Three South Australian ministers and the state’s Legislative Council President have resigned over the State Government’s expenses saga.
- Premier Steven Marshall said the distractions were “unacceptable” and “disappointing”
- Three ministers and Legislative Council President Terry Stephens have resigned
- Steven Marshall, Vickie Chapman and Rob Lucas will take over the portfolios temporarily
Transport Minister Stephan Knoll, Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone and Trade Minister David Ridgway will leave their posts in Premier Steven Marshall’s Cabinet.
Upper House President Terry Stephens, who was the subject of the ABC’s initial reporting over his claiming of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance, despite spending significant time at a house in Adelaide, will also step down from his position.
Premier Steven Marshall, Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman and Treasurer Rob Lucas will take over their portfolios until a new Cabinet is announced.
“The distractions of the past week have been extraordinarily disappointing and unacceptable,” Mr Marshall told reporters in Adelaide.
The resignations come as it was today revealed that Mr Knoll and Mr Whetstone claimed Country Members Accommodation Allowances before incurring any costs, despite the claim form stating the member of Parliament had already “incurred the expenses claimed”.
Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said it had been an “extraordinary day” in South Australian politics, adding that Mr Marshall should have issued the ministers with sanctions before dismissing them.
“Instead, he’s accepted their resignations in the desperate hope that the whole issue just goes away,” he said.
Labor’s Tom Koutsantonis said an analysis of documents had revealed Mr Knoll claimed a total of 20 nights, dating back to 2014, worth $4,406 by signing claim forms before the expenses were incurred.
He said Mr Whetstone had also claimed eight nights worth $1,758 in advance.
“No other workplace in Australia tolerates this type of behaviour where ministers can put in applications to get paid in advance of actually incurring the expenses,” Mr Koutsantonis said.
“What we’re seeing here now is ministers sitting down, planning in advance days where they want to claim this money.
“This isn’t inadvertent, this is deliberate.”
Yesterday, Mr Ridgway also admitted to signing blank timesheets for his chauffeur while he was away overseas.
‘I’ve been proud to serve as a minister’
In a statement provided today, Mr Knoll said he had offered his resignation in the best interest of South Australians.
“I’ve been proud to serve as a minister in this Government and proud to have played my part in delivering for all South Australians,” he said.
“I have offered my resignation as minister, in the best interests of South Australians, so the Government can focus on our response to the global pandemic and improving the lives of the people of South Australia, which is our priority.”
Mr Whetstone also provided a statement, saying he had decided to resign to prevent any more distractions for the State Government.
“It has been an honour to serve as a minister in the Marshall Liberal Government and to have played a senior role in returning a Liberal Government for the people and communities of South Australia,” he said.
“I thank the Premier for the opportunity he has afforded me to serve in the Cabinet.
“I apologise sincerely to the people of South Australia for the administrative errors in lodging Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance claim forms, which have led me to make this decision.”
On Thursday, South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) Bruce Lander confirmed he would be examining 10 years of allowances paid to country MPs.
The $234-per-night Country Members Accommodation Allowance is only payable to regional MPs, whose homes are more than 75 kilometres from Adelaide, for when they are required to spend a night in the city on official business.
Both houses of Parliament released 10 years’ worth of allowance records on Tuesday, prompting five Liberal MPs to amend dates they had claimed it, and three of those MPs repaying a total of more than $70,000.
Documents relating to the claims remained secret until they were released earlier this week after an ABC investigation into the eligibility of some MPs.
Mr Knoll, Mr Whetstone and backbencher Fraser Ellis, have collectively agreed to repay more than $70,000.
It has also been revealed ministers Knoll and Whetstone billed taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for regional, interstate and overseas travel on the same days they incorrectly claimed the allowance.