Ship managers

NT Children’s Commissioner Colleen Gwynne recruited former casino cruise ship manager for high-paying job, court hears

Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner Colleen Gwynne has allegedly appointed a former cruise ship casino manager with no government experience to a high-paying position, a court has heard.

This was before she made a “captain’s choice” to appoint another friend to a high-ranking position within her office.

The former casino manager was personally known to Ms Gwynne and had recently helped arrange a discounted cruise vacation for Ms Gwynne and her partner.

Ms Gwynne faces one count of abuse of power.

Today was the fifth day of a committal hearing at Darwin Local Court to determine whether the case will go to trial.

The charge relates to the appointment of Laura Dewson, a friend of Ms Gwynne, as Deputy Commissioner for Children and Ms Gwynne’s alleged conduct in the recruitment process.

In her closing remarks today, Prosecutor Victoria Engels explained how, prior to the allegedly abusive recruitment process involving Ms Dewson, Ms Gwynne was involved in recruiting Kathryn Francombe.

The court heard Ms Gwynne’s office appoint Ms Francombe, who had spent the past seven years running a casino on an international cruise ship, to a ‘project manager (monitoring and auditing)’ position within her office , at “SA01” (Senior Administrative Officer) civil service level.

Ms Gwynne (right) faces one count of abuse of power.(ABC News: Ian Redfearn)

At the current rate, this role could bring in between $123,000 and $138,000.

The job offer came about a year after Ms Francombe helped arrange a discounted seven-day cruise for Ms Gwynne and her partner, with photographs of the couple together on a boat being presented in court as evidence.

After the 2017 cruise, the court heard Ms Gwynne had emailed Ms Francombe in which she referred to her by a nickname, ‘Spot’, and wrote: ‘Absolutely epic, I can’t thank you enough “.

Ms Francombe had no previous public service experience and was appointed to an unadvertised position with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, without reference checks, at a jump in her salary as director casino of around $81,000.

The Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner’s Office is responsible for ensuring the welfare of vulnerable children in the Northern Territory and has oversight responsibilities for youth detention facilities, including the Don Dale Youth Detention Center in Darwin.

The court heard in August 2018 Ms Gwynne sent Ms Francombe an email with the job description attached which only said: ‘Could you do that.’

She replied the next day, “Colleen, that would be a huge opportunity.”

Ms Francombe then got the job, but her pay eventually had to be cut after it became apparent to many that she was underqualified and working “overkill”.

“She did the job so badly that they had to take her to an AO7 [administrative officer 7]“, prosecutor Ms Engels told the court.

The recruitment of Ms. Francombe is not part of the criminal charge against Ms. Gwynne.

But Ms Engels said it was relevant because a jury would have to consider ‘whether the driving is a single incident or repeated during similar driving or in the course of driving’.

Ms Gwynne’s lawyer told the court yesterday that the judge was free to conclude the case was of a trivial nature and to dismiss it. He expressed concern that much of the evidence related to the period before the actual indictment period.

“If you believe it is purely technical or insignificant conduct, as evidenced by the evidence, the court may dismiss the case,” Ms Gwynne’s solicitor, Phillip Boulten SC, told the court.

“On the scale of seriousness of corruption crimes, it is at the bottom of the scale,” he said.

The case will return to court in January next year.