Retired member for Fairfax, Alex Somlyay pictured with his wife Jenny.
Retired member for Fairfax, Alex Somlyay pictured with his wife Jenny. Darryn Smith

Ex-MP Somlyay says electoral work for spouse was legit

FORMER federal Member for Fairfax Alex Somlyay has defended employing his wife as a staffer during his time in Parliament, saying he had always worked within the rules.

The 23-year parliamentary member and former veteran affairs minister hit back at allegations in The Age newspaper and said he was "totally and completely confident anyone examining it" would come to the conclusion that the employment was within the rules.

Mr Somlyay came under attack in yesterday's article, which alleged he might have defrauded taxpayers to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in payment to his wife for non-existent work in his electoral office.

The article claimed documents showed Mr Somlyay's wife Jenny was paid $69,157.15 as a staffer during the 2012-13 financial year and a total of $99,000 dating back to 2003. The article claimed the work did not exist.

"Anyone in Queensland who lived through the Fitzgerald Inquiry would be fools to misuse taxpayers' money,'' Mr Somlyay said yesterday.

He said his wife, who had a tertiary degree and had supervised a staff of 40 during her employment with Telstra, had the necessary skills, tact and discretion to fill a role in his office, particularly during a two-year period while a permanent staffer was on workers' compensation.

"That work was picked up by Jen,'' he said. "That's what a relief budget is for.''

Mr Somlyay dismissed allegations his wife never went to the office, saying she worked from a Department of Finance-funded office at home but regularly went to his electoral office.

Mrs Somlyay's duties had included research, the writing of her husband's speeches and the groundwork on bills to be presented to Parliament.

While Mrs Somlyay had worked under her maiden name of Donovan, as she did during her career with Telstra, her pay went into her bank account under the name Jenny Somlyay.

Mr Somlyay said parliamentarians employed family members because it was "impossible to find someone with the skills, tact and discretion".

"Was the work done? Yes,'' Mr Somlyay said. "Was she paid? Yes. Was it a secret? No. No one was hiding it."

Mr Somlyay, who was involved in a long-running, bitter rivalry with disgraced former Fisher MP Peter Slipper, said he did not need to be Einstein to work out where the allegations in The Age article were coming from.



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