Citizen Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘Telecard’

The Great Telecard Coverup

In From the Archives, Margo Kingston, Telecard Affair on January 13, 2013 at 3:48 AM

By Margo Kingston
November 24, 2000
Source: Webdiary SMH

John Howard and Peter Reith

It had to be dragged out of them, but officials from the Department of Finance today made some big admissions on the Reith Telecard affair under pressure from the Senate estimates committee.

Try as they might to dodge, waffle and prevaricate, the masters of cross-examination, Labor Senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray, shed a little bit more light on the great coverup.

The scandal broke in the Canberra Times on Tuesday October 10, nearly a year after Finance discovered the $50,000 fraud. The very next day, the Prime Minister announced that DPP Damian Bugg had decided to prosecute no-one over the fraud. He also said he had asked the Solicitor-General, David Bennett QC, to advise whether Reith was liable for the $50,000.

This reference to Bennett was made much of by Howard as proof of his good faith. Remember both he and Reith, when the story broke, said there was no obligation for Reith to pay.

Well guess what? Way back in May, Finance wrote to Reith saying it would issue him a debit notice for the full amount, based on legal advice that he WAS liable. That advice was given by a legal officer in the department. (Finance today refused to release that advice.)

Reith said no. Instead, he sent Finance a cheque for $950 a week later, which he claimed was the cost of calls made by his son Paul, to whom he unlawfully gave the card details to make private calls. On October nine, the day before the story broke, Finance again wrote to Reith demanding he pay up as legally required. Read the rest of this entry »

A Bugg in the farce of the Reith Telecard affair

In From the Archives, Margo Kingston, Telecard Affair on January 9, 2013 at 12:54 AM

By Margo Kingston
Source: Webdiary SMH
November 22, 2000

Mr Bugg during a senate legal and constitutional legislation committee.

Mr Bugg during a senate legal and constitutional legislation committee. Photo: JACKY GHOSSEIN

Every year Senators get to quiz bureaucrats and statutory officers on their performance and the success or otherwise of government policies. It’s called “Senate Estimates”, is designed to ensure that public money is well spent and is one of many reasons why the Senate is the last hope for Parliament, representing the people, to get answers not spin doctored by the executive (the Prime Minister and his ministers). Freedom FROM information is the executive’s motto but in Senate estimates, evidence is under oath, so those under the gun have to be more careful than politicians are with the truth.

Today, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional committee got its chance to put the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Damian Bugg QC, to the test on his handling of the Reith Telecard affair.

I’ve written about the behaviour of Mr Bugg extensively in the diary (see The Small Matter of Prosecution and Telecard Shenanigans) and his performance today only confirmed widespread concern that he has neglected his duty to preserve public confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice.

The Reith Telecard scandal burst into the public sphere just last month. His decision not to prosecute anyone for anything is the most controversial he has made as DPP. He must have realised he would be asked questions on the matter by Labor Senators. (Government Senators rarely if ever ask questions on behalf of the people and instead sit there to protect witnesses from having to reveal things the Government doesn’t want revealed. It’s called betrayal of the people.) Read the rest of this entry »

The small matter of prosecution on the Telecard Affair.

In From the Archives, Margo Kingston, Telecard Affair on January 9, 2013 at 12:50 AM

By Margo Kingston
Source: Webdiary SMH
October 16, 2000

Mr Peter Reith – Telecard Affair

To fill you in on DPP Damian Bugg to date.

His brief statement of last week made no mention of whether he would charge anyone apart from Reith and son but the Prime Minister’s office advised us today that Mr Bugg had decided not to prosecute anyone, including X and Y.

Solicitor-General David Bennett QC, briefed by John Howard to advise on civil liability, has reserved his position on whether Miss X or Mr Y are civilly liable. He says Miss X’s actions ”would, at first sight, give rise to an action against her for unjust enrichment”. She could also be ”liable to Telstra for deceit”. Of Mr Y, he says that on any version of events ”he acted dishonestly”.

So the question is, why won’t Bugg prosecute Y or X for fraud?

Attorney-General Daryl Williams QC, as his is wont, won’t say anything except that Bugg is an independent statutory officer and all answers must come from him, if he choses to make them.

But Peter Reith – God bless his soul – has effectively demanded criminal action against Miss X and Mr Y. He’s a lawyer, too, and he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that his son Paul, who lived in the same house as Miss X but denies giving her the Telecard number and PIN, would have to take the stand.

He also doesn’t seem to have a problem with what the public’s reaction might be to the pollie and his son, who are at the head of the chain of events which led to the fraud, not being charged while the non-pollies further down the chain were. Read the rest of this entry »

More on the Reith Telecard affair

In From the Archives, Margo Kingston, Telecard Affair on January 8, 2013 at 6:49 AM

By Margo Kingston
Source: Webdiary SMH
Date: October 30, 2000

Main players in the Telecard Affair.

On Friday, October 20, the pollies perks minister Senator Chris Ellison awoke to the Herald’s publication of an explosive document which raised yet more questions about his administration during the Reith Telecard blowout.

We obtained the document on Thursday, and on the same day, I wrote to him as follows:

Senator Chris Ellison,

Special Minister of State,

Canberra

Dear Sir,

RE: PETER REITH’S TELECARD.

I request answers to the following questions by close of business today.

(1) When did you first become aware that present or former staff of Mr Reith had been using Mr Reith’s Telecard?
(2) What action did your take upon learning of this unauthorised use of Mr Reith’s Telecard?
(3) On what date were your first informed that the Australian Federal Police would be called in to investigate?
(4) On what date did you inform Mr Reith that police could be called in?
(5) On what date did you inform the Prime Minister that police could be called in?

Yours sincerely,

MARGO KINGSTON

Chief of Staff, Sydney Morning Herald Canberra bureau Read the rest of this entry »

Tracing the Telecard affair

In From the Archives, Margo Kingston, Telecard Affair on January 8, 2013 at 4:18 AM

By Margo Kingston and Mike Seccombe
Source: Webdiary SMH
Date: October 22nd, 2000

Peter Reith Telecard Scandal $50,000

DAY ONE

Tuesday, October 10

The Canberra Times reveals a Federal Police investigation into Peter
Reith’s $50,000 phone bill after he gave his number and PIN to son Paul
for private calls. Howard says Reith revealed the fraud to him in May,
nine months after Reith was told, and that he accepted legal advice
from Attorney-General Daryl Williams to send the file to police. Howard
says he wouldn’t give his Telecard to a family member but “I certainly
don’t regard that as a hanging offence”.

Howard says he doesn’t know how the fraud went on for five years and
that it doesn’t matter because “I don’t think people use Telecards any
more”. (Special Minister of State Chris Ellison – the man in charge of
politician’s perks – later reveals that 210 of the 224 MPs have
Telecards.) Howard kept the fraud secret because it was only “an
allegation”. He pre-empts a decision by the Commonwealth Director of
Public Prosecutions, Damian Bugg, QC, whether to prosecute, saying
Reith’s delivery of his Telecard details to Paul was not fraud.

Reith says he “personally stopped using the card in about 1994”.
(Finance sent Reith a new card in a double-sealed envelope for security
on September 9, 1993.)

Reith tells Parliament his son was interviewed by police in July
and “strongly denied” passing on the Telecard details. He admits that
he breached a determination of the Remuneration Tribunal that Telecards
must only be used “personally, to make telephone calls on parliamentary
or electorate business”. He confessed this “quite openly to the PM”. He
tells Parliament that in 1994 he told his son that “if you have some
particular reason to contact me, this is a means that you can use to do
so”. Read the rest of this entry »