Pressure on Liberals over funds scandal

Tasmanian Labor leader Bryan Green Photo: Paul Scambler/The ExaminerPressure is rising on the Liberal Party over its funds scandal, with Labor asking for a cover-up of a $48,000 debt in Tasmania to be investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The personal debt was incurred by disgraced former party director, Damien Mantach, while he held the job in Tasmania.

Mr Mantach’s debt was repaid in full in 2008 before he left, later to take on the same role in Victoria and allegedly embezzle $1.5 million.

Party figures have since traded accusations over the original debt, the re-engagement of Mr Mantach, and Liberal financial governance during his employment in Victoria.

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Bryan Green told the state parliament on Wednesday that Commonwealth electoral law required disclosure of “all money” received by a political party over a $10,000 threshold in 2008.

He held up a copy of the 2008 Liberal party return, and told Premier Will Hodgman: “Clearly this is not limited to donations. Will you and can you explain… why that amount was not declared as part of the party’s return?

“The fact that the money was not disclosed on the 2008 return can only mean one of two things, either the money wasn’t repaid … or that the Tasmanian Liberal Party is in breach of the Electoral Act,” Mr Green said.

He had written to the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, seeking an investigation into whether  the Tasmanian division of the Liberal party had lodged a false and misleading return.

Mr Hodgman called the questions spurious and said they should be handled by the party’s administrative division.

“As the leader of the opposition knows, those returns relate to donations…,” Mr Hodgman said. “Clearly the matters in question are not donations to the Liberal Party.”

The party’s current state president, Geoff Page, told Fairfax Media he was not sure what Mr Green was getting at.

“Our accounts are audited by professional people outside the party every year,” Mr Page said. “I’m very comfortable with that.”

Mr Green also disclosed in parliament that at the time Mr Mantach left, the honorary treasurer of the party was Launceston businessman Sam McQuestin, who is now the state director.

“It’s emerged Mr McQuestin is central to this matter, but (he) has been in hiding from the public,” Mr Green said.

He called for Mr Hodgman to require Mr McQuestin “to come out and tell the Tasmanian people why this matter was covered up.”

Mr McQuestin was not available for comment.