It’s all slow-commotion to ‘Choofa’

ONGOING exposes of the Wilkie Swan affair clearly show there’s been hectic activity in Mr Kim Wilkie’s 2 Mint Street, East Victoria Park electoral office.

Phoney travel claims, a break-in into a staffer’s computer, late-night visits to Mint Street by WA Broad Left powerbrokers – the mind boggles.

What’s not been highlighted, however, is the inactivity in the Minister of State Senator Chris Ellison’s office since June when he first learned there were serious problems at Mint Street involving taxpayer funds.

His inactivity is worth recounting, if for no other reason than that some senior WA Libs are wondering if Minister Ellison deserves re-endorsement.

The public interest aspect of this scandal - as opposed to Labor’s factional imbroglios - surfaced shortly before June 22 when the Libs were tipped off by ALP insiders alleging full-time Wilkie staffer Damien Karmelich was regularly driving to Bunbury to help State Labor candidates.

Soon after, WA Senator Allan Eggleston asked Minister Ellison several questions, including: “Will the Minister undertake to recoup any taxpayer funds that may have been used during Mr Karmelich’s activities?”

State Scene quizzed Senator Ellison in December and that revealed he’d done nothing until September 5; so for nearly 11 weeks.

When he finally acted, he just sent Mr Wilkie a letter asking if there was a problem at Mint Street and was told all was okay – Mr Karmelich had worked in Bunbury but in his own time, it was claimed.

No independent checks were made by Minister Ellison or his department.

But Minister Ellison’s performance has been even worse.

As late as December, so for nearly six months, the Eggleston questions remained unanswered.

When State Scene first contacted Minister Ellison’s office, his press officer claimed Senator Eggleston’s questions were withdrawn, which they had not.

When this was sorted out, the press officer claimed: “The Department of Finance has taken this matter up with Mr. Wilkie as per usual practice where a breach of entitlement is alleged to have occurred, and on the basis of his advice no further action will be taken.”

But when Minister Ellison finally tabled his answer in the Senate shortly before Christmas, because of State Scene’s quizzing, he gave a different answer.

“In accordance with usual practice I wrote to Mr Wilkie on September 5 requesting his comments on this matter,” he said.

Who’s telling the truth - press officer or minister?

And why are the department’s and/or minister’s investigative procedures so poor that when a Senator alleges, in Parliament, serious breaches they only manage to prompt a letter?

No independent inquiries were conducted by qualified investigators or auditors – just a letter.

But this affair has also revealed things were far worse in other respects, for when Minister Ellison responded to State Scene’s report of the Wilkie affair in a letter to Business News’ editor, he made a revealing point, arising from the June 22 Eggleston questions.

“Following this question a news article appeared in the Canberra Times (August 7),” he said.

“It was on the basis of the article that I wrote to Mr Wilkie on September 5.”

At least he stuck to his guns that he took the matter up with Mr Wilkie, not his department as his press officer claimed.

But this raises another issue about his method of administration for he’s admitted the Eggleston questions prompted no action by him, his office, or his department.

It was only when a Canberra Times article – published seven weeks after the Eggleston questions were put - that he finally contacted Mr Wilkie on whether a staffer was working other than at Mint Street.

Apart from showing total disregard for a senatorial colleague on an issue involving taxpayers’ funds, it shows Parliament counts for little.

We now know that anyone wanting Minister Ellison to inquire into something should call the Canberra Times, not a senator.

To rub salt into the wound, when The Bulletin last week exposed aspects of the scandal other than those first raised in State Scene, Minister Ellison promptly released a press statement headed; “Wilkie investigation continues.”

Investigation continues? What? No investigation was ever launched!

Mr Minister, stop trying to now get onto the bandwagon that State Scene got rolling when it moved to query why the Eggleston questions were ignored.

The statement, dated January 10, so almost seven months after Senator Eggleston raised Mr. Karmelich’s paid travels, said: “The allegations, which involve possible misuse of taxpayers’ funds over an extended period, are being treated seriously and may be referred to the Australian Federal Police.”

So, action, at long last.

During the 1980s I knew Chris Ellison quite well – he was a drinking mate of some of my mates.

To us all he wasn’t Chris, but “Choofa”. I never asked why.

Now I know; because when it comes to action it’s “choof, choof, choof”, at Thomas the Tank Engine pace.

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