Senior WA public servant charged with corruption over $2.5 million rort

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By Hannah Barry, Nathan Hondros and Marta Pascual Juanola

Updated November 15, 2019 — 9.44amfirst published November 14, 2019 — 5.14pm

A senior West Australian public servant who was once in charge of the integrity and audit function of the Department of Communities has been charged over a $2.5 million rort in what could be one of the worst cases of public sector corruption in the country.

About Senior
Senior (shortened as Sr.) means “the elder” in Latin and is often used as a suffix for the elder of two or more people in the same family with the same given name, usually a parent or grandparent. It may also refer to:

Senior (name), a surname or given name
Senior (athletics), an age athletics category
Senior (education), a student in the final year of high school, college or university
Senior debt, a form of corporate finance
Senior status, form of semi-retirement for United States federal judges
Senior citizen, a common designation for a person 65 and older in UK and US English
Senior producer, a title given usually to the second most senior person of a film of television production.

Senior WA public servant charged with corruption over $2.5 million rort

About public
In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, and the public (a.k.a. the general public) is the totality of such groupings. This is a different concept to the sociological concept of the Öffentlichkeit or public sphere. The concept of a public has also been defined in political science, psychology, marketing, and advertising. In public relations and communication science, it is one of the more ambiguous concepts in the field. Although it has definitions in the theory of the field that have been formulated from the early 20th century onwards, it has suffered in more recent years from being blurred, as a result of conflation of the idea of a public with the notions of audience, market segment, community, constituency, and stakeholder.The name “public” originates with the Latin publicus (also poplicus), from populus, to the English word ‘populace’, and in general denotes some mass population (“the people”) in association with some matter of common interest. So in political science and history, a public is a population of individuals in association with civic affairs, or affairs of office or state. In social psychology, marketing, and public relations, a public has a more situational definition. John Dewey defined (Dewey 1927) public as a group of people who, in facing a similar problem, recognize it and organize themselves to address it. Dewey’s definition of a public is thus situational: people organized about a situation. Built upon this situational definition of a public is the situational theory of publics by James E. Grunig (Grunig 1983), which talks of nonpublics (who have no problem), latent publics (who have a problem), aware publics (who recognize that they have a problem), and active publics (who do something about their problem).In public relations and communication theory, a public is distinct from a stakeholder or a market. A public is a subset of the set of stakeholders for an organization, that comprises those people concerned with a specific issue. Whilst a market has an exchange relationship with an organization, and is usually a passive entity that is created by the organization, a public does not necessarily have an exchange relationship, and is both self-creating and self-organizing. Publics are targeted by public relations efforts. In this, target publics are those publics whose involvement is necessary for achieving organization goals; intervening publics are opinion formers and mediators, who pass information to the target publics; and influentials are publics that the target publics turn to for consultation, whose value judgements are influential upon how a target public will judge any public relations material. The public is often targeted especially in regard to political agendas as their vote is necessary in order to further the progression of the cause. As seen in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2004, it was necessary to “win a critical mass of states and a critical mass of public support” in order to get same-sex marriage passed in the commonwealth.Public relations theory perspectives on publics are situational, per Dewey and Grunig; mass, where a public is simply viewed as a population of individuals; agenda-building, where a public is viewed as a condition of political involvement that is not transitory; and “homo narrans”, where a public is (in the words of Gabriel M. Vasquez, assistant professor in the School of Communication at the University of Houston) a collection of “individuals that develop a group consciousness around a problematic situation and act to solve the problematic situation” (Vasquez 1993, pp. 209). Public schools are often under controversy for their “agenda-building,” especially in debates over whether to teach a religious or secular curriculum. The promotion of an agenda is commonplace whenever one is in a public environment, but schools have exceptional power in that regard. In the public school system, it is the responsibility of those within the system to determine what agenda is being promoted.
One non-situational concept of a public is that of Kirk Hallahan, professor at Colorado State University, who defines a public as “a group of people who relate to an organization, who demonstrate varying degrees of activity—passivity, and who might (or might not) interact with others concerning their relationship with the organization”.Samuel Mateus’s 2011 paper “Public as Social Experience” considered to view the concept by an alternative point of view: the public “is neither a simple audience constituted by media consumers nor just a rational-critical agency of a Public Sphere”. He argued “the concept should also be seen in the light of a publicness principle, beyond a critic and manipulative publicity (…). In accordance, the public may be regarded as the result of the social activities made by individuals sharing symbolic representations and common emotions in publicness. Seen with lower-case, the concept is a set of subjectivities who look publicly for a feeling of belonging. So, in this perspective, the public is still a fundamental notion to social life although in a different manner in comparison to 18th century Public Sphere’s Public. He means above all the social textures and configurations where successive layers of social experience are built up.”The general public also sets social norms which causes people to express themselves in socially acceptable manners. Although this is present within every community, this is often especially applicable within the transgender community as they feel the need to “perform” to a certain set of expectations to be seen as their true gender.

