State Labor MPs involved in rorting nearly $400,000 in taxpayer money face no further consequences, despite a damning investigation by the public watchdog.
A report by the Victorian Ombudsman found 21 serving and former MPs authorised payments to "field organisers" who helped co-ordinate the successful 2014 election campaign.
Ombudsman Deborah Glass handed down her report on Wednesday after a years-long investigation into whistleblowers' claims that taxpayer funds were misused.
But Ms Glass ran into a wall of silence from many Labor MPs who refused to co-operate with her investigation.
While “some pieces were missing” from the probe, Ms Glass said a clear picture had emerged of the strategy Labor used to topple the first-term Coalition government.
Both the Opposition and the Greens have vowed to pursue the matter further, saying Labor should also repay $1 million in legal fees spent attempting to thwart the investigation.
However, it appears the government will not repay those legal expenses.
Ms Glass found that electorate officers for Labor MPs, who were employed by the Parliament, were diverted to the party's grassroots "red shirts" brigade for the 2014 election campaign.
Ms Glass cited "a well-organised campaign by the ALP to recruit and deploy full-time field organisers in the run-up to the 2014 Victorian state election, of which 21 were employed part-time as electorate officers and paid some $388,000 out of parliamentary funds".
In most cases, field organisers were paid by the Parliament for two days’ work a week as an electorate officer and by the ALP for three days’ work a week. This happened from March to November 2014.
The payment arrangement, dubbed the ‘‘60:40 split’’, was the brainchild of former treasurer John Lenders and then-ALP state secretary Noah Carroll, ‘‘in consultation with the ALP campaign committee’’.
Mr Lenders told the Ombudsman’s office that he and Mr Carroll designed the ‘‘split’’ as a way to ‘‘better co-ordinate activities’’.
The report found that Mr Lenders was the “principal architect” of the arrangement and carried the greatest responsibility for breaching standards laid out in a guide for MPs.
Mr Lenders stepped down this month as chair of government body VicTrack, saying he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the Victorian branch of the Labor Party had already repaid all of that money and apologised for what happened.
"There were no recommendations of any action to be taken against anyone, that's the Ombudsman's report," he said.
Mr Andrews said he could not remember if he met with the campaign field organisers as they were being trained in March 2014, or whether the funding arrangements for the ‘‘red shirts’’ were discussed by the campaign committee.
‘‘I’d have to check my diary,’’ Mr Andrews said in relation to the meeting.
‘‘In the course of a campaign you meet with lots of different people.’’
Asked if anyone should lose their job over the scandal, the Premier indicated the answer was "no".
Ms Glass did recommend setting up an independent agency with the capacity to investigate misuses of parliamentary resources.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy went further, calling for the ministers involved to be sacked.
‘‘If you take money from your employer you usually lose your job,’’ he said.
Mr Guy accused the Premier of refusing to be ‘‘full and frank about what he knew and when’’.
He said Labor members had hindered the investigation so what was now known was just the tip of the iceberg.
‘‘Those who have rorted the system must go.’’
Opposition attorney-general John Pesutto said no members of the lower house had participated in the Ombudsman’s investigation. However, some upper house MPs did comply.
Ms Glass reported that while the MPs who signed the timesheets derived little personal benefit they "almost invariably benefited the election prospects of other members or candidates".
She accepted that MPs who funded the scheme believed it was legitimate and did so in good faith.
“Regardless of their intentions, however, they were wrong, and their actions breached the members’ guide,” she said.
Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings, who was found to have diverted $20,539 in funds, said he signed the timesheets on a weekly or fortnightly basis for a worker that he deemed was carrying out a normal part of electorate officer work.
He said he would not resign and reforms had already been introduced.
The estimated $387,842 included an "unquantified amount" of electorate officer work that was legitimately done for a small number of MPs.
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said the government should pay a 25 per cent penalty on top of the money that was misused in addition to legal and court fees.
She said the Greens were considering a “range of sanctions” they will bring to the parliament and they will have more to say next week.
"Red shirts" whistleblower Jake Finnigan told The Age he chose to speak up when he realised the Labor Party had lied to him, and when he found out a Labor MP leaked his and his family's details to the media.
“My mother always said to speak up when something was wrong," Mr Finnigan said.
He said he had been hospitalised twice due to the stress of the situation and that he could no longer work in politics nor as a journalist.
"I have lost friends, and family members have been unable to gain work because they’re related to me," he said. "Just for speaking the truth. It is so incredibly unfair."
He said he was relieved the report was out so that change could come.
Mr Finnigan works in sales for a musical instrument company and is no longer a Labor Party member.