Thursday, March 11, 2021

A lawyer who does not believe in the presumption of innocence

Disgraceful pre-judgment of Christian Porter

The CEO of Australia's largest law firm has left a week after telling staff she felt "triggered" by the company's decision to take on Attorney-General Christian Porter as a client.

In an email sent to staff at 10:00pm yesterday MinterEllison chairman David O'Brien said it was "mutually agreed" Annette Kimmitt would leave the firm immediately. Ms Kimmitt was appointed CEO in July 2018 and was halfway through a five-year contract.

"We have thanked Annette for her years of service and dedication and wished her well for the future," Mr O'Brien wrote.

Her sudden departure follows the leaking of an email Ms Kimmitt sent to all staff last week expressing disappointment that the company had accepted Mr Porter as a client.

The email was sent just hours after Mr Porter held a media conference to strenuously deny raping a 16-year-old girl when he was a student in 1988.

"The nature of the matter is clearly causing hurt to some of you and it has certainly triggered hurt for me," Ms Kimmitt wrote.

It was revealed on social media that senior partner and defamation expert Peter Bartlett was acting for Mr Porter.

"I know that for many it may be a tough day and I want to apologise for the pain you may be experiencing," Ms Kimmitt wrote to staff.

She also suggested that MinterEllison's involvement in the matter had not gone through the firm's "due consultation or approval process". "Had it done, so we would have considered the matter through the lens of our Purpose and our Values," she wrote.

A female lawyer at the firm, who did not want to be named, told the ABC that the reaction to Ms Kimmitt's departure was divided.

She said some staff members felt that her comments in the email were inappropriate and that she had "overstepped the mark" by publicly criticising a senior partner.

But she said there was disquiet, particularly among younger staff, about the firm being connected to Mr Porter. "Internally, it is a live issue. Junior lawyers are upset about the firm acting for Christian Porter. That's what Annette was responding to," she said.

She said Ms Kimmitt's departure had left many younger staff feeling "shattered" and in some quarters, there was a perception that the CEO was "unfairly pushed".

She said said there was concern among female lawyers at the firm about what this episode meant for the role of senior women.

Jacqueline Burn, a marketing and communications consultant who has worked with law firms for the past 20 years, said she hoped "people wouldn't see this as a gender issue".

"This was an example of an error of judgment or a sequence of errors of judgment."

She said it was naive to think the email would not be leaked outside the firm. "She didn't need to air the firm's dirty laundry. She has implied there is a failure of governance. That was not necessary at all," Ms Burn said.

"Her role was to support and illuminate the decisions and remind people that everyone is entitled to legal representation."


Doctors, healthcare workers to be punished for anti-vax COVID claims

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists who spread COVID anti-vaccination claims will face harsh penalties, including being stripped of their ability to practise by the medical watchdog.

The national medical boards and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency (AHPRA) released a joint directive warning healthcare practitioners that they risk regulatory action if they spout false or deceptive misinformation to patients or on social media that could undermine the national vaccination program as the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout begins.

“There is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice, and any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media, and advertising may be subject to regulatory action,” spokesman for the medical boards and Pharmacy Board chairman Brett Simmonds said.

The joint statement was supported by every national health professional board, including the medical, nursing and midwifery, pharmacy, dental, chiropractic, Chinese medicine, paramedicine and osteopathy boards of Australia.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant are expected to get their AstraZeneca vaccinations at St George Hospital in Sydney’s south on Wednesday.

The AstraZeneca shot, described by Australia’s chief health bureaucrat Professor Brendan Murphy as the “workhorse” of the national vaccination program, will be the vaccine most Australians will receive and therefore the vaccine most healthcare practitioners will administer.

In September, AHPRA and the boards confirmed they had received complaints about doctors and other healthcare workers spreading anti-vaccination messages and COVID conspiracy theories in semi-private social media groups in direct contravention of laws that prohibit them from spreading false, misleading or deceptive claims.

The boards’ joint position statement also urged registered health practitioners to get vaccinated against COVID-19 unless medically contraindicated and get the necessary training and accreditation to administer vaccines if they are authorised to do so.

NSW reported no new locally acquired COVID-19 for the 52nd consecutive day on Wednesday.

A total of 15,534 tests were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, more than doubling the 6825 tests reported the previous day


Public Trustee probe reveals shocking claims of client treatment

This has long been a notorious agency. Pity anybody who falls into their grip

Queensland’s most vulnerable people were blocked from accessing their own money, overcharged for services and billed thousands in legal fees, a bombshell report has revealed.

Hundreds of vulnerable Queenslanders have been overcharged by the state’s Public Trustee with a damning report raising “serious issues” about how the authority manages its clients’ money.

The shocking report details incidents where the embattled office of the Public Trustee overcharged vulnerable clients, worked against their interests and made questionable financial decisions.

The statutory authority is tasked with managing deceased estates and the finances of vulnerable people with impaired decision-making capacity and nobody else to turn to.

A review was first launched into the Public Trustee’s fees in 2018, however, the investigation expanded after “serious issues” were raised.

It found a complex set of fees and charges, a lack of transparency and questionable use of professional advice to justify investments in its own products.

The review, authored by Public Advocate Mary Burgess, said the Public Trustee had a policy to “rob Peter to pay Paul”.

“For some clients, the Public Trustee’s commitment to self-funding and sustainability has been achieved at the expense of their own financial outcomes,” the report noted.

“They were paying a premium on their fees to help fund services the Public Trustee was providing to other people.”

In one case, the Public Trustee sought external legal advice for a client to make a “quite straightforward” application to access total permanent disability insurance.

The legal claim cost the client $11,000 of his $120,000 payout, raising concerns the Public Trustee had “adopted a practice” of referring out work that could be performed by an external provider.

On several occasions the Public Trustee also attempted to block attempts by clients to take back control of their funds – claiming in some occasions they lacked capacity.

Each year the government authority provides financial management services to more than 10,000 Queenslanders, including more than 9300 people who solely rely on the authority to manage their cash.

Ms Burgess said it was “disappointing” the Public Trustee responded to her investigations by noting only “a very small cohort” of clients were affected.

“When dealing with vulnerable people or breaches of human rights or fiduciary duties, the responsibilities of state agencies and fiduciaries are strict,” she said.

“No breach can be justified on the basis of … ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’”

“Any breach of a person’s rights … is one breach too many.”

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman revealed the State Government would establish a Public Trustee Board to provide oversight and direction to the office.

“The board will improve the Public Trustee’s performance, transparency and accountability, and enhance public confidence in this valuable service,” she said.

“It is clear that the agency needs to be more transparent about its fees and charges.”

The Public Trustee has pledged to increase transparency, simplify its cost structure and have a renewed focus on customers.


NSW Planning Minister defends new koala policy

NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has defended a new koala policy, which green groups say is "catastrophic" and designed to appease Nationals leader John Barilaro.

Details of the new policy were unveiled yesterday, six months after the Deputy Premier threatened to blow up the government by moving Nationals MPs to the crossbench.

The deal will see exemptions for farming and forestry land, which Mr Barilaro says means farmers will not be strangled by red tape.

Environment groups have accused the Planning Minister of caving to Mr Barilaro at the expense of koala protections, but Mr Stokes has rejected the claim.

"I can tell you I was in the negotiations and they were robust and I don't think this identifies exactly what the National party wanted. But ultimately, this is not about winning or losing, this is about working co-operatively."




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