Australian Spirit Soars! Part 2

Photo courtesy K Bloomfield

July 2018. The motley troop of Australian Spirit artists and veterans reconvened at the Gosford RSL to forge ahead with plans for the November 10 family fun day event.

My, how Leasha Craig’s dream had grown. Loads of free entertainment, from jousting and snake wrangling to re-enactments and tank rides. Almost every Central Coast veteran and front line service organisation in one place. Unheard of!

And all funds raised would be donated to Integra Service Dogs Australia to provide trained ‘canine guardians’ to recovering local veterans.

For a moment, my former ‘idiot box’ life kicked in. I felt as though I was in an episode of ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ – the 1960’s classic TV series that followed the missions of an International Rescue Team.

Not that the Australian Spirit committee was a bunch of puppets – but it was beginning to feel like a rescue team for spiraling veterans and first responders.

How rewarding to be involved in such a worthy cause with great people who cared.

 

Australian Spirit Employment Initiative

The Australian Spirit event also triggered an unwitting parallel project – the Australian Spirit Employment Initiative (ASEI). Designed to connect prospective Central Coast employers, training organisations and funding bodies with veterans in transition from military to civilian life. No mean feat.

News travels fast on the coast. The ASEI concept found its way to ex Australian Defence Force (ADF) serviceman, Peter Talbot and linked him to Australian Spirit founder Leasha Craig. A formidable duo. The self-employed Instructor/Consultant with Remote and Local First Aid  provides specialised employment assistance for both serving members considering leaving the defence force or have had that decision made for them through a medical discharge.

 

Peter Talbot

Leasha invited Peter to our July meeting as guest speaker. Newcastle-based ex ADF serviceman Shane Armstrong also graced us with his presence after being lassoed in as a potential event speaker.

Both Peter and Shane shared concerns about medically discharged ADF members whose transitional journeys were at higher risk of spiraling into uncharted minefields. Without the right support, dealing with mental and/or physical injuries incurred during service and the potential limitations placed on their finely-honed skill sets can be a challenging, lonely and sometimes fatal road.

Yes, the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) has a range of employment, training and health schemes in place. But from what I have been learning, they are often convoluted processes requiring transitioning veterans to jump through many unnecessary, often frustrating hoops. Some determinations have dragged on for up to 200 weeks, while veteran gold cards have been issued to dead veterans the day after their preventable deaths by suicide.

Then there’s the duplicated processes and all too common problem of government agencies not communicating with each other. Inadequately trained and/or under resourced, stressed out public servants who fail to understand the often challenging circumstances of the human beings behind the names on the forms they shuffle around on a daily basis. (I’ve been there. Seen it happen in a police agency.) So the list goes on. Little wonder that of the 5000 people who leave the ADF every year, only one in ten seek help from the DVA.

Things have allegedly been improving over the past 18  months since the DVA was taken to court. If that’s what it takes. Here’s to better days ahead and way more respect for our transitioning veterans.

Alarm Bells

Peter’s engaging presentation hit the ground running. 80 Australian veterans died by suicide in the past 12 months. Alarming news. Why had so many flown under the radar and crashed, I quietly pondered. He also spoke about the uniform that hangs in his cupboard. The uniform that will never be worn again because of his medical discharge from the ADF. oath

On the flip side, Peter also dared us to dream and take the Australian Spirit Employment Initiative all the way to Federal Parliament. (Mission since accomplished by Leasha and Peter.)

The Central Coast has one of the largest veteran populations in NSW and deserve first class assistance in return for their selfless service to the country.  So why not create a new, streamlined working model?

Here’s to a new, ambitious ‘dream-in-progress.’

Core Challenges

August 2018. Time to prepare a media-kit for the Australian Spirit event. Being an ex-media ‘casualty’ largely due to undiagnosed post traumatic dtress (in retrospect), it had been a long time between comprehensive media releases. But I gave it my best shot.

Having scant knowledge about the defence force, yet highly aware that ‘family fun days’ are not considered newsworthy (even though Australian Spirit represented an uniquely honourable cause), I suggested that Peter Talbot write a few paragraphs about the core challenges facing our transitioning military folk. The written word tends to pack a far more powerful punch when it comes from the heart of someone who has been there.

Oath to Serve

You are welcome to read Peter’s compelling contribution in its entirety here. For the moment, I would like to share some thoughts about the oath which is undertaken by incoming ADF recruits.

In Peter’s words:

‘Upon enlistment into the Australian Defence Force our men and women undertake an oath to serve the Commonwealth of Australia to preserve and defend our nation’s freedom. The oath is best summed up by Brigadier “wary” George Mansford who said:

“The oath to serve your country does not entitle you to the luxuries enjoyed by society. On the contrary it implies hardship, loyalty and devotion to duty regardless of rank”.

This is what our men and women who serve, live their lives by. This oath does not end upon discharging from the ADF, particularly for those who have sustained injuries through their service and are medically discharged.’

I questioned why the oath doesn’t end upon discharge, particularly for the medically discharged men and women. Peter explained that the uniform that hangs in his cupboard was worn by the man he respects more than anyone else.

“I am so proud of that bloke who loved his family and freedom enough to take the oath to serve,” said Peter. “I am still that same man and my oath will never end. Wary George summed up what that oath means to me and I am one of many who believe that and take honor and pride in fulfilling my oath for those who follow my generation in standing on the altar of freedom.

Our job now is to ensure when their time comes to hang up their uniform, they can slip on their new work clothes and enjoy every luxury in our beautiful country with their families. That’s what fulfilling my oath brings to me and my family.”

Perhaps it’s time for Australian politicians to undertake an oath to those who serve our country. Particularly the men and women they send to war or inherently dangerous ‘peace-keeping’ missions. An oath to ensure that injured veterans receive unfettered support and access to effective health and employment pathways during their recovery and transition phases. If anyone deserves entitlement to ‘society’s luxuries’, ’tis these courageous warrior souls and the grieving families of ADF warriors so tragically lost to suicide.

Which brings me to the most troubling aspect of Peter’s contribution:

‘In the calendar year of 2017, 80 ex Australian Defence Force members took their own lives, unable to find the freedom and peace so expensively earned by their service.’

What Happened to the Lucky Country?

Good Medicine on location

I must confess that after Peter’s presentation at the July meeting, it felt like the 80 veterans who died by suicide, followed me home.

I also found myself catapulted back to late 2014, Adelaide, South Australia. Immersed in a short film scriptwriting course, I planned to write a comedy for my script assignment. As fate would have it, a random news report about ‘unprecedented numbers of men dying by suicide’ changed my fledgling cinematic aspirations.

Bamboozled by this terrible news, I questioned what was driving so many men to an untimely grave by their own hand. One suicide affects so many people – partners, kids, parents, family, friends – an avalanche of collective grief. Further research revealed the shocking fact that almost seven Australians were taking their lives every day. What the hell? Last time I looked, Australia was the lucky country.

‘Little Bird’ by Artist
Sharon Bosmoore

Unable to fathom why so many people felt trapped in dark, desperate, fatalistic tunnels, I wrote, produced and directed Good Medicine, a short film about a suicidal man in search of solace and healing. Inspired by an indigenous medicine woman called Little Bird.

Four years later, the toll has risen. Almost eight Australians die by suicide every day. Lifeline persistently headlined this horror story as a ‘national emergency’ and eventually received additional funding.

However, apart from a few token trials of a successful European suicide prevention model, the government continues to throw money at a mental health system which continues to fail us.

High Price To Pay

November 1, I published a blog asking why 80 veterans had taken their own lives. Later that week I learned that the toll was 85. This number was confirmed by the straight-shooting NSW RSL President James Brown on Channel 10’s The Project. He also advocated funding for suicide prevention training in all RSL organisations. Good call.

