What to do if your tiny, electorally unviable political party (with a few governance issues) can’t make a go of it? Get on the phone to Cory Bernardi, of course.

The United Australia Party grew out of the Mature Australia Party last week, which was founded to represent the interests of older Australians. MAP Pty Ltd was formed in 2015 by long-time associates Terry Snell and Stuart Donald, and the United Australia Party was officially launched on Friday, with the hope of revitalising the organisation in time for the next Queensland state election.

The United Australia Party aims to build its membership base to the point where it is able to register with an electoral commission and has been in talks with other small parties and independents about joining forces. And who better to target for amalgamation than the member-hungry Australian Conservative Party, which has just recently merged with Family First?

Snell and Donald went about negotiating with a range of organisations to see whether there were chances of a merger and got a warm reception from the United Conservative Party (not to be confused with the Bernardi party). Some members came across to bolster the numbers for the fledgling Snell-Donald led venture. Snell told Crikey that the objective was to get strength in numbers to establish a strong minor party given that Australians were looking for alternative voices.

It was during the merger discussions that Snell recalls first hearing about the idea to approach Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, with the ultimate goal of the UAP becoming the Bernardi vehicle’s Queensland branch. The UAP would, however, need to get its house in order to get enough members before it could successfully be an electoral stalking horse for the South Australian Senator.

The party has plenty more to worry about, though, with questions being raised about a string of governance issues — and Snell was removed as a director from the company behind the United Australia Party (MAP Pty Ltd) without his consent.

Snell was the inaugural president of the embryonic UAP but for various reasons decided to resign the post. He notified the leadership group of his intentions by email ahead of a meeting to be held on May 17, but he did not state in that email that he wanted to be removed as a director of the proprietary company immediately. “The first I heard about the fact I was removed as a director was when I received an email from [newly appointed UAP president] Ron Pike,” Snell told Crikey.

Pike was appointed the new president during the May 17 meeting. He said that his aim as president was to get the organisation sufficient clout and finances to get policies implemented. He also noted that amalgamation with a party like the Australian Conservatives was necessary for success.

It was the next day that the flurry of changes to governance records took place. A tsunami hit on May 18 and 19, with 12 changes to the corporate records of the proprietary limited company within 48 hours, which included Snell’s removal and reappointment. The ASIC database records Snell’s reinstatement as a new appointment of a director. For comparison, the ASIC historical extract for the Mature Australia Party (MAP Pty Ltd) shows there were only four lodgements made throughout all of 2015 and 2016.

The week-long saga of director appointments and removals to the party now known as UAP United Australia Party included:

  • A  May 17 meeting during which a newly appointed president Ron Pike said amalgamation with another political party was an option that must be considered, with the Australian Conservatives the only one specifically mentioned during the meeting;
  • The removal on May 18 of foundation director Terry Snell of a proprietary company known as the Mature Australia Party (MAP Pty Ltd) against his wishes. The proprietary company owns the United Australia Party business name;
  • A reallocation of shares to other directors without Snell’s knowledge or permission;
  • The appointment of two new directors, Kim Chatwin-Smith and Irena Ostapenko, to the proprietary company on that same day;
  • The appointment of Ostapenko was done without her written consent, and she moved quickly to resign from both the role of treasurer and a director once she became aware of the circumstances;
  • Chatwin-Smith and Ostapenko were removed from the directors register and Snell was reinstated; and
  • A new public company was then created for the purpose of operating the political party on May 19, officially known as UAP United Australia Party.

Ostapenko’s appointment as a director was for less than a day, according to the ASIC extract, and Chatwin-Smith is recorded as having been removed as a director on May 19.

Chatwin-Smith and Donald — who was the only constant office bearer of the private company during the relevant period — along with Michelle Lee are the inaugural directors of a public company limited by guarantee that was created on May 19 called UAP United Australia Party, which was a company name that got around the fact that the business name United Australia Party is registered with the MAP Pty Ltd.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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