Commission exposes further abuse of electorate allowances and misconduct risks

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Thursday 26th November

The Corruption and Crime Commission has tabled its second report into the misuse of Parliamentary electorate allowances and related misconduct risks in State Parliament today.

The Commission has formed opinions of serious misconduct relating to two former members of the Legislative Council:

  • Mr Brian Ellis; and
  • Mr Nigel Hallett.

The Commission is compiling briefs of evidence on various suspected criminal offences against the Corruption Crime and Misconduct Act 2003 (relating to acts and attempts to impede and mislead the investigation) that will be referred for prosecution.

In December 2019, the Commission tabled an interim report on Misconduct risks in electorate allowances for Members of Parliament, exposing how former MP, Phil Edman, misused the electorate allowance to fund private lifestyle expenses including overseas and interstate travel, lavish meals, adult entertainment and gifts for female companions.

Following the tabling of the Commission's first report, the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal (SAT) released its own report, Report on allowances provided to Members of Parliament, in which the SAT projected the re-calibration of the electorate and other allowance accountability framework. Those changes are to be implemented post the State election in March 2021.

Today's Report on electorate allowances and management of electorate offices details more instances of the thematic abuse of the electorate allowance, including the use of public funds for private overseas and domestic travel, high-end dining experiences, and adult entertainment at a strip club.

The report also details how one member, Mr Nigel Hallett, put his long-time friend (Ms Bonnie Cornwall) on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet payroll over a period of seven years. She took home salary payments totalling more than $60,000 for what was allegedly half a day's work a week, accrued leave and was awarded pay rises. She dined on public funds with Mr Hallett, had access to Parliament, ate in the Parliament House dining room and received gifts funded by Mr Hallett’s electorate allowance.

Neither Mr Hallett or Ms Cornwall could demonstrate to the Commission that she did any meaningful work for her pay and other benefits and the Commission found no evidence of any work performed by her. The Commission has not formed an opinion of serious misconduct against Ms Cornwell. Responsibility rests with the member of Parliament who employed her and managed her continued employment, Mr Nigel Hallett.

Report on electorate allowances and management of electorate offices highlights a lack of accountability, diligence and understanding by some politicians of the purpose behind parliamentary allowances. Some members felt entitled to apply public money to fund private expenses, while some purported to justify the expenditure with tenuous or deceptive links to parliamentary or electorate purpose.

During a private examination before the Commission, one former member argued that tickets for he and his companion to a Neil Diamond concert could legitimately be paid from the electorate allowance, though he finally conceded there was no benefit to the electorate.

The Commission identified the discretion exercised by members to recruit electorate office staff is a serious misconduct risk. Serious misconduct risks in relation to office employees include:

  • lack of oversight of recruitment processes;
  • the lack of supervision of electorate officers’ performance;
  • a risk of sham employment of electorate officers;
  • mismanagement of confidential information;
  • poor management of conflicts of interest; and
  • the absence of a Code of Conduct for electorate officers.

Serious misconduct risks involving Parliamentary allowances detailed in today's report include:

  • the purpose of the electorate allowance being abused and/or misunderstood;
  • lack of accountability to the community of Western Australia;
  • appreciation that the member has responsibility for acquittal of the allowance (not an accountant or other adviser); and
  • the treatment of reimbursed expenses (which cannot also be claimed as a tax deduction).

The Commission's investigation has been longer than anticipated because it was impeded by particular witnesses influencing evidence, destroying or withholding relevant records, intentionally and materially flouting the confidentiality obligations of non-disclosure orders, and giving false testimony during private examinations.

Despite this, the Commission has exposed a lack accountability around the use of parliamentary allowances and the management of electorate offices that is significantly out of step with the oversight and accountability framework imposed on the rest of the public sector.

The Commission’s report was based on the testimony and evidence of a significant number of witnesses in addition to those examined for the interim report. The Commission has also considered source documentation and telecommunications lawfully intercepted and acquired under warrant.

Operation Betelgeuse is not over. The Commission is yet to be provided access to further material on a DPC laptop computer and 'back up' hard drive seized in August 2019 from the residence of former MP, Mr Edman. The laptop and hard drive are understood to remain in the possession of the Legislative Council. The laptop is understood to remain in the possession of the Legislative Council.

Supreme Court proceedings in relation to documentary evidence are also ongoing.

ENDS

Read the report

Report on electorate allowances and management of electorate offices

Media contacts

Marie Mills: (08) 9421 3600 or 0418 918 202

Louisa Mitchell: (08) 9421 3600 or 0434 308 208