By November 10, at the Australian Spirit event, Peter Talbot mentioned the suicide toll had risen to 87. I certainly didn’t recall hearing this on the 6 o’clock news and wasn’t likely to. Having spent seven years in the public service, I knew all about sanitised information processes. Suicide stories ain’t pretty and don’t reflect well on governments.

Senate Inquiry Constant Battle: Suicide By Veterans

I consequently Googled ADF suicide and learned that in September 2016, the Federal Senate referred the veteran suicide ‘matter’ to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. A subsequent 207 page report entitled: The Constant Battle: Suicide By Veterans was tabled on 15 August 2017. (Read the full report here)

I also perused an insightful ABC news story about a government report released in April 2018 about how the ADF impacts the lives of military personnel. It reveals that the vast majority of former veterans (84 per cent) are ‘either working, studying or engaging in some other meaningful activity’ (whatever that means).

But what about the remaining 16% of veterans who are not working, studying or engaging in some other meaningful activity? The ones that didn’t have the resilience to soldier on through no fault of their own? The report also stated that nearly half (46 per cent) of service men and women who left the defence force experienced a mental disorder within five years.  Read the full ABC News article here.

The ADF top brass certainly has work to do.

Mental Health is Key to Recovery

As Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex so rightly said during his inspiring visit to the Australian where the indomitable Invictus Spirit was well and truly lit:

When you understand your vulnerability, you can become strong. Mental Health is the real key to recovery.”

Prince Harry with an Integra Services dog. Courtesy ISDA

While I have yet to research the types of therapies on offer from government mental health services, the last time I looked it was still largely driven by long term use of psychotropic drugs combined with talk therapy. Sadly, this often leads to living life with a mental disability instead of recovering and embracing life again.

An increasing number of psychotropic and opioid drug addiction stories are crossing my path. If you or someone you love is struggling with the effects of long-term medication, you may find solace and strength from:

I have also been informed that the Australian government is working hard to outlaw natural, holistic therapies. If this rings true, our lucky country will continue to regress.  We need a progressive mental health system that enables us to make fully informed choices about our pathways to wellness.

That way, those of us who are happy to take medication can continue to do so while those of us who believe there are safer and healthier avenues to pursue, will be pointed in the right direction to do so.

In closing, the 2018 veteran suicide toll has allegedly reduced significantly. 18 deaths. Preventable deaths. In my book, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel when you know where to look.

Australian Spirit’s Happy News

On happier note, the Australian Spirit project and book sales have raised approximately $9000 (exact amount TBA) to donate to Integra Service Dogs Australia. This money will cover the training costs of two dogs for Central Coast veterans.

Copies of the Australian Spirit commemorative book are available to purchase from australian-spirit.com, with all proceeds to Integra Service Dogs.

Huge congratulations to Leasha Craig and all involved. It has been a privilege to have been part of this journey.

With compliments, Linda Summer, Scribe @ Lost For Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australian Spirit Soars! Part 1

Sculptor, Leasha Craig

September, 2017. I wandered into an ambitious dream-in-progress led by renowned Central Coast sculptor and Australian Spirit founder, Leasha Craig.

Heading into the fourth and final year of her acclaimed Australian Spirit visual art and poetry project, Leasha lassoed an unlikely mix of local artists and top guns from a legion of veteran organisations to stage a colossal grand finale event to honour our military men and women, their families and the Armistice centenary.

The event was actually a dream within a dream. Originally sparked several years earlier by a deeply resonant recital of Jim Brown’s poem The ANZAC on the Wall at an ANZAC Day memorial service. The powerful words inspired Leasha to initiate Australian Spirit – a powerful community collaboration designed to commemorate the ANZAC and WW1 Centenaries and all who have served, and continue to serve, our magnificent country.

Despite initial resistance from the veteran community, Leasha gradually won the hearts and confidence of over 70 Central Coast veterans who collaborated with local artists, poets and biographers to tell their engaging stories through compelling works of visual art and poetry – many for the first time.

A multitude of long nights, seriously burned candles and successful exhibitions later, the complete works from this extraordinary collaboration are now forever bound in the stunning Australian Spirit commemorative book. A collector’s item in the making. Congratulations to all involved. (All proceeds from book sales are donated to Integra Service Dogs Australia to cover training costs of ‘canine guardians’ for recovering Central Coast veterans. A most worthy cause.)

Leasha’s persistent efforts also earned her a 2018 Australia Day community award while her disparaging naysayers slunk away to the murky shadows of the Land of Humble Pie.

Australian Spirit Speaks Volumes

Being a ‘Six O’clock News TV War’ chickadee who previously found the whole war shebang too traumatic to digest at the best of times, the Australian Spirit project changed all of that. Or have I finally grown up? Whichever way, I am now able to read war stories without feeling traumatised, shocked, furious, sad or disturbed. That’s huge for me!

Prior One 2007-2017

One of the Australian Spirit book’s most extreme recollections belongs to Afghanistan veteran Chad Elliot.

A Veteran at 25‘ was penned by Peter Mace while the accompanying, evocative masterpiece Prior One 2007-2017 was sculpted by Leasha Craig.

This chilling passage made me ponder how some soldiers were able to go back for more:

‘A bullet through his groin that blew half his arse away,
Still held onto his weapon, only just.
As his mates sought to protect him, and to stem the flow of blood.
With the bullets striking hard into the dust,
He lay there with a broken leg, shrapnel in his gut.
With the temperature touching fifty five.
A prior one, he heard them say through the racket and the pain.
The code he knew, “Unlikely to survive.”‘

This excerpt from Chad Elliot’s Australian Spirit testimony also speaks volumes:

“I and as I could imagine most veterans, would be quite unsure, nervous and reserved about opening up to not only tell but have a piece of artwork made to reflect me. Since having this done it has given me a chance to open up, tell my story for the public to see, hear and understand what I and many men and women have experienced having served in war, peacetime and since returning to civilian life.”

 

Testimony

I had to read the opening stanza of ‘Dad’s Army Days’ several times because I had never heard of a war being sparked by a ‘failure of diplomacy’. All that death, horror, carnage and destruction because of a failure of diplomacy? (Veteran, Scott Driscoll, Poet, David Brasted, Artist, Terri Brander):

Landed safely on Canaan’s side.
So, sir
why do we go to War?
He takes his time…
Thirty-Two years a soldier
rose rapidly
to Regimental Sergeant-Major
“Well,” he says
down the phone
“it’s a failure of diplomacy.”‘

I always thought that wars were triggered by political egomaniacs – experts at finding lame excuses to test out their latest cache of billion-dollar military toys. Perhaps it’s time for politicians the world over to attend a mandatory ‘International Diplomacy Bootcamp’ before diving into the political cauldron and igniting another war.

Better still, why don’t they just send themselves next time? I know of many returned service men and women who would excel in their new roles of loyal, ‘parliamentary seat warmers,’ and ‘fly-in fly-out war-zone media-op VIPs’ in their absence.

Lastly, ‘I Have My Life Back‘ by David Sabin (Artist Kathryn Taunton) expresses the frustrating journey that begins for many returned veterans in genuine need of support to recover from physical and mental injuries incurred during service.

Veteran Luke Mahalm’s story made me wonder why the ADF top brass has failed to personally ensure that medically discharged veterans in particular have a sure-fire safety net to catch them if they fall. The following passage is ‘government speak.’ There are surely simpler ways to convey political negligence.

Luke and Sophie

‘The Commonwealth of Australia does not accept any responsibility or liability connected to material in the Entitlement Self-Assessment or any reliance upon it whether or not caused by the negligence of the Commonwealth or its agents.’

Truth About War

Australian Spirit is, quite simply, dynamite. You just never know what’s going to blow your mind from one page to the next. And the book reviews have been nothing less than sparkling. Dennis Arkapaw, Secondary English & History Teacher, succinctly sums it up:

“The Australian Spirit commemorative book was meticulously built over 4 years of celebrating Gallipoli’s centenary. I highly recommend this important collection of intimate creations to be studied in English, History and Art classes where ‘the truth about war’ needs to be distilled.”

