Australia

Governance & Compliance | May 2021

Breakthru back-pays more than $2.7m  

Disability services provider Breakthru Ltd is back-paying employees more than $2.7 million and has entered into an enforceable undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman. 

The registered charity, which operates in NSW, Victoria, and Queensland self-reported underpayments to the workplace regulator in March last year. 

During new enterprise-agreement negotiations, Breakthru became aware that it had incorrectly classified several employees under applicable awards and industrial agreements, resulting in underpayment of base rates. 

In total, Breakthru is back-paying 649 current and former employees $2.75 million (including interest and superannuation) after underpaying them between 2014 and 2020. Individual back-payments range from less than $1 to more than $34,000. 

As of 19 February, the company had back-paid 616 workers, less than $47,000 still owing to 33 former employees who had to be back-paid by 31 March. 

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that an enforceable undertaking was appropriate as Breakthru had demonstrated a strong commitment to rectifying underpayments. 

‘Under the enforceable undertaking, Breakthru has committed to implementing stringent measures to protect the rights of its workforce. These measures include engaging, at the company’s own cost, audits of its compliance with workplace laws over the next two years’, said Ms Parker. 

‘This matter demonstrates how important it is for companies to check that they have classified every employee correctly. Any employer who needs help meeting their workplace obligations should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.’  

Breakthru is required to display an online notice detailing its workplace law breaches, apologise to workers, commission workplace relations training for human resources, recruitment, and payroll staff, and provide evidence that it has developed systems for ensuring future compliance. 

New guidance on whistleblowing  

The Accounting Professional & Ethical Standards Board has released new guidance to support accountants dealing with whistleblowing and related confidentiality concerns.  

Whistleblower laws in Australia aim to protect the confidentiality of individuals who blow the whistle and ensure that they are not victimised for doing so.  

Professional accountants’ roles in business, public-sector entities, and public practice make it likely that they will encounter situations involving whistleblowing, whether as the recipients of information or as the party that discovers actual or suspected breaches of laws and regulations. 

The 38-page Whistleblowing & Confidentiality – APESB Technical Staff Publication provides guidance on applying APES 110 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (including Independence Standards) and other APESB pronouncements to situations that may lead to whistleblowing.  

The publication contains eight hypothetical scenarios covering members in business (includes NFPs) and members in public practice, including auditors. The case studies do not provide, however, a guide to the application of whistleblower-protection legislation.  

Members involved in circumstances that may lead to whistleblowing are strongly encouraged to seek legal advice or speak to their respective professional bodies to understand their legal and professional obligations.  

The publication is available to download on the APESB website here.

Drug-and-alcohol counsellor jailed 

The Victorian County Court has sentenced Anthony Dieni to 14 years’ jail with a nine-year non-parole period for misappropriating government funds. 

He has been ordered to pay $448,805.76 as part of a pecuniary penalty order.  

Mr Dieni misappropriated government funds while employed as a drug-and-alcohol counsellor and coordinator at St Paul’s Prevention Rehabilitation, a Strathmore-based charity. 

Sentencing follows an investigation (Operation Murano) by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission into allegations that Mr Dieni deliberately misled the court in bail applications and sentencing hearings in exchange for cocaine and other drugs of dependence. 

IBAC’s Operation Murano resulted in 20 people being charged with a range of offences, including attempting to pervert the course of justice, trafficking in a drug of dependence, and fraud offences. 

Childcare director accused of huge fraud   

A Canberra childcare-centre director has been accused of defrauding the centre of as much as $500,000. 

Police have charged Weston Creek Children’s Centre director Emma Morton with 23 counts of obtaining property by deception, amounting to $160,000 in stolen funds. 

Following a raid of Ms Morton’s home in Campbell, a Canberra suburb, officers said they believed that Ms Morton may have taken more than $480,000 from the charity. 

In a statement of facts tendered to the court, police alleged that Ms Morton transferred dozens of payments from the childcare centre’s bank account into her own. 

Ms Morton, who has been centre director for more than 20 years, allegedly ‘disguised’ $162,753 worth of payments as operating costs. 

Police are investigating the loss of another $310,846. 

Several transactions in the police submission described personal purchases allegedly made by Ms Morton, including almost $4000 spent at JB Hi Fi, a $3000 chaise longue, and a stay at Hotel Realm in Barton. 

Police also alleged that Ms Morton made several transfers worth a total of $130,000 in March and April of last year into a ‘COVID account’ opened in her name. 

They are liaising with federal regulators to ensure that the centre, which is a registered charity, can continue operating. 

School principal stole $23,000    

The principal of a disadvantaged state school in outer-suburban Melbourne has pocketed almost $23,000 in school funds, spending the money on gambling and an overseas family holiday, an ombudsman’s report has revealed. 

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has exposed the theft in the report Investigation of protected disclosure complaints regarding the former Principal of a Victorian public school. 

Ms Glass said the theft highlighted ‘systemic weakness in the financial governance of our schools’, rather than a simple theft by a senior staff member.  

According to the investigation, the principal asked his staff several times in 2017 and 2018 to counter-sign cheques for school purposes. He then took the cash. 

Employed on an annual salary of more than $143,000, the principal had financial problems, including a heavy gambling habit, and significant personal expenses, including rent on inner-city apartments, private-school fees, and the costs of several investment properties in Queensland. 

He had a history of financial problems that he did not disclose when he was appointed, including a period of bankruptcy. 

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