The recent scandal hounding our ex-Chancellor Richard Torbay has been making national news. They say corruption runs deep and while suspicious investments and political, financial and personal alliances are being dredged up in national media, Nucleus asks why rumour and questions are being met primarily with silence.
Last issue, Nucleus published a full-page foreword by then UNE Chancellor the Hon. Richard Torbay. All fine and dandy when we sent the issue to print, but the night before that month’s student rag was launched, the not-so-honourable Torbay was abruptly disendorsed from the National party, in which he had been going to run as the New England federal candidate. The next day saw his resignations from state parliament, where had been an independent for almost 14 years, and from the prestigious Chancellorship of the University of New England.
After a brief statement on the night of Tuesday 19th March, with the predictable reference to smear campaigns, Torbay rather uncharacteristically disappeared, all contact broken, websites shut down; leaving spectators and speculators reaching for conclusions about this well-known, well-supported, usually prominent public figure.
Information given to the National party had been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC, and linked him with the Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, currently involved in the largest corruption investigation in NSW history. Then ICAC raided Torbay’s house and his electoral office. Meanwhile the popular local politician – once UNE Union CEO, once Armidale mayor, once speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Chair on countless boards – evaporated in the heat of intensifying press coverage.
A Sydney Morning Herald exposé points to Torbay having undeclared pecuniary interests, an offence in itself. He had numerous business ties to close friends and Armidale rich folk including former Police Chief David Cushway and developers Phillip Hanna and Nick Rice. Implications are made about considerable suspicious business dealings between Torbay, Rice, Hanna and Cushway. The Herald also states that Cushway abused his authority in a crimanal charge case involving Hanna. David Cushway was appointed in February as UNE’s Chief Operating Officer, in a selection panel chaired by the Vice-Chancellor Jim Barber.
On March 20th a press release was made by UNE, stating Torbay’s immediate resignation as Chancellor, though no reason was provided. On Monday 8th, following the press coverage implicating Cushway, an email was delivered to staff at UNE expressing VC Jim Barber’s support for Cushway and stating that the latter will remain in his position as Chief Operating Officer.
Cushway has denied to the VC any improper conduct, but at this stage, none of the Torbay business has been communicated directly to students, who surely are the key stakeholders in a university and who, surely, deserve to know not only what has happened, but why and what is going on now. How will a new Chancellor be selected? How do we know what this process is and that it is not susceptible and will not be tainted by corrupt behaviour, which at the moment seems to be uncomfortably close to home? What are people supposed to think when communication is so limited?
Those who remember the previous uproar between Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor John Cassidy and Alan Pettigrew might ask whether a curse for trouble rests with the Chancellorship.
As to what the outcome of the ICAC investigations will be, we have yet to find out. Many questions, it seems, are still to be answered.