Torbay affair looking like a bad business

As the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of former parliamentarian Richard Torbay deepens, a Sydney Morning Herald investigation has uncovered links between Mr Torbay and his associates and a number of Centrelink leases across the country totalling almost $48 million.

“He could charm the knickers off a nun,” said one of his former parliamentary colleagues who, like Mr Torbay’s constituents, is shocked by Mr Torbay’s remarkable fall from grace. 

It is now 18 days since Mr Torbay resigned from State Parliament and as Chancellor of the University of New England after allegations concerning him were referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. While Mr Torbay has gone to ground, revelations about his vast real estate empire and business interests are coming to light.

Mr Torbay has investments in three buildings that have Centrelink leases worth more than $11 million. Those investments are held through development companies run by his business partner, property developer Nick Rice, Mr Torbay’s wife, Rosemary, and close friend and former local police chief David Cushway.

“The Department of Human Services has more than 700 leases across Australia. As far as the department is aware, Mr Torbay only has an interest in three of these – Wynnum, Dalby and Kurri Kurri,” a spokesman for the department said. 

“Mr Torbay was not party to the three original developments when they went through open tender - he purchased part-interests at a later date,” said the spokesman, who did not comment on 14 leases that Mr Torbay’s associates have.

The Centrelink offices, which have leases worth $48 million, are in Gosford, Kurri Kurri, Deniliquin, Moree, Glen Innes, Gunnedah, Wallsend, Armidale, as well as in the Queensland towns of Hervey Bay, Dalby, Maryborough, Wynnum and Woodridge and Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory

Most of the buildings were purchased by Mr Rice, or companies associated with his friend and former campaign manager Phillip Hanna. Within months of the purchases, lucrative leases were secured with the federal government agency Centrelink, which is responsible for social security payments.

Mr Torbay also co-owns a building in Dangar Street, Armidale, which is leased to a credit union. The lease, worth $1.6 million, was signed in December 2007. At the time Mr Torbay was speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly.

The credit union’s then head, Kevin Dupe, is also a director of one of Mr Hanna’s family companies. He was appointed to the council of the University of New England in 2009, when Mr Torbay was chancellor. Mr Torbay’s son Joel is employed by the credit union.

Mr Torbay and his wife also have interests in several Armidale shops.

Police sources said they were horrified when they discovered that within hours of the 2007 arrest of Mr Hanna for attempted murder, their boss David Cushway organised for Mr Torbay and himself to have a meeting with Mr Hanna in the police cell.

“The junior constable was told by Cushway not to enter their visit in the custody book,” a former detective involved in the investigation said.

The charges against Mr Hanna were downgraded and he received a good behaviour bond. After leaving the police force in 2009, Mr Cushway was general manager of Guyra Shire Council. In February he was appointed chief financial officer at the University of New England.

The president of the National Farmers Federation, Jock Laurie, is making a surprise bid for NSW Nationals preselection in the state seat of Northern Tablelands, vacated by Mr Torbay.

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