Australian Politics 2015-11-05 15:57:00


Corrupt union boss

Union official's corporate credit card was used for 'dating website subscriptions, Tiffany jewellery and a tattoo'

Tiffany & Co jewellery, dating website fees, a tattoo, and other personal benefits which total in the tens of thousands have allegedly been paid for by a union official's corporate credit card.

Almost $700,000 had been used on former National Union of Workers boss Derrick Belan's corporate cards over a period of around six years, a NSW royal commission has heard.

It has not been suggested the entire expenditure is improper, however records show $12,000 had been spent on iTunes purchases and $2,271 on a dating website, while a witness was brought to tears under questioning on Wednesday.

More than $39,000 had been spent on online shopping website Catch of the Day, with purchases including cameras, skateboards, LEGO toys, kitchen appliances, sunglasses, iPads, Easter eggs, makeup, perfume, and Tiffany & Co jewellery.

A tattoo, as well as payments for entertainment, holidays and accommodation appearing to have no connection with union duties were also found in bank records, according to the Counsel Assisting Opening Statement from Sarah McNaughton.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption has begun a three-day hearing into the NSW branch of the National Union of Workers.

On Wednesday, it revealed a total of $679,038.95 had been spent on Mr Belan's American Express Corporate Card and Commonwealth Bank Corporate MasterCard between 19 December 2009 and 24 October 2015.

He had resigned from his position two weeks ago, which he had been in since 2001, not long after he was summoned to appear before the commission.

His niece, Danielle O'Brien, had been a union accounts manager, while his brother, Nicklouse Belan, had been branch organiser during periods at the centre of investigations.

Ms O'Brien wept under questioning on Wednesday about holidays, hairdressing and other personal items she bought on her union corporate credit card.

Ms O'Brien said she didn't know why she started buying personal items on her credit card but she had been told by Mr Belan that she could put her iTunes purchases on the card.

The commission heard she spent $75 on hairdressing, $196 for coaching services for her family, $487 on a Central Coast caravan park holiday and $368 on furniture during 2011 and 2012.

'Oh my God, oh this looks bad,' a sobbing Danielle O'Brien said in the witness box as she was presented with thick files detailing spending on a corporate MasterCard she had as accounts manager at the NUW's NSW branch. 'This is just so hard for me.'

Ms O'Brien said she started as a secretary at the union aged 18, straight out of high school, and was fired recently 'because I was using my credit card without permission'. 'I'm so sorry,' she said.

The commission heard she also made purchases on other union officers' corporate cards.

The commission is due to hear from Mr Belan on Wednesday afternoon after Commissioner Dyson Heydon rejected a request for his appearance to be delayed on medical grounds.

The commission is investigating purchases of luxury gifts, dating website fees and holidays on Mr Belan's corporate credit cards.

Counsel assisting the commission Sarah McNaughton SC said the commission will investigate issues 'associated with the financial governance' of the NSW NUW.

Investigators have identified 'a large number of suspicious transactions' and transactions that appeared to be for personal benefit, Ms McNaughton said.

The hearing continues.


Tony Abbott, the 'opinion and thought leader' should stay in Parliament, says Eric Abetz

Former prime minister Tony Abbott should stay in Parliament because he is an "opinion and thought leader," dumped cabinet minister Eric Abetz says.

And Senator Abetz has declared himself the "informal leader of the conservatives in the Liberal party," and says he is ready to serve in Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet should he be recalled to the frontbench.

That prospect however is extremely unlikely. One cabinet source recently told Fairfax Media that one of the biggest payoffs in Malcolm Turnbull's elevation to the prime ministership was ridding the government's frontline of the long-serving conservatives Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz.

But Senator Abetz has told Tasmanian newspaper The Advocate that he would "of course" take a ministry should he ever be offered one but said he was in politics to "serve [and] not to succeed." Liberal sources have told Fairfax Media Senator Abetz has taken his dumping as a senior minister and as the leader of the government in the Senate particularly badly.

Shortly after the leadership spill, Senator Abetz released an email to supporters claiming hundreds had quit in protest against Malcolm Turnbull. This was immediately disputed by the President of the Tasmanian Liberal Party who said only seven paying members had quit while eight had applied to join. Senator Abetz has never provided an explanation for the discrepancy between his claims and the figures provided by the Party's Tasmanian division.

