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MP expenses scandal claims Govt Whip

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The expenses scandal has claimed another Marshall Government scalp, with Liberal MP Adrian Pederick standing down from his position as government whip.

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Three ministers resigned last weekend, with the Legislative Council president also signalling a move to quit, as Premier Steven Marshall attempted to rule a line under the country member allowances scandal which has dogged the Government for weeks.

However, the issue continues to fester, with the ABC reporting last night that Pederick, who says he lives at Coomandook in his country electorate, also maintains a substantial home at Mount Osmond in the Adelaide Hills.

The ABC reported that Pederick’s wife works as a teacher in the Adelaide Hills and that his children attend a school in Adelaide.

This morning, the Premier said Pederick had told him he would resign his position as whip – a role that involves maintaining the discipline of party members in parliamentary voting and other business.

As he emphasised on the weekend when he announced the resignation of ministers Stephan Knoll, Tim Whetstone and David Ridgway, and Legislative Council president Terry Stephens, the Premier said Pederick’s resignation was about removing a distraction, rather than any wrongdoing.

“I’ve spoken with Adrian Pederick this morning,” Marshall said. “He advises me that he believes all of his transactions are correct. But he has gone on to advise me that he will be standing aside as the party room whip for us in the House of Assembly.

“He does this out of an abundance of caution. He has 14 years’ worth of (country MPs’ allowance) transactions. He knows this has become a very significant distraction for the government at a time when we need to be 100 per cent focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

“He’s also very cognisant of the heavy toll that this is taking on his family at the moment.”

Under current rules, country MPs who live more than 75km from Adelaide’s CBD can be paid $234 a night when they leave their electorates and visit Adelaide on parliamentary or other work-related business, as long as they incur actual expenses.

Marshall today, initially, appeared to suggest that Pederick’s “family home” was in the Hills.

“Vision of his family home and the questions that have been put by the media have put enormous pressure on he and his family and he has decided to stand aside,” the Premier said.

When questioned on whether the Hills home pictured in the ABC reports was Pederick’s family home, Marshall said: “The issue is that he lives in Coomandook but he can answer questions with regards to his claims. But he has assured me his claims are accurate – they’re currently under review.”

Pederick released a statement this afternoon denying any wrongdoing.

“I am confident I comply with the country members guidelines,” he said.

“However, out of an abundance of caution, and given the pressure that has been placed on my family, I have decided to step aside as Government Whip.

“I will continue to represent the people of Hammond in the South Australian Parliament, and will continue to be a passionate advocate for people living in regional South Australia.”

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

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

Whetstone 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.

The Premier said Ridgway resigned because he had previously indicated he would not continue to serve in cabinet after any reshuffle.

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”.

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