Wife of ex-NRL player David Fifita jailed over Centrelink fraud

david-fifita-and-wifeThe wife of former NRL player David Fifita has been sentenced to jail for fraudulently claiming almost $50,000 in single-parent Centrelink payments but the magistrate has allowed her to be assessed for home detention.

Jade Robinson – also legally known as Jade Fifita – pleaded guilty in June to two counts of receiving financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity totalling $48,500 over almost five years from 2011.

In Gosford Local Court on Friday, magistrate Jennifer Price sentenced the 26-year-old mother-of-three to eight months’ imprisonment, with a three-month non-parole period, for misrepresenting her true circumstances.

However, she adjourned the matter until January so Robinson can be assessed for home detention, in which case she would avoid any jail time.

“To my mind, that would then cover the appropriate need for general deterrence,” the magistrate said.

Robinson sobbed as the sentence was read out and she was shielded by her husband, family and friends as she left court on Friday.

Court documents show she was in a relationship with Fifita before her first single-parent payment in September 2011 and married him in Thailand in October 2014, despite telling Centrelink their wedding was in April 2016.

The pair have three children, aged six, two and four months.

But Robinson claimed Centrelink benefits until May 2016, not including a period when she lived with Fifita in France while he played professional rugby league for Lezignan Football Club.

Her payments were reinstated in June 2013 when the pair returned to Australia and Fifita was signed to play for the Cronulla Sharks.

Fifita now plays for Wakefield Trinity in the English Super League.

His brother Andrew plays for the Sharks.

Ms Price said Robinson’s crime of non-disclosure was “consistent and persistent” and fuelled by her “desire to maintain an outward appearance of success”.

She noted Robinson felt competition to have well-dressed children, a new car and “keep up with others in social activities” and was not driven by narcissistic tendencies, rather “a dependency on the approval of others”.

The matter is due back in court on January 25.

Enduring power of attorney: your back-up plan if things go wrong

Enduring Power of AttorneyIt is generally when tragedy strikes that you wished you had taken the necessary precautions to protect yourself from financial disaster.

The appointment of someone you trust to make critical financial – and possibly life-changing – decisions on your behalf in the event that you can’t make those decisions for yourself is also time critical. Because once you lose capacity, you can no longer appoint that person.

An enduring power of attorney is the “insurance policy” that most people get wrong – it’s the document used to appoint someone else (called an attorney) to legally deal with your money, bank accounts and other assets if you become unable to manage your affairs by yourself.

It’s not just elderly people who need to think about this, it’s all of us.

The power in the document in most cases starts when you lose  capacity – either temporarily or permanently. It ceases when you die. After that, your will kicks in.

With dementia rates on the rise, this condition gets maximum attention. But capacity can be lost through car accidents, workplace incidents, ill health, psychiatric illnesses, during medical operations, through strokes and being in a coma. Illness doesn’t discriminate between ages.

“It is just as easy for an old person and the young to lose capacity,” says Brian Hor, special counsel with Townsends Business & Corporate Lawyers. “No one knows when it might happen so it is better to be prepared.”

Being prepared is to understand what you are doing when you appoint an attorney, what the options are and that the person or persons chosen are the best possible, says Rod Cunich, consulting principal of KeyPoint Law.Enduring Power of Attorney - Steps to take

“People often make the mistake that abuse is limited to something that is intentional and underhanded,” he says. “There are [people appointed as] attorneys out there who abuse their power and rob their parents in full knowledge of what they are doing, but there are other cases where they are naïve and doing the wrong thing.”

The misuse of an enduring power of attorney can come in different forms. For example Jim (not his real name) who is 87 is finding it difficult to get to the bank to pay his bills and withdraw money. After a visit to his solicitor he appoints his daughter Jane as his enduring power of attorney with the powers to start immediately.

Using her powers, Jane is able to become a signatory to Jim’s accounts. She also has access to his internet banking. The arrangement is working well until Jane has some big bills of her own to pay and gets behind in her mortgage payments. At the same time she is paying Jim’s bills and doing his banking, she withdraws some cash and keeps it for herself.

Jim doesn’t check his bank statements and has no idea his cash reserves are running low until it comes time to move into residential care and there are insufficient funds to pay the costs.

Who to appointEnduring Power of Attorney - Who to appoint

So who can you trust? Spouses and partners generally appoint each other and, as a backup, one or more of their children. It can be set up so the attorneys can make decisions jointly or independent of each other.

Other options include the appointment of a professional such as a solicitor or accountant or a professional person jointly with a family member or friend.

It may be that two or more trusted and competent family or friends are appointed and required to make joint decisions which may reduce the risk of abuse.

There is no perfect solution and they all come with their pros and cons, says Cunich.

He says the safest way is to appoint a professional but that may come with costs, have an element of inconvenience or delay and if parties can’t agree there will be a deadlock which may be hard to resolve.

