Report suggests misuse of funds

Author: Gary Hughes
Date: 14th March 1995
Publication: The Age

A state-funded Koori education organisation run by the brother and sister of a Victorian Aboriginal leader may have misused $10,000 of its funds to help pay off the leader's private business debts.

The payment came to light during the investigation by Mr Ian Viner, QC, into allegations of misconduct made against Mr Alf Bamblett, the Victorian commissioner on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

Mr Viner said in his report that the $10,000 payment by the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated in July last year had ``every appearance of being an improper use of VAEAI's funds".

He recommended that the circumstances surrounding the payment be further investigated.

The VAEAI relies on the State Government for most of its $1 million annual budget. Last year it partnered the State Government in the controversial Koori Open Door Education program to develop two new Aboriginal schools as alternatives to the then-closed Northlands campus.

The president of the VAEAI is Mr Bamblett's sister, Mrs Mary Atkinson, and its general manager is his brother, Mr Lionel Bamblett.

The VAEAI payment was among further details that emerged yesterday of the contents of the Viner report, which was tabled in Parliament late last week.

Mr Viner said the VAEAI paid $32,690 to Mr Bamblett's private business, Koori Fleet Management, for two cars in January 1994. But the cars were repossessed the following month by the dealer, Gary Lechte Toyota, when KFM's cheque bounced.

In May 1994, $20,000 was repaid to the dealer and one of the repossessed cars released to the VAEAI. Mr Viner said there was a ``deep suspicion" that the $20,000 came from a ``contrived" $36,558 termination payment made to another KFM partner, Mr Phillip Cooper, from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, where he was state manager.

Mr Viner said Mr Bamblett and a third KFM partner, Mr Ken Saunders, were also both legal service directors and attended the meeting where the termination payout was approved.

In July 1994, a further payment of $13,700 $10,000 from the VAEAI and the rest from Mr Cooper was paid to Gary Lechte Toyota and the second repossessed car released to the association.

``This extra $10,000 appears to have been paid by VAEAI in order to save the partners of KFM themselves finding that sum to meet the outstanding debt owed to Gary Lechte Toyota," the Viner report said.

Mr Viner said he attempted to question Mr Lionel Bamblett about the payment, but he refused to cooperate on the grounds his organisation did not receive money from Atsic. He did not, however, deny the facts when they were put to him, Mr Viner said.

Mr Viner said Mr Alf Bamblett had ``endeavored to make out" he was not involved in the day-to-day running of KFM and had resigned as a partner in March 1994. Yet he was still signing KFM cheques after this date and was still effectively operating as a partner.

Mr Viner said Mr Bamblett had failed to declare his interest in KFM as required under the Atsic Act as well as not revealing the link to Aboriginal organisations that used its services, including those with which he was connected.