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Parliamentary inquiry criticises Franchise Council board member for attempting to influence witness

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The chairman of the Parliamentary inquiry into the franchising sector has chastised Franchise Council of Australia board member and Deacon’s lawyer Stephen Giles for threatening a witness who appeared before the inquiry.

The chairman of the Parliamentary inquiry into the franchising sector has chastised Franchise Council of Australia board member and Deacon’s lawyer Stephen Giles for threatening a witness who appeared before the inquiry.

In an extraordinary move, inquiry chair and Labor MP Bernie Ripoll has dedicated a special appendix of his committee’s final report which was tabled in Federal Parliament this week to what he describes as “a serious incident” and matter of parliamentary privilege.

The controversy arose after the committee was presented with a letter of 13 October from Giles on behalf of his client Poolwerx Corporation to Warren Scott at Mills Oakley Lawyers, representing Skydive Hervey Bay and Damien Hansen.

The letter, which details a dispute between Poolwerx and Hansen over the sale of a Poolwerx franchise in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, also refers to Hansen’s submission to the Parliamentary inquiry.

“Our client reserves its rights to take action in relation to any defamatory or libellous comments in the written submission, and is concerned to ensure that your client does not repeat them in verbal comments to the federal inquiry. Given this warning, our client will view any repeat of the allegations to be deliberate and calculated to defame it,” Giles wrote.

Ripoll says in his report that the letter “provided clear evidence that the person who had made the submission was being threatened with a ‘penalty or injury’ as a direct result of making that submission”.

Ripoll then instructed the secretary of the committee, Peter Hallahan, to write to Giles. Hallahan’s letter, dated 15 October, says that Giles’s correspondence “may constitute a contempt of Parliament and a criminal offence”.

On 16 October, Giles wrote to the committee and Damien Hansen’s lawyers, withdrawing his original letter and apologising “unreservedly to the Senate and the Committee”.

Ripoll says in his report that the matter is now closed. “The committee has concluded that the purpose of the Parliamentary resolutions, which is to protect witnesses, has been fulfilled. As such, the committee does not consider that any further action in relation to this matter is warranted.”

A spokesperson for Deacons says: “The letter was withdrawn and the partner apologised to the company to which it was addressed and also to the committee. The committee’s report said it did not consider any further action warranted – it considers the matter closed now and so do we.”

The executive director of the Franchise Council of Australia, Steve Wright, is comfortable the matter is over, and Giles will remain on the board.

“It is obviously an issue for Stephen (Giles) to resolve but the key thing is that the committee has not decided to take further action. As far as we are concerned that’s a sensible outcome.”

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