Vic-gate plot thickens
Hon Nick Smith
Opposition Education spokesperson
21 February 2000
Vic-gate plot thickens
SSC papers confirm Ministers misled Parliament
New papers released today under the Official Information Act show Tertiary Education Minister Mr Steve Maharey misled Parliament over his knowledge of Victoria University Vice-Chancellor’s resignation.
Mr Maharey told Parliament on 8 February that he had not had any discussions with Chancellor Russell Marshall regarding the resignation of the University Vice-Chancellor. He further told Parliament on 17 January that he was offered a briefing but declined the offer. He corrected the statement on 16 February saying the date he was offered but declined a briefing was in fact 13 January.
The paper trail discloses a different course of events. It is now clear that despite his denial in the House, Mr Maharey was fully briefed.
The same papers show the Attorney-General also discussed the Vice-Chancellor’s resignation – though in Parliament today she too questioned the integrity of Mr Marshall.
Neither Mr Maharey nor Ms Wilson’s stories stack up with what Mr Marshall says. Where is the truth?
On 17 December, the State Services Commissioner wrote to the Chancellor saying: “Ministers responsible should know and understand the reasons for the settlement.”
On 21 December the Chancellor responded stating that the Chancellor “had preliminary discussions with both the Attorney-General and the Associate Minister for Tertiary Education.”
In a report on 20 January the State Services Commissioner wrote that “my staff spoke with Mr Marshall on Monday 17 January and established that he took my advice to fully brief the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary).”
Following Mr Maharey’s statement to Parliament, on the 8 February, Mr Marshall was put in a difficult position. On 9 February he wrote in a fax to the Leader of the Opposition that he had offered to brief Mr Maharey but that Mr Maharey had declined a briefing and instead they discussed international student policy.
On 15 February, Mr Marshall was informed that documents were to be released under the OIA which contradicted the explanation he had given to the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Marshall then faxed the Leader of the Opposition and stated, “I do not regard either of these short conversations as briefings (nor were they discussions for that matter)”.
The paper trail speaks volumes about the true course of events surrounding the resignation and golden handshake of Victoria’s Vice-Chancellor. The trouble began when Mr Mallard forgot he was in Government and slam-dunked the University over the golden handshake only to find out his Associate Minister was caught in the thick of the deal.
The Chancellor’s position has become untenable. Either he did not follow the direction of the State Services Commission to fully brief the Minister or he did brief the Minister and has subsequently been part of a cover-up.
Mr Marshall’s position has been further compromised by both the Attorney General and the Tertiary Education Minister saying his recollection of events was wrong.
I have further lodged the additional information obtained under the Official Information Act with the Speaker following my complaint that he misled the House regarding the discussions with the Vice-Chancellor.
My advice to Mr Maharey and Mr Marshall is to come clean now and put the record straight before their attempts to cover up become a full-blown political crisis.
1. Letter: State Services
Commissioner to Chancellor 17/12/99
2. Letter: Chancellor to State Services Commissioner 21/12/99
3. Report: State Services Commissioner to State Services Minister 20/01/00
4. Hansard: Minister Maharey 8/02/00
5. Hansard: Minister Maharey 16/02/00
6. Fax: Chancellor to Leader of the Opposition 9/02/00
7. Fax: Chancellor to Leader of the Opposition 15/02/00
8. Letter: Smith to Speaker 17/02/00
9. Letter: Smith to Speaker 21/02/00