Cops probe MPs’ housing ‘rort’

29 Jun 2017 The Australian, Australia Author: Greg Brown

Police have revealed they are formally investigating the former Victorian speaker and deputy for alleged fraud.

Telmo Languiller and deputy Don Nardella quit their roles in February after it was found they claimed more than $200,000 of secondary residence allowances despite representing Melbourne electorates.

Police said yesterday they had progressed referrals from the state opposition, who questioned whether both members lied about living in regional homes to receive the allowance.

“Both matters that were referred to Victoria Police in March have been assessed and have now progressed to the investigation stage,” a spokeswoman for Victoria Police said. “As the investigations are ongoing we will not be commenting further.”

The second-residence allowance is for regional MPs, but the old rules stated members could claim the entitlement, worth almost $38,000 a year, if their principal place of residence was 80km from parliament. The Andrews government changed the rules after the scandal.

Mr Languiller and Mr Nardella lost their jobs after being accused of acting against the spirit of the scheme but the law states that it would only be illegal if they lied about living in regional homes.

The opposition referred Mr Languiller and Mr Nardella to police for potential fraud after a PwC audit found there was insufficient evidence to prove both lived where they claimed as their principal places of residence.

Mr Nardella, who claimed he lived in an Ocean Grove caravan park, was dumped from the ALP in March and sits on the crossbench but Mr Languiller remains a Labor member.

Mr Nardella claimed about $175,000 in secondary allowances since 2010, while Mr Languiller claimed $38,000 for a year.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian government said: “This is a matter for Victoria Police and it would not be appropriate to comment.”

Opposition legal affairs spokesman John Pesutto said Premier Daniel Andrews should refuse the lower house votes of both members being investigated. “So long as Daniel Andrews takes their votes he will be running a government tainted by this scandal,” Mr Pesutto said.

If Mr Languiller and Mr Nardella are charged they would not be forced to leave parliament but a conviction could be grounds to remove them.

State Greens leader Greg Barber said the government had been too lenient on Mr Languiller and Mr Nardella. “So far the only penalty they’ve had is to pay back the money that they should never have taken. That’s because the Labor Party refuses to support a stronger sanction,” he said.

The PwC audit, released in March, said Mr Languiller rarely stayed in his claimed principal residence in beachside Queenscliff, while Mr Nardella did not provide sufficient evidence he regularly stayed in a caravan park in Ocean Grove. Mr Nardella said he lived at a cabin in the Ocean Grove Holiday Park, but the managers say he never lived there and it does not accept permanent residents. No other caravan park in the town accepts permanent residents.

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