Senator Abetz on Wednesday restated his intention to seek preselection for another six year term which if successful would see his time spent in the Senate stretch to 27 years.

The party's "right", as it is known, has lacked a recognised leader ever since former senator and Finance Minister Nick Minchin announced his retirement in 2010 and has remained splintered ever since his departure in 2011. At least two senators formerly seen as belonging to the right following the emissions trading split within the party in 2009, Mitch Fifield and Scott Ryan, plotted for Mr Turnbull's advancement, to the dismay of Abbott supporters.   

Senator Abetz said Mr Abbott, whom he described as an "opinion and thought leader" should stay in Parliament because he would have an important role in guiding conservative allies in the party.

Mr Abbott has said he will not decide on his political future until Christmas. But he has been seeking the advice of friends and supporters about whether he should stay of go. The advice provided to Mr Abbott is understood to be mixed with some urging him to retire while others, like Senator Abetz, want him to continue serving.


Treasurer Scott Morrison says tax system is ‘retarding’ opportunities

AUSTRALIA’S tax system is “retarding” opportunities and punishing workers, Treasurer Scott Morrison says.

Reiterating previous comments by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Morrison said all tax reform measures — including raising the GST to 15 per cent — were on the table.

But the Treasurer said the government was still in a “discovery phase” and he wasn’t “feeling under any pressure” to put forward a tax reform package anytime soon.

“If you’re going to go and change the tax system you need to I think engage in some pretty significant change because that’s the only way you can go and get the outcomes that people would want,” he told ABC radio. “You’ve got to have a serious package of measures.”

He said the nation’s tax system was “punishing” workers.  “We’ve got a problem with our tax system which is actually retarding growth in our economy and it’s retarding the opportunity for Australians to be in jobs and to work more and to be able to be saving more and investing in new ideas,” he said.

Mr Morrison said state and territory governments were negotiating in “good faith” with the Turnbull Government, but criticised the ALP for refusing to do the same.

“The Opposition has just jumped into bed, pulled the doona over its head and said ‘look no, no, no, no’ and they are just carrying on like a petulant child over this,” he said.

“They should get part of the debate and be part of a change we think could really improve the real outcomes for people in this country through the tax system.”

Shadow Assistant Minister for Education Amanda Rishworth.
Labor MP Amanda Rishworth said the government couldn’t “do everything”.

“What Malcolm Turnbull seems to do is be promising everything to everyone, but of course what we known when it comes to an increases in the GST is that it is regressive,” she told Sky News.

“That it will hit low and middle income earners the most and of course wages are not keeping up.” The said suggestions the changes wouldn’t leave some in the community worse off was “quite frankly mythical”.  “It is the magic pudding solution and quite frankly Labor will stand up for low and middle income earners even if the government won’t,” she said.


Qld. Government ‘didn’t drop the ball’ on child protection, says police commissioner

This was just an attempt to discredit the priorities of the Newman government

ACTING police commissioner Ross Barnett has rejected claims made by the inquiry into child protection that pedophilia was allowed to flourish while officers pursued outlaw bikies.

Mr Barnett today said the total number of officers involved in child protection investigations had grown by 73 across the state after the bikie taskforce “Maxima” was established.

He said a further nine officers had also been added to the specialised pedophile unit Taskforce Argos over the same period.

“I would say there was a little disappointment that the perception was in the child protection area that we had dropped the ball or lost our focus,”

“That, in our view, is clearly not the case.  “It is certainly not supported by the growth in those areas.  “We take child protection, as the government does, extremely seriously.”

Mr Barnett’s comments came as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced $3.2 million not used by the controversial organised crime inquiry headed by Michael Byrne QC would be funnelled into fighting child exploitation.

Ms Palaszczuk said she would not direct police to divert funding from tracking down criminal motorcycle gangs because this was an operational decision.

The Premier says an extra $3.2 million will be given to police to investigate child abuse and exploitation.

Ms Palaszczuk announced money left over from the Commission of Inquiry into Organised Crime would be given to officers to tackle the issue which the inquiry found had flourished because resources had been directed towards fighting bikie gangs.

“This is about an additional injection of funds into child exploitation investigations, which the Commission of Inquiry makes clear is required,” the Premier said.

Ms Palaszczuk said this was just a first step and she, along with Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath and Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller, would look closely at the other 43 recommendations in the report.

That includes looking at how other areas could be better tackled including financial and drug crimes.