Pay back the money, Premier

Tania Maxwell MP yesterday called on Premier Daniel Andrews to repay taxpayers’ money that Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and Ombudsman say was misused by the state’s Labor Party.

Responding in the Legislative Council to an Opposition motion about the Operation Watts investigation special report, published on July 20, the Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria expressed her deep disappointment.

“In main the report goes to the heart of the integrity and ethical conduct of members of Parliament, ministers and their respective staff,” Ms Maxwell said.

“IBAC commissioner Richard Redlich ombudsman Deborah Glass said in their foreword:

This report illustrates a catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour and concerning practices, and the environment in which such behaviour was able to flourish. They range from bullying to the hiring of unqualified people into publicly funded roles, using those roles to undertake factional work, rampant nepotism, forging signatures, and attempts to interfere with government grants to favour factionally aligned community organisations—who, in some cases, failed to use the funds as intended.

“It goes on to say:

It is discouraging that so little parliamentary time—across parties and houses of parliament—has been devoted to finding a solution to this problem.

“On June 8, in this very place, I put forward a motion that about that type of conduct as it relates to bullying and harassment and to examine what support and oversight was in place.

“At the time I reflected that Parliament and its members should be exemplars of best practice.

“My motion was amended by the government to exclude the Legislative Assembly, even though the call to Parliament was to include all members, employees and other staff within the Parliament. It now sits with the Equal Opportunity Commissioner for further consideration.

“Reading the Operation Watts report further affirms my view that the review of the Parliament as a workplace that I proposed is essential.

“I have hope that my motion will lead to installing the proper oversight that is clearly required in Parliament and provide for an external independent body to consider complaints, the appropriate right of reply and a robust but fair resolution process.

“The heads of the highest integrity bodies in our state say that Victoria is now a laggard rather than a leader in parliamentary integrity.

“They also said that there is no framework in which breaches of ethical standards by MPs are investigated in a manner that is consistent or credible, and that is shameful.

“I am bewildered how the Premier can say he takes full responsibility for the conduct outlined in the report and that he supports its 21 recommendations, but then says that repaying taxpayers’ money, which was clearly identified in the inquiry, is not required because it was not a recommendation.

“It is completely hypocritical to say that you’re going beyond the recommendations when it does not include repaying public money that was blatantly misused.

“Surely our Premier made a faux pas and meant to say that his moral and ethical duty was to ensure that taxpayers’ money would be repaid as his first priority and that he does not require a recommendation in a report to make that decision.

“So I say to the Premier: pay back the money. You said yourself that you need to do more than just offer words. It has to be about action.

“Be true to that statement and pay the money back.”

 —

Opposition motion (Legislative Council) – August 2, 2022

David DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (13:19):

I move:

That this house notes that the:

(1) Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission’s (IBAC) and Ombudsman’s joint report, Operation Watts, was tabled on 20 July 2022;

(2) Ombudsman’s report Investigation of a Matter Referred from the Legislative Council on 25 November 2015, tabled on 21 March 2018 and known as the red shirts report, drew attention to the theft by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) of $388,000 of taxpayers money and that:

(a) the Premier, the Honourable Daniel Andrews MP, ordered the stolen money to be voluntarily repaid;

(b) despite no recommendation that the money be repaid, the Premier advised Parliament on 27 March 2018 that the ALP had repaid the full amount;

(3) Operation Watts report shows $1,348,750 of taxpayers money was misappropriated by the ALP, which was only a share of what was likely misappropriated, identifying:

(a) over $110,000 paid to a factionally appointed political staffer;

(b) up to $14,000 of stamp purchases misused for political purposes;

(c) almost $30,000 paid to a political staffer who sent only one work email during his entire employment period;

(d) over $1 million in grants awarded by former minister the Honourable Robin Scott MP to Labor-linked community organisations;

(e) $194,750 in grants awarded by former minister the Honourable Marlene Kairouz MP to Labor-linked community organisations;

(4) Premier has intransigently refused to repay the $1,348,750 of taxpayers money misappropriated by the ALP; and calls on the Premier and the ALP to immediately repay the $1,348,750 identified by IBAC and the Ombudsman.

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