But Attorney General John Quigley says the public will have to trust the government and the CCC to investigate the extent of the alleged corruption and those responsible.

Department of Communities assistant director general Paul Whyte, 56, has been charged with two counts of official corruption.

Senior WA public servant charged with corruption over $2.5 million rort

Department of Communities assistant director general Paul Whyte, inset, has been charged with official corruption after allegedly misappropriating $2.5 million of public money.

Department of Communities assistant director general Paul Whyte, inset, has been charged with official corruption after allegedly misappropriating $2.5 million of public money. Credit:WA Police/Linkedin

A second man, Jacob Anthonisz, 43, of Como, has also been charged with two counts of official corruption. He is not a public servant.

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Police swooped on two properties in Mosman Park in Perth on Thursday in a dramatic bid “to prevent further loss of any government funds”. Both men are in police custody and have had bail refused.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the charges related to alleged criminal activity with a combined value of more than $2.5 million of public money.

Mr Quigley told Gareth Parker on 6PR’s Mornings program that the men were arrested to “put the foot on the hose” before the CCC launched a more fulsome inquiry.

“I can’t talk about money or how far this will go,” Mr Quigley said.

“As I said, you’re going to have to trust me. I know that that’s a big one, but the public is going to have to trust me and the CCC and the Premier of Western Australia to get on top of this.”

The Attorney General acknowledged there had been a “list of shame” of public servants recently outed by the CCC.

“Some of these matters go back before we came to power,” Mr Quigley said.

“Some of these leakages have been going on for quite some time and I will tell you I’ve been speaking to the Commissioner only yesterday and he is pleased with the co-operation, full co-operation he’s getting from my office and from especially from the Premier of Western Australia.”

Opposition leader Liza Harvey didn’t lay the blame at the feet of the Premier but said his machinery of government changes made in 2017 had caused such chaos in the public service it created the circumstances where corruption could flourish.

“Corruption thrives in chaotic environments, and that is clearly what we are seeing at the moment,” she said.

“What we are not hearing from the Premier, is what he is going to do about it.”

Mr Dawson said on Thursday police would allege the two men had manufactured false invoices for payments of money to two companies for which they operate connected bank accounts.

“It is alleged invoices raised from the Department of Communities corporate operations account were false and not for any work, services or products,” he said.

The payments approvals were made on average on a monthly basis.

“Once the money was deposited into the main company accounts, it’s alleged it was withdrawn and converted for their own personal use,” Mr Dawson said.

A criminal investigation is ongoing and both men appeared in Perth Magistrates Court on Friday. They were not required to plead.

“This criminal investigation has had to be brought forward to interrupt the flow of public monies in what we are alleging is in a corrupt manner,” Mr Dawson said.

“Properties have been placed under freezing orders under the provision of the Criminal Property Confiscation Act.”

[I’m] shocked, disappointed, embarrassed. I wish I’d done more.

Department of Communities Director General Michelle Andrews

Corruption and Crime Commission chief executive officer Ray Warnes said decisive action was taken on Thursday by police in order to stop the alleged corruption and protect the state’s finances.

“If proven this may be the most serious case of public sector corruption in Australia – certainly in Western Australia,” he said.

Department of Communities Director General Michelle Andrews said she was “shocked and disappointed” at the events. Ms Andrews has only been in her role for just more than six months.

“To the people of Western Australia, I am sure you must be asking how could this happen; I too am asking the same question,” she said.

Mr Whyte headed the integrity and audit arm of the department until Ms Andrews began her tenure in May, and she said she recognised the role required an independent operator.

‘But clearly further work needs to be done by all of us to build a department with a stronger culture built on integrity, honesty and service delivery, and to regain public trust and confidence in us,” she said.

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“[I’m] shocked, disappointed, embarrassed. I wish I’d done more.”

When asked if she would resign over the investigation, Ms Andrews said she would leave it for others to decide.

WA Premier Mark McGowan has ordered an independent review into the Housing Authority, inside the Department of Communities, focusing on governance, legal and administrative arrangements underpinning the authority.

“If proven, what has come out today is absolutely appalling and would be a complete betrayal of every Western Australian,” Mr McGowan said.

“The Housing Authority is responsible for helping the most vulnerable people in our community and the public rightly expects it to operate with the highest standards of integrity.”

Ms Andrews moved to assuage those served by the department and the Housing Authority the bombshell news would not impact on service delivery.

“All Western Australians should expect that myself, and my leadership team, will take every step to stop corrupt and improper practices,” she said.

Hannah Barry

Hannah Barry is a journalist for WAtoday.

Nathan Hondros

Nathan is WAtoday’s political reporter.

Marta Pascual Juanola
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Marta is an award-winning photographer and journalist with a focus on social justice issues.

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