South Australian MP Fraser Ellis’s trial over alleged fraudulent expense claims begins

South Australian MP Fraser Ellis’s trial over alleged fraudulent expense claims begins
  • PublishedSeptember 18, 2023

South Australian independent MP Fraser Ellis made partial admissions to dishonesty charges against him during his “attempts at damage control”, prosecutors have told the first day of his trial.  

Mr Ellis has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of deception over his alleged misuse of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance, following an investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC). 

The allowance is available to Members of Parliament whose usual place of residence is more than 75 kilometres from Adelaide, and who are required to stay in Adelaide overnight to attend to parliamentary duties.

Mr Ellis was scheduled to stand trial in August last year, but it was cancelled after he filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against a Magistrates Court ruling that his allegedly fraudulent claims were not covered by parliamentary privilege. 

His appeal attempt was unsuccessful and he went on trial in the Adelaide Magistrates Court today.

In his opening statement, Prosecutor Robert Walker told the court that Mr Ellis fraudulently claimed more than $18,000 between April 2018 and May 2020.

The court heard the prosecution would present “circumstantial evidence” from Mr Ellis’s phone, bank statements and diary as well as from traffic cameras.

The court heard that the first fraudulent claims dated back to three nights in April 2018, just over a month after Mr Ellis became the Liberal MP for Narungga, representing Yorke Peninsula communities in state parliament.

Mr Ellis left the Liberal Party upon being charged and was re-elected as an independent MP a month later. 

Two men in suits walk down stairs outside a sandstone building
Mr Ellis was charged with the offences in February 2021. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Mr Walker told the court Mr Ellis had not stayed in Adelaide when he claimed accommodation allowances, with records indicating he was in Kadina.

He said that while the accused had repaid $42,130 following reporting by the ABC on the Country Members Accommodation Allowance he had still committed an offence.

“Those [media] reports, on the prosecution case, marked the end of the accused’s dishonest claims for the allowance,” Mr Walker said.

On the prosecution’s case, Mr Ellis had then started “attempts at damage control” and had made partial admissions in a press release he sent to media outlets in July 2020.

“The explanation that he gave in the media release, and subsequently, on the prosecution case, constitutive partial admissions,” Mr Walker said

Court hears ‘mistakes’ made 

Mr Ellis through his lawyer, Scott Henchcliffe, acknowledged that “mistakes” had been made.

Mr Henchcliffe said his client had not stayed in Adelaide on some of the nights that had been claimed but added his client had also failed to claim an allowance on some nights when he had stayed in Adelaide.

He told the court that while there had been some inaccuracies, Mr Ellis had not made the claims “dishonestly”.

“Mr Ellis did not make any of his claims for the allowance dishonestly or to dishonestly benefit himself,” Mr Henchcliffe said.

“Whether the prosecution can prove to the contrary beyond reasonable doubt will be the central issue of the trial.”

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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