$1 million spending spree by former Murdoch senior managers

The Australian newspaper has gained access to the Ernst & Young report into the credit card use by former Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Richard Higgott, revealing that Professor Higgott and his three deputies claimed almost AU$1 million over a two-year period. This amount included an average of $1,800 spent by Higgott per month on private chauffeured vehicles.

The expenditure is somewhat ironic given Professor Higgott’s remarks to The Australian newspaper in July last year. Higgott criticised the University Senate for conducting an internal investigation into his activities “with obvious attendant massive financial cost”.

In a separate report released last year, the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC), which assisted the internal investigation carried out by the Murdoch University Senate, did not form an opinion on whether Professor Higgott’s credit card expenditure constituted misconduct. It did pointedly remark, however, that Murdoch Universities’ policies on corporate credit card use were “lax”.  The investigation into credit card use by senior Murdoch University management was part of a broader investigation into allegations of misconduct against senior officers. Professor Higgott “retired” in October 2014 following the investigation.

The latest report is amongst documents held by Murdoch University’s Senate that were not made public. The Australian reports that Murdoch University had initially refused to release the report in a Freedom of Information application, but the newspaper was successful in appealing the decision to the Western Australian Information Commission. The newspaper successfully argued that the information was in the public interest, given that Murdoch University receives funding with taxpayer’s money.

Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union is trying to get access to information about current legal expenditure by Murdoch University. Murdoch University has hired attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw, based in the eastern states, to assist in prosecuting its case to the Fair Work Commission to have the Enterprise Agreement terminated. It is also prosecuting the NTEU and two senior officers of the WA State office in the Federal Court for allegedly misrepresenting the University in communications with members, which the NTEU denies.

Senior management has claimed that its application to terminate the Enterprise Agreement is due to the need to renegotiate a new agreement that will enable the University to reduce costs and achieve financial sustainability. The NTEU has criticised the measures proposed by the University in the new Enterprise Agreement as removing important rights and protections for workers.


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