SOCIAL welfare agency Community Connections is celebrating after charges against it were withdrawn and the matter thrown out of court yesterday.
Nanjing Night Net

Warrnambool magistrate Ian von Einem yesterday criticised WorkSafe Victoria after the organisation decided at the last minute not to proceed with charges against the agency.

WorkSafe had filed charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after former employee Gary Lucas was dismissed by the organisation in 2009.

The court was only notified on Tuesday afternoon that a special two-day hearing scheduled for yesterday and today would not go ahead.

WorkSafe solicitor Patrick McQuillen said senior legal counsel had been briefed for both WorkSafe and Community Connections which led to a resolution.

He said the court was immediately notified the case would not be proceeding and the charge was to be withdrawn.

But an irritated Mr von Einem questioned why it had taken so long to resolve what had been set down as a two-day committal hearing when there was so little evidence to support a prosecution in the first place.

“When I read the matter at the weekend I thought there was little or no evidence to substantiate a charge,” he said.

Mr von Einem said it was not the first time that WorkSafe or other government authorities had withdrawn matters “at the barrier”.

He said the case had gained a fair amount of media publicity and he couldn’t help but think there had been an abuse of court time and the judicial process.

Terry O’Keefe, president of the Community Connections board of directors, said the decision by WorkSafe not to proceed with the charges proved that allegations of bullying and harassment against his organisation had been baseless. ‘‘Community Connections management has always maintained its innocence over the Work Cover charge and considers the dismissal of the charge as the only fair and reasonable outcome,’’ he told The Standard.

‘‘We have told everyone from the outset, that we were not guilty of this charge.’’

“We are very pleased that the charge has been dismissed.’’

Community Connections counsel David Neal, SC, said his client was pleased the matter had been resolved.

He said the charges had been “very difficult” for Community Connections but the right decision had been made to withdraw the charges before the hearing went ahead.

Mr von Einem noted that there was no application for costs and he presumed some arrangement had been made between the parties involved.

Mr Lucas has previously won both a Fair Work Australia unfair dismissal case and a County Court WorkCover settlement against his former employer.

Community Connections would have been the first not-for-profit organisation in the state to be prosecuted by WorkSafe.

Employer bodies convicted of breaching the laws face fines of up to $305,350.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.