You’ll even find Australian Spirit in Canberra’s War Memorial shop although they have yet to add this fine title to the online publications catalogue. (Or perhaps the search engine is experiencing temporary tech problems.)

warThe easiest way to get your hands on a copy of this masterpiece is by ordering it online: www.australian-spirit.com. All proceeds to Integra Service Dogs Australia.

And be sure to check out the outstanding work of some of our shining Australian Spirit artists:

Leasha Craig: www.leashacraig.com

Karen Bloomfield: www.karenbloomfieldart.com

Helen Mortimer: www.helenmortimerart.com

 

 

Australian Spirit Soars! Part Two reveals how Australian Spirit unwittingly sparked yet another ambitious dream to assist transitioning and recovering veterans.

With Compliments,
Linda Summer – Scribe – Lost For Words

Dreamin’ the dream

 

pay equality

Operation Pay Gulf

Battle Stations Ladies – Code Pay!

pay equalityAlmost a year to the day, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s annual review inspired me to blog about the never-changing Australian history of pay inequity. This year’s annual review is a carbon copy fizzer.

How will anything every change if namby-pamby management of same old, same old issues never changes?

In short, the pay gulf is down 1.1% from 2017 but full-time working women can still expect to earn 16.2% (or $15, 457) less than men, per year.

This reeks of corporate and political complacency towards working women in Australia. And nobody appears to have any definitive strategies in place to close the gulf.

This paragraph alone from The Guardian report sums up why Australia needs to play Follow the Leader with Iceland and introduce national legislation to mandate equal pay for women:

Michaelia Who?

Former Minister For Women Michaelia Cash certainly won’t be remembered as a mover and shaker in the pay inequity arena, or a lady-like, kind and compassionate role model material for aspiring young leaders. One can only hope that her replacement Kelly O’Dwyer has the gumption to take appropriate action on behalf of Australian women and their daughters.

For old time’s sake, I revisited the Federal Government’s Office For Women website to see if anything had changed. While proposed legislation to mandate equal pay for women was notably absent, it was good to see several constructive initiatives in the works.

Note to politicians who care: ‘A Husband is not a Retirement Plan‘ needs to be taught in high schools:

 

Equally curious to see what was going on in the Office For Men, I searched high and low but found no trace. Must have been dreaming. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to publish last year’s blog again. Because I can. And because next to nix has changed in the ladies’ pay department. (Just ignore the bits about Michaelia Cash, apart from the fact that she still expects her lawyers to ‘set aside’ the subpoena demanding that she give evidence in the Federal Court in 2019. Read the latest ABC update here.)

In my previous life as a public servant the Information Services Branch of South Australia Police, I dealt with numerous subpoenas and was informed that even the Police Commissioner risked imprisonment for failing to appear when subpoenaed. What makes Michaelia think she qualifies for a special exemption?

And what was that I heard about an inevitable green light for the establishment of a Federal ICAC? I digress. But that’s another blog.

2017 Blog

Get Me Vida Goldstein On The Line
pay equality

Vida Goldstein

Ever since Iceland’s sassy sisterhood set the stage for world first national legislation to mandate equal pay for women, I expected at least one Australian female politician to champion the country’s first draft pay equity bill. Sadly, not a peep.

Baffled by the silence surrounding this terminal issue, apart from the annual media cry which predictably follows the release of same-old gender inequity data, I emerge from my self-imposed political oblivion to find out why.

Knowing little about Australia’s political history or our female politicians apart from a scripted news grab here and there, the Australian Parliament’s website is my first port of call.

  • Of 224 federal politicians, 74 are women. 31 Senators, 43 Members.
  • More than enough to collectively raise gracious hell about pay inequity, one would think. (Iceland has 41% female representation.)

Next, Google search Minister For Women. Oh dear. ‘Is Michaelia Cash a worse Minister for Women than Tony Abbott?’ screams a Sydney Morning Herald headline. Determined to maintain an objective view, I resist the temptation to read the article.

Instead I opt for The Minister for Women’s webpage, as perfectly coiffed as Michaelia Cash and accessorised with empowering female-friendly headlines. ‘Delivering Opportunities and Support for Australian Women’ captures my attention. I expect to read the magic words ‘pay inequity’. Not a peep.

The magic words I seek are also invisible on The Office For Women’s home page but I eventually locate a 2016 press release regarding the latest gender pay gap figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. ‘The new data was encouraging but the Government’s focus on implementing policies to further reduce the stubbornly high gap is unwavering.’ says Cash.

Stamp your stiletto a little louder, please Michaelia. We don’t need any more drawn-out, ineffective best practice policies. Australia needs pay equity for women enshrined in law.

Another glossy government publication catches my eye. The 72-page 2017 Gender Equity Insights Report.

In a nutshell:

  • The overall gender pay gap is 17.7% (or $16,219).
  • The total remuneration pay gap is 23.1% (or $26,853.)
  • A pay chasm of $93K exists at top tier managerial levels.

The placid Forward by Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director, Libby Lyons opens with: ‘It really is time that we challenge the way we work.’

Great to see a woman at the helm but what stopped her from choosing more empowering words? Something like: ‘It really is time to draft a pay equity bill that makes it illegal in Australia’s public and private sectors to pay women less than men.’

Could the mindsets of Icelandic and Australian women be that different? Aren’t we all part of a greater Sisterhood? The complacency factor baffles me. Perhaps the female inaction has something to do with the plump parliamentary salaries. Michaelia’s goldmine hovers around the $350,000 mark (plus expenses) while the base salary of Australian backbenchers has just risen to $203,020.

I don’t begrudge anyone who earns top dollar but given that the core function of a politician is to represent the people, one can’t help but wonder why Australia still has a ‘stubbornly high’ pay gap. Why pay inequity still lives in the Terminal Issues Basket.

Further digging unearths some intriguing views of political rabble-rousers in the comments section of an ABC opinion piece about the under-representation of women in parliament:

  • Female candidates are ‘selected by parties for docility rather than merit.’
  • ‘Parties generally select candidates based on internal party politics.’
  • ‘The Coalition parties do not have a mechanism for increasing women’s participation, despite ongoing advocacy by women on the floor of conferences to address the problem.’

Where Have I been?

The opinion piece in question was penned by Dr Rae Cooper & Sally Hanna Osborne, University of Sydney Business School. One of its many lowlights is the 2016 Vote Compass data that shows the majority of men are opposed to using quotas to increase numbers of women in Parliament.

  • 22% men agree, 56% disagree.
  • 49% women agree, 29% women disagree.

How disappointing. I thought Australian men had more faith in great Australian females.

Another lowlight is Australia’s ranking in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s World Classification of Women in National Parliaments.

  • As of 2nd July 2016, Australia ranks 49 of 193 countries.
  • The top five rankings are Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Iceland and Nicaragua.
  • Rwanda is also the first parliament in the world where women hold the majority, primarily because in this post-genocide country, women make up 70% of the surviving population.

Additional facts and figures regarding Australia’s place on the international inequity stage is provided by the World Economic Forum’s 391-page, 2016 Global Gender Gap Report.

  • Of 144 countries listed on the Global Index, Australia ranks 46.
  • Top five countries: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Rwanda.

The report also draws attention to Australia’s ‘continued existence of a gender gap in income’ and the continual decline of Australia’s ranking for women in national government. But the good news is that female representation meets the 30% ‘critical mass,’ which the United Nations regards as the minimum level necessary for women to influence decision-making in parliament.

No excuse then, I muse. Perhaps the driving force behind female inaction is plain, old, boring subservience.

