TWO ALP MPs caught misusing an allowance for rural members to maintain second residences in Melbourne are lucky they don’t work in the private sector; a blatant collective rort of $140,000 would, in other circumstances, expose them to prosecution for theft, fraud, conspiracy, and God knows what else. The episode is further proof of a rotten Labor regime presided over by a pusillanimous Premier, operated solely to benefit militant union thugs.
Lest any smarty utter the words “Bronwyn Bishop” in a comment, I note at the outset that not only was this column scathing about her flagrant waste of some $5,500 on a helicopter trip at the time — an amount repaid in full, however grudgingly — but that the episode (rightly) cost Mrs Bishop her position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, her Liberal Party endorsement for her electorate on Sydney’s North Shore, and her political career.
And I say this because once again, members from the ALP — this time, specimens from the contemptible, union-controlled junta that infests the Treasury benches in Spring Street — have shown that when it comes to the blatant rip-off of public monies for personal benefit, any outrage perpetrated by a Liberal MP invariably pales in comparison to the kind of rorting the self-entitled minions of the Labor Party seem to engage in until or unless they are caught.
Most readers will have by now heard that Andrews government Speaker Telmo Languiller has been forced to resign, and make restitution, over $40,000 he improperly claimed for maintaining a second residence outside his electorate, which wasn’t in Melbourne at all; this development yesterday was swiftly followed by the deputy Speaker, Don Nardella, also falling on his sword over a $100,000 claim against exactly the same allowance — when neither his primary residence, nor the secondary address he made the claims for, were anywhere near his electorate at all.
I’m not going to comment at great length today — I will be back later this afternoon to belatedly discuss some of what has happened this past week in the federal political arena — but whichever way you cut it, these developments are (or at least, should be) disastrous for Daniel Andrews and the government we also said, at the time it was elected, was likely to turn out to be a fiasco.
How right we were: and how lucky for Andrews, for now at least, that the state Liberals seem unable to land a telling blow against his government.
Perhaps — after the terrible loss of life on Bourke Street last month, and now this — that might finally start to change.
To fully appreciate the scope of this latest outrage (and again, for the benefit of readers interstate), a little geographical orientation is indicated.
Languiller — the member for Tarneit, about 25km west of the Melbourne CBD — has been claiming for a second residence so he could live in Queenscliff, on the surf coast about 80km from Melbourne on the Bellarine Peninsula, despite maintaining a “primary residence” in Footscray about 6km from the CBD: it goes without saying that any second residence Mr Languiller wished to maintain at Queenscliff should have been of the “holiday house” variety funded solely from his own pocket.
Nardella, by contrast, represents the electorate of Melton, a dreadful and thoroughly awful speck of Melbourne’s outer western suburbs about a third of the way to Ballarat; even so, Nardella doesn’t even pretend to deign to dwell among those whose votes he takes for granted every four years — his primary residence is in the Bayside suburb of Mordialloc, about 25km south of the CBD (and about 10-15 minutes further out from the city than where I live), and the “secondary residence” he has saddled taxpayers with a six-figure bill for is in Ocean Grove, almost literally a stone’s throw from Languiller’s joint at Queenscliff.
In other words, the “secondary residences” these gentlemen have pocketed money from the taxpayer to fund — under an allowance always intended to help rural and regional MPs maintain accommodation in Melbourne for use during parliamentary sitting weeks — were a total violation of the intention of the allowance. Apparently, the defence was initially offered that as guidelines did not stipulate a “second residence” had to be in Melbourne, no wrongdoing had occurred.
Closing that loophole should be the first item on the notice paper when Parliament next sits.
In Nardella’s case, it is hard to see how any sane or rational individual could have conjured up even the most remotely plausible justification for his actions — even if solely for the benefit of the voices in his head — for his case is arguably the worse of the two misdemeanours, and impossible to validate on any realistic basis.
But to suggest the amounts of $40,000 and $100,000 respectively were at best fraudulently procured, and worst a blatant case of theft from the public purse, is no overstatement at all.
Had Languiller and Nardella been employed in the private sector and stolen those amounts from their bosses, they could and probably would be facing a string of charges including theft, fraud, conspiracy, embezzlement, and hefty jail terms to boot.
As it is, they will likely face no consequences at all, save for the loss of the ministerial component of their salaries; nobody should feel sympathy or compunction over the fact both will repay the monies illicitly taken, and nobody should think they have been unfairly dealt with or that their feeble justifications are in any way adequate. If repaying the money they should never have taken causes either or both hardship, nobody should care less; if they find the ridicule and embarrassment they now deservedly suffer to be too hard to handle, they should thank their lucky stars nobody is likely to institute criminal proceedings against them.
Frankly, they ought to be thrown out of Parliament for their trouble: and for a Premier who made so much of the Liberals’ predicament prior to the 2014 election, when the vote of miscreant Liberal-turned-Independent Geoff Shaw was the difference between a functional Victorian Parliament and a gridlocked quagmire, Daniel Andrews owes it to the people of Victoria — based on his own purported standards and “principles” — to lead the charge against two of his own, and move the expulsion motions himself.
He won’t, for one thing Andrews truly lacks is a spine. Another is a sense of decency, wherever actions rather than words are called for.
Coming so soon after another disgraced Andrews government minister “resigned” after it emerged he had been using a taxpayer-funded chauffeured car to transport his dogs between his two houses, this is a terrible look for Victorian Labor, and one compounded by the fact that Police minister Lisa Neville was allowed to survive in her post by Andrews after the grotesque tragedy on Bourke Street just weeks ago when she should have been sacked on the spot.
When you add in the bullying of another minister out of her post for refusing to kowtow to the line dictated to Andrews by the militant, hard-Left United Firefighters Union, as it sought to take over the Country Fire Authority, this government is looking very grubby indeed; and when it is further recognised that the common thread through all of the arrivals, departures, lack of action and vacillating over getting rid of people is a constant of union webs and links, it makes Andrews look weak, pusillanimous, and pathetic.
The loss of two more ministers (if you count the Speaker and his deputy as such) for what boils down to common theft in anyone else’s language means the Andrews government has, in a little over two years, lost three Cabinet ministers, the Speaker and his deputy, for the total loss of five ministers from a starting line-up of 25: 20% of the Andrews government wiped out in less than two-thirds of its four-year term.
As I predicted it would the day after it was elected, this state Labor government has proven to be rotten to the core, and sometimes in ways nobody could have expected.
With more than 18 months to go, and with “interesting stories” circulating about the activities of some of Andrews’ other closest cohorts, it remains to be seen just how far the rot can spread — and how long before opposition leader Matthew Guy can turn what should be a political slam-dunk into any kind of lead in reputable opinion polling, let alone one that might win him the next state election.