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Australia NT children's commissioner Colleen Gwynne recruited former casino cruise ship manager to high-paying job, court hears

13:37  08 april  2022
13:37  08 april  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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A project manager role in the NT children's commissioner's office was given to a casino cruise ship manager. (Supplied: Instagram/ Royal Caribbean) © Provided by ABC NEWS A project manager role in the NT children's commissioner's office was given to a casino cruise ship manager. (Supplied: Instagram/ Royal Caribbean)

Northern Territory children's commissioner Colleen Gwynne allegedly appointed a former cruise ship casino manager with no government experience to a highly paid role, a court has heard.

That was before she allegedly made a "captain's pick" to appoint another friend to a high-ranking job within her office.

The former casino manager was personally known to Ms Gwynne and had recently helped to facilitate a discounted cruise holiday for Ms Gwynne and her partner.

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Ms Gwynne is facing one count of abuse of office.

Today was day five of a committal hearing in Darwin's local court to determine if the matter will proceed to trial.

The charge relates to the appointment of Laura Dewson, a friend of Ms Gwynne's, to the deputy children's commissioner role and Ms Gwynne's alleged conduct within the recruitment process.

In closing submissions today, prosecutor Victoria Engels detailed how, prior to the alleged improper recruitment process involving Ms Dewson, Ms Gwynne was involved in the recruitment of Kathryn Francombe.

The court heard Ms Gwynne's office appointed Ms Francombe, who had spent the past seven years managing a casino on an international cruise ship to a "project officer (monitoring and audit)" role within her office, at the "SA01" (senior administrative officer) public service level.

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At today's rate, that role could earn between $123,000 to $138,000.

The job offer came about a year after Ms Francombe helped facilitate a discounted seven-day cruise for Ms Gwynne and her partner, with photographs of the pair together on a boat tendered in court as evidence.

After the 2017 cruise, the court heard Ms Gwynne sent Ms Francombe an email in which she refers to her by a nickname, "Spot", and writes: "absolutely epic, can't thank you enough".

Ms Francombe had no prior public service government experience and was appointed to a role within the children's commissioner's office that was not advertised, with no reference checks, at a jump from her casino manager salary of about $81,000.

The Northern Territory children's commissioner's office is tasked with ensuring the wellbeing of vulnerable children in the NT and has oversight responsibilities for youth detention facilities, including the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin.

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The court heard in August 2018, Ms Gwynne sent Ms Francombe an email with the position description attached which said only: "Could you do this."

She replied the next day: "Colleen, this would be an enormous opportunity."

Ms Francombe was later awarded the job, but eventually her pay had to be reduced after it became apparent to many she was underqualified and working "out of her depth".

"She did the job so badly, they had to take her down to an AO7 [administrative officer 7]," prosecutor Ms Engels told the court.

The recruitment of Ms Francombe does not form part of the criminal charge levelled against Ms Gwynne.

But Ms Engels said it was relevant as a jury would have to take into account "whether the conduct is an isolated incident or repeated upon similar conduct or as part of the course of conduct."

Yesterday, Ms Gwynne's lawyer told the court the judge was free to find the case was of a trivial nature and throw it out. He raised concerns that much of the evidence related to the period prior to the actual charge period.

"If you reach the view it is a merely technical or trivial conduct, as made out on the evidence, the court may dismiss the case," Ms Gwynne's lawyer, Phillip Boulten SC, told the court.

"In the scale of seriousness of offences of corrupt conduct, this is at the bottom of the scale," he said.

The matter will return to court in January next year.


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This is interesting!