Historical Pioneers

Diving into the history of pay inequity, I learn that prior to 1969, legislation decreed that women be paid a minimum rate 25% less than male employees doing the same or similar work. (Really makes you wonder what kind of men were running the joint back in the day – and now, for that matter.) Determined to banish the looming doom that threatened to dampen my determined spirit, at the eleventh hour I discovered that some of our female political pioneers did indeed make serious noise about pay equity (and women’s toilets):

Vida Goldstein1903, 1910, 1913, 1914 and 1917:  first woman in Australia (and the British Empire) to stand for election to a national parliament (five unsuccessful times). Campaigned for various social reforms including equal pay for equal work.

Edith Cowan1921:  first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament (WA Legislative Assembly). Leading suffragette, pioneer of women’s and children’s rights. Instigated the enacted Women’s Legal Status Act which enabled women to practice law.

Enid Lyons1943:  first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Believed that men and women should be completely equal.

Dorothy Tangney 1943:  first woman elected to the Senate. Championed equal pay and equal opportunity for women.

Ellen Violet Jordan1966: Advocated equal pay for women during a Queensland parliamentary ‘grievance session.’ Managed to get a women’s toilet in the House.

Lo and behold, the principle of equal pay for equal work was introduced in 1969.  How disappointing that almost 50 years later, equal pay for equal work is still a mere principle.

Talk Is Cheap

While the majority of female politicians past and present disagree with pay inequity  nobody is making a definitive stand. Where are our courageous, proactive, female leaders? What’s stopping them from following boldly in the steps of our courageous Icelandic sisters to relegate this dogged issue to the ‘Done Basket’ once and for all?

Best practice policies are pristine in theory but clearly fail to stop gender based pay discrimination across the board. They must be replaced with bulletproof laws.

In the meantime, if you currently suffer from pay inequity, there is no shortage of government agencies to turn to for assistance:

  • Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency
  • Workplace Gender Equality Agency
  • Fair Work Ombudsman
  • Minister for Women
  • 73 other female, federal parliamentary representatives

And may you draw further strength and support as I have, from the closing paragraph of the Global Index Report’s Preface:

“It is our hope that this latest edition of the Report will serve as a call to action to governments to accelerate gender equality through bolder policymaking, to businesses to prioritize gender equality as a critical talent and moral imperative and to all of us to become deeply conscious of the choices we make every day that impact gender equality globally. We call upon every reader of this Report to join these efforts.”

Afterword

justiceThe primary reason why Australian women are paid less than men? According to a 2009 report by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling:

‘… simply being a woman is the major contributing factor to the gap in Australia, accounting for 60 per cent of the difference between women’s and men’s earnings, a finding which reflects other Australian research in this area.’

Political oblivion lets self-serving politicians get away with it – whatever the ‘it’ may be. Wake up and be heard. Let’s make pay inequity history and demand that the 2019 fifty-year anniversary be celebrated with legislation to mandate equal pay for men and women.

Linda Summer – Scribe @ Lost For Words

 

Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge, Scam Scam?

Say No More

What is it with scam-artists who foolishly choose to deny the truth instead of acknowledge the error of their ways? And are too arrogant to mend them.

I decided to publicly share my experience with so-called finance and investment professionals (Wrong Road to Real Wealth Part 1 & 2) in the hope that it may help others avoid a similar fate. One of the key players is now crying foul and claiming that the majority of my comments are false.

Facts are facts. My account of the disappointing, eye-opening experience is based on fact – and hindsight. My primary grievance is not against the complainant. Or his now defunct company (Real Wealth). But rather his cohorts (The ATP and Audrn Group) who got away with fleecing many investors largely because the complacent and under-resourced Australian government agencies such as the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), let them.

While mainstream media is unlikely (or unable) to report on how ASIC really operates because it would breach their Gag Policy, we are fortunate to have shackle-free, independent journalists such as Michael West in our midst (and friends like Kayla Sharpe* who emailed me the link to his website.)

Enjoy this enraging snippet from Michael West’s comprehensive Royal Commission report: ‘Hayne Says Banks Have Corporate Watchdog In The Bag

Enforceable Undertakings seem to be an ASIC  favourite,  no matter how big or small the company. How many convicted humans are sitting in prison cells for lesser crimes?

The looming threat of a nasty legal letter accusing me of defamation tempted me to retreat and either fictionalise my story or simply remove my writings from cyberspace for the simple sake of peace.

Various friends vehemently disagreed. They urged me to stay strong and true. A particularly mischievous friend asked if I had heard of a ‘letter of note’ concerning a complaint against Private Eye magazine by scam-artist James Arkell. I said no and Googled it. Turned out to be just the tonic!

The below ‘Arkell v. Pressdram’ (publisher of Private Eye) letters are taken from More Letters of Note.

I laughed out loud when I read that Arkell withdrew his complaint almost immediately after Private Eye published the exchange of letters, and the magazine has since responded to idle legal threats by referring the authors to the above reply.

Letters of Note also states that “there was no “case” legally, despite the name by which the dispute is now known.”

Worth bottling. And sharing far and wide.

‘Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more?’ Monty Python

Thank you to my friends, Private Eye and Letters of Note for helping me find the courage to stay strong and true to the truth.

 

Linda Summer

Scribe, Lost For Words

*Real name not used

gangsters

Wrong Road To Real Wealth Pt. 2

Oh ATP and Audrn Group Where Art Thou?

One of my favourite writing mentors is Robert McKee:

“In a world of lies and liars, we don’t need writers adding to the slop. More than ever, the world needs to hear your truth, harvested from the midnight of your soul and poured onto the page, stage or screen. More than ever, your insights must be shone into the darkest corners of the human condition.”

writerMr McKee’s sage advice is my guiding light as I continue to search for answers surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Australian financial services providers The ATP Australia Pty Ltd (former Corporate Authorised Representative) and Audrn Group Pty Ltd (former Australian Financial Services Licensee.)

While I have far happier things to write about than being ripped-off, I am driven by the unacceptable fact that it’s way too easy for Australian-based financial scammers to steal millions of dollars and simply disappear. What sort of system allows white collar scammers to escape accountability for scandalously perverse actions that impact the lives of many?

scamsSadly, Twitter posts about ‘trending’ investment scams make it sound like the ‘new normal.’

While I don’t expect to be reimbursed for the superannuation losses incurred due to poor judgement during a vulnerable phase of my life, I do expect the complacent and dysfunctional regulatory system to address its failures and tighten up its processes. Ensure silk-suited gangsters are effectively put out of business and prevented from preying upon more unsuspecting, vulnerable people across the nation.

 “I don’t care about ‘who licensed who’ to scam honest Australians in pursuit of financial  prosperity and independence. In my view, they are all white collar criminals and must be held accountable for their despicable actions. And this over-governed country urgently needs to ensure our law enforcement agencies are adequately resourced so they can do their jobs properly.” Linda Summer

Since penning ‘Wrong Road to Real Wealth’, I have received an avalanche of most welcome and insightful information. An email from savvy, single mother turned private investigator Kayla Sharpe* thanked me for starting a blog that exposes ‘cold-calling boiler room forex gangsters.’

Choice words reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street opening scenes, deftly penned by screenwriter Terence Winter:

GENE HACKMAN (V.O.)

The world of investing can be a jungle.

WE SEE a charging, snorting BULL.

GENE HACKMAN (V.O.)

Bulls.

WE SEE a ferocious, growling BEAR.

GENE HACKMAN (V.O.)

Bears.   Danger at every turn.

Pretentious CLASSICAL MUSIC kicks in.

GENE HACKMAN (V.O.)

That’s why we at Stratton Oakmont
pride ourselves on being the best.

