Dec 4, 2013

Senior public servant sacked for being a whistleblower, ICAC told – Sydney Morning Herald

By Michaela Whitbourn

The head of the NSW State Emergency Service, Murray Kear, sacked a whistleblower who raised concerns about the misuse of funds by one of his mates, a corruption inquiry has been told.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption heard on Tuesday that Mr Kear “allowed the importance of … mateship to permeate the manner in which he administered a significant public entity”.

Mr Kear sacked Deputy Commissioner Tara McCarthy in May after she initiated investigations into the use of SES funds by her fellow deputy, Steven Pearce.

The ICAC heard Mr Kear and Mr Pearce had known each other since at least 2006 and “the two men and their families holiday together”.

Counsel assisting the ICAC, Michael Fordham, SC, said Mr Kear faced a potential criminal charge if the inquiry found Ms McCarthy was “terminated as a reprisal” for investigating Mr Pearce.

Ms McCarthy was employed in November 2012 to review procurement contracts and deliver budget savings.

In his opening address, Mr Fordham said Ms McCarthy’s moves to ensure “appropriate governance” relating to overtime, use of motor vehicles, parking and travel caused some “disquiet” in the SES ranks.

She had investigated the use by Mr Pearce of his corporate credit card to pay for roof-racks “to carry surfboards” on his SES vehicle and later to pay for electric brakes to be installed “for the towing of his camper trailer”.

Mr Kear signed off on the installations on the basis the money was repaid 15 months and two years respectively after the events.

After further credit card statements were brought to Ms McCarthy, she engaged public service auditor IAB to do a “desktop audit”, which uncovered potential irregularities totalling more than $11,000.

Ms McCarthy had also raised concerns about Mr Pearce approving $60,000 worth of overtime for one colleague, the private use of a company car by another, and entering into two consultancy agreements worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The inquiry heard Mr Pearce “provided badging and logos” so the contracts would look like SES documents. The contracts were later terminated.

“The 1902 short story about a cursed talisman that grants wishes, The Monkey’s Paw, written by W.W. Jacobs, opens with the line: ‘Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it’,” Mr Fordham said.

“Commissioner Kear and the SES needed an efficient, process-driven person to guide the SES and improve its governance. That is exactly what it got in Ms McCarthy.

“Having got governance and accountability it began to interfere with what seems to have been regarded as an appropriate status quo.”

Mr Fordham said Ms McCarthy saved the SES “significant amounts of money” during her tenure.

Despite the fact that there were “never any competence or performance issues” arising out of her employment, she was not given a chance to comment before she was sacked.

“It is telling that a cab had already been arranged to take Ms McCarthy home,” Mr Fordham said.

“Commissioner Kear openly stated that one or both of his deputies had to go. He chose Tara McCarthy.”

The inquiry heard that Mr Kear had made false statements to ICAC investigators.

He also failed to ‘identify, acknowledge of appropriately manage the clear conflict of interest that arose out of his relationship” with Mr Pearce.

Mr Kear took leave earlier this year pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Sydney Morning Herald – Senior public servant Tara McCarthy sacked for being a whistleblower, ICAC hears


Indigenous flag dot painting small