Rhiannon Koch, Yorke Peninsula Country Times
The trial of independent Member for Narungga Fraser Ellis began in the Adelaide Magistrates Court yesterday (Monday, September 18).
Mr Ellis has been charged with 23 counts of deception in regards to 78 claims, totalling $18,000, for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance from April 2018 to June 2020.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the earliest of which occurred just a month after his election.
Prosecutor Robert Walker said media reports about suspected misuse of the CMAA in June 2020 marked the end of Mr Ellis’s claims.
The following month, Mr Ellis released a media statement, which Mr Walker described as the “start of damage control”.
“The explanation he gave in the media release and subsequently, on the prosecution case, constitut[ed] partial admissions,” Mr Walker said.
Mr Walker said circumstantial evidence, including phone, bank statements, diary entries and traffic cameras would be present-ed in the trial.
Mr Ellis voluntarily repaid $42,130 in claims, stating some may have been made in error, before the investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption was announced in 2020.
Defence calls wrong claim an honest mistake
The Country Members Accommodation Allowance is available to Members of Parliament whose usual place of residence is more than 75 kilometres from Adelaide, and who are required to stay in Adelaide overnight to attend to Parliamentary or other relevant duties.
It is alleged Mr Ellis claimed the allowance for nights he did not spend in Adelaide and he was unaware of a rule change in November 2018, whereby politicians had to incur actual expenditure to receive the payment.
The trial was initially expected to begin last August but was cancelled when Mr Ellis (unsuccessfully) appealed a Magistrates Court decision which ruled his allegedly fraudulent claims were not covered by parliamentary privilege.
Representing Mr Ellis, Scott Henchcliffe KC admitted his client had made some mistakes when completing his forms.
He said Mr Ellis had claimed for some instances where he did not stay in Adelaide, but had also not lodged claims on nights he did.
“Mr Ellis did not make any of his claims for the allowance dishonestly or to dishonestly benefit himself,” Mr Henchcliffe said.
So far, Magistrate Smart has heard from members of Joint Parliamentary Services, Corporate Services and Mr Ellis’ office manager Rosemary Cock.
Ms Cock described Mr Ellis as a man of high integrity.
“He is community-minded, trustworthy and honest,” she said.
The trial continues this week, and is also scheduled for a week in November.
This article appeared in the Yorke Peninsula Country Times, 19 September 2023.