 

While the Kiwi Cartel players are nowhere near as clever or charismatic as the notorious Jordan Belfort, the film’s seedy boiler room scenes mirror their sordid strategies and standards. And you could easily substitute ‘Stratton Oakmont’ for any of the cartel’s company names.

fraudIt’s not good enough that The ATP and Audrn Group got away with it while David Orth walked free with a token slap on the wrist after running amok with millions of dollars of other people’s money for so many years.

On 16 February 2018, ASIC announced that it “accepted an Enforceable Undertaking from (Real Wealth) director Mr David Orth under which he will cease to provide financial services for five years. In addition, Mr Orth will make a community benefit payment in the amount of $400,000 to Financial Literacy Australia to support the financial capability of vulnerable people.”

When I learned that enforceable undertakings are ‘generally accepted by ASIC as an alternative to civil or administrative action’ where there has been a contravention of legislation, I wondered what it would take for boiler room operators to wind up in an Australian court of law. Australia’s token Royal Commission is seeing executive banking criminals getting away with a slap on the wrist and a splash of public shaming. Meanwhile, back in Iceland, elite banking criminals are licking their wounds in prison.

Kayla recently emailed Melbourne-based ASIC lawyer Justin Black* to inform him that she has submitted information to the Royal Commission about fraudulent activities in Queensland that have been repeatedly swept under the carpet by the Brisbane ASIC office. She also queried why it took six years for ASIC to ‘finally slap Orth with that piddly punishment.’ As expected, she has not received a response.

How timely is former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chair Alan Fels’ recent call for ASIC to be stripped of its power over banks and see them handed to the ACCC: “- a move that would send a chill through banking boardrooms, which he said have become too cosy with ASIC.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-09/former-accc-boss-alan-fels-slams-asic/10092864

Fitzgerald Inquiry One Day, Cartel Paradise The Next

According to Kayla’s investigations, Orth’s Queensland-based boiler room operations date back to 2012 and many of the dubious operators were New Zealand Nationals, aptly tagged the ‘Kiwi Cartel’.

Knowing little about cartels, a quick Google search led me to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

(In my view, the Kiwi’s didn’t seem sophisticated enough to earn the title of ‘cartel,’ so I tagged them the ‘Dubiosos’. But I digress. Back to the real story).

Allegedly referred to as ‘the boss,’ Orth was in cahoots with Gold Coast based Winchester Securities who were conveniently licensed to his Brisbane based company Got Money FX.

Kayla entered the picture as a ‘naïve foreigner new to the Gold Coast.’ Initially conned by Winchester Securities salesman Jake Kleeman*, knowing full well she was a single mother, Kayla soon woke up to the elaborate scam and began gathering evidence to expose them.

hornet's nest“I uncovered a veritable hornet’s nest which led to a life-changing journey for me,” said Kayla. “When the realisation hit that ASIC’s Brisbane-based investigators were not only horrendously incompetent, but actually criminally complicit in failing to pursue the information I and other victims had provided them, I toddled off to Sydney to qualify as a private investigator with arguably Australia’s top trainer so that I could help other victims of financial fraud.”

September 2012, Kayla emailed information to Helen Winton* at the Brisbane ASIC office. One would expect the email to raise alarm bells but she never received a response. Zip. If I had ignored an email containing serious allegations of fraud during my time in the public sector, I would have been reprimanded, unless, of course, I had been instructed to do otherwise. To clarify, here is a sample of one of Kayla’s emails:

“Dear Helen,

I have evidence in the form of the telemarketing script proving that Dean Hager* is running at least three fraudulent internet scam companies.  He changed Winchester’s trading name on Monday 3 September to Global Income Solutions (GIS). I noticed on their newly-created website that they are licensed to a company in Brisbane called Got Money FX, as is Dean’s other company Magnum FX.  They are most likely also a dubious operation. Avestra Capital is seemingly out of the picture now, evidenced by Winchester’s altered partners webpage.  It is suddenly a licensed rep of Got Money FX too.

My friend Peter Daley* was present in the office on his first day as a telesales consultant, when Dean and Michael Sanders* discussed a catchy name to replace Winchester Securities.  This is obviously because they were losing potential ‘investors’/victims due to the numerous scam reports on Google.  I spoke to one of their potential victims, whose name and number appeared on the mobile phone which Peter was allocated.

The ‘client’ was told that Home IT was affiliated to Magnum FX. What my friend Peter witnessed during the week working in a front office, was both Dean and Michael dealing constantly with irate ‘clients’ on the phone and on numerous occasions, Dean told staff to tell clients that he was ‘no longer with Winchester’.

Dean managed to convince another South African immigrant to part with $18,000 for their ‘lifetime package’, convincing this man that it would be well worth his while to borrow the funds and another $10,000 for his trading account, against his mortgage, as he would be making substantial monthly profits to cover the repayments. 

Peter listened to the entire transaction on Wednesday and is prepared to testify in court that Dean is running a fraudulent operation in Surfers Paradise, in the form of Winchester/GIS and Magnum FX which is on the 3rd Floor of the same salubrious building.  I took photos of the street which they purport to be ‘a large street’ in the script to counteract clients’ questioning that they had previously dealt with a forex company called Winchester with the same address. I also got my son to take a photo of their reception area on Friday, with the name of Winchester still in existence.

The script is full of blatant lies, including the fact that they have operated using a ‘proven system’ for a few years etc. There are definitely no live traders in the company. They are using trading software.

Best wishes

Kayla Sharpe”

Kayla offered to post the scripts to Helen and provide her with bank details for the new shell company GIS. She also requested advice about how to proceed with having Dean Hager prosecuted. Was Helen’s failure to respond to Kayla a case of negligent incompetence or simply part of their ‘under the carpet’ policy? ASIC’s rotten carpet is surely bulging by now.

Several months later, Kayla emailed ASIC lawyer Justin Black again, who, under pressure from a Western Australian MP representing Kiwi Cartel victim Ben Harker*, reopened the investigation into Winchester/GIS/Got Money FX. (Kayla informed me that Harker was the first person to publish his story on various internet scam sites despite numerous threats and also provided the link between Darren’s Winchester Securities/Trading IT/ATP to disgraced Queensland detective Mick Featherstone):

“Dear Justin

I believe that you were contacted and provided information by MP Paul Lockett* on behalf of Stephen Walker* in Perth, regarding Winchester Securities in December 2012. Stephen and I, along with many other people from around Australia, were scammed by this Australian Financial Service license holder last year.  As I was contacted last week by yet another victim who likewise, reported them to ASIC to no avail, I felt compelled to send you a copy of one of my many emails to Helen Winton in Brisbane. I provided her with the telemarketing scripts of this company (which I believe were supplied to you).

I do hope that you don’t mind my contacting you, however in the interests of justice for the mostly pensioners, and like me, trusting foreign nationals who were extorted by this company based on their holding an AFS licence, any assistance would be much appreciated.

Best wishes

Kayla Sharpe”

Breach? What Breach?

When I read that Kayla received a curt response reiterating ASIC’s finding that they were ‘not committing any breaches’ despite evidence clearly pointing to ‘brazen fraud on a federal scale’, it naturally deepened my concerns about the competency and relevance of Australia’s so-called corporate regulator. It also vindicated my ‘what’s the point’ attitude toward writing to ASIC about The ATP and Audrn Group.

And how interesting to learn that the Orth operators allegedly resurfaced as Trading IT/ATP, with Kayla’s nemesis Kleeman as the sales front man yet again. Then they allegedly morphed into True Wealth which lasted less than a month before evolving into Real Wealth.

So Orth’s gang ran ATP?  During my association with ATP and Real Wealth, both parties gave the impression they had no association at all apart from Real Wealth being a ‘standard referral’ for new customers because they specialised in SMSFs.

scamHow do people learn to lie so well? Bad parenting? I had some great chats with The ATP and Real Wealth guys before waking up to their wicked ways.

