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Chapter 2 Corruption in the making

Corruption in government, including non-government self-regulators, undermines the credibility of that government. It erodes the trust of its citizens. 

Absent Justice - Conflict of Interest

On 30 November 1993, this Telstra internal memo FOI document folio D01248, from Ted Benjamin, Telstra’s Group Manager – Customer Affairs and TIO Council Member writes to Ian Campbell, Customer Projects Executive Office. Subject: TIO AND COT. This was written seven days after Alan had signed the TIO-administered Fast Track Settlement Proposal (FTSP). In this memo, Mr Benjamin states:

“At today’s Council Meeting the TIO reported on his involvement with the COT settlement processes. It was agreed that any financial contributions made by Telecom to the Cot arbitration process was not a matter for Council but was a private matter between Telecom, AUSTEL and the TIO.

I hope you agree with this.”

This shows that Telstra was partly or wholly funding the arbitration process.

If the process had been truly transparent then the claimants would have been provided with information regarding the funds – specifically, the amounts provided to the arbitrator, arbitrators resource unit, TIO and TIO special counsel for their individual professional advice throughout four COT arbitrations.

It is still not known how the arbitrator billed Telstra for his professional fees or how the TIO billed Telstra for his fees, and those of the TIO-appointed resource unit and special counsel. This raises the questions:

Without knowing how the defendants distributed these payments to the parties involved in the first four arbitrations, it would be impossible for the TIO and AUSTEL (now the ACMA) to continue to state that the COT arbitrations were independently administered.

To summarise the issue: during these four arbitrations, the defence was allowed to pay the arbitrator and those involved. How is this different to the defendant in a criminal matter being allowed to pay the judge? It is a clear and concerning conflict of interest.

Absent Justice - The Hon Richard Alston


Senator Richard Alston (Shadow Minister for Communications) discussed the Problem 1 document on 25 February 1994 during a Senate Estimates hearing. Another unseen document, dated 24 July 1992 and provided to Senator Richard Alston in August 1993, includes my phone number and my complaint that people ringing me get an RVA “service disconnected” message. Yet another document, dated 27 July 1992, discusses problems experienced by potential clients who tried to contact me from Station Pier in Melbourne. (See Arbitrator File No 60).

Some of these hand-written records go back to October 1991; many were fault complaints I had not recorded myself. Telstra, however, has never explained who authorised the withholding of these names (those who had complained to Telstra) from me. If I had known who could not contact me, I could have contacted them with an alternate contact number for future reference. Has the withholding of these names and the unavailability of my past historic fault documents related to the Jim Holmes issues mentioned below, i.e. (see documents A01554, A06507 and A06508  - TIO Evidence File No 7-A to 7-C)?

On 27 August 1993, Jim Holmes, Telstra’s corporate secretary (also TIO Board Member) wrote to me about the same ‘briefcase’ documents, noting:

“Although there is nothing in these documents to cause Telecom any concern in respect of your case, the documents remain Telecom’s property and therefore are confidential to us.”

Later in the letter:

“I would also ask that you do not make this material available to anyone else.”(See Open Letter File No/2)

Telstra’s FOI document dated 23 August 1993 and labelled as ‘folio R09830’ with the subject listed as ‘The Briefcase’ is alarming, to say the least. This document, which had been copied to Jim Holmes, notes:

“Subsequently it was realised that the other papers could be significant and these were faxed to (name deleted)but appear not to have been supplied to Austel at this point.

“The loose papers on retrofit could be sensitive and copies of all papers have been sent to.”(Arbitrator File No 62)

 

Jim Holmes - the plot continues. 

In three emails (A01554, A06507 and A06508), Telstra's corporate secretary Jim Holmes advised that the Leopard Fault data – Telstra’s technical data regarding exchange faults – was destroyed after 12 months. Mr Holmes was a member of the TIO board when the first four COT claimants, Gillan, Garms, Schorer and I, signed our arbitration agreements. Still, it seems Mr Holmes did not warn the government (which, after all, endorsed the arbitration agreements) or the TIO, who administered the arbitrations, that claimants would be unable to support their claims effectively because Telstra destroyed all historical data at least from 1992 on.

Have Telstra, The Hon. Richard Alston, and his fellow coalition government ministers ever considered what followed after Telstra kept this serious matter secret? Have Telstra and the Australian government ever considered the financial cost to each claimant as we tried to access information Telstra knew was destroyed years before we went into arbitration?

