Neelam Rai Dhingra a Liberal party candidate for the Victorian upper house berth in the Northern Metro Region had to quit after accusations of her links with an unregistered charity “No Hunger” were made in a story published in the Herald Sun last month. Her name at no. 3 behind Craig Ondarchie and Evan Mulholland, though still appeared on the state election ballot papers as the revelations came after the candidates had been registered with the Victorian Electorate Commission and ballot papers printed.

After the story broke, the Liberal party released a statement that her pre-selection nomination papers “failed to disclose a number of issues of relevance”.

It came to light that Ms Rai was a director of the unregistered charity ‘No Hunger Australia’. According to the Herald Sun story, she could not explain how the charity spent the $10,089 it boasted about raising.

Herald Sun reported, “Upper House hopeful Neelam Rai is a director of No Hunger — a group “working to eradicate poverty” that says helping people is its “bread and margarine”. Its website lists bank details for donations and claims contributions over $2 are tax deductible. But the Sunday Herald Sun can reveal that No Hunger is not a registered charity or fundraiser, nor does it have deductible gift recipient status. Asked how No Hunger had spent the $10,089 it boasts about raising, Ms Rai said she “won’t have any idea”.

She initially said she was “just a brand ambassador”, before admitting she was a company director but claimed she had resigned six months ago.

But documents show she was still listed as a director this month. The No Hunger website was shut down after the Sunday Herald Sun spoke to her. The Liberal Party then issued a statement that Ms Rai would withdraw because her pre-selection nomination form was “incomplete in that it failed to disclose a number of issues of relevance”.

The story on Ms Rai also went digging into her husband Manish Dhingra. It said documents showed he was also a director of No Hunger. It also mentioned he had convictions for a string of driving offences between 2007 and 2012 and has pleaded guilty to at least four charges of breaching bail. It went on to mention that her husband had been jailed for 14 days after he breached the conditions of a two-month wholly suspended sentence for disqualified driving.

Ms Rai’s alleged connections to the “unregistered charity” and the fact that her husband was a co-director were perhaps relevant points of inquiry but going beyond into her husband’s drink driving offences carried no relevance and was perhaps an extra ounce of poison in the story, perhaps fuelled and fed by someone who knew the couple or had been watching them very closely.

When the journalist put her husband’s convictions to Ms Rai, she reportedly said that did not conflict with her party’s tough-on-crime stance because: “I go with tough on crime. He would have his circumstances or his reasons to do that and he has already suffered for it.”

In the final count, looking closely at the Liberal party vote, Neelam did not do that bad in the end. Given the thrashing the Liberal party got overall and they nearly lost their sitting shadow minister Craig Ondarchie, Neelam got 264 votes BTL (below the line). Berths in the Upper House normally are won or lost on the ATL (Above the line) party votes, candidates do not secure too big numbers but manage to get in on preference arrangements. Sitting at number 3, Neelam got 12 more votes than the Liberal candidate sitting at position 5 who got 252. The re-elected Liberal member Craig Ondarchie got 2131 BTL votes. Evan Mulholland at number 2 got 385 and Kate Drake at number 4 got 485.

2018 was not her time. Perhaps 2022 will be her year, if Ms Rai can answer clean up the mess of these allegations and accusations and win back the trust of her party,  choose another or form her own, with the help of the great whisperer.                  – Nidhi Mehta with DM

Also read: Election-2018: Dr Ali Khan loses in the final count, Craig Ondarchie re-elected

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