The No Land Tax Party stood at the 2015 New South Wales election, campaigning against paying tax on investment properties and holiday homes.
But the party’s secretary, Peter Jones, who also stood as an upper house candidate, has been labelled “regrettably arrogant” and fined $13,315 by a Federal Court judge after the party failed to pay 3600 workers who spent up to 10 hours handing out how to vote cards on election day.
The party itself was fined a further $67,575 after Jones promised to pay the workers $30 an hour, then reneged on the deal.
The Fair Work Ombudsman took Jones and the party to court after they “failed to co-operate” after workers contacted the ombudsman about their pay. Jones and the party failed to keep basic employee records or comply with a Notice to Produce issued by the FWO during its investigation.
The FWO’s case focused on 21 workers short-changed a total of $6219, including teenagers, students and people who were otherwise unemployed. One of them was just 14 and in his first job.
Jones and the No Land Tax Party recruited workers in flyers mailed to homes across the state stating: “Your base pay is $30 an hour – you will get paid this regardless of what vote your local candidate obtains”.
Jones and the party admitted failing to pay the workers, in contravention of workplace law, but their defence submission said “it cannot seriously be accepted by the Court that not being paid approximately $300 for the day has had a material impact on their lives, wellbeing or finances”.
Judge Tom Altobelli took a dim view of the argument.
“The submission made on behalf of the Respondents is both inconsistent with the evidence before the Court from the workers themselves, and regrettably arrogant,” he said.
Altobelli found that Jones and the party “do not appear to take full responsibility for their contraventions” and that there had been “limited demonstration of contrition or remorse”.
Jones told the court that his party was reliant on receiving public funding to pay the workers, but it only came if a candidate was elected. None were.
Jones and the party submitted that the non-payment of workers was “a grave miscalculation that arose from blind optimism”, but the judge accepted the FWO submission that, when considered in its entirety, the contraventions of Jones and the party were deliberate.
“The difficulty for the Respondents is that there is no evidence that satisfies the Court that they had a legitimate and considered expectation of winning one or more seats in the NSW Election on 28 March 2015,” Altobelli said.
“Moreover, even if they had won, on their own evidence (or lack thereof) they could not have reasonably satisfied the requirements for payment from the Election Campaign Fund due to lack of records.”
Jones and the party paid the 21 sample workers – who represent less than 1% of all workers engaged – after the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced litigation, but there is no evidence the other workers received their back-pay.
Altobelli ordered the party to rectify any underpayments, but Jones submitted the No Land Tax Party had no funds or assets.
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