Each COT case accumulated costs that ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars while trying to access this non-existent fault data (and other Telstra data) to support our arbitration claims. Has the Senate ever considered the cost – not just in dollars – of the 18 months many senators spent from 1997 to 1999 assisting the COT cases in attempting to access technical documents that Telstra knew were destroyed years before? Telstra’s corporate secretary Jim Holmes knew this, as emails A01554, A06507, and A06508 show (see TIO Evidence File No 7-A to 7-C) , and he signed all four FTSP agreements for the four COT cases on 18 November 1993 while he was a TIO board member attending monthly board meetings where COT cases’ arbitration issues were discussed.

Yet he never advised the TIO of what he knew concerning the destroyed documents we were trying to access. This situation exemplifies why the COT arbitrations were such a mockery of the Australian legal system.

When Jim Holmes did not ensure the TIO board was notified that the COT cases might have problems trying to prove their historic phone complaints because Telstra had destroyed that data, he was partly responsible for the COT cases racking up thousands of dollars in wasted arbitration fees, including paying technical consultants for advice on what historical data was needed to support various claims, when that data no longer existed.

Mr Holmes did not advise the TIO (the administrator of the COT arbitrations) that the arbitration agreement the claimants were signing should be revised because there was no historical fault data.

Further, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Ms Phillipa Smith, and her director of investigations, John Wynack, were not told about this destroyed data when they investigated the four COT cases’ FOI issues in January 1994. They were still investigating these FOI issues in January 1999: FIVE years wasted searching for documents that were destroyed years before. The extent of the costs involved, as a direct result of Telstra concealing this destruction of documents, is phenomenal.

In 2006, when Trevor Hill was the Chairman of the TIO Board, and after he had received all three of these emails, if he had just notified the Government then, about the problems that Telstra’s destruction of all historic fault data had created for the COTs, there may have been a very different outcome to Senators Joyce and Coonan’s March 2006 Government evaluation of whether there was merit in the COT claims against Telstra. If nothing else, at least the Government bureaucrats would then have known that the allegations made by the COT Cases in relation to their FOI problems did have merit and some of those fourteen COT Cases might have been reopened by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA).

When the truth about a particular citizen is deliberately hidden, that often results in exactly the sort of situation that occurred, not just during the COT arbitrations in 1994 and 1995, but which festered on for another eleven years and which brought to a complete halt any proper assessment of my DCITA March/April 2006 claim that the Hon David Hawker MP, Speaker of the House of Representatives, helped me to present to Senator Coonan, a claim that clearly advised the DCITA assessors that I had experienced serious FOI problems that disrupted my 1994/95 arbitration.

 

Jim Holmes, Chris Vonwiller and Ted Benjamin

Absent Justice - The Hon Richard Alston 2

If any party reading today’s affirmation researches Chris Vonwiller, they will uncover that at the time of this document, and various senators investigated him for misleading the Senate concerning two COT cases and the telephone exchange their businesses were connected to. It has now been established that Mr Vonwiller did mislead the government in this regard.

Both Jim Holmes and Chris Vonwiller were on the TIO board at that time. Jim Holmes regularly attended TIO monthly meetings until at least June 1994, when COT arbitration matters were discussed.

The Senate Hansard of 26 September 1997 shows Telstra’s Ted Benjamin, a member of the TIO council, agreed with the second TIO, John Pinnock, that COT arbitration matters were discussed at TIO council meetings. The Senate slammed this conduct of the TIO allowing the defendants (Telstra) to be present during these meetings when no COT members were present, as possibly the most undemocratic situation for any ombudsman to have allowed.

Further, this affirmation shows Ted Benjamin waited a full 12 months before releasing my original FOI request of May 1994 to me on 23 May 1995. I presume he gained knowledge that Dr Hughes would bring down my award on 11 May 1995 through his attendance at these TIO council meetings and, therefore, waited until after 11 May 1995 before releasing the most explosive three documents of the whole arbitration process.

Three documents, N00005, N00006 and N000037 (part of the late-released FOI documents) are discussed on page six of my BCI report. Had Ted Benjamin released this information in May 1994, during my arbitration instead of after, Dr Hughes’ award would be vastly different: he could not have possibly brought down a finding until Telstra gave a good reason why they knowingly submitted false information to at least one of their witnesses, Mr Ian Joblin, concerning the Cape Bridgewater BCI tests.

This collusion and undemocratic situation of the first TIO Warwick Smith and second TIO John Pinnock, allowing the defence to be present during arbitration discussions, does not stop there.

