Sunday, November 15, 2015

The unaccountable destroyer of lives we call ICAC

A watchdog with Rabies

Miranda Devine

ON the morning of May 2, 2014, Mike Gallacher, a cop who had risen to become police minister, was on stage addressing graduates of the Police academy at Goulburn.

“The community will always back the police to do the right thing,” Gallacher was saying, when his press secretary Clint McGilvray started fielding frantic text messages.

Geoffrey Watson, SC, counsel assisting ICAC, had just dropped the bombshell corruption allegation that would destroy Gallacher’s career.

Watson alleged in a question to a developer that Gallacher, 54, was the mastermind of a “corrupt scheme to make donations to the Liberal Party”.

Within hours Premier Mike Baird had demanded his resignation.

Gallacher is a man who prides himself on integrity, a former undercover cop in Internal Affairs, a working class battler who dragged himself up by his bootstraps from Mt Druitt High, and public housing in at Lethbridge Park. Now he had been accused of the one thing he had spent his life fighting.

“That C word for me is death”, he says.  “I am an ex undercover cop against corrupt police and the utterance of the word corrupt was the most devastating thing given my history in the police force.”

And so began the surreal nightmare that is now so familiar to anyone caught up with the unaccountable star chamber we call ICAC.

For 18 months Gallacher has been in limbo on the cross bench of state parliament, his salary halved, his family shell-shocked, his Liberal colleagues wary of the association.

Yet to this date ICAC has never produced any evidence to prove its incendiary claim that he is corrupt. Despite repeated attempts by Gallacher’s lawyer Arthur Moses for Watson to substantiate his allegations all the ICAC counsel has said is “we have plenty of stuff and we have sworn testimony from a reliable person.”

Gallacher appeared in the ICAC witness box for two days and Watson never produced any “stuff” linking him to a Liberal slush fund into which illegal donations from developers had been channelled.

The worst of ICAC’s allegations against Gallacher involve the presence of two property developers at a fundraising dinner at Doyle’s Circular Quay on New Year’s Eve in 2010. There were about 20 guests at the $1000 a head dinner, which made a profit of $5000, but property developers had been banned from donating money to political parties since the previous year.

Gallacher denies he has done anything underhand and is waiting for ICAC to provide the evidence against him so he can clear his name.

He can’t understand why it won’t publish its findings on Operation Spicer, the political donations inquiry. How complicated can it be? Magistrates decide more complex cases every day.

The personal toll of the long wait has been devastating. “It has affected me very deeply because of the sheer nature of the shame, and the public humiliation.  “I would see police walking down the street and cross the road and walk on the other side because I felt I’d brought shame on the police by being named”.

Adding to his burden was his wife’s ill health. Judy was scheduled to have a nine hour operation for breast cancer on the first day Gallacher had to testify at ICAC.

His mother in law had a heart attack two weeks after Watson’s allegations. His mother collapsed at bridge and was hospitalised with high blood pressure and renal failure.

Staffers who worked for Gallacher have struggled to find jobs, even interstate, because the taint of ICAC is lethal to careers

Being named at ICAC is not a theoretical exercise. It has real and dramatic consequences, particularly for people who value their reputations.

In the last two years, ICAC has brought down a premier, a commissioner of the SES and 10 government MPs (all but Gallacher have left parliament), all without proving its allegations of corruption, or managing to muster a single prosecution.

It sidelined for more than a year Arthur Sinodinos, who had been Tony’ Abbott’s federal assistant treasurer, so that his expertise was denied to the government’s crucial first budget.

In other words ICAC has interfered with the running of democratically elected NSW and federal governments. And for what benefit?

Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, SC, as dedicated and effective a public servant as you would ever find, was targeted by ICAC over a private matter of a car accident involving her son’s girlfriend.

She and her family were dragged through the wringer until she cleared their names through expensive litigation that ended up in the High Court.

Cunneen, too, was forced to stand aside from a murder trial and twiddle her thumbs at home after ICAC cast a pall over her reputation.

Every public official or politician who has been named by ICAC has had to resign or stand aside.

