrown people under the bus today.

Those are fantastic comments from colleagues about their own Premier in this place.

We raised the funding with him personally. Despite that, Daniel personally urged MPs to participate.

It was common knowledge that Daniel and John (former state Treasurer John Lenders) were putting people under huge pressure to participate in the scheme.

This is the level of duplicity that has been going on within the government that the Premier and other people will not own up to.

The Leader of the Opposition in his contribution gave notice that he is going to write to you, Speaker, and ask you to refer the member for Lara to the Privileges Committee, and I think that is a very appropriate thing to do. If you look at what the member for Lara said in this place in relation to previous questions and his denial of those answers today, I think there is a matter of privilege to be answered, and I hope that you will look favourably at that referral to the Privileges Committee.

In the Herald Sun again it says that the member for Lara, to his credit, did express some reservations around this program. It says:

‘Eren was very cautious, and asked Lenders for more details around the legality of it’, a party source said.

Lenders assured him it was simply an extension of the traditional pooling arrangement … it was only after that he agreed to sign up it.

This is the member for Lara signing up to send some of his staff to work to help the member for Bellarine be re‑elected.

Another MP said Mr Lenders was asked for written advice from the Department of Parliamentary Services showing the scheme was above board.

‘That letter never arrived’, the MP said.

The member for Wendouree was named in the report as benefiting from a field officer supplied under the electorate office budget of the former member for Ripon, Joe Helper. The member for Wendouree told the Herald Sun that she was told that all staff were paid for by the Labor Party. So there was a situation where the former member for Ripon, Joe Helper, provided some of his staff’s time to the member for Wendouree’s campaign but she was told by the Labor Party that it was all kosher and that it was paid for by the party. There is this whole level of duplicity all the way through.

I think this Premier has lost his moral right to govern this state. It is not only the barbecue stopper around Victoria, it is the stopper in the meat pie queue at the  football and it is the stopper in the drinks queue at the netball. People are saying that this Premier has lost his moral right to govern this state. There have just been too many things that have gone on for him to govern this state with any credibility at all into the future.

I do grieve for the Westminster system here in Victoria and our level of government. Our top law officer, our previous Speaker, our previous Deputy Speaker and the Deputy President in the upper house — the people we elect as a Parliament to oversee the moral compass and the ethics of this state — have all failed us and left us in a lot worse place than we were before they came to government. The sad thing for all of us is that it brings all politicians into disrepute. That is probably the thing I take exception to the most.

When people talk to me they say, ‘Yeah, we don’t mean you’, but they bag politicians continually because of the things that people in this place have been doing, have been caught doing or will not own up to having been caught doing. It brings us all into disrepute. It lowers the community’s level of trust in the establishment of law in this state and it lowers the community’s level of trust in the role of Parliament in this state. As people have said, the Labor Party in government just think that being in government is an ATM machine to use for their own personal benefit and to make sure they stay in government in the future. They do not want to be out of government. They want to stay in government, and they will do anything to make sure that happens in this state.

I believe that the Premier and those six ministers should resign and clear the decks —

Mr Carroll interjected.

Mr WALSH — I did not do anything wrong.

The SPEAKER — I ask the minister at the table, the Minister for Industry and Employment, not to interject.

Mr WALSH — I have got plenty of answers. I will take up the interjection from the member for Niddrie. There are reports at various times about various members of Parliament, and they are held to account. The current Premier, the current ministers and the current members of Parliament who have been named in a report that has said they have done something wrong, do not want to admit they are wrong. The only thing the Premier is sorry for is the fact that he actually got caught. He is not sorry for what happened. He is sorry because they got caught. That is the whole issue around this. There is no genuineness at all in the Premier’s apology for this situation. The only thing he is sorry for is that he got caught. You can tell that by his attitude in question time. You can tell that by his arrogance in question time. You can tell that by the fact that he would not answer questions in question time.

The member for Niddrie can stick his head up and make a smart comment by way of an interjection, but it is you guys that have done us wrong. It is his Premier who has no sincerity at all when it comes to the fact that his party has ripped off at least $388 000 of taxpayers money to assist it in an election campaign. Yes, it has been paid back, but if you were anyone else in the community and you stole $388 000 from your employer and you paid it back, you would still be charged and you would probably still go to jail. You would not be sitting in the Premier’s chair earning the salary the Premier earns. There would not be six ministers, who are now ministers because of these particular circumstances, earning ministerial salaries. We would not have parliamentary secretaries earning parliamentary secretary salaries because of what they did around this issue. The member can stick his head up for a smart comment, but I think he needs to reflect very, very deeply on what those on his side of the house have done. I do note that the member for Niddrie was not named in the report. Perhaps the member for Niddrie was smart enough to stay out of this particular issue.

To finish off, I do grieve for the state of the Westminster system here in this state.

 

 

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