No current Victorian Labor MPs will be charged over the misuse of parliamentary staff in the so-called red shirts rort, police have announced.
- A fraud squad investigation has exonerated 16 Labor MPs over the red shirts scandal
- Two men are still being investigated but they are not current MPs or field organisers
- Labor repaid the $388,000 last year after a damning ombudsman’s report into the issue
Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton said 16 MPs had been exonerated by the police investigation into Labor’s misuse of $388,000 of public funds during the 2014 state election campaign.
But he said investigations regarding “potential fraud matters” were continuing into two men who allegedly designed the scheme.
The Deputy Commissioner said police were now in a third phase of the investigation.
“That third phase in relation to those who allegedly orchestrated or designed these arrangements, and there are two men who currently we are still investigating… ” he said.
“I’m not going to identify who those two men are.”
Those two men have not yet been “criminally interviewed” by police.
Victoria’s ombudsman named former state treasurer John Lenders as the architect of the scheme in her report into the affair last year.
In response to questions about whether Mr Lenders was still under investigation, Deputy Commissioner Patton said anyone who had read the ombudsman’s report would “have a fair guess at it.”
The ABC has tried to reach Mr Lenders for comment.
Police name exonerated MPs
Police took the unusual step today of releasing the names of 16 current and former Labor MPs who had been cleared.
“I think it’s important to state though, and I want to reiterate this, those 16 members of parliament have been exonerated, they are not going to be charged in respect to this matter,” Deputy Commissioner Patton said.
Police had requested interviews with those 16 MPs, but they all declined.
‘This is over for MPs’, Police Minister says
The ALP has been under fire since 2015 when it was revealed that the party had used non-political electorate staff as paid campaign field organisers during the 2014 election.
After a long-running court dispute over jurisdictional authority, the ombudsman Deborah Glass released a damning report that found Labor had wrongly used $388,000 of public funds to campaign for votes.
Labor repaid the money when the ombudsman tabled her report in March last year.
In the wake of the ombudsman’s report, the Victorian Opposition asked police to investigate the matter.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said it would be inappropriate to comment on the ongoing investigation or the identities of the two men.
“I have had absolutely no knowledge or involvement in it,” she said.
“We’ve not had conversations about it so I am not across any of those details.
“But I am also not going to be seen to intervene or interfere in any way in the investigation.”
She said police had made it clear the MPs had been exonerated.
“This is over for MPs and it means that MPs as they’ve always done remain focused on delivering for Victorians.”
Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton defended the time taken for the investigation, denying there had been delays.
“It’s not that it’s taken so long, it’s just gone through the usual process,” he said.
“We’ve had to make sure that the investigation was thorough and that we didn’t leave any stone unturned.”
The investigation grabbed headlines when police conducted pre-dawn arrests on a number of field organisers with one man, whistle-blower Jake Finnigan, reporting he was strip-searched.
The scandal dogged Premier Daniel Andrews for more than a year, with some worried it would dent his 2018 election campaign.
Despite efforts from the Coalition, the issue failed to cut through with voters.
The Deputy Commissioner said no requests to interview Premier Daniel Andrews, his deputy James Merlino or Police Minister Lisa Neville were made because there was a lack of evidence.
The investigation was complex because of the lack of clear rules on the duties electorate officers were expected to perform.
But police focused on a week in March 2014 when election campaign officers, who were paid part-time as electorate officers, attended a pre-election training camp.
It was during this week that it was clear the staff were not splitting their time between electorate duties and campaigning.
The ombudsman’s investigation into the issue and the legal saga surrounding it has cost taxpayers more than three times the amount that was misused.
In its annual report tabled to Parliament, the ombudsman revealed the cost of its investigation was nearly $800,000.
While no charges have yet been laid more than five years on, Deputy Commissioner Patton said the police investigation had been worthwhile.
“There was a question mark hanging over [it],” he said.
“When people view that Ombudsman’s report they say, well alright, they didn’t do any electorate officer duties during that period, why aren’t they charged? And that’s why it was important that we step through the entire process.”
Topics: state-parliament, police, alp, state-elections, government-and-politics, public-sector, melbourne-3000, vic, parliament-house-3002
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