Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Sean Nicholls writing in The Sydney Morning Herald today:
THE disgraced state MP Steve Cansdell resigned from Parliament days after a former staff member complained to the corruption watchdog that he misused a parliamentary entitlement to help a Nationals colleague, Kevin Hogan, contest the federal seat of Page.
The staff member, Kath Palmer, was employed in the electorate office of Mr Cansdell's north coast seat of Clarence, the Herald has confirmed.
She was paid from a temporary staff entitlement MPs may use to hire an extra staff member to fill in when an electorate officer attends Parliament with them.
Ms Palmer told the Independent Commission Against Corruption she was improperly seconded to Mr Hogan's campaign during the federal election.
Last year ICAC found the former Labor MP Angela D'Amore misused the same entitlement.
Shortly before the state election in March, Mr Cansdell replaced Ms Palmer with Sharon Davidson, a staff member in the office of the federal Nationals MP for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker. Ms Davidson took leave to work on Mr Cansdell's campaign.
She is believed to have been hired to work as a media adviser after the announcement that the mayor of Clarence Valley Council, Richie Williamson, would challenge Mr Cansdell for the seat as an independent.
Ms Palmer also told the commission Mr Cansdell signed a false statutory declaration in 2005 to say she was driving his car when it was caught by a speed camera.
Mr Cansdell, who was the parliamentary secretary for police, has admitted he falsified the document because he faced losing his licence. He cited it as the reason for his resignation.
The Nationals leader and Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, said Mr Cansdell told him before he quit that he did not believe the claims he had misused parliamentary resources were correct.
Mr Hogan, who lost the seat to Labor's Janelle Saffin, yesterday confirmed Ms Palmer worked as a volunteer on his campaign.
Mr Cansdell told the Herald: ''There's no vindictiveness or anger from me about what this lady has done. She's got her reasons and we'll go from there.''
The state director of the Nationals, Ben Franklin, said neither he nor the party was aware of the allegations of the misuse of parliamentary entitlements.......
The unanswered question here is the part the whistleblower's friendship group played in her brave decision to come forward. Is it just a co-incidence that the Williamson family features in her listed online Facebook friends and she in theirs - or is that too cynical a thought as Richie prepares to step into Cansdell's shoes?
In her own words in The Daily Examiner on 20 September 2011....
Mrs Palmer told The Examiner last night about how she was pressured into taking the blame for the former MP's speeding fine in 2005 in order for him to retain his licence.
"I'd been there a year ... I was the lowest of the low and I was being bullied by (another member of Cansdell's staff) - I wanted to get favour in the office," she said.
"I loved the job but when the boss looks at you ... I did what I was told."
She said Mr Cansdell had panicked when he got the fine and wanted to go into the ensuing election with a clean slate.
"These claims by Steve that he didn't know the gravity of his actions are just bull****."
Responding to reports in the media that Mr Cansdell had been reported to authorities by a "disgruntled ex-employee", Mrs Palmer said this was not the case.
She worked one day a week as a "permanent relief officer" and was called in for other days as needed. She said she last worked in Mr Cansdell's office on December 23 before she took two weeks' holiday.
She said Mr Cansdell's office had been "restructured" after Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson declared he would run as a candidate and she was aware she might not get any more paid work until after the March election.
Mrs Palmer said the office had made "a couple of calls" asking her to volunteer in the campaign office in the lead-up to the March election but she had been busy with either RFS duties or personal matters.
She said she was shocked to find out in late May from a fellow RFS volunteer that Mr Cansdell had described her as an ex-employee at an RFS gathering in Homebush.
"I was asked by another RFS volunteer if I knew that I was an ex-employee and I said 'no'," she said.
Ms Palmer said at an RFS function at Ulmarra in the following weeks she discreetly asked Mr Cansdell about why she hadn't been called back to work.
"He said I hadn't helped out in the campaign."
Mrs Palmer, who is the captain of Clarence Valley RFS's catering unit, said she was concerned she was being painted in a bad light by Mr Cansdell's office.
Asked if she was concerned about being charged with an offence, Mrs Palmer said she would bear the consequences of her actions but was confident that any reasonable person would see that she had been pressured into making the false statutory declaration.
"I feel numb," she said.
"It's always been on my mind about what I'd done in that office and I just had to clear my conscience and that's all there is to it."
Though Mrs Palmer would not disclose which authority she reported Mr Cansdell's offence to, it is understood to be the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Mrs Palmer said she knew other matters, including those relating to Mr Cansdell's staff entitlements, were being looking into by authorities and other media.
She said Mr Cansdell had instructed a third party to contact her on Thursday night to ask if she had reported him to the ICAC, to which she responded that she'd prefer to speak to Mr Cansdell himself.
Mrs Palmer said she still hadn't received the apology Mr Cansdell spoke of in Friday's media conference. The Daily Examiner left a message on Mr Cansdell's voicemail late last night but received no reply.