Abetz knew of Mantach debt, says Tasmanian premier

Former Victorian Liberal state director Damien Mantach quit his Tasmanian post in 2008 for personal reasons.Senior Federal Liberal, Eric Abetz, has been drawn into the party’s funds scandal with a claim he was briefed on a Tasmanian debt long before disgraced state director Damien Mantach’s alleged $1.5 million Victorian embezzlement.

Senator Abetz, leader for the Government in the Senate, was said to have been told about the $48,000 personal spending debt racked up in 2008 by Mr Mantach when he held the director’s position in Tasmania.

Party colleague, Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman, made the claim in state parliament on Tuesday as he came under heavy attack over the scandal.

Mr Hodgman has admitted he knew the amount of the debt, but he did not know anything about how it was incurred, and defended the Tasmanian Liberals’ handling of the case.

“The facts are that I was spoken to and briefed by the then state president, the then state treasurer and the then state senior vice-president – and appropriately so, as was Senator Abetz as the Leader in the Federal Parliament,” Mr Hodgman said.

Senator Abetz is the ranking power-broker in the Tasmanian Liberal Party, but has been at odds with Mr Hodgman at times over internal party decisions.

Federal Liberal Director Brian Loughnane was also told about the debt, according to the 2008 Tasmanian state president, Dale Archer. Mr Loughnane said he had no reason to believe that Mr Mantach was a crook.

In parliament, Mr Hodgman rejected suggestions by Opposition Leader Bryan Green that a crime may have been committed in 2008 over the $47,981 debt, or that it was covered up.

Mr Green pointed to a newspaper report of the time in which Mr Mantach was said to be quitting the Tasmanian post for personal reasons.

“There is clear evidence you have been involved in a cover-up dating back seven years,” Mr Green said.

“On 16 March 2008 it was reported that Mr Mantach was quitting for – and I quote – ‘personal reasons’.

“I quote the then state president, Dale Archer, who said: ‘He mentioned that his wife and daughters were still living in Victoria and he had been commuting so he had made a decision to move back’.”

Mr Mantach incurred the $47,981.78 debt for personal expenses deemed not to be party expenses, according to a Tasmanian party statement. It was fully repaid upon Mr Mantach’s departure.

Mr Hodgman said: “I was not informed of any criminal activity and the matter was closed.”

A spokesman for Senator Abetz said: “This is an organisational matter and questions should be directed to the Tasmanian division.”

With James Massola