Mal Brough may
be uncertain about the extent of his Indigenous heritage, but his
family ties to Western Australia’s Aboriginal community could still
cause him a few headaches – if not provide a direct conflict of
interest – in his new role as Indigenous Affairs Minister.

Brough’s
sister, Carol Stubbs, currently sits on three boards registered with
the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations, which is overseen by Brough’s
new Department of Indigenous Affairs. And his brother-in-law is CEO of
an Aboriginal corporation that has been the subject of three separate
investigations over alleged financial irregularities.

Crikey has
learned that the new Indigenous Affairs Minister’s brother-in-law, Greg
Stubbs, and the company he heads, the Kalgoorlie Bega Garnbirringu
Health Service, was last year investigated by the Western Australian
fraud squad over claims the company was misappropriating funds in 2004
and 2005.

The investigation was launched after a separate
probe by the Department of Health and Aging (DHA) over suspect audit
figures. “Their (Bega health centre’s) auditors at some stage threw up
some concerns… (so) we sent in a review team,” the DHA’s Kay McNiece
told Crikey yesterday.

Meanwhile The Australianreports today
that the health service was also the subject of an investigation by the
Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations in 2002 over alleged auditing
breaches.

The fraud squad investigation concluded without
charges being laid, but questions were raised about Bega’s corporate
management. Brough’s brother-in-law is Bega’s CEO, Brough’s sister,
Carol, also sits on the health centre’s nine person board. According to
ministerial code of conduct Brough should have declared this interest to Cabinet and the Prime Minister:

The nature of their duties is such that they may need to
have regard to the interests of members of their immediate families (to
the extent that ministers know their interests) as well as their own
when ensuring that no conflict or apparent conflict between interests
and duties arises.

Stubbs has announced he may step
down in April – under pressure from the Health Department. This morning
he told Crikey that he didn’t think his roles would create a conflict
for his brother-in-law in his new portfolio and he didn’t think Brough
would be much different from past ministers. “I don’t think it will be
a problem at all (because) the bureaucracy runs this land,” Stubbs said.

Don
Heise, an officer from the Western Australian fraud squad who was
involved in last year’s investigation told Crikey that the
investigation into Bega’s books began in about Sept 2004 and went into
2005. “Some things sprung to light which caught the Health Department’s
attention… (so) we put a search warrant through the place,” Heise said.
Heise said investigators took documents and evidence from the health
centre and then presented the evidence to the centre’s board, who
refused to cooperate further and stopped the investigation in its
tracks. “We had very little cooperation with them,” said Heise.

Crikey
today asked the minister if he knew about his brother-in-law and
sister’s various roles before his appointment and whether he thinks his
new position creates a potential conflict of interest. We’re waiting to
hear back.

Peter Fray

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