Orth even made the effort to meet his clients in person. When he paid me a personal visit in Adelaide in March 2014 to sign some SMSF documents, I sensed something shifty about the gangly, ill-suited man but my rose-tinted glasses helped me banish the thought.

Bring on the Gangster-Busters

On a happier note, I was pleased to learn that despite being subjected to a bribery attempt, legal and personal threats, Kayla’s perseverance paid off. With the assistance of ABC Four Corners journalists, they eventually linked some of the Orth gang members to a multi million-dollar fraudulent operation run by former Queensland detective Mick Featherstone who was charged with fraud in 2015.  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-24/mick-featherstone-former-detective-arrested-boiler-room-fraud/7194738.

A Sydney based private investigator also helped Kayla by taking her evidence to the Crime and Corruption Commission. The combined efforts resulted in the seizure of two  members’ lavish assets. The last Kayla heard, one of them ended up working at a jewellery shop, the tag-along chickadee scored a job as a stripper while her husband may have absconded back to New Zealand.

Phew! How easy is it for boiler room ‘dubiosos’ to reinvent themselves and register successive business names in Australia? Having had scant experience establishing a business, I wondered whether members took turns to register businesses in their name to avoid red flags (assuming red flags exist) or if they befriend rogue public servants willing to turn a blind eye in return for their reward. Perhaps public servants simply don’t give a shite about fraudsters. One cannot help but ponder such possibilities.

The Avalanche of Truth Keeps Rolling In

Just when I thought it was safe to conclude my blog, Aussie Scam Alerts informed me about a post they were forced to remove in 2014 concerning the questionable operations of financial services provider AT Partnerships. An intimidating legal letter described their client as a ‘market leader in providing professional trading services’ and steadfastly refuted claims about them being a scam operator.

justicePerhaps the law firm should have asked more questions about the AT Partnerships investment scheme but then, why would they? Money talks incredibly loudly in the legal realm, so why bother digging at all?

For all I know, the law firm shared an office in the same building as the Kiwis. (Or the Russians. The Mexicans. The Wolf himself – Jordan Belfort. The Gold Coast really is a gangster’s paradise these days.)

AT Partnerships allegedly spruiked managed ‘live’ trading packages starting from $7,999 to $16,999 and shared the same Gold Coast business address as Trading IT and The ATP, both of which sold similar schemes allegedly run by trading software.

How interesting that AT Partnerships established themselves in June 2014 and became an Authorised Representative for AFSL holder Jade Capital Partners in late July 2014. As Aussie Scam Alerts rightly stated, ‘in reality, they had no ‘live track record to speak of.’ They are also allegedly linked to the now insolvent Winchester Securities.

Did Jade Capital Partners make a habit of partnering with Cartels or was this just a one-off collaboration? This development prompted me to Google AT Partnerships and Jade Capital Partners to see if they, too, had disappeared from cyberspace.

The AT Partnerships search produced nil results while Jade Capital Partners produced evidence of an active website (which means little in cyberworld) and an ASIC Notice of Application For Wind Up Order.

jade capital partnersThe notice stated that the application was commenced by the plaintiff Veridian Markets Pty Ltd on 08/09/2017 and scheduled to be heard at the Federal Court of NSW at 11AM, 18 October 2017.

The notice concluded with the following statement: ‘This notice does not mean that the company was wound up. To check whether the company was wound up following publication of this notice, search the ASIC database using the ASIC Connect function on ASIC’s website.’

I clicked on the ASIC Connect function link but was led to an error message and instruction to contact ASIC for more information. Pardon my cynicism, but given what I have learned about ASIC’s ‘under the carpet’ policy with the Queensland Kiwi’s, I wonder if Jade Capital Partners enjoyed similar treatment. I immediately emailed Veridian Markets to enquire the fate of Jade Capital Partners and received an email requesting my phone number which I provided. I am still waiting for the call.

The Ones That Got Away

In closing, it still peeves me that ATP and Audrn got away without paying me the promised sum of $14,999  before 1 January 2016 as per the signed Deed of Settlement. To recap, ATP paid me $200 in May 2015 before disappearing like a puff of rancid smoke.

AFSL holders Audrn and Jade Capital initially played ‘pass the hotcake’ regarding who was responsible for the Deed of Settlement. Jade Capital Partners behaved reasonably well and agreed to pay back my minimal lost trading monies while Audrn Group did a runner.

Houdini would be jealous of these guys.

Golden Haired Boys With A Golden Ticket Licence

In hindsight, ATP and Jade Capital Partners must have presented extremely well to ASIC. In July 2014, ATP zealously announced that they had been granted a Managed Discretionary Account (MDA) license through Jade Capital Partners and as of 2nd August 2014, would ‘step up’ to an MDA Financial Services Licensed Firm.

golden ticket“These ‘golden ticket’ licenses are extremely difficult to obtain and only a few dozen have ever been granted by ASIC.” The ATP.

Impressive.

As for the Audrn Group, to date, FOS and ASIC have been unable to locate the directors. One resides in China and ASIC doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate foreign directors. Then who does? Many people were burnt by ATP and Audrn Group, and deserve compensation.

Given the friendly chats I had with the ATP guys, even during the Deed of Settlement negotiations, this is a most disappointing outcome. But in my book, it ain’t over till it’s over.

“Be careful who you trust, be careful who you talk to. The world isn’t filled with Good Fellas.”

Linda Summer, Scribe, Lost For Words

* Real names not used

asic register

Wrong Road To Real Wealth Pt. 1

How Not To Become An Investor

investorIn early 2014, the looming death of my long‐term relationship motivated me to tinker with designing a new life. I took extended leave from my  job to pursue healthier, happier ways to live and work and reconnect to my long neglected writing aspirations. The time was nigh to transform into a prosperous, self-sufficient, creatively-fulfilled woman.

With luxurious time on my hands to investigate potential roads to financial security and wealth creation, so began a fact-finding mission via Google. 1,850,000,000 hits for ‘finance.’ 23,500,000 hits for ‘wealth creation.’ A daunting overload of experts, opinions, plans and pathways.

I self-educated as much as my tired brain could handle. The concept of creating passive income streams to subsidise my fledgling, entrepreneurial business aspirations, resonated strongly. I reasoned that that if I sought the guidance of financial specialists to set me up and help me further my education, skill and understanding about the finance and investment world, what could go wrong?

As it turned out, everything.

Along Came homebusiness.finder.com

“We will assist you to find and review a legitimate and real online home business. So you can work at home, in your time and earn an income.”

Perfect. I registered with homebusiness.finder immediately. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. When my phone began to ring, a legion of intriguing conversations with a diverse group of enthusiastic business spruikers ensued. The most impressive call came from Sydney based investment company The ATP (Australia) Pty Ltd, a Corporate Authorised Representative of Audrn Financial Group Pty Ltd (the Licensee).

“The ATP stands for Achievement, Trust and Prosperity – at ATP we believe in fairness for our members. Our aim is to provide an open and honest signal service to our clients.”

asic registerSteve Anderson*, a slick, friendly salesman, informed me that the ATP was ‘Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) approved’ and had to ‘jump through many strenuous hoops’ to be awarded a licence. He directed me to the ASIC website and walked me through the ASIC register search process to confirm their company’s legitimacy. He even had the nerve to audaciously criticise investors who ‘fell for financial scams’ because they didn’t check the ASIC register.

Following an impressive online presentation of their ‘advanced trading system’, he convinced me that passive income streams would become my new reality. And better still, I could pay the $14,999 membership fee and open a $10,000 trading account with my superannuation funds by establishing a Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF).

Too easy. And 100% legal. Really? Yes. Really. It has the Commonwealth Government stamp of approval.

TIP: Always request a copy of an online investment presentation, or a transcript on company letterhead. It serves as valuable evidence when the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) registers your dispute and later requests documentation.