And yet when ICAC itself comes under fire, it is not bound by the same code of conduct.

When ICAC is humiliated in the High Court for having overreached in the Cunneen matter, or when ICAC inspector David Levine, QC, has to launch two inquiries into its conduct, and makes scathing findings about its “arrogance” and “hauter”, no gesture is made to safeguard the reputation of the institution.

Unlike ICAC’s victims, Commissioner Megan Latham has not offered to stand aside from her $689,856 a year job pending the outcome of David Levine’s inquiries.

For ICAC it is business as usual.


Coalition attack on union `rorts' if Labor targets commission

The Turnbull government will make a staunch defence against any Labor attack on the trade union royal commission in parliament this week, seizing on corruption allegations against the Australian Workers Union.

At least five former AWU offic-ials have been criticised in the submissions, including alleg-ations of possible criminal behaviour by Bill Shorten's former deputy at the union, Cesar Melhem-, who faces a prison sentence if ultimately charged and convicted of falsifying invoices.

The union may also be liable for civil penalties and breaking criminal laws over deals struck when Mr Shorten was Victorian and national secretary and after his successor Paul Howes took over in 2007.

The two-year inquiry into trade union governance and corruption came under heavy fire after counsel assisting the commission published legal arguments against the AWU shortly after 8pm on Friday. There was no submission that Mr Shorten engaged in any criminal or unlawful conduct.

The opposition's employment spokes-man, Brendan O'Connor, accused the commission of "working in concert with executive government" and releasing submissions on the AWU in "the dead of night".

The government yesterday warned Labor against adopting "conspiracies against the commission" rather than acting on union corruption, which remains the focus of the inquiry.

"The royal commission has uncovered disturbing evidence of systematic rorting and corruption in a range of unions, including Mr Shorten's own union, the AWU," said a spokesman for Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.

"Instead of taking action to clean up rorts and corruption the ALP continues to engage in half-baked smears and conspiracies against the commission."

Companies including the Thiess- John Holland construct-ion joint venture to build the $2.5 billion East Link toll road in Melbourne, glassmaker ACI, Chiquita- Mushrooms (now part of the Costa group) and construction firm Winslow also face possible allegations of corruption over hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the AWU.

The submissions by counsel raise the possibility Mr Melhem committed an indictable offence, which carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 10 years, by allegedl-y falsifying invoices to engineeri-ng firm Downer EDI in 2012. Mr Melhem and Downer EDI employee Tony Sirsen may have engaged in the offence under the Victorian Crimes Act of false accounting, over a $25,000 invoice to the company from the union, the submissions state.

"The evidence does establish that Mr Melhem's concurrence in the falsification of the invoice was done dishonestly," they state. "He must have known that the falsification would facilitate the payment by Downer of the money."

Mr Howes, who left the union last year, testified to the commission that he could not remember a memorandum of understanding bearing his signature in 2010 that left Cleanevent cleaners with below-award wages. He said in a written statement tendered at the commission last month that it was not his "role to personally analyse" the "adequacy" of the deal.

On Friday, counsel queried whether that was an "appropriate approach" and submitted that it "appears to be an abrogation of the responsibility that a national secretary should assume".

"Cleanevent got precisely what it was looking for from the AWU when the MOU was executed: an agreement that avoided the employ-er's responsibility to pay its employees, at minimum, at the relevant award," the submissions state. "Paul Howes should take respon-sibility for . failures in proper process."

John-Paul Blandthorn, a former organiser in the Victorian branch, now an adviser to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, was cited for a possible "breach of fiduciary duties" to members, but the submissions note for "fairness" that "Mr Blandthorn was a relatively junior organiser, who reported to the state secretary, Mr Melhem".

The submissions also allege that former AWU assistant secretary Frank Leo made a corrupt payment when he accepted $24,000 for the union from Chiquita Mushrooms, ahead of a 2004 workplace deal that counsel submitted left workers worse off.

Former Chiquita Mushrooms worker Donna Hodgson said yesterday she felt vindicated by the submission that the company and union colluded behind workers' backs, saying it "confirmed her suspicions".

