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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