The Courier-Mail

Ex­ec­u­tive on fraud charges

- EX­CLU­SIVE JOHN ROLFE

A FOR­MER far north Queens­land coun­cil of­fi­cial has faced court ac­cused of or­gan­is­ing him­self a $500,000 sev­er­ance be­fore re­sign­ing and of mak­ing fraud­u­lent pay­ments to the coun­cil’s mayor.

For­mer Hope Vale Abo­rig­i­nal Shire Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Lee Robert­son al­legedly used fal­si­fied doc­u­ments to ar­range the sev­er­ance pack­age and to jus­tify four pay­ments to­talling $58,400 made to Mayor Greg McLean.

Robert­son, 52, was charged with five counts of fraud and five counts of fraud­u­lent fal­si­fi­ca­tion of records.

He ap­peared in Cairns Mag­is­trates Court yesterday and will reap­pear on Oc­to­ber 28. McLean, 52, faces four charges and is back in Cooktown Mag­is­trates Court in De­cem­ber. HAVE you heard the one about the hol­i­day­mak­ers from Mel­bourne and Ho­bart who flew to Syd­ney to go on a cruise to Mel­bourne and Ho­bart?

That’s pre­cisely what hap­pened when Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Pam de­railed a Car­ni­val Spirit trip to New Cale­do­nia in the South Pa­cific in March.

Three hours into the eight-day cruise out of Syd­ney, the cap­tain an­nounced the up­grad­ing of the storm meant the itin­er­ary had to be changed to steer the ship south, out of harm’s way.

Ho­bart res­i­dent Ewan Sher­man (pic­tured) ended up shiv­er­ing in his home­town and said it was a “very ex­pen­sive way to go from Ho­bart to Syd­ney to Ho­bart to Syd­ney and then back to Ho­bart”.

Two pas­sen­gers told The Courier-Mail they met a hon­ey­moon­ing Ho­bart cou­ple who, when the cruise ar­rived in their home­town, went to work for the day.

Many cus­tomers went to a com­edy club while ashore in Mel­bourne, where Mr Sher­man said “the co­me­di­ans had a field day – nearly ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence was from Mel­bourne and Ho­bart pay­ing for a hol­i­day to Mel­bourne and Ho­bart”.

Some of the 2000 pas­sen­gers are su­ing the car­rier, al­leg­ing mis­lead­ing or de­cep­tive con­duct.

Class-ac­tion doc­u­ments filed in the NSW Supreme Court say there were warn­ings as early as March 6 of “the po­ten­tial ge­n­e­sis of a trop­i­cal cy­clone” in the area. Pam would go on to dev­as­tate Van­u­atu on March 13.

“On the warn­ings and in­for­ma­tion avail­able to it, (Car­ni­val) knew, or ought to have known, that it was not safe for the ship to pro­ceed on the cruise to the re­gion of New Cale­do­nia,” the court doc­u­ments say.

Had pas­sen­gers been ad­vised of the change “in a timely man­ner, they would have can­celled and claimed a full re­fund”.

In­stead, they got a $150 on-board credit and an of­fer of a 50 per cent dis­count on another cruise. Car­ni­val could face a re­fund bill of at least $3 mil­lion.

Mel­bourne mum and lead plain­tiff Lu­cre­tia de Jong said she was off work sick for two weeks af­ter the cruise be­cause she did not have ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing for the chilly weather.

Arnold Thomas & Becker part­ner Al­lanah Good­win, who is run­ning the class ac­tion, said that as many as 400 pas­sen­gers left the cruise in Mel­bourne.

Queens­lan­der Dar­ren Larsen said, in his opin­ion, leav­ing port was a “prof­i­teer­ing ex­er­cise” for Car­ni­val. As for Mel­bourne, “it was de­press­ing, and bloody cold”.

A Car­ni­val spokesman said “the safety of our guests and crew is al­ways the high­est pri­or­ity”, and when pas­sen­gers boarded, it was Car­ni­val’s full in­ten­tion to de­liver a South Pa­cific cruise itin­er­ary as planned.

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