A Liberal member of Parliament, Fraser Ellis, has been charged with fraud. It means that the SA government is saying this.
In South Australia, Steven Marshall's first-term Liberal government has been dealt a major blow after one of their backbenchers, Fraser Ellis, was charged with 23 charges of deception and fraud, relating to accusations that he had defrauded parliamentarians of a parliamentary allowance.
The investigation started with ABC.
This is how the major turning point in the State Government's affairs unfolded, and what it implies for the jurisdiction.
What has occurred?
This was a momentous occasion for the South Australian Legislature.
The House of Assembly got through most of the night this morning, hammering out an important piece of legislation: a bill to decriminalize abortion.
After several days of debates and voting, the bill was passed.
But, 2:13am, MPs preparing to go to sleep got to their feet, and Liberal MP Fraser Ellis, seeking the indulgence of a weary house, stood to deliver a bombshell.
During the ICAC investigation into the Country Members' Accommodation Allowance, I was charged with alleged offences.
Mr Speaker, I have been and remain innocent of these charges, and I will vigorously defend myself as well as my finances and my rights. I have stated previously and my stance has not changed.
In keeping with fellow MPs Troy Bell and Sam Duluk, who are currently facing criminal charges, Mr Ellis made public his decision to leave the Liberal Party and return to the backbench.
What are the accusations against you?
Around mid-morning, Ann Vanstone, the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, made a public statement detailing what Fraser Ellis said in Parliament the previous day.
The public prosecutor's office announced on Wednesday afternoon that they had officially charged Mr. Ellis with 23 counts of fraud.
The statement goes on to say that Ellis had made 78 fraudulent claims for the Country Member's Accommodation Allowance totaling more than $18,000, between May 13, 2018, and June 12, 2020.
People will say that Mr. Ellis has accused him of receiving the allowance for nights he did not spend in Adelaide.
The Country Members' Accommodation Allowance is a payment of $167 per night that is made available to country MPs who reside more than 75 kilometres from Adelaide, and who must remain in the city for the night to carry out parliamentary or other official activities.
What does the State Government mean?
The fact that Mr Ellis will sit as an independent in the House of Assembly is significant, as it means that Premier Steven Marshall no longer has a majority.
At the beginning of his tenure, he had 25 members. He has now fallen to 23.
Thus, the Liberal Party is unable to legislate without support from others.
Nevertheless, Mr. Marshall is not as bad off as he seems.
The Premier received written confirmation from Fraser Ellis, the newest member of the opposition, stating that he would continue to support the government in matters of confidence and supply, which means he will not vote with Labor to unseat the government or block its budgets.
Not only is Fraser Ellis not Robinson Crusoe on the crossbench, but Fraser Ellis isn't Robinson Crusoe on the crossbench, either.
There are two other former Liberals, Troy Bell and Sam Duluk, who are facing criminal charges on separate matters.
The State Government would usually be able to rely on at least one of these three to provide it a majority.
When premier Weatherill and premier Rann led minority governments, they each had the benefit of being afforded duchess-crossbench seats in cabinet. Former attorney-general Marshall is unable to bestow such a gift on any of the three men facing charges.
As for the challenge, it is, at this point, all three MPs plan to run in the 2022 election.
The Liberal Party will have to make a decision about whether to contest them.
If they vote in favor of this proposal, three crossbenchers have already sided with the Liberals on various matters. If they work together and search for differentiating features, there could be some discord.
How did this event occur?
Until June of last year, very few people had ever heard of the Country Members' Accommodation Allowance.
That was when the ABC published several exclusive stories questioning Stephens' parliamentary eligibility.
Mr Stephens had previously received the allowance while living in Victor Harbor, but the ABC discovered that he spent a great deal of time at his second home in Norwood, which is out of town.
Additional stories discovered that he was paying no tax on that suburban property.
It was also discovered that Fraser Ellis had been occasionally staying rent-free at Mr Stephens's Norwood residence while the parliament was in session.
Both MPs have continuously denied any intent to break the law.
As a result, the Parliament was compelled to disclose decades' worth of previously unreleased allowance claims.
What a political Pandora's box for the Marshall Government that turned out to be!
A few days before the claims were publicized, Fraser Ellis committed to paying back $42,130 in claims that had been incurred since he was elected.
Two high-ranking cabinet ministers, Tim Whetstone and Stephan Knoll, returned tens of thousands of dollars either for questionable or questionable claims.
Everyone denied any wrongdoing, and the Premier himself came to their defense until the damage became too great to recover from.
Similarly, on the same day, Mr Knoll, Mr Whetstone, and Mr Stephens all announced that they were voluntarily stepping down from power and moving to the backbench.
No time later, another Liberal, Adrian Pederick, followed suit after his eligibility for the allowance was questioned.
Behind the scenes, the state's ICAC acted, launching inquiries into Fraser Ellis, Terry Stephens, and Adrian Pederick, with all three of them choosing to openly out themselves as targets.
ICAC's Office of Public Integrity, the public shopfront, also reviewed the allegations raised by several regional MPs, including Stephan Knoll, Tim Whetstone, and Adrian Pederick.
The Commissioner subsequently issued a statement saying that as no evidence of wrongdoing was found, those investigations would not be widened.
What shall we do next?
Another matter, there's no sign that the allowances scandal is over for the state government, and what voters make of it is still up in the air.
Commissioner Ann Vanstone today issued this ominous warning in a press release: