A senior Labor MP has come under intense pressure to respond to allegations that his office was involved in rorting taxpayer funds allocated for printing.
While the claims against Upper House deputy president Khalil Eideh remain unproven, the Andrews government conceded the behaviour, if true, could not be defended.
The Victorian Parliament is now investigating claims that the printing budgets of some MPs were instead funnelled into paying ALP memberships.
State Parliament erupted in chaos on Wednesday as each side accused the other of impropriety.
There were roars on both sides as accusations of criminal behaviour flew across the chamber during question time in the lower house.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy asked Premier Daniel Andrews whether Keilor East printing company FM Printing had been used by Labor MPs to “fraudulently produce invoices for printing they haven’t done” to siphon-off taxpayer money to pay for Labor party memberships.
Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Guy also asked whether it was true that Mr Eideh had used FM Printing to generate false invoices “which have defrauded Victorian taxpayers”.
“Is it a fact that one Labor MP that Labor whistleblowers have named is [a] senior Labor MP, your pick for deputy president of the legislative council Khalil Eideh, who has been using FM Printing to generate false invoices which have defrauded Victorian taxpayers?” Mr Guy asked.
The Opposition Leader did not offer any evidence to support his question about Mr Eideh.
Mr Andrews said that no one would take “lectures on probity” from Mr Guy.
“You eat the food of organised crime. You drink the wine of organised crime. You’ve got no place lecturing people about crime,” the Premier told the Opposition Leader
And Mr Andrews said that anyone with any information about wrongdoing should go to police.
But Mr Guy returned to the issue, asking which other current or former MPs had used FM Printing.
“And can you guarantee that all of their taxpayer-funded invoices paid to this backyard printer are legitimate?” he asked.
Mr Eideh did not attend question time in the upper house on Wednesday.
But his absence did not deter Liberal MPs from firing a series of aggressive questions at the government about the alleged rort.
Labor’s Special Minister of State, Gavin Jennings, said the allegations against Mr Eideh were unproven, but would not be tolerated if found to be true.
“I’m not aware of the evidence that supports that allegation but … I certainly confirm on behalf of the government that if those allegations were true then that behaviour is untenable and not to be defended,” Mr Jennings said.
A staff member at FM Printing would not discuss the alleged rort when contacted by Fairfax Media.
“If you require printing, we’re here to help you,” she said, then hung up.
Mr Eideh was denied entry into the US during a parliamentary trip in July after several trips to Syria to see his ill, elderly father and he did not return Fairfax Media’s calls on Wednesday.
The rorting allegations, made by Labor sources and reported by News Corp, will be investigated by the Victorian Parliament.
On Wednesday, Victorian upper house president Bruce Atkinson told Parliament that he had already begun reviewing printing invoices.
“If the article is accurate, then the allegations are deeply disturbing to me,” Mr Atkinson announced in the chamber on Wednesday morning.
“If the allegations are true, they involve criminal actions and constitute fraud.
“I have already begun a review of printing invoices and we will pursue other lines of inquiry.
“There are no grey areas in our regulations and processes in respect of members or their electorate staff,” he said.
Mr Atkinson said there was now a “cloud of suspicion on all MPs and parties”.
“Parliament has commenced an investigation and if we can establish the veracity of the fraudulent practices outlined in the … article the matter will be referred to external agencies.”
One Labor MP said the mood on the backbench was incredulous. “Anytime we get any momentum someone in our ranks manages to stuff it up,” the MP said.
Greens leader Greg Barber said such allegations damaged public trust.
“If MPs are misusing even their own office budgets, how can you trust the parliament and the government to manage billions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds,” he told reporters.
Former Liberal Party state director for Victoria Damien Mantach was jailed last year after stealing more than $1.5 million from party coffers.
The theft involved billing Liberal MPs’ offices for printing material for work that was never done or the costs were inflated.
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