FRANKSTON MP Geoff Shaw is likely to keep his seat despite allegations of rorting the use of his parliamentary vehicle.
Mr Shaw will be hoping his offer to repay any costs involving the commercial use of the vehicle and the fairly mild results of an Ombudsman’s report will be enough to allow him to keep his job.
The loss of Mr Shaw’s seat would force a byelection that could threaten the future of the state government, which holds power with a one-seat majority.
Liberal Party insiders have told The News that Mr Shaw would have been forced out by his colleagues if they did not have such a narrow hold on power.
After a detailed investigation, the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, has recommended the misuse of Mr Shaw’s Ford Territory and fuel card be referred to the Legislative Assembly Privileges Committee.
The nine-member committee includes four Labor MPs and five government MPs, including the MP for Mornington, David Morris.
Mr Brouwer said the vehicle had been used for commercial purposes and the fuel card to buy petrol for a private vehicle.
Premier Ted Baillieu has refused to comment until after the committee hands down its report.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said police should be investigating the alleged misuse of Mr Shaw’s vehicle.
A spokeswoman for Victoria Police confirmed on Wednesday that a letter had been received from the Labor Party about Mr Shaw and an “assessment is being made of to see if any criminal offences have occurred”.
The Ombudsman’s 23-page report quoted Mr Shaw as saying: “I’ve been a boss and employed people before and I know if employees do the wrong thing the buck stops with me – 100 per cent. Whether I know that they were – what they were doing or not – the responsibility lies with me and I’ll be the one that wears the burden for that.”
After the report was released, Mr Shaw issued a statement confirming the quote and reiterating an earlier offer to repay unauthorised expenses.
He also stressed that he had co-operated with the Ombudsman’s investigation and affirmed his “continuing commitment” to “the people of Frankston”.
“I acknowledge that there are matters to be worked through and I will fully assist the Privileges Committee in their examination of these matters.”
Allegations by a whistleblower against Mr Shaw first surfaced in May and were initially investigated by the Speaker, Ken Smith, the MP for Bass, who said they met the requirements for a “protected disclosure”.
The Ombudsman disagreed with Mr Smith, saying the “disclosures met the requirements for a public interest disclosure as they showed or tended to show that Mr Shaw had engaged in improper conduct, as defined under the WPA [Whistleblowers Protection Act]”.
Mr Shaw has said that his interest in the two businesses – accounting firm Geoff Shaw & Partners and Southern Cross Hardware – ended in July, two months after allegations about misuse were published.
The allegations against Mr Shaw were that he “used, and allowed his employees to use, his parliamentary vehicle for commercial use” and “may have used copying facilities at his electorate office for commercial use”.
Mr Brouwer said vehicles were provided to MPs at low cost “for the primary purpose of assisting” them to “discharge their responsibilities to their constituents”.
If Mr Shaw had known his employees had used the parliamentary vehicle for his commercial purposes “such use of the vehicle may amount to Mr Shaw’s subordination of his public duty to his conflicting private business interests”.
Mr Brouwer cast doubt on the legality and meaning of words used in the plan under which MPs are provided with vehicles.
“The use of the words ‘should not’ suggests that a vehicle is not to be used for commercial purposes, unless that commercial purpose is unavoidable or incidental to the use of the vehicle for its primary use – for parliamentary, electorate or private use,” Mr Brouwer stated.
He said Mr Shaw had disagreed with his conclusion that MPs were obliged to comply with the plan.
“He also disagrees that a breach of the plan may amount to a breach of privilege, a contempt of parliament and/or a breach of the code of conduct established by the Register of Interests Act.”
Mr Brouwer’s report states: “At the interview, Mr Shaw gave evidence that he knew his parliamentary vehicle could not be used for commercial use. However, my investigation identified that Mr Shaw used his parliamentary vehicle for a commercial trip to Sale and that he used his parliamentary fuel card to purchase fuel for a private vehicle on one occasion, in contravention of the Members of Parliament Motor Vehicle Plan (the plan).
“Mr Shaw’s parliamentary vehicle was also used by Southern Cross Hardware for commercial use, including interstate trips. My investigation established, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Shaw had knowledge his employees were using his vehicle in this way.”
One of Mr Shaw’s former employees, later sacked for stealing stock, told Mr Brouwer: “Mr Shaw was particularly keen for us to use it [the parliamentary vehicle] for [business] day trips to the country. He said if I was going to do 700km or more in a day, to let him know so he could swap cars with me … he said – if anybody asks, it’s for personal use.”
The same employee said Mr Shaw gave him his parliamentary vehicle to visit Southern Cross Hardware customers in Albury, Lakes Entrance, Phillip Island, Traralgon, Wagga Wagga (New South Wales) and Yarrawonga, Mornington, Pakenham and Rosebud.
A second employee said Mr Shaw told him “if anyone asked me about it, I was to say I had the car for private use”.
Mr Shaw admitted incorrectly writing in the car’s logbook that he was the driver when it travelled to Warrnambool on 21 February 2011.
Fuel records from 30 October to 20 December 2011 show Mr Shaw’s parliamentary vehicle travelling more than 6500 kilometres with one of his employees spending $1250 on his parliamentary fuel card.
“He clearly knew what I was doing, I was working for him and keeping his business going, the only full-time employee,” the man told Mr Brouwer.
Mr Shaw “emphatically denied” the man’s statement.
Mr Brouwer said Mr Shaw “said he did not know they were using the vehicle for such use until allegations appeared in the media”.
Evidence was also given to Mr Brouwer about a dispute between Mr Shaw and one of the employees regarding outstanding superannuation and tax payments.
Mr Brouwer, who said Mr Shaw disputed many of his opinions, recommended that the Legislative Assembly consider referring the issue of Mr Shaw’s use of his vehicle to the privileges committee to consider the usage was a contempt of Parliament, an abuse of the privileges of the Parliament and/or a breach of the code of conduct established by the Members of Parliament (Register of Interests) Act, and, if so, what penalties should apply to Mr Shaw.
Mr Brouwer did not recommend handing his findings over to the police.