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Jul 26, 2018

One Nation candidate received $66,000 payout three weeks before selling debt-laden company | Australia news

theguardian.com

One Nation candidate received $66,000 payout three weeks before selling debt-laden company | Australia news

Ben Smee


The One Nation candidate for Longman, Matthew Stephen, sold his tiling company on paper, and disclaimed its debts, less than three weeks after his firm received payment of $66,000 from a long-running legal dispute.
Stephen had previously promised unpaid workers and other creditors they would be reimbursed from that settlement.
Guardian Australia has confirmed Aus Tile QLD agreed the $66,000 settlement deal with Laurie Lindner Constructions in August 2016, in relation to the 2014 refurbishment of the Darwin Hilton hotel.

Stephen had told workers and subcontractors in late 2014 the reason they had not been paid was due to the dispute with the construction company, which withheld payment at the time and claimed work was substandard.
“Once the settlement is received, subcontractors will be the first to receive payment,” he wrote to them in August 2014.
Stephen asked them at the time to resubmit invoices and said “we now await the clearing of funds”. Guardian Australia has seen invoices totalling more than $20,000 and has spoken to contractors who claim they are owed more.
On 12 August 2016, the $66,000 settlement from Laurie Lindner Constructions was paid to Aus Tile QLD Pty Ltd.
On 31 August 2016, Stephen lodged documents with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to sell the company to “Steven O’Donovan”, an Irish novice labourer who left Australia in 2014. The documents stated O’Donovan lived at a Darwin address. The resident at that property said she had never heard of him.
Those owed money by Aus Tile QLD claim to have never been paid. The claimed debts include a $13,769.99 court-ordered damages payment against the company.
In July 2016, Stephen emailed builder Phillip Hoare and offered a payment plan for the damages, which he said was needed because of “short-term cash flow issues”.
“Once some of our smaller current outstanding claims are paid, more monies will be available to clear the debt in a more efficient manner.”
Hoare said he learned of the sale in September 2016 by searching the Asic register. Stephen subsequently referred complaints and demands for payment to O’Donovan.
Guardian Australia can also reveal that in 2015, as claims against Aus Tile QLD were piling up and contractors began to launch legal action, Stephen used a DIY company website to set up a new entity, with an almost identical name.

Aus Tile Group Pty Ltd was established in March 2015. It operates from Stephen’s address at Bracken Ridge, north of Brisbane. Aus Tile QLD is now owned by O’Donovan on paper but its registered address and place of business are the same Bracken Ridge address.
O’Donovan owns the original company on paper but his share is “non-beneficial”, meaning he holds it for the benefit of someone else. Stephen has refused to answer questions about whether he is the beneficiary.
One Nation did not answer questions put to them by Guardian Australia, including what happened to the $66,000 payment.
Stephen has repeatedly claimed he does not owe anyone any money and that any potential debts of Aus Tile QLD are the responsibility of O’Donovan, as per the contract for sale. He has refused to release the contract.
As a candidate he has spoken about his experience, claiming the “big end of town” did not pay his bills, and that as a result he could not afford to pay his own. He said he worked “18 hours a day with the calluses on these hands” to meet his own obligations.
He has said claims for payment are “political bastardry” and an attempt by the major parties to damage him politically.
Stephen on Facebook on Tuesday claimed he had handed police and the media a document addressing claims. Stephen and One Nation have not answered specific questions posed by Guardian Australia and journalists covering the Longman byelection say they are unaware of such a document.
“We tabled a document to the police and the media yesterday,” Stephen said. “We addressed every claim that we have heard through the media as I haven’t personally heard them.”
He went on to discuss his contact with Perrine van de Plasse, a French tiler who spoke with Guardian Australia on Tuesday and claims she is owed unpaid wages and superannuation.
“Fact is Perrine at the time was an illegal immigrant with no work rights,” Stephen wrote on Facebook. “As soon as the department made this clear to me we cut ties with Perrine. It was explained to me in correspondence which we have given the media and the authorities that as she was an illegal immigrant that my business would be fined a considerable amount of money and she was required to forfeit that money to the government.”
Stephen did not specify in his post when he cut ties with van de Plasse.
But Guardian Australia has seen her temporary skilled worker visa grant notice, from 2o14, which was sponsored by Aus Tile QLD. Guardian Australia has also seen emails from Stephen to the immigration department in 2013 where he cites her visa application date and reference number, and asks for details about how to nominate to sponsor her as a host employer.
Van de Plasse says she is still working legally in Australia as a tiler.