DAVID ROODJuly 5, 2010
VICTORIA’S Ombudsman has refused a whistleblower’s call to probe systematic, high-level Labor branch stacking due to restrictions on investigations into MPs.
The fate of an independent inquiry into the allegations of decade-long rorting of branch memberships now rests on whether State Parliament directs the Ombudsman to investigate.
Labor whistleblower Costas Socratous met the Ombudsman’s office in May to make a complaint about the involvement of Labor MP Telmo Languiller and former state Labor government minister Theo Theophanous in alleged branch stacking in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Mr Theophanous and Mr Languiller have denied any wrongdoing.
In late June, Ombudsman George Brouwer wrote to Mr Socratous, stating that under the Ombudsman’s Act he has ”no jurisdiction” over MPs unless required by the Parliament to investigate.
In the letter, seen by The Age, Mr Brouwer said the allegations should first be made to the Speaker and President of Parliament.
Last week, Mr Socratous followed that advice and wrote to Speaker Jenny Lindell and upper house President Bob Smith requesting them to act on the branch-stacking allegations.
Mr Socratous worked until last year in the electorate offices of the now-retired Mr Theophanous, Mr Languiller and federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor. He claims he paid the membership fees of hundreds of rank-and-file ALP members, using cash provided through MPs’ offices. Mr O’Connor has also denied any wrongdoing.
In his letter to the Speaker and President, Mr Socratous alleged Mr Languiller and Mr Theophanous gave him money to pay for memberships. He also detailed how fake work, such as a tricked-up political flyer and false invoices, were created to indicate the funds were used legitimately.
”Now I am asking you to do the right thing and give the Ombudsman the referral they need to do their investigation,” he wrote. ”It’s up to you to clear all this corruption in the west.”
Lower house Speaker Jenny Lindell told The Age that from the information contained in the letter, the issue was ”a matter for the Labor Party”.
Mr Smith said he was considering Mr Socratous’s request.
Mr Socratous challenged the Speaker and the President to refer the allegations, saying the Ombudsman should be able to investigate anyone.
”Why do we have the Ombudsman there if politicians are protected?” he asked.
The ALP is investigating Mr Socratous’s allegations without his co-operation.
Since the branch-stacking allegations were made, three in four members of a western suburbs branch where Mr Socratous was secretary have not renewed membership.