Witnesses claim retaliation

by Chris Griffith
Written mid 1993


my face


It is not often that banks, building societies, or credit unions knock back customers who want to save with them.

But exactly this happened to two Brisbane men, allegedly in retaliation for giving evidence to a Senate committee, including criticism of the roles of some current board members of a Queensland credit union.

Des O'Neill, a state public service union executive member, and Kevin Lindeberg, a former union industrial officer, were key witnesses at public hearings in Brisbane last April held by the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation.

The pair's claim of retaliation has led to a new report by the Senate Committee, tabled last month in the dying hours of federal parliament, during the marathon native title legislation debate.

The report unanimously has referred the incident to the Senate Privileges Committee to determine whether the pair have been victimised and whether the incident constitutes a contempt of the Senate.

The report said the Superannuation Committee "considers that Mr Lindeberg and Mr O'Neill MAY have been subjected to penalty in respect to evidence given to its inquiry."

Last year O'Neill and Lindeberg spoke out at the Committee's Brisbane hearings claiming impropriety in a superannuation scheme operated jointly by the Queensland Professional Officers' Association and its allied credit union, the Queensland Professional Credit Union.

The Senate Committee agreed with many of their concerns. It found transfers of superannuation benefits were made contrary to the scheme's Trust Deed, and criticised heavily the scheme's Trustees. The committee found a "significant deficiency" in the absence of trust minutes, questionable audits, and a lack of availability of documents.

But alas - that was not the end of the saga.

O'Neill decided to open a savings account with the very same credit union, a decision soon thwarted by Board Chairman Cec Lee who wrote to O'Neill in September saying the Board had refused his membership. Enclosed was a refund for $245.20.

In November, Lindeberg and his wife, who had saved with the credit union since 1984, received a similar notice from Lee terminating their accounts.

Lee's letters also came in the wake of an attempt by the pair to circulate notices to credit union shareholders asking Lee, a former Trustee of the disputed superannuation fund, to stand down.

It called on another Board member, Mr Gordon Rutherford, the Credit Union's General Manager, to explain his role as recipient of one of the disputed superannuation payouts.

The Board ruled the motions out of order.

Last month Lee wrote back to the Committee saying the terminations had nothing to do with the investigations. "There have been three instances in the past where the rule in question has been enforced," Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee said Mr Lindeberg "has suffered no detriment as he is eligible to apply for Membership of a number of other Queensland Credit Unions."

The Senate Privileges Committee is yet to deliberate on the contempt claim.