“The most efficient and cost-effective appointment is a sole person (family or friend) but this maximises exposure to risk/abuse,” he says.

“These people have your finances, and in some cases your very life, in their hands,” says Natalie Abela, a Partner at law firm Cowell Clarke. “It must be someone you trust implicitly and who knows you very well – preferably someone who is financially savvy and who is not in conflict with other family members.”

Natalie Abela a says the more instructions and clarification of your wishes you can provide to the designated person the better.

Telling the rest of the family about the appointee is also important so when the time comes, everyone is clear on who is responsible and has authority in making vital decisions, she says.

Forms to appoint an EPOA are readily available over the internet. But like a do-it-yourself will kit, most people “don’t know what they don’t know” and there are plenty of risks in appointing the wrong person or persons, says Rod Cunich. It is complicated by the law being different in each state and territory.

The powers of an attorney

In most states and territories, an attorney’s powers stop at financial and legal decisions – for example, spending money to pay medical and household bills.

When it comes to lifestyle and personal matters like whether to remain in your own home with help or move into residential care and which doctors to appoint or personal services to use, you may need to appoint what is calld an enduring guardian.

In some jurisdictions like Queensland, ACT and Victoria, an enduring power of attorney extends to decisions about lifestyle and personal matters and covers the role of enduring guardian.

However, a further thing to check is whether the document enables the attorney or guardian to direct how medical treatment is administered within, say, a hospital.

It may be that a further document such as an advance healthcare directive (also referred to as a living will) is required. This would include decisions around whether to attempt to resuscitate you in the event of cardiac arrest or turn off life-preserving machines.

Hor says it makes sense to appoint an enduring power of attorney at the same time as enduring guardian if necessary.

“Doctors may listen to family members about medical-related issues but there is now recognition that there is a formal role,” he says. “If there is an enduring guardian or an advance care directive in place and a person’s wishes are well-documented, then their views are likely to trump those of a family member who can make informal suggestions.

If you don’t choose

Where there are joint assets with a spouse or long-term partner, do not assume that they can make decisions on your behalf without being appointed your attorney and/or guardian, says Hor.

“Without an EPOA, there is no one who has the legal right to deal with your assets such as your bank account or selling your jointly-owned property. They cannot sign documents for you without it,” he says.

If someone has not appointed an EPOA and loses capacity and there are decisions to be made around their finances and their health, then an application has to be made to the relevant state tribunal to  appoint a guardian.

If there is a decision to be made, such as needing access to their money to pay for medical expenses or care, then family members may have to seek the permission of the appointed guardian.

Rod Cunich says in addition to this being a time-consuming and stressful exercise, financial guardians (even if they are a trusted family member) may have to pay a security bond as a condition of being appointed.

At worst, a tribunal may appoint a stranger as guardian or a trustee company where significant fees must be paid, he says.

Problem areas

The law states that the attorney must act in the best interest of the principal (ie, you) and avoid conflicts of interest.

Rod Cunich says common problem areas are when attorneys fail to keep accounts or they make unauthorised transactions – whether on purpose or inadvertently.

“There is no power or authority to give gifts to third parties unless expressly authorised by the document and there is no power or authority for attorney to benefit themselves, unless specifically authorised by the document,” he says.

By way of example, Rod Cunich says a child who is caring for their mother and is required to drive  her regularly to medical appointments and do  her shopping might feel their car is not up to the job, so they use her money to buy themselves a new one.

“They may genuinely believe they are doing nothing wrong even though it is absolutely wrong. It might be greed or naivety or a sense of entitlement and it may not be an evil motivation but it is a breach of the law,” says Rod Cunich.

Where someone believes an appointed attorney is not acting in someone’s best interests, they can apply to the relevant state or territory tribunal to have them removed. Elder abuse can be reported to relevant organisations in each state and territory.

Queensland MPs blame men for surge in fake Domestic Violence Orders

LNP politician Ros Bates believes those complaining about fake domestic violence orders are just angry, jilted men.

Sexist LNP politician Ros Bates blames the victims of fake domestic violence orders. Picture: (AAP Image/Darren England)

Recent outbursts by female Queensland MPs about domestic ­violence orders highlights a disturbing idea that men should just shut up.

The statements by the LNP’s Ros Bates and the ALP’s Shannon Fentiman were disturbing because of their gross generalisations and also because of their factual inaccuracy, which showed shameful ignorance and a disconnect from the real world.

They also highlighted a severe ­social imbalance that’s becoming more prevalent, because if a man said the same things about women, it would feature on every talk show and social media feed in the world.

Ms Bates unleashed a bile-laced ­tirade in response to a One Nation policy that would grant provisions for parents under domestic violence orders (DVO) to still see their children while the courts processed the matter.

This policy is designed to counter cases of untrue claims of domestic violence that are used to gain an unfair advantage in child custody hearings.

Bates said One Nation had been “brainwashed by a few jilted men caught up in custody battles”.

