New Power. Image credit: ABC News
Market Herald logo

Subscribe

Be the first with the news that moves the market
  • Hayden Burbank and Mark Babbage went to prison last year for flouting WA’s strict border controls so they could attend the AFL grand final at Optus Stadium
  • They were each sentenced to 10 months in prison with seven months suspended, but have also had on going consequences that could cost them and their families their livelihoods
  • Mr Burbank could have easily lost the liquor licence for his Melbourne restaurant, while Mr Babbage was stripped of his financial planner’s authorisation
  • High-flying businessman Neville Power is alleged to have committed a similar border breach in early October and was charged by police later the same month
  • Three-and-a-half months later, however, Mr Power’s case is still to be determined and he retains many of his highly influential executive roles
  • Mr Power’s case has been adjourned twice, with the hearing due to take place on February 11
  • If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison or a $50,000 fine
  • Previously Mr Power was referenced in a senate inquiry regarding tax payer funding of his privately owned aircraft

Prominent WA business leader Neville “Nev” Power may well have the names Mark Babbage and Hayden Burbank foremost in his mind as he prepares to face a court hearing this month on allegations he breached the State’s strict COVID-19 border regulations.

Mr Power and his son Nicholas are alleged to have flouted quarantine restrictions when they flew by private helicopter into WA from Queensland last October.

Mr Babbage and Mr Burbank breached the hard border rules so they could attend the AFL grand final at Optus Stadium on September 25 at a time when travel from Victoria was all but banned. 

Just days later the pair were nabbed by police and on October 12 were each handed 10-month jail terms with seven months suspended.

Mr Babbage, a financial planner, and Mr Burbank, a restaurateur, served their three months behind bars and were released in late December, but the consequences have not stopped there.

While Mr Burbank said he and Mr Babbage were “deeply sorry for the selfish and stupid decisions made,” the owner of Morris Jones Restaurant & Cocktail Bar could have easily lost his liquor licence, and Mr Babbage had his authorisation revoked by Capstone Financial Planning.

Mr Babbage also had his membership with the Finance Brokers Association of Australia (FBAA) cancelled following an extensive review process.

“From an industry association point of view, there’s a whole host of professional conduct issues and constitutional matters, as well as ASIC’s provisions on what is a fit and proper person,” FBAA Managing Director Peter White said.

“If somebody intentionally breaks the law and then goes to jail — they’re fairly big no-noes.”

Speaking to The Market Herald, Mr White explained that a cancelled membership does not prevent Mr Babbage from working in the finance and mortgage broking industry, “but it certainly is a black mark against his name.”

Membership of a professional industry body in the sector is not mandatory, but Mr White noted that the vast majority if not all lenders will require an association membership in some capacity.

“It’s a big deal to be honest with you, and we don’t make any of these decisions lightly because we know it’s a big deal. There are some big no-noes that you just can’t get over at times, and it is what it is unfortunately,” he said.

“We certainly don’t jump to that point without due cause and a lot of consideration because we understand its impacts.”

Breach for the sky

The actions of Mr Burbank and Mr Babbage bear some similarities to those of Mr Power. 

Some will argue that Mr Burbank and Mr Babbage’s case is more serious. Aside from each facing three charges of failing to comply with a direction under WA’s COVID laws, they also faced an additional charge of fraud for falsifying travel documents to get into WA.

By comparison, the high-flying businessman faces three charges of failing to comply with a direction under WA’s COVID-19-related border restrictions after he and his son, Nicholas, allegedly flew into WA from Queensland in a private helicopter without the required G2G documentation.

According to police, Mr Power arrived in Exmouth on October 8 last year, then stopped at two other WA towns before ending his journey at Jandakot airport on October 9. Just three days after Mr Burbank and Mr Babbage were sentenced.

At the time of the alleged breach, WA health authorities considered Queensland a “low risk” state, which meant travellers could enter WA but they had to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Mr Power, 63, and his son did not appear in court for two previous hearings late last year and their lawyers managed to buy some time, with the hearing pushed back to February 11. It is unknown for what reason the hearing was postponed.

But where it took a matter of weeks for Mr Burbank and Mr Babbage to be tried and prosecuted, Mr Power, who was interviewed and charged by police on October 20, is still to be dealt with roughly three-and-a-half months later.

All the alarm bells, but no whistle

The lack of any significant action is particularly notable given Mr Power’s credentials.

In addition to his role as Chair of Perth Airport, Mr Power is also Chair of the Foundation for the WA Museum and the Royal Flying Doctors Federation Board.

Most significantly, however, Mr Power was appointed Chair of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission by Prime Minister Scott Morrison almost two years ago. The role involved advising the Government on economic and social problems arising from the pandemic, and Mr Morrison gushed at the time about Mr Power’s “high level business expertise and strong commitment to social issues.”

The commission was ultimately disbanded in early May 2021, but not before Mr Power had earned more than $294,000 for services provided during the six-month period from March 23 to September 22, 2020, and a $73,000 payment for Mr Power’s executive assistant. In addition a senate inquiry raised questions around the tax payer funding for Mr Power’s aircraft expenses. 

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally criticised the taxpayer-funded flights at the time.

“It’s a bit rich when there are single mums, casual workers, tradies and teachers who are missing out on JobKeeper,” she told journalists.

Since Mr Power was charged by police, he has been removed from his role as deputy chair of natural gas player Strike Energy, but retains a position on the board as non-executive director. 

“Strike Energy Limited notes that the company’s Non-Executive Deputy Chairman, Mr Neville Power has been summoned to appear in Court for a matter relating to Western Australia’s quarantine laws,” the company said in a statement to the ASX on October 25.

“Mr Power will continue to perform his duties as a Director of the company.”

Meanwhile, Mr Power is currently on leave of absence from his role as Chair of Perth Airport.

While Mr White of the FBAA admitted to not being fully aware of the details surrounding Mr Power’s case, he said the lack of any major action so far — particularly given his former position as Chair of the NCCC — “is extremely alarming from my point of view.”

“I don’t see . . . why further action hasn’t happened yet. There are some fairly pertinent questions that need to be answered.”

And now we wait

WA Premier Mark McGowan said last year that the charges laid against Mr Power showed that no one is above the law.

“All I’d say is the rules apply to everyone,” he said.

“I suppose the good thing if there’s any good thing out of this, is it shows that no one is above the law.”

Those remarks could prove to be hollow if Mr Power gets away with a slap on the wrist. 

Failing to comply with border directions can result in a 12-month prison sentence or a $50,000 fine — an amount that might be considered pocket change for a man who earned more than $5.9 million as then-CEO of Fortescue Metals Group in FY2018.

Come February 11, all eyes will be on the explanation provided for Mr Power’s actions, and — perhaps more importantly if found guilty — whether or not he is deemed fit to retain his high-profile executive positions.

More From The Market Herald

" “You were ungrateful”: The cost of doing business in the mining boys club

Sitting in the conference room of a high-rise office in Perth’s CBD, this female businesswoman remembers…