"It's disgusting ... you pay your union dues and then they take your job away from you," Ms Hodgson said.

Ms Hodgson, who worked at Chiquita for 11 years, sued the company for unfair dismissal after she was sacked as a result of the 2004 EBA, which replaced permanent workers and independent contractors with "union-friendly" labour hire.

No corruption is alleged to have occurred at the AWU under the current national leadership of secretary Scott McDine or in the Victorian branch since Ben Davis took over as leader.


Senator Cory Bernardi draws our attention to a most peculiar man

A Muslim, funnily enough.  Below is a speech in the Senate from 11 November 2015

I rise today to raise a matter involving a man claiming to be an international business leader but who has demonstrated through his words and actions that he is a person who clearly has limited—if any—association with the truth. I am talking about a gentleman by the name of Mr Mohamed El-Mouelhy, who is head of the Halal Certification Authority.

My attention was first drawn to Mr El-Mouelhy's intentions by his Facebook page in which he made the following comment about me: 'Mr Cory Bernardi is a well-known bigot and Muslim hater. A couple of years ago when halal certification became an issue for the bigots, Bernardi sent me an unsolicited, offensive and racist email. I did not dignify him with a response then, and I am not about to dignify him now.'

Having never heard of this man before, and establishing I had never had any previous contact with him, I was perplexed as to his claim. Upon further review of his distasteful, bigoted and racist social media rantings, I actually thought this was a grubby parody account. Imagine my shock when I discovered that Mr El-Mouelhy was actually a real person claiming to be a respected businessman. I contacted him through his business email asking for evidence of his defamatory claim that I had sent him an unsolicited, offensive and racist email. He responded by not providing any evidence at all and refusing to engage in any further conversation.

Accordingly, I am completely at peace in referring to Mr El-Mouelhy's claims about me as completely false, and I can only consider him to be a liar. This prompted me to conduct a further review of Mr El-Mouelhy's public statements. Clearly, he is no stranger to the limelight. With an increasing interest in halal certification, and as the head of the Halal Certification Authority, he has taken every opportunity to have his views heard. He pops up in TV interviews, on radio and in print. He is constantly offering opinions that halal certification has made him a multimillionaire. In fact, you could probably think that he is the quasi-face of halal certification in Australia. Yet, when given his opportunity to appear before a Senate committee about this precise topic, he refused to appear. I am guessing that the requirement to tell the truth in giving evidence before a Senate committee was enough to scare him off.

But that does not stop him from abusing the Senate inquiry. On Facebook he called the inquiry an 'exercise in bigotry' and a 'sham'. He labelled as bigots all those who called for the inquiry and all the senators who voted for it. He insulted almost every submission to the enquiry and he claimed, quite incorrectly, that the inquiry wants to destroy the halal certification industry. Amid proclamations that the government had 'shut down' the inquiry—again, another lie—he boasted further about the money he makes and mentioned alleged corruption within halal certification in Indonesia.

A large part of me wonders whether we should take anything he says seriously. In addition to defaming me on the internet, Mr El-Mouelhy is happy to abuse many others. He insults the whole of New South Wales as a 'bigots dreamland'. He describes Queensland as a 'bigots hinterland' and the ACT as 'foil hat territory'. I will not list them all now, but he said the same about virtually every state and territory in Australia. On Facebook, he doles out opinions and insults in equal measure. I will characterise just a few of these sorts of abuses today. Next to photos of pork rectums for sale, he writes: 'Favourite food for bigots. They are what they eat!' He accuses the Reverend Fred Nile of watching pornography on his computer and reading 'free porn mags'. In a comment to someone who posted on his page he wrote: 'You are a jealous bogan … die in your rage, bigot'. In another comment about someone on his page he said: 'This guy must have been to a Catholic school; he is besotted with paedophilia.' When asked about animal suffering, he said: 'I don't mind seeing you suffer.' He labels those who do not agree with him as 'bogans, bigots, religiously intolerant, rednecks and hicks'. His comments about a photo of short-cut bacon, where the word 'cut' has been misspelled through the addition of an additional consonant is simply repulsive, and it would be unparliamentary for me to repeat it here.