Anderson referred me to Glenn Jones*, Financial Advisor, A. Dip FP/SMSF Specialist at Real Wealth, an affable guy who harshly criticised government authorities for using scare campaigns to discourage Australians from setting up SMSFs.

To be perfectly honest, I felt OK about risking my superannuation from a seven-year stint in the public service because I didn’t have an emotional attachment to it. Before signing anything, several more conversations ensued and I also Googled the net for reviews and scam alerts about ATP and Real Wealth but produced nil negative results.

Sadly, it was after the unforseen big rip-off that I discovered the helpful Aussie Scam Alert community and numerous posts from other ATP and Real Wealth victims.

Fortunately, I had the sense to rule out risking any personal savings until the investment opportunity proved its worth.

In hindsight, Real Wealth should have vehemently advised against starting up a SMSF because my superannuation balance would rapidly be devoured by exorbitant fees and taxes. Sure I had plans to generate plenty of income but it wasn’t forthcoming at that particular time. Instead, Jones glossed over the fees and also failed to mention the 15% tax I would have to pay on my rolled‐over super. Had I been made aware of the following fees at the outset, I would have declined the joint venture with The ATP and Real Wealth:

  • $1800.00 ‐ Real Wealth set‐up fee
  • $2500.00 ‐ Real Wealth 2014 fin. year tax & audit
  • $2500.00 ‐ Real Wealth 2015 fin. year tax & audit
  • $1589.00 ‐ PAYG instalment
  • $8221.00 – Tax Payable bill (due to 15% rollover tax)

Several months after the establishment of my SMSF, I heard a finance commentator argue that a minimum of $100,000 is required to set up a SMSF because of the excessive management and audit fees. More recently, a commentator stated that a SMSF is only viable if you have a minimum of $1M to invest. I had just under $50,000 to invest.

July 2014, an email from ATP zealously advised they had been granted a Managed Discretionary Account (MDA) license through Jade Capital Partners and as of 2nd August 2014, would ‘step up’ to an MDA Financial Services Licensed Firm.

“These ‘golden ticket’ licenses are extremely difficult to obtain and only a few dozen have ever been granted by ASIC.” The ATP.

golden ticketIn late August, I emailed ATP with concerns about nil returns. Nil passive income. No response.

September, 2014, an email from Real Wealth director David Orth reiterated the laws against accessing superannuation for personal use or gambling. Savvier than I was at the outset of this doomed journey, I queried why the ATP’s trading scheme wasn’t classed as a form of gambling given the volatile nature of trading and small print warnings about investing money ‘at your own risk’.

David Orth assured me, “the ATP is fine. It’s a financial service.”

Late February 2015, I emailed Jade Capital regarding my nil returns since taking out membership with ATP a year ago. I exchanged several emails with Orth:

“Yes, it’s a total mess at the ATP. I know a lot of people are complaining and jumping up and down over it. Keep pushing them!” David Orth

16 April 2015: With the assistance of a new Real Wealth consultant, I lodged a complaint against ATP with FOS.

21 April 2015: FOS confirmed a dispute had commenced with Jade Capital Partners.

24 April 2015: An apologetic ATP operations manager contacted me and negotiated a full membership refund. I signed a Deed of Settlement which stated that the company would pay me the sum of $15,000 before 1st January 2016.

7 May 2015: FOS advised the dispute against Jade Capital Partners was closed.

13 May 2015: The ATP requested my fund account details and deposited $200 of the $15000 membership refund.

9 September 2015: I contacted ATP to ascertain why no further payments had been made.

“It is of the best interests for the company to see that a resolution be made and we want to assist all of our current, and former clients. We will continue to assist you as best we can, because we care. We are currently in talks with the licensee to ascertain an action plan for moving forward and create a resolution which will be in the best interests of all parties involved.” The ATP

22 February 2016: I heard a whisper that ATP had been taken over by administrators and emailed them for an update. My email bounced. Their contact number was dead. Their website was shut down. I emailed Jade Capital Partners with my concerns that same day and so began the next phase of this long and winding road.

Let’s Play Pass The Buck

“If you have lodged a FOS complaint, under the guidance of Jade (Capital Partners) please let me know. In the past they have told some clients the wrong AFSL holders, which has drawn out the process even longer. It is a textbook stall tactic which has been used.” Brian Stevenson*, Real Wealth

4 February 2016: An email from Stevenson advised that he was looking after tax and audits for the 2015 financial year and strongly recommended I wind up my fund as soon as possible.

I asked for a breakdown of all of the fees, charges and taxes that had been siphoned from my SMSF account. My SMSF balance in the Macquarie and HUB24 account was $5,364.14. Adding insult to injury, the Real Wealth accountant charged an extra $1,500 to wind up a self-managed super fund.

Not only had I lost money to ATP and Real Wealth, I was disappointed to learn that the federal tax man also took a lion’s share:

“When you moved from an untaxed environment to a taxed environment with your funds this attracted a very large tax payable of $6,632.58 and $1,589. This large tax payment would of occurred if you moved to any normal super fund as well, not just an SMSF.”

lion's shareBy that stage, financial-drama fatigue set in and I had other ‘twists and turns’ to tend to. I expressed my disappointment at Real Wealth’s foolish advice to set up a SMSF when I clearly didn’t have adequate funds after paying the ATP membership plus $10,000 trading money.

This was evident at the outset but my rose-tinted glasses helped me block that particular view. In hindsight, how foolish of me.

TIP: If you are feeling exhausted and vulnerable, if life as you know it is on the brink of collapse and you accept it is unfolding for all the right reasons – please set aside your financial aspirations until you have the energy and focus to make sensible decisions.

I just wanted someone to help me create a financial plan that would ensure my security later in life. At 50 years of age, I left it all a bit late but was assured by David Orth that first-time financial planning is commonplace in this age group.

A smarter finance advisor would have politely encouraged me to take off my rose- tinted glasses and consider realistic pathways to wealth creation.

From Bad To Worse

29 February 2016: I successfully negotiated a refund of $2,500 tax and audit fees for the 2014 financial year given that my newly opened account was only a couple of months old at that stage. It was the least Real Wealth could do.

I was also determined to track down the ATP gangsters who got away with selling me their dodgy membership. Why were they not pursued as robustly as Jade Capital Partners and Audrn? I didn’t care about who was licensed to do what. I just wanted my money back.

1 March 2016: A Compliance Director advised me in writing that The ATP ceased to be an Authorised Representative of Audrn Group on 19 May 2014.

“We note that the Settlement Deed dated 24 April 2015 (Deed) between you and The ATP was executed while The ATP was under the AFSL of JCP. Audrn is of the opinion that it is neither a party to the complaint nor a party to the Deed. Audrn Group was not involved in that process and was not aware of any terms contained in the Deed. You may wish to enforce this Deed by lodging a complaint against JCP with FOS.”

2 March 2016: I submitted another complaint to FOS requesting that Jade Capital Partners as the AFSL holder at the time of deed of settlement, pay in full the agreed amount in remuneration of $15,000, now $14,800.

3 March 2016: FOS advised that they had registered my dispute with Jade Capital Partners.

Further discussions with FOS led to registering a dispute with Audrn Group, who were the AFSL when The ATP sold me the membership.

20 June 2016: Real Wealth advised that the balance on my Macquarie SMSF account was $13,060.94. I’m not sure where the extra $7,698 came from but didn’t question it. Perhaps Orth had a moment of moral consciousness.

5 August 2016: FOS queried if Audrn had resolved my dispute. The answer was a resounding no.

8 August 2016: FOS advised they were progressing my dispute against Audrn to Case Management stage.

11 August 2016: FOS advised that Jade Capital Partners had agreed to pay me $838.97 to resolve the dispute. This represented the total amount I lost due to trading while ATP was under the AFSL of Jade Capital.

