First-term South Australian Liberal MP Fraser Ellis has been charged with making more than $18,000 in fraudulent expenses claims, after a probe by the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

Key points:

  • Fraser Ellis has been charged with allegedly making more than $18,000 in fraudulent expenses claims
  • The charges arose from a recent ICAC investigation
  • Mr Ellis has maintained his innocence, and says he will “vigorously defend” the allegations

The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC) Ann Vanstone QC, said it would be alleged Mr Ellis made 78 fraudulent claims for the Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance.

The probe was sparked by a series of exclusive stories by the ABC that raised questions about the use of the scheme by several MPs.

The system allows regional MPs who live more than 75 kilometres from Adelaide to claim up to $234 a night when they are in the city on official business.

She said Mr Ellis had been charged with 23 counts of deception — allegations the MP strenuously denies.

Early morning admission

At the end of a marathon late-night sitting where Parliament passed a contentious abortion bill, Mr Ellis rose to his feet after 2:00am to reveal he had been charged with offences arising from an investigation by the ICAC.

“I’d like to take this rather unconventional time to inform the House that yesterday I was charged with alleged offences arising from the recent ICAC investigation into the Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance,” Mr Ellis said.

“I am completely innocent and I will be vigorously defending these allegations to the full extent of my resources and the law.

“I make this statement now, Mr Speaker, knowing that there has been no public statements from the ICAC or the Department of Public Prosecutions because I have nothing to hide, my conscience is clear.”

Mr Ellis was one of several State Government MPs investigated by the corruption watchdog over their use of the Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance.

Mr Ellis told Parliament that he informed the Premier Steven Marshall about the charges yesterday.(Twitter: Sascha Meldrum)

Mr Ellis has repeatedly maintained his innocence, but repaid $42,130 he had claimed under the scheme while staying at the Adelaide residence of a parliamentary colleague.

“I’ve never acted dishonestly,” Mr Ellis told Parliament.

“Any error in a claim form completed by a relatively inexperienced member was simply that, an error.

“There is a significant difference between an error and any proof beyond reasonable doubt of a crime in a court of law.

Mr Ellis told Parliament that he informed the Premier Steven Marshall about the charges yesterday.

He said he had suspended his Liberal Party membership and would move to the crossbench while the case against him proceeded.

His move to the crossbench means the Liberal Government now holds just 23 seats in the 47 seat Parliament.

Government ‘in chaos’

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said it was a “stunning revelation”.

“People are also rather alarmed about the fact that he’d informed the Premier and the Premier has said absolutely nothing about it, despite having opportunity to do so,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“This speaks to a degree of secrecy that … I think South Australians are alarmed about.

Premier Steven Marshall said today he was told “late yesterday” about the charges being laid against Mr Ellis.

“I’m focused on one thing — the people of South Australia,” Mr Marshall said.

He said the pre-selection for Narungga occurred last year and that Mr Ellis could not be a candidate for the Liberal Party if he was not a member.

“It is a matter for the state executive,” he said.

Mr Marshall said he had written confirmation from Mr Ellis that he would continue to support the State Government on confidence motions and supply.

SA’s ICAC Commissioner Ann Vanstone QC said Mr Ellis had been charged with 23 counts of deception.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

How did the expenses scandal begin?

The Country Members’ Accommodation Allowance came into focus when an ABC investigation raised questions about long-serving Liberal MP Terry Stephens’s use of the scheme.

Mr Stephens maintained he had done nothing wrong, but the ABC investigation prompted State Parliament to release 10 years’ of allowance claims.

Immediately before those details were published, Mr Ellis announced he would repay money claimed while staying in Adelaide with Mr Stephens.

Ministers Stephan Knoll and Tim Whetstone also repaid thousands of dollars, while maintaining they had done nothing deliberately wrong.

The pair later resigned from their ministerial portfolios.

The ABC’s stories prompted ICAC to begin investigating several MPs, including Mr Ellis, Mr Stephens and Adrian Pederick.

The Office of Public Integrity also examined the allowance claims of other regional MPs, but later cleared them.

Veteran Liberal MP Mr Pederick also repaid money while maintaining his innocence, before stepping down from his role as Government whip.

Mr Stephens stepped down as president of the Upper House while continuing to maintain he had done nothing wrong.

In her most recent statement, ICAC commissioner Ann Vanstone QC confirmed that her “investigation into claims by other Members continues”.