Consultant finds super debacle

by Chris Griffith
Published 8 November 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


A superannuation scandal involving extraordinary withdrawals to well-known former Queensland union and credit society officials has been uncovered by a Brisbane consultant.

The Queensland Professional Officers' Association president, Sean Curley, in April engaged actuaries and superannuation consultant Towers Perrin to investigate concerns about the scheme.

A meeting in Brisbane on Friday was informed the scheme's Trust Deed had been altered in August 1990 with the effect of legitimising retrospectively extraordinary withdrawals to four contributors who left the scheme in January 1987.

It is alleged one of the Trustees responsible for the 1990 amendment was one of the four contributors who withdrew funds in 1987.

Mr Curley said the consultant's report would be finalised by Monday evening and presented to an Association council meeting Tuesday night.

He said council would decide appropriate remedial action; between $45,000 and $50,000 would be needed to replenish the fund.

However, consultants found the extraordinary withdrawals had not reduced past members' accumulated benefits, but they would have reduced the level of the reserve fund distributed in March 1992.

It is alleged the contributors received payouts of 100 percent employer contributions, but were entitled to 0, 20, or 60 percent unless they had served 10 years.

The fund's administrator, National Mutual Queensland, said it had administered the fund according to the Trust Deed.

The revelations came on the final day of a three week amalgamation ballot by the Association and its rival white-collar union, the Queensland State Services Union.

Former union inquiry commissioner Marshall Cooke, QC, confirmed last week his staff had briefly looked the association's superannuation fund, however his inquiry's time limit did not provide for any closer examination.

Contributors whose funds it is claimed were transferred to personal funds included Mr Kerry Daly, a former Association accountant, now Managing Director of the Rock Building Society, Rockhampton; Ms Ros Kinder, former Association Assistant General Secretary, now Director of Human Resource Management, PSMC; Mr Gordon Rutherford, Managing Director, Queensland Professional Credit Union; and Mr Don Martindale, former Association General Secretary, now Director of Industrial Relations with the Department of Health.

However it appears Mr Rutherford and Ms Kinder may have been disadvantaged in the long term by withdrawing their funds; both went on to complete over 10 years service.

Mr Martindale, Mr Daly, and Ms Kinder said they would need to see the report before they could respond. Mr Rutherford said there was as yet nothing to comment upon. "In terms of the 23F fund, we have a compliance certificate for that fund", he said.

The meeting was also told the fund had not operated in accordance with the Trust Deed and there was no other documentary evidence to support the Trustees' Actions.

There were alleged breaches of the Occupational Superannuation Standards which would cause loss of tax concessions for the fund.

The Manager of National Mutual Queensland's Corporate Superannuation Services, Mr Stephen Spiller, said the corporation's role did extend to informing Trustees of any potential breaches of the Trust Deed.

He said National Mutual was responsible for calculating benefits and payouts. However, he said the Trustees were ultimately responsible for the fund.

Mr Curley said it had been difficult to establish the advice all Trustees had sighted. The fund's three Trustees was always the Association's president, treasurer, and secretary.

Mr Curley was elected Association president on a reform ticket this year.

Super scandal has wider ramifications

The debacle of the staffers' superannuation fund of the Queensland Professional Officers' Association (QPOA) and its associated credit union, the Queensland Professional Credit Union (QPCU), is a major scandal.

Evidence four contributors left the scheme with more employer contribution than expected, and that the scheme's Trust Deed was altered retrospectively with the effect of legitimising these payments, will interest the Police, the Taxation Office, and the Insurance and Superannuation Commission.

The Senate Select Committee on Superannuation also has been alerted. Democrat Senator Cheryl Kernot expects to provide the Committee with submissions this week.

Of note is the fact some former contributors have risen to senior positions in the Goss Government, and in building and credit society circles. The investigation's impact will certainly be felt beyond the Association.

New QPOA president Sean Curley, elected on a reform ticket in April, deserves congratulations for approaching the Commonwealth Bank who recommended independent consultants Towers Perrin investigate the fund.

