‘That was mean’: Charity founder hits back

 

One-time Queensland Young Australian of the Year Jean Madden, who founded the Street Swags charity, has hit back at the tribunal member who slammed her as a liar and compared her to a fictional shonky lawyer as "mean".

Speaking exclusively to The Courier-Mail, Ms Madden said the comments by Fair Work Commissioner Jennifer Hunt, who called her a trickster, were "incredibly damaging" and she was innocent of the claims of improperly using the charity's money to pay personal expenses and give her boyfriend a lucrative contract, then a well-paid job.

Ms Hunt described Ms Madden as a liar who "razzled, dazzled and bamboozled" donors and staff at homeless sleeping-bag charity Street Swags, and said her "appalling" actions may amount to criminal conduct.

 

Jean Madden has hit back at a commissioner’s claims.
Jean Madden has hit back at a commissioner’s claims.

 

In throwing out Ms Madden's unfair dismissal claim against the company she founded, Ms Hunt compared her actions to showman Billy Flynn from the musical ­Chicago.

"To liken my performance to a shonky lawyer in a Broadway musical, I just felt that was mean," Ms Madden, a former theology teacher and mother of two, told The Courier-Mail yesterday.

"I think she is referring to my performance during the hearing," Ms Madden said of the seven-day telephone hearing in the middle of last year when she represented herself.

"I think it was really unfair that she would say something like that about the way I performed....that she would come up with such a damning conclusion.

"I just feel I was doing my best to be a barrister and cross-examine witnesses.

"Whilst she implies that I have immense confidence and Broadway quality acting skills, I would argue I don't have either; what I do have is the knowledge that I am innocent."

 

Jean Madden at a court appearance
Jean Madden at a court appearance

 

Ms Madden said she had the support of those who worked alongside her at Street Swags.

She did not agree with Ms Hunt's findings and just wants to move on with her life.

"Unfortunately to be so publicly defamed, has made it really hard to get a job," Ms Madden said of her ordeal over the past four years.

She said she had applied for about 40 jobs in the past year and had failed to get one.

"I think my reputation proceeds me", she said, even when she applies under her maiden name.

The mother-of-two, named Queensland Young Australian of the Year in 2010, was sacked on May 19, 2016, for allegedly racking up $441,399 in unauthorised expenses.

She was pocketing a salary of $150,000 and wined and dined donors at fancy restaurants such as the now-defunct French bistro Lutece in Paddington, the hearing was told.

Two months after she was sacked, police charged her with fraud, with 19 criminal charges ultimately laid.

But in December 2019 all charges were dropped, with no evidence being offered.

 

Jean Madden with street swags in 2011
Jean Madden with street swags in 2011

 

Ms Hunt said in her decision that Ms Madden and her opponents - Street Swags ­directors Adrian De Maria and Brian O'Reilly - used the hearing to "go to war" with each other.

"Clearly there is a repulsion Ms Madden has for Mr De Maria, so much that she cannot bring herself to refer to him as Mr De Maria; she simply refers to him as 'De Maria', often spoken in a scornful tone," Ms Hunt noted.

"Ms Madden's dislike for Mr De Maria is obnoxious. She was attempting, in the face of what she saw as a snake in Mr De Maria, to cut him off, have a new board control the organisation and reinstate her to the position of CEO."

Mr De Maria, now CEO of Street Swags, last year told the hearing he had found bullets in his letterbox and on the seats of his car.

Although the decision does not say who Mr De Maria was alleging was responsible for the bullets, outside court Ms Madden said it was "fantastical" for Mr De Maria to allege she would do such a thing.

 

 

Originally published as 'That was mean': Charity founder hits back


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