Every six months in our Australian parliament, inside the party room, the leaking of government-privileged information surfaces, and the person responsible is held to account. Warwick Smith giving in-confidence COT case coalition government-privileged information to Telstra is one thing. Still, for Warwick Smith to be appointed the administrator of the COT FTSP within 13 days of this 10 November 1993 email and then to allow both Telstra’s Jim Holmes, Chris Vonwiller and Ted Benjamin to be present at the TIO monthly meetings is a matter of grave concern especially as one of those TIO members misled and deceived the Senate about the telephone exchanges of COT cases Ann Garms and Maureen Gillan.

The TIO office has never answered whether other telephone exchanges were discussed at these TIO council and board meetings when COT cases’ arbitration claim material discussed the poor performances of exchanges. The COT cases will never know what deliberately wrong advice these three Telstra executives gave to the TIO at TIO council and board meetings, which then trickled back to the arbitrator and the TIO-appointed resource unit. 

How can you have only the defendants present at these monthly council and board meetings (two meetings per month) without one claimant present?

Telstra’s own internal email (I masked Ted Benjamin’s name) shows Ted Benjamin was providing Telstra’s Ian Campbell with TIO council-privileged COT case information. (See following link Arbitrator File No/70 A, FOI folio D01248)

How can the Australian government disregard that Warwick Smith crossed the floor by discussing government-privileged information with Telstra and then allowing three of its executives to be present at the monthly TIO council and board meetings? This placed all of the COT case arbitration processes into disrepute.

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Absent Justice Ebook

Telstra is run by 'thugs in suits' 

Absent Justice - My Story - Senator Ron Boswell

Telstra threats carried out. 

Page 180 ERC&A, from the official Australian Senate Hansard dated November 29, 1994, details Senator Ron Boswell's inquiry to Telstra's legal directorate regarding withholding my 'Freedom of Information' documents during arbitration. This issue arose from my assistance to the AFP in their investigations into Telstra's interception of my telephone conversations and related faxes. Notably, forty-three arbitration-related claim documents faxed to the arbitrator never arrived, as indicated in his arbitration document schedule. This alarming event, which has not undergone a transparent investigation as of June 1994, demands attention.

“Why did Telecom advise the Commonwealth Ombudsman that Telecom withheld FOI documents from Alan Smith because Alan Smith provided Telecom FOI documents to the Australian Federal Police during their investigation?”

After receiving a hollow response from Telstra, which the senator, the AFP and I all knew was utterly false, the senator states:

“…Why would Telecom withhold vital documents from the AFP? Also, why would Telecom penalise COT members for providing documents to the AFP which substantiate that Telecom had conducted unauthorised interceptions of COT members’ communications and subsequently dealt in the intercepted information by providing that information to Telecom’s external legal advisers and others?” Senate Evidence File No 31)

As mentioned on this website, the threats against me during the arbitration proceedings have materialized, and the deliberate withholding of crucial documents is deeply troubling. Unfortunately, neither the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) nor the government has taken steps to investigate the harmful effects of this misconduct on my overall case presented to the arbitrator. Despite my cooperation with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in their inquiry into the illegal interception of phone conversations and faxes related to the arbitration, I still await their assistance.

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“Only I know from personal experience that your story is true, otherwise I would find it difficult to believe. I was amazed and impressed with the thorough, detailed work you have done in your efforts to find justice”

Sister Burke

“I am writing in reference to your article in last Friday’s Herald-Sun (2nd April 1993) about phone difficulties experienced by businesses.

I wish to confirm that I have had problems trying to contact Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp over the past 2 years.

I also experienced problems while trying to organise our family camp for September this year. On numerous occasions I have rung from both this business number 053 424 675 and also my home number and received no response – a dead line.

I rang around the end of February (1993) and twice was subjected to a piercing noise similar to a fax. I reported this incident to Telstra who got the same noise when testing.”

Cathy Lindsey

“…your persistence to bring about improvements to Telecom’s country services. I regret that it was at such a high personal cost.”

The Hon David Hawker MP

“A number of people seem to be experiencing some or all of the problems which you have outlined to me. …

“I trust that your meeting tomorrow with Senators Alston and Boswell is a profitable one.”

Hon David Hawker MP

“…the very large number of persons that had been forced into an arbitration process and have been obliged to settle as a result of the sheer weight that Telstra has brought to bear on them as a consequence where they have faced financial ruin if they did not settle…”

Senator Carr

“Only I know from personal experience that your story is true, otherwise I would find it difficult to believe. I was amazed and impressed with the thorough, detailed work you have done in your efforts to find justice”

Sister Burke

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