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Sir Terence O'Rort
31 October, 2006  
Hang the expense - this is the QLS

Rubbery accounts cause angry scenes at Queensland Law Society AGM. Procedural mayhem slows the search for missing dramatis personae: “Miscellaneous, Other and Sundries”

imagePersistent problems of addition and subtraction continue to plague the Queensland Law Society.

Gone are the days when Carving Knife Carter and the boys up at the QLS palace in Ann Street had a bulging cookie-jar into which to dip their mitts.

It has been slim pickings at the QLS since former attorney general “Rocket” Rod Welford stopped the joke in 2004 by cutting off most of the funding.

There have not been any new French antiques, Persian rugs or icemakers since the heady days of former CEO Tony Tarr and the latest economy drive is likely to see the gutting of the QLS library – about the only benefit members still get from the society.

Arithmetical confusion was at the heart of the proceedings at the QLS annual general meeting held on Wednesday, October 25.

Nothing normally happens at AGMs unless someone does something silly, like trying to find out where members’ funds have gone.

That provokes an old guard proxy-stack that would do the Labor Party proud. The dissidents get crushed, the motions defeated and life in the magic kingdom returns to normal.

The trouble-makers are left to lick their wounds and retreat to their burrows to await the completely co-incidental professional discipline problems and audits that descend upon them.

Game, set and match to the executive and faceless QLS bureaucrats, who are the principal beneficiaries of member funds.

This year’s AGM followed this time-honoured pattern but with some delicious, fresh twists.

For a start the dissidents were none other than two of the oldest of the old guard: Martin Conroy, whose wife was on the QLS Council for nine years and Lex MacGillivray, who proudly announced to the meeting that he was attending his 53rd QLS AGM.

imageMacGillivray (pic), who founded CBD law shop MacGillivrays, was the 2002 recipient of a QLS award for outstanding contributions to the law. I don’t think he’ll be getting any more gongs from the QLS.

Most of the attendees at AGMs are hewn from the ranks of current or former council members or toadies conscripted to make up the numbers. Of the 8,000 members only 27 turned up at the 2005 AGM.

The last big ruckus was in 1998 when the membership had a gutful and thousands of the rank-and-file turned up for the AGM, which had to be held at City Hall.

With the aid of some filibustering and cunning meeting procedure the old guard narrowly saved the day, but were shaken to their core by the reform group who wanted disclosure of the financial workings of the QLS, including toady distributions.

Last Wednesday’s meeting attracted about a hundred members and there was a certain groundhog day element to the evening. The QLS overlords were looking forward to a quick meeting, handshakes, back slapping and thence to the QLS bar. Everyone’s happy and the members go to sleep for another year.

The trouble was that Conroy had filed a motion.

In a tribute to the savviness of Queensland solicitors the first hour of the meeting was spent trying to decide in what order the agenda would be considered. There were motions, amended motions, points of order, points of order on the points of order, addresses, replies, addresses to the replies, interjections, objections to the interjections, etc.

imageIncoming President Joe Pinder, himself the subject of one of the motions, vacated the chair in favour of deputy president Megan Mahon (snap), who puts one in mind of a younger, jolly Amanda Vanstone.

Unfortunately, that was where the similarity ended as the meeting descended into chaos as Mahon put in a chairperson’s performance distinguished by meeting skills akin to those of Dustin Hofmann in Rain Man.

Conroy et al were miffed that QLS expenses had risen from $5.9 million in 2004-2005 to $9.3 million in the 14-month period from May 2005 until June 2006.

Panic, the serfs were revolting. The overlords’ response was to post 80 pages of financial details on the QLS website six days after Conroy’s notice and then a further five pages one day before the meeting.

When members arrived they were provided with a fresh bundle of 183 pages of material that duplicated the stuff on the web-site and contained other pertinent information including a copy of a Proctor article by former president Peter Carne, who is now the CEO of the society.

The article was entitled “New era for research & training” with the sub-title “Survey confirms member need for service”. The QLS had to pay professional consultants to find out that QLS members wanted some value for their bucks. There goes another 12 grand.

Unfortunately, somebody actually took the time to read all the bumf and figures.

Confusion erupted as questions were asked about why QLS salaries and wages went from $4.09 million to $6.77 million and staff travel rose from $56,948 to $222,111 in the 14-month period.

Pinder, Carne et al were horrified that their integrity was being questioned and mounted a strong counter-attack, but not before an hour was spent by madam acting chair Amanda Mahon deciding whether Carne would be allowed to address the meeting.

imageThe prez and Carne (snap) explained that it was all a terrible misunderstanding, and the problems had been caused because the QLS accounts had been consolidated with all other QLS entities and funds and this made the numbers look worse than they really were. Also the figures were for a 14-month period not 12-months.

A dissatisfied MacGillivray enquired how sundries could rise from $40,041 to $279,486 for the year and why staff travel and accommodation climbed from $194,078 to $276,668. No one seemed to know the precise whereabouts of Mr Sundries.

Former President Tom Sullivan criticised MacGillivray for raising these matters, suggesting that the venerable member had a bitter taste in his mouth because he was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the QLS council.

MacGillivray bridled at this suggestion and requested that Sullivan be reprimanded, informing the meeting that this fellow was now his “former friend”.

Predictably, MacGillivray was howled down by various strategically placed QLS’ toadies. Here’s his draft summary of events.

The answer was all in the figures on the web-site (put up the day before) Carne said.

An examination of the document reveals gems such as member expense for a day at Dreamworld ($13,164) and $10,711 for the women in law cocktail party.

“Miscellaneous” made an appearance in catering and functions to the extent of $22,406 – but no one was allowed to meet him face to face.

Many of the toads went hopping mad when another meddler inquired about the incoming presidents dinner, which cost $21,334.

What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they realize how hard QLS councillors and staff work producing these accounts? What’s a few harmless table wines among friends?

Carne defended the dinner, explaining that it was the QLS’s gala event of the year and an important occasion to network with “stakeholders”, a term that includes “people who work with the society and take part in various committees”. (Perhaps that’s where we could find “Sundries” and “Miscellaneous”.)

Anyway, the president did not have another major function until Christmas and that only cost $16,696.

“Other”, a friend of “Miscellaneous”, obviously has a serious drinking problem because he consumed $8,481 for Other Functions and $14,966 for Other Council Entertainment.

The previous former past president Rob Davis collared his $2,333 gift from the society and scarpered to the Brisbane bar and was not present for the AGM.

imageEnough was enough and Pinder (snap) wheeled out the QLS finance director Anthony Walduck to sooth the rabble. He went into a complicated explanation of matching principles, the audit process, how wonderful the QLS staff were and how they had worked day and night to produce the accounts to members.

Walduck said everything was hunky dory and the society had made a surplus before tax of $2.5 million, so what’s everybody complaining about?

Carne chimed in to tell members about all the difficult decisions he has had to make to produce that result.

Someone then unhelpfully pointed out that the $2.5 million surplus had been produced by revaluing the QLS’s shares in its insurance company Lexon by $2.125 million (the value of which had been written off last year) and the deferral of an income item from the previous year of $670,000.

If this shuffling of the accounts had not happened then the society would have made a loss of about $500,000.

All of this financial maneuvering is thirsty work and it does seem churlish to begrudge the CEO and directors of Lexon the measly $882,723 that members pay them.

Apparently a full investigation is being launched by the QLS to track down Sundries, Other and Miscellaneous and a full report will be provided to members.

However, first another survey has to be undertaken to see whether members really do want to discover the identities of Sundries, Miscellaneous and Other.

As we always say in Brisbane, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Sir Terence O’Rort reporting.


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