A Darwin builder has been jailed for four years for defrauding an NT government indigenous employment program by more than $213,000.
Timothy Schwab, 28, took advantage of the government’s poor oversight of the since axed program that offered taxpayer funds to incentivise employing Aboriginal Australians.
Schwab’s fraud involved fabricating pay sheets for indigenous employees who were not working for his company Timber and Steel Constructions at the time, claiming inflated hours or wages and for ineligible workers such as subcontractors.
NT Supreme Court Justice Graham Hiley said the only explanation was greed, but noted Schwab also correctly believed the rorting was “commonplace”.
The NT Labor government shut down the Indigenous Employment Provision Sum scheme in 2017, citing “widespread fraud” and serious issues which were later uncovered by the auditor general.
Unknown tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds were claimed by the NT’s largest construction companies.
However police have only been able to charge Mr Schwab and another small builder.
Mr Schwab defrauded the scheme for 18 months between 2015 and 2017 – when he was aged 25 to 27 – with amounts ranging from $143 to $32,067.
He repaid $33,460, describing it as an “overpayment” when the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (DIPL) sent a “please explain” letter.
But he carried on the deception for for another six months.
“You must have decided there were shortcomings and weaknesses in the systems at DIPL that you could continue to exploit notwithstanding that you had already been caught out and refunded $33,000,” Justice Hiley told the court.
The judge said his deception was deliberate and over an extended period, noting his assets included an $890,000 house he owned outright, he borrowed $1.88 million to build his company’s premises and owned a Mustang car.
“You seemed to have done very well for yourself in such a short space of time,” Justice Hiley said.
He pleaded guilty to 56 counts of obtaining a benefit by deception and was jailed for four years but will serve 18 months with the rest suspended.
DIPL CEO Andrew Kirkman said Schwab’s actions had significant financial ramifications for the department, which then had to allocate time and money auditing claims.
However the department has been widely criticised for not properly verifying their validity in the first place.
The NT Health Department’s separate pension concession scheme was also widely rorted at the time by travel agents.
Schwab’s father-in-law Charlie Reilly said outside court DIPL executives that ran the scheme without preventing fraud should be sacked.
“How much did it cost NT taxpayers? If you have a system that has got holes in it something is going to fall through the holes.”