CEO’s booze and hotels spending to be probed
The chief executive of an Indigenous disability organisation has been stood down pending an investigation into his use of taxpayer funds, as leaked bank statements reveal hundreds of thousands was spent on alcohol, fine dining and ritzy hotels.
The board of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation, which provides transport services for Indigenous people in remote communities, has demanded a forensic audit be undertaken and voted to engage an investigator to examine the conduct of the organisation's administration.
As a result of the vote on Monday afternoon, Jim Golden-Brown was stood down from his position and stripped from his access to NATSIC credit and debit cards, with four new directors brought on to the board.
In previous interviews with NCA NewsWire, seven current and former NATSIC board members and employees said they wanted to know how the $6 million allocated from the National Disability Insurance Scheme was spent.
Brian Newman, who was appointed acting CEO, said in a statement an investigation would be carried out into "allegations relating to the management of NATSIC under the incumbent CEO Mr Golden-Brown".
"Ultimately it is my task, as directed by the NATSIC board of directors, to investigate the allegations, provide the finding and a recommendation to the board on the conclusion of the investigation," he said.
"There has been no adverse finding established in relation to Mr Golden-Brown conduct as CEO at this point and there will be a strict adherence to procedural fairness under my administration as the acting CEO."
Mr Golden-Brown has previously denied any wrongdoing, saying previous audits had failed to show any evidence government funds had been misappropriated.
Bank statements from 2017 to 2020 seen by NCA NewsWire show more than $245,000 debited from NATSIC bank cards in a seven-month window.
During the seven months, an estimated $22,000 was spent on alcohol and a further $16,000 on food.
More than $1100 was also spent one evening on accommodation at The Westin Sydney and trendy pub the Fortune of War in The Rocks.
Former chair Stephen Oxley said modest spending on travel and accommodation was expected but he believed the rate of money spent by Mr Golden-Brown was unnecessary.
"There has to be a limit," Mr Oxley told the NCA NewsWire.
Respected Elder Ann Adkins, who served as the organisation's secretary until last year, said she was concerned about the spending on alcohol and "flying around the country and staying at the best hotels".
Another former board member who had access to monitor and control the NGO's spending, who requested to remain anonymous, collated Mr Golden-Brown's debit cards purchases onto a spreadsheet for a five-month period in 2017.
The nearly 400 purchases and withdrawals occurred across the country, including Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Adelaide, the Hawkesbury, Dubbo, Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville at premium hotels such as the Pullman, Hilton, Stamford Plaza, and the Marriott.
Cash was spent at pubs, clubs and casinos, bank statements show.
Up to $3142.35 was spent at the Crown Plaza in the Hunter wine region, according to the statements.
However a legal spokesman for Mr Golden-Brown said all the expenditure amounted to legitimate business expenses and that those debited funds were for multiple members to attend a conference.
More than $450 was also spent at retailer Drummond Golf, which sells golfing items.
Mr Golden-Brown's spokesman said this was assigned as a "gift" because it was a farewell present to a staff member.
When asked about the spending and the claims from former board and staff members, the spokesman said, "NATSIC takes your allegations seriously."
He said there was a "misapprehension concerning the expenditure of NATSIC funds" and expenses were made on behalf of a number of the organisation's staff and board members.
Director Ian Mye said his requests to access financial statements had repeatedly been rejected, which he found concerning.
"So I kept asking questions and got told it's 'none of your business'," he said.
Mr Mye, who has served on the board for more than a year, said the government funds were intended to be spent on providing services to vulnerable communities on the Tiwi Islands and Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, rather than pubs and restaurants.
Concerns over the spending were raised with the sector's watchdog, the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, and the Department of Social Services as far back as February 2020.
But both refused to confirm if Mr Golden-Brown or NATSIC were being investigated, with DSS saying that, without prejudging the current case, it was "committed to identifying potential instances of fraud against the Commonwealth and takes these matters seriously"
Mr Golden-Brown has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Originally published as CEO's booze, hotels spending to be probed