Liberals turn to police after audit of Pilbara election campaign finances

Exclusive, Nick ButterlyThe West Australian
The audit raises serious questions about the party’s governance of the Pilbara campaign.
Camera IconThe audit raises serious questions about the party’s governance of the Pilbara campaign. Credit: Danella Bevis

The WA Liberal Party has called in the fraud squad after a secret internal investigation uncovered serious concerns about the financial controls of the party’s election campaigning.

WA Liberal State director Sam Calabrese confirmed the party had referred a matter to police after an “internal audit” identified possible criminal offences during the party’s campaign for the State seat of Pilbara last year.

“The Liberal Party was made aware of issues relating to a local campaign last year,” Mr Calabrese said yesterday.

“An internal governance review was undertaken. The results of the review are being considered by our internal disciplinary body and one particular matter has been referred to the Western Australian Police for assessment.”

The audit, obtained by The Weekend West, raises serious questions about the party’s governance of the Pilbara campaign, but also sends a broader warning about controls over the party’s campaigning more generally.

“There is ... significant grounds for concern in relation to the operations of the Pilbara campaign and, more widely, the indicators that financial controls around campaigns and possibly more broadly can be, and are, regularly subverted,” the report by accountant Andrew Reynolds says.

The report says that the effective campaign manager for the Pilbara campaign, Karratha Liberal branch president Peter McDowell, paid himself a “management fee” of $15,000 from donations under his control.

VideoMalcolm Turnbull will be in WA until Saturday.

The report noted “it may be arguable” that the campaign manager paying himself may be an offence under Section 409 of the criminal code. The report author emphasised he had no intent to express a legal opinion, but urged for advice to be sought

Mr McDowell said he had no comment other than to say there had been a “fair bit of nastiness” inside the party’s northern WA division of Durack in recent times.

He said the party had not raised the issue with him, and there had been no contact from police. The police fraud squad confirmed it was investigating.

The report cited “bullying and abusive behaviour” and warned campaign expenditures in Pilbara were “excessive”.

It is also understood the party was forced to notify the Australian Electoral Commission that $50,000 previously declared as a donation to the Karratha branch was a “loan”.

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