Such comments do not reflect well on any Australian businessman, especially someone who claims to be as successful and prominent as Mr El-Mouelhy. I have lost count of the number of times he has labelled me an Islamophobe, a bigot or a Muslim hater. Frankly, I put no stock in his insults against me. It is not the first time someone has called me names—and, coming from someone like him, I wear it as a badge of honour.

But the telling thing about all these online rantings and arrogant insults is what they tell us about the character of Mohamed El-Mouelhy. He is willing to spend a significant amount of time abusing people on social media and peddling lies in the public domain. And, by his own admission, he has been involved in corrupt dealings—bribery, to be specific—to attempt to gain access to the Indonesian halal food market. On ABC's Four Corners he was asked whether the $28,000 he spent on a visit to Australia by Indonesian halal officials was, in his mind, a bribe. This is what he said:

"In my mind … as an after fact, yes, it is a bribe."

Why would anyone want to do business with a corrupt businessman? But, according to Mr El-Mouelhy himself, business is booming. He arrogantly talks about how much money he makes from the halal certification industry. On Today Tonight he said it had made him a millionaire. On Four Corners he said that everything he touches turns to gold. His business website claims that it has an '80 per cent market share of halal certification in Australia'—something which I have seen no evidence of, but that is what he claims.

Yet beneath these dodgy boasts there are many questions to be answered. He portrays himself and his business as an Islamic body or authority. The name alone—Halal Certification Authority—implies that it is some sort of peak community representative organisation. It even has a '.org' domain name instead of the usual '.com'. But is it really an Islamic body or authority? Is it really a not-for-profit organisation as suggested by the domain name? As far as I can tell it is neither. It is simply a private business formed to make money for Mr El-Mouelhy through any means possible.

Descriptions of his company, on various websites, claim the Halal Certification Authority 'is the most authoritative national Islamic body on the application of Islamic dietary laws' and it is an 'Islamic body appointed by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, AQIS, according to federal legislation'. Mr El-Mouelhy is not an imam or Islamic religious leader, so I do not know on what basis he makes the claim of being a credible authority. And AQIS does not appoint Islamic certifiers. The certifiers apply to AQIS to gain approval to certify certain products for export. Further, El-Mouelhy boasts on Facebook that `Sharia rules' and is associated with another organisation that includes a special religious or sharia subcommittee.

Despite these statements and associations, El-Mouelhy also denies the existence of sharia or Islamic law. On 11 Feb 2015, during an interview on SBS, El-Mouelhy stated—in relation to a court case—'The defendants have said I am actually working to install sharia law—whatever that is—in Australia.' On 18 March 2015, during an interview on the ABC's The Drum program, El-Mouelhy claimed: 'There is no such thing in Islam called sharia law, by the way.' They are just more contradictions by a man unwilling to be confined by the truth.

Alarmingly, El-Mouelhy also boasts about contributing to the global Islamic charity Human Appeal International, HAI, an organisation that has been banned in Israeli, since 2008, because it channels funds to Hamas and has links to Hezbollah. Mr El-Mouelhy claims he knows of no links from HAI to Hamas, but a quick internet search reveals the HAI logo in use at Hamas ceremonies. Hamas, I remind the Senate, has been listed by the United Nations as a terror group since 2001. In 1996 a CIA report said HAI was used as a conduit to fund terrorism. HAI also sponsored two visits to Australia by a bloke named Tareq Al-Suwaidan, a man banned from the US and Belgium for his violent anti-Semitism. And this is the charity that Mr El-Mouelhy chooses to support.

In short, based on his words and actions, I consider Mr El-Mouelhy to be an untrustworthy person. In fact, he does a great disservice to the Muslim community and the halal certification industry. During evidence to the committee on halal certification, one witness described the shonks and con men operating within the industry and endorsed calls for reform. In my opinion, Mr El-Mouelhy is the embodiment of such a description. I know he has made false statements about me and I know he has made admissions to being involved in corrupt practices.

On that evidence alone, El-Mouelhy must be considered one of the halal industry shonks and con men that no reputable organisation should have anything to do with.