29 August 2016: FOS informed me that my dispute was moving to the next stage of the process and requested specific information from both myself and Audrn.

20 September 2016: FOS advised that the file has been passed on to the ombudsman so FOS could make a final decision on the matter.

The FOS Determination

28 October 2016: FOS emailed me the Determination which decreed that: “Within 14 days of the applicant’s acceptance of this determination the FSP (Audrn) must pay the SMSF (or other superannuation account in the applicant’s name) $12,499 plus interest in accordance with section 2.2 of this determination. The above compensation is a settlement amount and not a contribution or benefit.

The FSP is responsible for the refund. The product agreement was dated 31 January 2014 and the membership fee was paid on or by 9 May 2014. A Pty Ltd ceased as a corporate authorised representative of the FSP on 19 May 2014 and transferred to a different licensee. As a Pty Ltd received the full membership fee amount at the time it was the authorised representative of the FSP, it is reasonable that the FSP is responsible for the refund of the fee to the applicant.”

Corrupt and Untouchable

I couldn’t thank the FOS case manager and ombudsman enough for their wonderful work and support. 4 November 2016, I received a phone call from the FOS Team Manager. He gently broke the bad but not surprising news.

“FOS advised that it was unlikely Audrn would ever be held accountable for their actions and I also learned that ASIC does not have jurisdiction to investigate foreign directors.” (I said, what?)

licenceDespite frequent attempts by FOS to contact Audrn, there had been ‘limited response’ which may have been due to the fact that new directors were only appointed on 1 July 2016, and one resided in China. I also learned that the corrupt, untouchable Audrn group operated from a suburban house in Adelaide, South Australia and had not lodged any financial reports since 14 October 2013.

Consequently, FOS formally reported Audrn to ASIC for serious misconduct. Audrn had its licence revoked in September 2016.

I was also advised that unless there were substantial assets remaining in the company, it was unlikely there would be any distribution made to unsecured creditors such as me. In a nutshell, Audrn would not be able to meet its obligations and pay me the award made under the determination.

FOS would continue to monitor the situation and advise me if anything changed but there was nothing more that they could do to assist me in the recovery of my losses. I expressed my sincere gratitude for their hard work and empathised with the limitations imposed upon the investigative powers of all concerned.

Meanwhile, back at the Real Wealth ranch, the lone accountant took five months to close my SMSF account. On 25 November 2016, the total amount rolled over to my new superannuation fund: $18,128.52.

My grand loss, thanks to Real Wealth, ATP and Audrn: $28, 957.40.

Reasoning that I would rather face the challenge of losing money than my health, I accepted that I would never recover the money owed to me and vowed to be more discerning and patient in the future. While the overall experience left me feeling disappointed and disillusioned, I innately knew that I wasn’t done yet. Deciding to let sleeping fleas lie for awhile, I focused my energy on creating more joyful stories in my blossoming new life.

Waking the Sleeping Fleas

April, 2018, a welcome email woke the sleeping fleas from their slumber by way of an Aussie Scam Alert informing me of an ASIC announcement:

“ASIC has accepted an Enforceable Undertaking from (Real Wealth) director Mr David Orth under which he will cease to provide financial services for five years. In addition, Mr Orth will make a community benefit payment in the amount of $400,000 to Financial Literacy Australia to support the financial capability of vulnerable people.”

It has since been alleged that Real Wealth has morphed into a new ‘advisory’ business with the same street and PO Box address. The ATP scammers have probably reinvented themselves as well. For all I know, they are on the phone to a new, naive customer as I write this story.

The Royal Commission the Oz Government Didn’t Want to Have

This experience has left me feeling that Australia is a breeding ground for silk-suited gangsters who prey upon decent Australians seeking guidance to help them take control of their financial future. The fall-out from the Financial Services Royal Commission is probably just the tip of a melting iceberg.

For what it’s worth, I submitted my story to the royal commission and encouraged Aussie Scam Alert subscribers to do the same. Although royal commissions give people the opportunity to tell their stories, they are often deemed an exorbitant waste of time and money because governments of the day are known to ignore key recommendations instead of implement them.

The current Australian government behaves like an overgrown, royal banking family, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the final recommendations.

As of 16 August 2018, the Royal Commission has received 8223 submissions. Top three: Banking 65%, Superannuation 11%, Financial Advice 9%.

Conclusion

gangstersThis journey has taught me how easy it is for immoral finance gangsters to repeatedly slip the net and reinvent themselves behind front lines of eager, new gangsters-in-training, glossy websites, AFSL partners and ASIC approvals – ready for their next round of attacks on decent, financially naive Australians.

It’s unacceptable that predatory financial operators like The ATP and Audrn Group simply get away with their thieving schemes.

As for Real Wealth and other SMSF spruikers, it would be wise for politicians to consider legislative changes that mandate a realistic minimum balance at the outset for would-be investors, be it $100,000 or $1,000,000.

I can’t help but imagine that licensed rip-off cases like this end up at the bottom of  overflowing, political too-hard-baskets.

One would think that ASIC and FOS investigating officers would be be granted wider powers and appropriate funding to enable them to nail corporate and public sector gangsters.

But what does the Federal Government do in 2018? Cut the ASIC budget by $26m. Slash the jobs of 30 investigators.

The Financial Review aptly described the move as “an unheralded budget cut described as shocking by insiders as the Hayne royal commission adds to the regulator’s workload.”

Ain’t Hindsight Grand?

While I feel that I was grossly misled by The ATP and Real Wealth and a bit of a klutz for going ahead with any of it in the first place, I take full responsibility for my impulsive actions and decisions which culminated in these most unfortunate events.

It would have been wiser to seek further advice from reputable financial planners in person before making any decisions. I have learned my lesson well.

*Real names not used

Linda Summer, Lost For Words

#MeToo for Screenwriters?

#MeToo For Screenwriters?

 

It’s been awhile since words in a film inspired me to download the script and read them again.

Playwright/Screenwriter Martin McDonagh’s powerhouse original screenplay ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ did just that.

Scenario: Following the suicide of Police Chief, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) sits in a dark, empty police station with headphones on. He opens a letter from Willoughby, oblivious to fiery molotov cocktails being thrown through the windows by grieving mother, Mildred (Francis McDormand).

The Words I Heard:

WILLOUGHBY (V.O.)

‘Jason, Willoughby here. I’m dead now, sorry about that, but there’s something I wanted to say to you that I never really said when I was alive.

I think you’ve got the makings of being a really good cop, Jason, and you know why? Because, deep down, you’re a decent man. I know you don’t think I think that, but I do, Dipshit.

You play hopscotch when you think no-one’s looking, for Christ’s sakes…

I do think you’re too angry, though…And I know it’s all since your dad died and you had to go look after your Mom and all…

But as long as you hold onto so much hate then I don’t think you’re ever going to become…What I know you wanna become… A Detective.

Cos you know what you need to become a detective? And I know you’re gonna wince when I say this…

But what you need to become a detective… is Love. Because thru Love comes Calm, and thru Calm comes Thought.

 And you need Thought to detect stuff sometimes, Jason. It’s kinda all you need.
You don’t even need a gun. And you definitely don’t need Hate. Hate never solved nothing…

But Calm did. And Thought did. Try it. Try it just for a change.

No-one’ll think you’re gay.’

Worth Repeating

Martin McDonagh’s IMDb quote (2012)

“..the amount of control for a playwright is almost infinite, so you have that control over the finished product. But in film, you’re the lowest form of life. So that was half of the job of directing, was not letting someone else come in and fuck it up. And then the other half is to learn how the hell you actually do it, which is another kettle of fish.”

If I had a dollar for every article or quote I have read about ‘lowly’ screenwriters, I’d be loaded. Without writers, there are no stories. Without stories, there is no film industry.

Is it time for a #MeToo campaign for screenwriters?

Linda Summer – Lost-For-Words