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Perks scandal claims Marshall ministers and Legislative Council president

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Three ministers and the president of the Legislative Council have all resigned from their positions with Premier Steven Marshall saying the Government could not afford the “distraction” of the politicians’ expenses crisis that has gathered pace over the past week.

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“We’ve got to be focused 100 per cent on the health and the economic issues associated with this coronavirus,” the premier said.

“This was a distraction that was not going to go away.

“These ministers have recognised this. They have been accountable.”

He said he had today accepted the resignations of Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone, Planning, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Stephan Knoll and Trade Minister David Ridgway.

He said President of the Legislative Council, Terry Stephens, would also stand down from his position when parliament returns.

Whetstone and Knoll last week paid back thousands of dollars in allowances they claimed under a scheme designed to cover costs for country MPs when they visit the city for parliamentary work.

Under current rules, country MPs can be paid $234 a night for when they leave their electorates and visit Adelaide on parliamentary or other work-related business.

Claims for the past decade were tabled in parliament last week revealing errors among tens of thousands of transactions.

Whetsone paid back about $7000 wrongly claimed while Knoll admitted to finding three errors but opted to return everything he claimed since 2018, more than $29,000.

The two said they had made some “administrative errors”. Knoll said his errors only related to a few hundred dollars’ worth of the $30,000 he repaid. The remainder, he said, was repaid due to “ambiguity” in the rules.

Stephens has also faced questions after an ABC report into the allowances, which led to his arrangements being referred to the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

Anti-corruption commissioner Bruce Lander also announced last Thursday he had “commenced an investigation into the conduct of a number of Members of Parliament in respect of claims made by them for payment of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance”.

Further, he intends to make broader enquiries “in respect of all claims for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance by any Member of Parliament over the last 10 years”.

Yesterday, News Corp reported that Ridgway while in Opposition had signed blank forms for his parliamentary colleagues to use his publicly-funded driver and car while he was overseas.

Today, the Premier decided enough was enough.

However, he maintained his view that none of the ministers had acted with deliberate dishonesty.

Instead, he said the action had been taken to avoid the “distraction” of the issue to his Government, which was grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

“The distractions of the past week have been extraordinarily disappointing and unacceptable and I’ve formed the opinion that these cannot continue into the future,” Marshall said.

He indicated Ridgway’s resignation had nothing to do with the perks’ scandal.

He said Ridgway had indicated “for some time” that he did not want to continue in the cabinet after any reshuffle, so he had decided to resign.

Marshall said a new ministry would be announced in the coming days, with three senior ministers – including himself, deputy premier Vickie Chapman and Treasurer Rob Lucas – taking over the previous ministers’ portfolios in the brief intervening period.

– with AAP

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