ICAC to seek DPP advice after Drummoyne MP found corrupt

Tuesday 7 December 2010

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that the State Member of Parliament for Drummoyne, Angela D'Amore, and her staff member Agatha La Manna engaged in corrupt conduct by falsely claiming sitting day relief payments, and is of the opinion that the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should be sought in relation to prosecuting Ms D'Amore for two offences of misconduct in public office.

In its report on the Investigation into the submission of false claims for sitting day relief entitlement by Angela D'Amore MP and some members of her staff, released today, the Commission found that Ms D'Amore instructed or authorised Ms La Manna and another temporary staff member, Karen Harbilas, to complete false claims for sitting day relief during 2006 and 2007, which resulted in the staff members concerned receiving combined payments from Parliament of $4,500 to which they were not entitled.

The Commission recommends that action should be taken against Ms La Manna as a public official with a view to dismissing, dispensing with, or otherwise terminating her services. Due to the assistance Ms Harbilas gave to the Commission, in giving truthful evidence without which the corrupt conduct Ms D'Amore engaged in would not have been exposed, the ICAC has exercised its discretion not make a corrupt conduct finding against Ms Harbilas.

The sitting day relief entitlement was introduced by Parliament in July 2006 to finance the employment by Members of the Legislative Assembly of additional temporary officers for their electorate offices when electorate staff were at Parliament House for sitting days.

The Commission found that Ms D'Amore knew that Ms Harbilas was only entitled to payment of sitting day relief if, on sitting days, she worked at Ms D'Amore's electorate office and one of Ms D'Amore's permanent electoral officers worked at Parliament. The Commission found that notwithstanding this knowledge, Ms D'Amore instructed Ms Harbilas to complete a sitting day relief claim form by representing, falsely, that she was at the electorate office while David Nicoletti, a senior electorate officer, was at Parliament. In fact, to Ms D'Amore's knowledge, at the time Mr Nicoletti was at the electorate office and Ms Harbilas was at Parliament. Notwithstanding that Ms D'Amore knew that the form was false, she signed the form, thereby declaring that it was accurate.

Subsequently, Ms Harbilas filled out another sitting day relief claim form containing similar false representations. Ms D'Amore signed that form as well, thereby declaring that it was accurate when she knew that it was false. In consequence Parliament was induced to pay Ms Harbilas about $1,500 when she was not entitled to that money.

On around 1 June 2007, Ms D'Amore decided that sitting day relief officer Ms La Manna would work at Parliament House for the last 12 days of the parliamentary session, knowing that this arrangement did not entitle Ms La Manna to receive sitting day relief payments. Ms D'Amore instructed or authorised Ms La Manna to complete three claim forms to falsely indicate that Mr Nicoletti had worked at Parliament House on the 11 sitting days that the evidence shows Ms La Manna worked at Parliament. Ms D'Amore signed these forms, thereby declaring that they were accurate when she knew that they were false. Ms La Manna subsequently was paid around $3,000 to which she was not entitled.

Ms D'Amore claimed that she was unaware at the time she signed the forms completed by Ms Harbilas that the entitlement to be paid sitting day relief depended on Ms Harbilas working at the electorate office when an electorate officer worked at Parliament House. She also said that she was unaware that the three June 2007 forms completed by Ms La Manna represented that Mr Nicoletti worked at Parliament House and that her attention was not drawn to Mr Nicoletti's name on the form. She said that she signed the claim forms without reading them.

The Commission did not accept Ms D'Amore's evidence in relation to the forms prepared by Ms La Manna, and was not persuaded by her evidence that she did not understand that Ms Harbilas was required to work at the electorate office when a permanent electorate officer worked at Parliament House on a sitting day.

This investigation follows an earlier investigation this year into the conduct of the former Member for Penrith, Karyn Paluzzano. Evidence was given at that public inquiry held in May this year that the practice of falsely claiming sitting day relief entitlement may have been widespread. The Commission received other similar information. In order to examine this possibility and determine whether there were any further anomalies requiring further investigation, the Commission examined the use made of the allowance by all Members of the Legislative Assembly who claimed payments for five sitting days or more from 29 August 2006 to the end of June 2007.

Concurrently with this report, the Commission is providing a report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on the further investigations it carried out. That report explains that the Commission came to the conclusion that no further public inquiries should be held in relation to any sitting day relief payments, other than those referred to in the report, Investigation into the submission of false claims for sitting day relief entitlement by Angela D'Amore MP and some members of her staff.

The Commission held a public inquiry as part of the investigation over four days in October 2010, at which Commissioner the Hon David Ipp AO QC presided and eight witnesses gave evidence.

Fact sheet 

Investigation report