Electorate office budgets
23 May 2018
I am very pleased to rise today to join this matter of public importance (MPI) raised by the member for Kew. I must say that I think the members for Oakleigh and Thomastown must be breathing a little sigh of relief that their own members — indeed you are certainly taking your time in the chair today, Acting Speaker — are helping to run out their time on the clock. It is interesting to note how few members of the Labor Party are in the chamber today. Why is that any great surprise, given the findings of the Ombudsman and the guilt that so many of them quite clearly have.
I just want to pick up very quickly on an issue raised by the member for Oakleigh, who has adopted the tactic used by many of those on the opposite side that this is something that has been done by all political parties. Well, it is not, and the Ombudsman makes that very, very clear in her report. On page 17, for the reference of the member for Oakleigh, the Ombudsman said:
The other argument that surfaced regularly during our investigation was that this was simply an extension of existing approved pooling arrangement, and that 'they all do it'. It was not, and other political parties did not have similar arrangements.
As I travel around people ask me all the time: 'If I stole from my employer, would I keep my job if I paid the money back?'. Well, the answer is clearly no, but that is what those opposite believe they can do. They believe that they can steal from the Victorian taxpayer and they can keep their jobs, that they have nothing to answer for and that there is nothing to see here. That is what Victorians fundamentally want those on the government benches to front up to. They want them to be accountable for the $388 000 of taxpayers money that they stole. They do not want it just paid back; they want those opposite to be held to account. You blatantly stole it and you think that because you make the rules, you can get away with it. That is why it is causing great outrage amongst members of the public, because you create one set of rules for them and an entirely different set of rules for yourselves. Your rorting, your cheating, absolutely stinks to high heaven and the Victorian public know it.
Twenty-one MPs used money from their office budgets and put it into campaigns; 11 still sit in this Parliament, and there are others who have personally gained and personally benefited from the scam that you put in place before the 2014 election. There are 17 members of this house who owe their seats to that scam. Why do we know that they owe their seats to that scam? Because the assistant state secretary of the Labor Party at the time came out after the election and told us that it was that field campaign that won the election for Labor. It was made very clear after the last election that it was this magnificent campaign on the ground that they had used, that they had rorted taxpayers money for, that had won them the election.
Those 17 members owe their seats to the fact that they and others in the Parliament stole taxpayers money and used it for their own personal gain. Not one has apologised, and every single one still sits on the government benches. Not one has had the decency to own up to the fact that what they did completely breached faith and was wrong, and they do not deserve to keep their jobs because of it. Not one of them has done that, and that sticks in people's throats. People are angry about that. All we have had from those opposite are pathetic excuses to try to justify those rorts. We recall the Premier saying:
I take responsibility for each and every thing that happens under my leadership of the Labor Party and my leadership of the government.
But has he taken responsibility for this? No, he has not. He has spent $1 million trying to fight the Ombudsman and block her investigation. He took it to the Supreme Court and to the appeals court of the Supreme Court and tried to take it all the way to the High Court to stop her from even investigating. The charge was led by the Attorney-General, who was completely conflicted because he is named in the report as having been part of this scam and part of this rort.
It is a complete slap in the face for taxpayers that not only did Labor steal the $388 000 in the first place but it then spent another $1 million of the public's money trying to protect itself from having anything to answer for. We have seen them try to play trick after trick and make claim after claim that they knew nothing about it. Bizarrely, quite a lot of MPs seem to have suffered from memory loss when the Ombudsman actually sat down with them. And of course we had the principle of exclusive cognisance which had to be dragged out to prevent any of the members in this house from being interviewed by the Ombudsman. Extraordinarily, they want us to believe that everything is out on the table and they have nothing to answer for, despite the fact that the Ombudsman has quite clearly stated that she was not able to investigate them. It is absolutely extraordinary.
These are the words of the Ombudsman —
Mr Dimopoulos interjected.
Ms RYAN — The member for Oakleigh wants us to believe that everything is known, everything has been dealt with and it is all fine, despite the fact that not one member of this chamber has fronted up to the Ombudsman. This is what the Ombudsman says:
In the end, although some pieces are missing because of claims of parliamentary privilege and exclusive cognisance, or simply loss of memory as some witnesses asserted, a clear picture emerged.
It was a picture of a well-organised campaign by the ALP to recruit and deploy a full-time field organisers …
But while the question of jurisdiction delayed the investigation, the Legislative Assembly's assertion of exclusive cognisance — in effect that I cannot investigate members of the Assembly — was detrimental to it. I did not regard the scope of my investigation to be limited to the Legislative Council, but I decided not to test my view in the courts; enough time and public money had been spent on legal proceedings, and I could still investigate the matter by focusing on Council members. But this limited my use of coercive powers. While I can draw cogent conclusions from the evidence available, there are gaps in the evidence of which Parliament should be aware.
The Ombudsman has stated very clearly that there are gaps in the evidence because those opposite refused to front up. They refused to explain their actions because they knew they had something to hide. If they had nothing to hide, they would have been quite happy to go along and talk to the Ombudsman. They would have been happy to go along and explain their actions, but they weren't, were they? The Ombudsman found that these were arrangements that existed only within the Labor Party, not within any other political party in Victoria. So as much as those opposite want to try and spread the blame around, there is no blame to be spread. You rorted $388 000 of Victorian taxpayers money. You put that into political campaigning. You won the election on the back of that field campaign — as your assistant state secretary at the time of the 2014 election was proud to tell people — and now you sit there and claim that you have nothing to answer for. Well, the Victorian people do not buy that. We do not buy that, and the Ombudsman does not buy that either.
This will go down in history as one of the greatest scandals to ever affect the Victorian Parliament. This goes to the heart of this government. It is willing to lie and cheat its way into government, and it is willing to lie and cheat to hold government. We do not have any transparency about whether these arrangements continue or whether these arrangements will be used for the 2018 election because Daniel Andrews —
Mr Pearson interjected.
Ms RYAN — Sorry, member for Essendon, the Premier. Perhaps he should not be the Premier, but the Premier will not take responsibility like he said he would. He will not take responsibility for actions under his government.