Their findings, presented to a small band of contributors last Friday, is compelling. Mr Curley's group, a minority in the QPOA, must now receive the full support of the Association's governing bodies in taking all necessary remedial action.

Of course, the Cooke Inquiry into Queensland unions could have investigated this fund 18 months ago. Sources say the superannuation issue was among evidence provided to Cooke.

Cooke last week confirmed to the Sun-Herald that his staff had looked briefly at this issue during his examination of the QPOA. The general time constraints imposed by the Goss Government on the Inquiry had thwarted a fuller investigation.

Back in 1991, Cooke's interest in the QPOA was confined to alleged ballot rigging at the 1989 credit union election and the subsequent dismissal of Kevin Lindeberg, a QPOA organiser who took the complaint to police.

However an examination of this fund by Cooke was not to be; nor did the Goss Government implement Cooke's major recommendation that all evidence and exhibits be handed to the CJC which should be empowered to continue proceedings.

The QPOA itself lobbied the Government against this, in particular, against the CJC being empowered to investigate issues surrounding the employment and dismissal of employees.

The Association wrote to Industrial Relations minister Nev Warburton on 25 July 1992. It argued: "Should the Commissioner's recommendation be accepted then every employer, whether a Union, a Company or a private individual, will be subject to review by the Criminal Justice Commission. Such a course simply flies in the face of common sense, fairness, justice and practicality".

Labor, of course, has made no secret of its contempt for the Cooke Inquiry, established by the previous National Party government. Labor has regarded it as an ideological vendetta against the union movement, an ill-conceived election campaign diversion by a besieged government. Upon its election, Labor moved quickly to impose time constraints, limit resources, and eventually to close the inquiry down.

It is known Cooke had to endure public works' officials measuring his office for new tenants and partitions while writing his report.

Nevertheless the inquiry served an invaluable role in addressing unacceptable behaviour by some senior union officials, including one Labor Party vice-president who is now jailed; for this it has earned the respect of many rank-and-file unionists.

In the QPOA's case, Cooke was forced to make no findings on the ballot rigging issue because the Government gave him little time to do so.

The Association also took out a Supreme Court injunction to prevent the Commission publishing any finding against it. It argued the unfairness and lack of credibility of any finding given the inquiry had been rushed.

Problems with ballots and superannuation funds, however, are not the only embarrassing issues facing the QPOA.

Also unresolved is the Association's and Government's role in a payout to former John Oxley Youth Centre acting manager Peter Coyne following the questionable shredding in late February 1990 of documents collectively called the Heiner Report.

These documents, the result of a departmental investigation conducted by a stipendiary magistrate, detailed allegations against Coyne which he never sited. Coyne, who was moved from the centre, still maintains he had every legal right to see them.

Coyne eventually received $27,190 in addition to the normal retrenchment entitlements after negotiations between the QPOA and the Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs.

The CJC is now investigating for a second time the claim some of this was spent to hide a government blunder in authorising the shredding. The CJC has already indicated Cabinet had sought permission to destroy the documents.

The revelations surrounding the superannuation fund come during a period the Association is attempting to amalgamate with its rival white-collar union, the Queensland State Services Union (QSSU).

Friday, the day the findings were discussed, was the final day of a three-week balloting period on the amalgamation question for the two union's combined 29,000 members.

On that count, it is indeed unfortunate the information was not available to voters before the amalgamation vote. Nevertheless, it has now fallen back on the Association's new regime and Mr Curley to sort out the mess.

Its amalgamating partner, the QSSU, says the Association's past superannuation fund is its business alone unless the new combined union is left with a liability.

Its secretary Laurie Gillespie, said: "We will be negotiating with the staffs of the two organisations a new superannuation scheme to which they will have the option of contributing if they so desire.

"As far as the dealings with regard to the previous superannuation fund is concerned, I haven't had an interest," he said.

However, Association members and the public will want all outstanding issues resolved.

It is believed around 15 contributors remain.