Jailed MP lost $220k to gambling in a year

Former MP Russell Northe was jailed after losing more than $173,000 of Victorian Electoral Commission money on betting apps. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

A former Victorian MP jailed after gambling away more than $173,000 pilfered from the Victorian Electoral Commission has argued in court his jail stint is “excessive”.

Lawyers acting for Russell John Northe, 58, appeared in the state’s Court of Appeal on Wednesday afternoon to argue his 21-month sentence had been “infected by a number of errors”.

“In our submission, the sentence imposed was not open to the sentencing judge,” barrister Paul Smallwood said.

“As grave as the offending was, as serious as the offending was … when regard to each of the sentencing principles, if given appropriate weight, this sentence was just not open.”

Northe was jailed for a minimum of one year in October last year after pleading guilty to two counts of misconduct of public office.

Russell Northe was jailed in October 2023. Picture: NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

The former Nationals turned independent member for Morwell retired in 2022 after 16 years amid a public struggle with mental health problems and a gambling addiction.

He was charged the same year following an investigation by Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) into falsified documentation claiming administrative expenditure in 2019 and 2020.

The probe found he funnelled taxpayer’s cash into his Tabcorp and Ladbrokes accounts.

In a single year, he lost more than $220,000 across 3500 bets.

Mr Smallwood told the court his client had experienced “extreme” psychiatric ill health since the offending was outed, spending stints in hospital in April 2020, February 2021, October 2022, and in the days before he was sentenced.

Prior to that he had suffered with alcohol and gambling problems due to the isolation he experienced as an elected member, the barrister said.

Mr Smallwood told the court his client continued to suffer symptoms of his major depressive disorder and was “significantly preoccupied by guilt and shame”.

The former energy and resources minister resigned from parliament in 2022. Picture: Russell Northe
The former energy and resources minister resigned from parliament in 2022. Picture: Russell Northe
The court was told he continued to suffer significant mental health problems. NewsWire / Nicki Connolly

He argued the sentence imposed was “manifestly excessive” in circumstances where prosecutors had agreed a relatively short jail stint followed by a community-based order was in range.

It was also argued the sentencing judge had failed to give sufficient weight to Northe’s mental health problems and risk of deterioration in custody.

Justice Phillip Priest told the court he “just can’t see” the appeal grounds being made out at the moment, suggesting it was not unusual for a person charged with offending to experience mental health impacts.

“The major depressive disorder arose only after he was in effect found out – that’s important,” he said.

Representing the Director of Public Prosecutions, Elizabeth Ruddle KC argued the sentencing judge had given “clear consideration” to the full circumstances before concluding the only appropriate sentence was imprisonment.

“But for the material (about his mental health) … this sentence would be incredibly low given the nature of the applicant’s role as a public official,” she said.

Justices Priest and Stephen McLeish reserved their judgment and will hand it down at a later date.