CCC report concludes Murdoch University livestock manager put biosecurity at ‘serious risk’

“Serious misconduct” by Murdoch University livestock manager Kim Thomas has been revealed in a Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) report tabled in WA parliament this week.

The CCC investigation was launched into Mr Thomas’s conduct following reports of continued non-compliance with biosecurity requirements.

Commissioner John McKechnie QC said the investigation uncovered “very serious breaches of various biosecurity laws and rules”.

Mr Thomas was found to change ownership records of cattle owned by Murdoch University in order to indicate the cattle were owned by another party, then change the records back.

“As an example, he might loan out a bull to a breeder, transfer the bull’s name into the breeder, and then afterwards, when the bull was returned, transfer it back,” Mr McKechnie said.

Profile of an older man with graying hair in a suit speaking to journalists
John McKechnie believed “personal aggrandisement” was the motivation for Mr Thomas’ actions.(ABC News: James Carmody)

While the financial benefit gained was “not enormous”, Mr McKechnie said Mr Thomas gained acclaim through his misconduct.

“He would exhibit cattle at the Royal Show that were in fact Murdoch cattle but claim them to be his.

“He regularly won the prize for Illawarra cattle that he wrongly asserted were his, but were in fact the Murdoch University cattle, so Murdoch missed out on any acclaim that there might’ve been.”

Mr McKechnie believed “personal aggrandisement” was the motivation for Mr Thomas’s actions.

Regardless of the acclaim or financial benefit, Mr McKechnie said the “very serious” breach of biosecurity was the CCC’s primary concern.

The report said the investigation was undertaken mainly because of the suspected biosecurity hazards.

“The biosecurity rules are there for a good reason, and it’s to protect Australia’s reputation and protect Australia’s herd,” he said.

Students walk past Murdoch University's library at dusk.
Murdoch University’s lack of governance created ‘breeding ground for misconduct’, the CCC report found. (Supplied: Murdoch University)

Breeding ground for misconduct: CCC

Murdoch University operates four farms with expenses in 2020 totaling close to $1.2 million, and revenue of less than $265,000.

Mr Thomas was responsible for the operational and financial management of the farms and associated livestock.

Mr McKechnie said in the CCC’s opinion, the university’s lack of leadership and governance contributed to the misconduct.

“He had many supervisors, none of them knew much about the farming business, he was no doubt efficient at the farming business, so they left him alone.

“To their credit, once this became known, Murdoch got in consultants and are working with those consultants to put in proper governance and processes.”

Cattle on a farm
CCC Commissioner John McKechnie QC said Mr Thomas’ actions put Australia’s cattle heard at serious risk.

University disagrees with findings

Murdoch University Vice Chancellor Andrew J Deeks dismissed the CCC’s claims.

“The university does not agree that a ‘breeding ground for misconduct’ was created,” Professor Deeks said in a statement.

“Rather, this appears to be a situation where a trusted employee did not act with the levels of integrity and professionalism expected of him.”

Professor Deeks said the situation was “disappointing”.

Murdoch University has begun a disciplinary process “to deal with the matters identified in the CCC report”.

Mr Thomas declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development department said livestock traceability and biosecurity had “never been more important than it is currently”.

“It is important for all persons involved in the livestock industry to ensure their obligations are properly understood and met.

“Failure to meet those statutory obligations puts our livestock industries at risk.”


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