The Victorian Labor Party has asked police to investigate 24 Coalition MPs for allegedly rorting taxpayer funds and misusing electorate staff, just days after the fraud squad revealed it was investigating Labor MPs for similar tactics.
Deputy Premier James Merlino has written to Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, asking him to look into allegations current and former Liberal and National MPs used electorate office staff for party campaigning during business hours.
He also claimed a number of ministerial staff were used by the Napthine government for its re-election campaign in 2014, but they did not take leave from the jobs, meaning they were paid for by the taxpayer.
Mr Merlino said those staff worked at the direction of the party’s former state director, which gave them access to $2 million worth of taxpayer resources.
Last week Victoria Police announced its fraud squad was investigating the Labor Party’s misuse of $388,000 of public money during the 2014 election campaign that saw Daniel Andrews elected premier.
In March, state ombudsman Deborah Glass released a report that revealed 21 Labor MPs had breached parliamentary guidelines by approving payments to electorate officers who were actually used to campaign.
She said the MPs involved, including a number of current ministers, believed the scheme was legitimate. Labor has since repaid the money.
Shadow treasurer Michael O’Brien and shadow attorney-general John Pesutto were among the MPs named in Mr Merlino’s letter.
James Merlino said the Liberal Party should be subject to the same scrutiny as Labor. (ABC News)
The letter said Mr Merlino had provided evidence with details of the alleged breaches to police, but it was not released publicly.
“I note that you [Mr Ashton] have recently commenced an investigation into duties performed by electorate office staff employed by certain members of the Parliament of Victoria,” the letter, dated July 29, said in part.
“It’s clear that a significant number of ministerial advisors worked at the direction of the then Liberal Party state director, Damien Mantach, throughout the caretaker period — allowing the Liberal Party to access taxpayer expenditure in the order of $2 million for the Napthine government’s re-election campaign.
“Given the approach you have adopted in recent related investigations, the material I have provided directly indicates potentially serious offences being committed in this matter.”
Letter a ‘laughable ploy’ from Merlino
Opposition spokesman Tim Smith said the claims were “farcical” and denied his party had done anything wrong.
“That letter should be seen for what it is, which is a desperate and laughable ploy from a government crisis,” he said.
“He [Mr Merlino] is a desperate individual trying to muddy the waters because Labor is being investigated by the police as we speak.”
Mr Merlino said the Liberal Party needed to be held to the same standards.
“I think it’s fair and I think all Victorians would think it’s fair that every party is subject to the same scrutiny,” Mr Merlino said.
“The fact is the Liberal Party voted down all attempts to have their activities subject to the scrutiny of the ombudsman.”