The Star Enquiry, Mark II (Or: Snow White, Cont’d)

Since the first Star enquiry by Ms Furness (now counsel assisting the royal commission) missed so much, a second enquiry had to be held, quickly, to calm obviously widespread public concerns. As reported by The Daily Telegraph (20/5/12), “it was hard to escape the impression that Ms Furness, with all her powers, had failed to get under the casino’s skin. That’s why the current enquiry happened.”

For the second enquiry, the Sydney Morning Herald (11/9/12) reported that, “according to a cost agreement between Ms Furness and the (gambling) authority, the work was to take place between February and April and was ‘likely to involve two or more weeks work’.” The Sydney Morning Herald had to resort to a freedom of information claim to find out how much Ms Furness was paid. The figure reported was “A$200,775 (about US$210,000) for her work.” As the newspaper dryly commented, this “is almost twice the $110,000 fine imposed on the casino … for breaching its statutory obligations over the sacking of its former managing director, Sid Vaikunta, for sexual harassment.”

Good money if you can get it.

Of much more immediate concern to Sydney’s media was the perceived attacks on them for pointing out the shortcomings of the first enquiry and for reporting whistleblowers’ comments. The Daily Telegraph (20/5/12) claimed that, “instead of thanking the media for helping to expose problems at Star, Ms Furness’s inquiry has discredited journalists and their sources.” This was under immunity from defamation laws.

The Australian (18/5/12) noted that, “by reporting allegations of impropriety … the media played a key role in triggering a second report by Gail Furness.” The Daily Telegraph (15/4/12) concluded that, “whatever she decides, one thing’s for certain: it won’t be Ms Furness who is humiliated this time around.”

The first enquiry had been held in private, but the second one was public, thus exposing the identities of whistleblowers and ex-employees who gave evidence. The Sunday Telegraph (15/4/12) reported that, “every public critic of The Star has been ordered to appear at the enquiry and be cross-examined.”

The Sunday Telegraph (20/5/12) described the cross-examination process as follows: “the cross-examination by her assisting counsel, Michael Wigney, appeared to focus in many instances on establishing they weren’t whistleblowers but disgruntled and embittered axe-grinders.” The article concluded by noting that, “it is very difficult to find people willing to speak freely and openly about their experience of a powerful and influential organisation like The Star.”

To put this in the context of the royal commission, the same would undoubtedly apply to even more powerful and influential organisations like the Catholic Church.

Poor Ms Furness appears to attract controversy. One point in her official CV lists a position of counsel assisting an investigation into 19 deaths at the Campbelltown and Camden hospitals. At the second public enquiry into the deaths, lawyers for the sacked head of the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) called for Ms Furness to stand down, “because Ms Furness was the former deputy of the HCCC and its representative” and thus had, “a conflict of interest” (ABC News, 8/4/04). They also called for the commissioner of the enquiry to stand down for, “damaging Ms Adrian’s (the former head of the HCCC) reputation in an interim (first) report.”

No record can be found that the commissioner or his counsel assisting, Ms Furness, heeded the call.

TOMORROW: Remuneration for commissioners and staff

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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