The “stink lines” around embattled Victorian MP Cesar Melhem remain, but the state Labor government is breathing a little easier.
The upper house MP has resigned as government whip after allegations he dudded cleaners out of $2 million a year in penalty rates in his time as Australian Workers Union state secretary were raised at a recent unions royal commission hearing.
“I have made this decision as I believe that the continuing press speculation about my role in the government has the potential to distract the Andrews government from the important task it undertakes on behalf of the people of Victoria,” he said in statement.
The unions inquiry, which is still to hand down its final report into the AWU matter, has heard Mr Melhem allegedly did a deal with a cleaning company to dud workers out of $2 million a year in return for $25,000 a year in donations.
Mr Melhem denies this but his evidence to the commission has been contradicted by former AWU organiser John-Paul Blandthorn, who’s now an adviser to Premier Daniel Andrews.
“There’s no doubt that these are very serious issues and the royal commission will deal with them,” the premier said.
“We’ll deal with whatever findings of fact they make at that time.”
Mr Melhem resigned as upper house whip during a phone call to Mr Andrews on Monday night ahead of his public announcement on Tuesday.
Shaun Leane, an upper house Labor colleague of Mr Melhem’s, said stepping down was the right thing to do.
“There’s some bad stink lines around him, whether right or wrong, fair or unfair,” Mr Leane said.
“It distracts from what the government’s trying to achieve.”
During a morning government caucus meeting, MPs chose Jaclyn Symes to replace Mr Melhem as upper house whip. She defeated another contender – new MP Philip Dalidakis.
Mr Andrews said he expected Mr Melhem would continue to focus on being a “hardworking” local MP.
Meanwhile, another upper house MP, Adem Somyurek, was expected to attend this week’s sitting of state Parliament after being stood down over bullying allegations.
Mr Andrews said he didn’t know if the former small business minister would turn up.
Parliamentary question time was suspended on Tuesday to allowance a condolence motion for late Labor premier Joan Kirner to continue.
CESAR MELHEM – HIS POLITICAL CAREER
* Replaces Bill Shorten as AWU state secretary in 2006.
* Appointed MLC for Western Metropolitan May 2013.
* Elected MLC for Western Metro November 2014.
* Government Whip since December 2014.
* Royal commission into trade union corruption identifies Mr Melham in slush fund investigation in 2014.
* Mr Melhem says the fund was set up in 2008 for election purposes, including his own.
* He rejects claims it was marketed to make it appear funds were for the union.
* Mr Melhem tells the commission cash cheques from the fund were often made to support political allies.
* Resigns as government whip on June 9, 2015 due to “continuing press speculation about his role in the government”.
* Speculation resumed in April after the royal commission was told he negotiated a deal that slashed $2 million off Clean Event’s annual wage bill, dudding workers.