She was focusing on the relatively extreme rhetoric and actions of the Brotherhood of Fathers, but if she had bothered to take even the most cursory glance at ­online men’s help forums, Facebook pages and hard statistics, she’d realise that frivolous DVOs are far more than just “jilted men” whingeing.

According to the Australian ­Bureau of Statistics, about 26 per cent of DVOs issued in NSW were either withdrawn or successfully defended in 2015-16.

There is also this statement by ­retired Family Court judge Justice David Collier: “I’m satisfied that a number of people who have appeared before me have known that it (filing a frivolous DVO) is one of the ways of completely shutting husbands out of the child’s life. It’s a horrible weapon.’’

Then we have a survey of Queensland magistrates in 2015 that showed 74 per cent believed restraining ­orders were “often” used for tactical purposes. In NSW, this number soared to 90 per cent of magistrates.

A submission to the Australian Government in December 2016 by the Parents Beyond Breakup support group stated: “It is not uncommon that mothers who come to us for ­support will inform us that they were advised to make such claims in order to gain strategic advantage …”

Director of Australian advocacy group Dads In Distress, Peter ­Nicholls, said frivolous intervention orders were “extremely common”.

“Once an order is issued, it can take six months to two or three years for a court to throw it out and in that time, fathers are prevented from seeing their kids,” he said.

The other major issue is fathers being pressured to make “consent without admissions” to false claims, something One Nation wants scrapped when children are involved.

“We speak to many men who say they have been advised by police and legal sources to sign these ‘consent without admissions’ forms because they won’t affect any court proceedings and will expedite the process. But it is detrimental,” said Mr Nicholls.

“The solution can be seen in some states in America and in the UK where police have to make an assessment of both parties before issuing ­orders, rather than applying a blanket approach.”

Queensland Family Violence ­Prevention Minister Shannon ­Fentiman also piled into One Nation.

But rather than saying the law should assume all estranged fathers and husbands are violent, perhaps she would be better off dealing with the record 25,678 people who breached protection orders under her watch in the past year.

Domestic violence groups say proof is required for intervention ­orders to be issued but Augusto Zimmermann, a commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, wrote last year: “… data from the Western Australia Police ­indicates that domestic violence incidents … classified as ‘crime’ accounted for only 40 per cent of all domestic ­violence restraining orders in 2012.

“For instance, official illustrations on domestic violence now include such abstract considerations as ‘extreme jealousy’, ‘constant criticising’ and ‘ignoring the victim’s rights’.”

The biggest problem with the ­attack on One Nation is that Bates and Fentiman have basically shut down the debate.

According to them, we can’t even discuss the issue of fake intervention orders and anyone who does is just a jilted, angry loser.

The examples described above prove we do need to have the conversation and not be lectured to by nasty, ­virtue-signalling politicians.

NSW assisted dying bill ‘unsafe’, warn Palliative care experts

NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017Palliative care professionals have presented a united front against proposed voluntary assisted dying legislation on the eve of debate in the NSW Parliament, declaring the bill “cannot be made safe”.

The NSW upper house is set to debate laws that would make it legal for terminally ill NSW residents aged 25 or over and expected to die within 12 months to end their own life with medical assistance.

It includes safeguards such the decision must be signed off by two medical practitioners, including a specialist, and the patient assessed by an independent psychiatrist or psychologist.

On Wednesday a group of doctors and nurses involved in palliative care outlined their strong opposition to the proposed law during a media conference at Parliament House.

The objections ranged from the risk that should the bill pass there was no guarantee eligibility would not be later expanded to the safeguards being “a bandaid on the danger of the situation”.

Palliative care specialist Dr Frank Brennan said “too often the debate is characterised as a simple choice between suffering and choosing physician assisted suicide or euthanasia”.

He said the choice was “a false one” that ignores “the enormous advances” had been made in the area of treating human suffering.

Dr Frank Brennan says his experience is that patients experience “the ebb and flow of feelings” and that “people change their mind”.

“A day of anguish may be followed by a day of calm,” he said.

“To proceed with physician assisted suicide or euthanasia in a period of despair ignores this ebb and flow”.

A common theme was the need to improve palliative care services and access to them.

Dr Alan Oloffs from Nepean-Blue Mountains local area health district, highlighted a recent auditor-general’s report that identified “significant gaps in provision” especially in rural and remote areas.

The clinical director of palliative medicine at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr Maria Cigolini, said the group believed the proposed legislation is “not safe and we believe it cannot be made safe”.

Asked why a terminally ill person should not be given the choice of how they die, Dr Maria Cigolini argued the “majority of people who have the desire to die” are depressed, feel they are a burden to others or are unsupported.

“When those people are managed appropriately and are … sent to the right services … particularly palliative care and mental health services, that desire to die changes dramatically,” he said.

However, advocates argue the bill – devised by a cross-party working group of MPs – contains the tightest eligibility criteria in the world.

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