Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews has been effectively acquitted by a new inquiry of directing Labour’s ‘red shirts’ scheme.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass says there is not enough evidence to refer the scandal, in which Labor misused $388,000 in taxpayers’ money during the 2014 election campaign, to TBEN Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission of Victoria Police.
“It is time to end this debate,” she wrote in a report released Thursday.
“I cannot rule out the possibility of further evidence coming to light, of course, but with the passage of time and the difficulty of proving I am unwilling to devote further public funds to these cases.”
No criminal charges were filed after its first report in 2018, despite 21 former and current Labor MPs violating parliamentary guidelines and the party refunding the money.
Nevertheless, Ms Glass reopened the investigation after a motion by former Labor power broker Adem Somyurek was passed by the Senate in February.
It has specifically asked the state’s watchdogs to investigate what role Mr Andrews may have played in the plan.
While evidence showed the prime minister was “engaged and immersed” as a party leader, Ms Glass said he was likely unaware of its use as a trick.
“There is no evidence available to me to show that he played any role in designing, disseminating or facilitating it,” Ms Glass wrote.
The only new evidence was “unsubstantiated claims” by Mr Somyurek, who she says has changed his version of events this year and failed to provide emails that he said supported his claims that the prime minister designed the system. .
Victoria police were also criticized for the arrest of 17 former Labor workers in dawn raids in 2018, an error in Ms Glass’s opinion.
MPs were not treated in the same “supposedly heavy-handed way” as the field organizers and the police should apologize to “ease the sense of unfairness that at least some of those arrested must have felt”.
However, Victoria Police said it would not apologise.
The force said in a statement it considered the case closed and insisted the officers “acted appropriately”.
Andrews said he would “let the report speak for itself”.
“These cases have been well researched and I don’t think there is anything to be gained from going back to these issues,” he told reporters.
Ms Glass last week described the government’s response to her 2018 inquiry as “lukewarm” when she handed over another report on the stacking of affiliates within the party’s moderate party, formerly led by Mr Somyurek.
Her joint investigation with IBAC renewed the investigation into the architect of the red shirt scheme, John Lenders, which led to his resignation from the Labor campaign committee ahead of the November state election.
Mr Andrews reiterated his support for Mr Lenders as a man of the “highest integrity”, incurring the disdain of the opposition government’s critical spokeswoman Louise Staley.
“Rather than acting to clean up his grubby party, Daniel Andrews continues to defend and promote the mastermind behind a $388,000 theft of taxpayers’ money,” she said.