Labor veteran David Hanna could face charges

One of Queensland’s veteran Labor powerbrokers could face charges after yesterday being accused of corruption over the $150,000 fitout of his luxury Brisbane home in a deal with managers of a construction giant to keep industrial peace on a building site.

In a submission to the royal commission into trade unions, the counsel assisting, Sarah McNaugh­ton, said David Hanna, the then boss of the now-defunct Queensland arm of the Builders Labourers Federation, may have received secret commissions through work carried out by subcontractors for construction giant Mirvac in 2013.

Ms McNaughton said former Mirvac state director Adam Moore and Mathew McAllum, a longtime contractor of the company, may also have committed secret commission offences in ­organising the work, which was mostly billed to Mirvac through false invoices on a commercial building project.

The allegations were first aired in September at hearings of the royal commission, which was told Mr Hanna, a former vice-president of the ALP in Queensland, had approached Mr Moore to do the work on his home.

At the time, building sites had been rife with strikes and industrial action by the CFMEU, with which the BLF merged in 2014.

Ms McNaughton said there was insufficient evidence to suggest that Mirvac itself was involved in the alleged corruption.

In the submission, she alleged that Mr Hanna and Mr Moore had agreed in early 2013 for the works to be done.

“David Hanna knew that the gift of free goods and services placed him in a position of temptation, and that Mathew McAllum was not simply acting out of the goodness of his heart, but was instead, and at the direction of Adam Moore, ‘greasing the wheels’ of the relationship between Mirvac and the BLF in the hope or expectation that it would run smoothly as a result of the giving of the free goods and services,’’ the submission said.

During the hearings, Mr Hanna quit the party after state ALP secretary Evan Moorhouse issued a show-cause notice on his continuing membership. Mr Hanna also resigned earlier this year as national president of the construction division of the CFMEU.

In a statement, Mr Hanna said he would “strenuously defend my innocence’’ and the allegations had not been properly tested.

In another development yesterday, the royal commission dropped its investigation into allegations against CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka made by a builder, Andrew Zaf.

Mr Zaf claimed he gave free building materials to Mr Setka in exchange for industrial peace and was attacked after going public about the allegations. However, the royal commission heard evidence last month that Mr Zaf possibly had attacked himself.

Construction union secretary Dave Noonan said: “These alle­gations have been thrown around for two years or more and treated as if they were true. John Setka always maintained he was innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter.”


Immigrant invasion of farm in Brisbane area investigated by border protection

The aggression suggests Muslims

Immigration authorities are investigating the invasion of about 600 illegal workers at a Lockyer Valley farm.

A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesman confirmed the incident is being investigated after bus loads of migrant workers arrived at Steep Gully Produce on Tuesday morning, looking for work.

When they were informed there were positions available for just 100, the large group became aggressive and began throwing onions at other workers.

"The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is aware of an incident that occurred (on Tuesday) at a Lockyer Valley farming property, and is conducting investigations into the matter," a spokesman said.

"Queensland police responded to the incident and is also investigating the circumstances surrounding the matter."

The Tuesday morning incident is not the first time issues with illegal workers being found in the Lockyer Valley.

The spokesman said the department was "well aware of illegal work issues around the country, including in the Lockyer Valley region" and had taken steps to educate employers and "where appropriate, detain and remove illegal workers".

About 100 illegal workers have been located and detained in Queensland, a fraction of the more than 600 people detained across Australia.

"As recently as two weeks ago, officers visited several contractors in the area to conduct education sessions, and several investigations into illegal work are ongoing," he said.

The spokesman said employers had access to free online services to check visa details of non-citizens when considering them for employment.

"The Visa Entitlement Verification Online tool is on the department's website," he said.

"Employers can ask non-citizens to email their current visa conditions directly to the employer through the VEVO email service.

"Sanctions under the legislation include administrative warning, infringements, civil penalties and criminal offences.

"Regional employers and labour hire contractors that are found hiring illegal workers face substantial fines and civil penalties for allowing or referring people to undertake illegal work."


No comments: