Committe rebukes credit union

by Chris Griffith
Published 22 October 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The Senate Privileges Committee has rebuked a Brisbane credit union for denying membership to two men and a woman because they wanted "to call the credit union directors and management to account" at its annual general meeting.

In a highly critical report tabled in the Senate last week, the committee found the Queensland Professional Credit Union had conducted "a reprisal" against Alexandra Hills couple Kevin and Irene Lindeberg by forcibly closing their accounts in November 1993.

The report also found that the credit union had denied membership to an associate of Mr Lindeberg's, Mr Des O'Neill in September 1993, as "a preventative measure" to stop the two men moving and seconding motions at its annual general meeting on October 28th, 1993.

On August 19th, 1993, Mr Lindeberg and Mr O'Neill, who are two prominent Brisbane whistleblowers, released a six-point notice of motion before the AGM.

The motion, moved by Mr Lindeberg and seconded by Mr O'Neill, called for the credit union's Chairman of Directors, Mr Cec Lee, to stand down, and for its General Manager, Mr Gordon Rutherford, to explain his role in a controversial superannuation scheme investigated by the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation earlier that year.

Earlier, in April 1993, Mr Lindeberg and Mr O'Neill had given joint evidence to the committee that four contributors to the scheme had received extraordinary payouts without leaving the fund in January 1987.

The superannuation committee found that the fund's trust deed had been altered retrospectively to validate the payouts. But the committee was hamstrung because the four payment request forms held by National Mutual were missing.

Mr Lee was one of the fund's trustees at the time, and Mr Rutherford was one of the four contributors who received a payouts.

Mr Lindeberg and Mr O'Neill's motion for the AGM also asked Mr Lee and Mr Rutherford to confirm whether they, or the Credit Union paid the legal fees for the barristers who represented them at the Senate committee hearings into the fund.

However the denial of membership to Mr O'Neill meant the motions were never put. Mr Lindeberg did attend the meeting, but he now faces defamation action by Mr Rutherford over statements he made there.

In its unanimous report the Senate Privileges committee said it did not accept Mr Lee's reasons as to why Mr and Mrs Lindeberg's accounts were closed, and found the credit union's explanation "disingenuous".

"The Committee has little doubt that such a withdrawal was, as Mr Lindeberg asserts, a reprisal for Mr Lindeberg's attempts to have matters of concern to him aired, notably at the annual general meeting," it said.

"The QPCU's refusal of membership to Mr O'Neill was, in the committee's view, to ensure that another person with detailed knowledge of the Queensland Professional Officers' Association Superannuation Fund and a supporter of Mr Lindeberg's efforts to call the credit union directors and management to account at that meeting would be prevented from attending and participating in the annual general meeting."

The report said the committee was "particularly concerned" that at the following year's annual general meeting, the directors had given advice to disallow discussion about the memberships because the issue was before the Senate Privileges Committee.

"This, in the Committee's view, was either a misunderstanding or a misuse of principle."

However the committee did not support a claim by Mr Lindeberg and Mr O'Neill that the credit union's actions were in retaliation for their giving evidence critical of Mr Lee and Mr Rutherford before the superannuation committee in 1993.

The actions of the credit union therefore did not represent a breach of Senate privilege, it found.

Mr Lindeberg yesterday said the report vindicated his credibility, and called for his and his wife's accounts to be immediately reinstated. "My efforts had always been directed to bring accountability to the credit union", he said.

Mr O'Neill said he no longer wished to become a member of the credit union. "The report is damning of the credit union's regard for accountability," he said.