By ERWIN CHLANDA
Members of the same family, including former CEO and Deputy to the Territory Administrator Pat Miller, have approved “advance payments” to themselves and each other from funds of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS).
They are or were employees of CAALAS. With four cases the applicant and the authorising officer were one and the same person: in one case Mrs Miller and three, her son, Allan.
This is revealed in documents leaked to the Alice Springs News Online this morning.
But Mr Miller says the practice has been in place at CAALAS, for “20 years plus” and used by numerous staff members for all kinds of purposes: “You could call some these hardship payments.” However, not until he was Administration Manager last year were the advances formalised on application forms.
The leaked documents also reveal advice to the Attorney-General’s Department of the Australian Government “that [refund] payments are being made each pay week [and] most of the advanced funds will have been repaid by the next pay run”.
Mr Miller says he repaid the advances he had received at the time he was made redundant in October last year, or before.
The department was advised of the practice by senior lawyer (now acting CEO) Mark O’Reilly. He described the situation in an email as “an issue of concern within the organisation”.
He said CAALAS chairman Robert Le Rossignol had asked him to “alert the department as a matter of urgency”. Mr O’Reilly said the transactions had been detected by an employee of CAALAS who had told him of his concerns about what “amounted to loans by CAALAS to staff members”. The email was sent on October 8, 2014.
Said Mr O’Reilly: “The Board were unaware of the advance payments.
“They are also keen to enquire if there is any particular response or further action required.”
Mr Miller says it wasn’t a function of the board to deal with issues like that, but there was a system of completing the forms, having them approved, and then transferring them to the finance department. Asked what happened then – were the transactions reflected in the financial records? – Mr Miller said this was not part of his job.
The News has offered the right of reply to Mrs Miller and Mr O’Reilly. Mrs Miller did not respond and has not to any of our many recent attempts to get in touch to her. Mr O’Reilly declined to comment.
We have also sought comment from the Attorney-General’s Department which has recently conducted an inquiry into CAALAS. We have not received any response by time of publication.
The department recently declined to release the report of its inquiry to the News, saying only that it is an “internal report [and will not be] released publicly”.
We understand that report also deals with unauthorised uses of a credit card, and that the department has now appointed a “funding controller”.
The advance payments of which we are aware were all made to members of the Miller family. The smallest amount was $1000, the highest $6,500.
One document shows that Mrs Miller (above, left) signed for a $2000 advance to herself as the applicant as well as the person authorising it. It was to be repaid in two installments of $1000 over the following month.
All the advances were made in July and August last year. Each form included details of refund arrangements. All were to be paid by installment over a relatively short period.