The building in question ... 83 Davey Street Hobart
I was not amused when Senator Erich Abetz - then Minister for Forests in the Howard Government - sent two men to my front door to threaten me.
My offence? I had written on 21 April 2007 to the Prime Minister and the President of the Senate regarding the gift of $50,000 to the Liberal Party by a Tasmanian woodchip company Gunns Ltd.
Gunns was then pushing a pulp mill in Tasmania. My letters asked if this gift from a public company some three weeks after Abetz - a Tasmanian Senator - had been made the Minister of Forests, compromised his Ministerial position and the Howard Government.
I had earlier written to Abetz on 20 March 2007 asking him if this donation from Gunns Ltd had compromised his position as Minister for Forests.
Abetz replied in part:
“Having made false and defamatory accusations against me, I hoped you might move to correct the record, or at least desist from making such unfounded accusations in future. Unfortunately you now seek to compound your accusations by obfuscation”
Erich Abetz’s interest in politics was evident by the late 1970’s when he became the first Tasmanian President of the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation prior to gaining his qualifications as a lawyer and barrister.1
In 1987 Abetz joined the legal practice of the 27 year-old Tasmanian Roger Curtis who had also graduated from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Laws. Initially the firm was called R.A. Curtis and Associate, financed by an unknown supporter whose name and the extent of their interest in the partnership has never been disclosed.
In 2016 two newspaper articles gave interesting insights into the early days of the firm.
Abetz: “A few people saw us as Young Turks trying to set up a legal practice from scratch. But if I might say we did quite well at it.” Abetz refuses to name the man who gave the pair the financial backing they needed, “we are extremely thankful he gave us a break in life” is all he will say of the mystery guarantor ...2
Nevertheless, Abetz thought that the duo ran “a pretty dynamic legal practice.3
83 Davey Street Hobart
On 29 May 1989 Abetz and Curtis bought an office building together for their legal practice at 83 Davey Street for $190,000.4 Importantly the purchase was made as tenants in common with both Abetz and Curtis owning a half share. (Document 1) On the same day they took out a mortgage with the Island State Credit Union. The legal firm Abetz Curtis still occupies this building as an office and place of business.
At the age of 32 on August 11 1990 Abetz was appointed State President of the Tasmanian Liberal Party. He stood unsuccessfully at the election of 1993, receiving 639 votes. Nevertheless he entered the Senate unelected via a casual vacancy in 1994.
In his first Register of Interests signed on the1st June 1994 some three months after taking up his Senate seat Abetz states that he had retained his interest in the legal partnership, Abetz Curtis Docking at Kingston, from which he obtained a substantial source of income and a 1/3 interest in A & C Management Pty Ltd of which he is a director. (Documents, 2a, b, c and d.) Interestingly he makes no mention of the situation regarding his legal partnership with Curtis and the half-share ownership of the property, the head office of Abetz Curtis at 83 Davey Street Hobart. I can find no trace of Abetz resigning or disposing of his interest in the Hobart branch of the legal firm, Abetz Curtis & Docking, or its successors.
Abetz may have been cautioned over his first declaration to the Senate by John Vander Wyk (the Senate Registrar), for 5 weeks later on the 8 July 1994 Abetz submitted a revised form. He had deleted from his Register of Interests the directorship of Abetz Curtis Docking at Kingston and his interests in A & C Management Pty Ltd.
Interestingly at the same time he declares for the first time on the Register a new consultancy to Abetz & Co in association with Shields Heritage. (Plate 3) This firm now known as Shields Heritage Inc. Abetz & Co Lawyers has the ABN No 26 477023371, a number it has shared with Abetz & Co. from 2007 to the present. The firm Abetz and Co. existed from 31 Aug 2000 - 29 Aug 2007 ( Here ).
With time the firm Shields Heritage became the lawyers to the forestry company Gunns Ltd of Launceston and Abetz Curtis the lawyers to Forestry Tasmania.
On 30th October 1998 on his Register of Interests, Abetz states that he has resigned from an unspecified practice as a legal consultant.
Perhaps Abetz will clarify which firm was the subject of this resignation.
In 2003 nearly 10 years after Abetz first entered the Senate someone was looking into his business affairs causing him to amend his Senate Register of Interests. Abetz states for the first time that he was still “a registered proprietor” [of the Abetz Curtis office building] at 83 Davey Street in Hobart. It is of interest that he was not prepared to state who occupied the building.
This poses the question, who had been footing the bills on behalf of Abetz as the half owner over a 10-year period. Was this A & C Management Services Pty Ltd, ACN 009576149 (Document 4) the service company to the Abetz Curtis legal practice.
Perhaps Abetz will elucidate?
Is this a case of Abetz making a sensible decision to keep an interest in the firm and its office property on the chance that his acquisition of a Senate seat via a casual vacancy in 1994 could or would be overturned at the next Senate election?
If this is so then the die had been unwittingly cast for this matter now provides a traceable connection between Abetz as a registered proprietor of the building and his former legal practice previously carefully forgotten. It was a matter that Abetz was unwilling to acknowledge on his Register of Interests until it was “brought to my attention.”
Abetz, in a signed and dated statement on the Register of Interests, acknowledges both ownership and sale in the same document. (Document 5):
17th November 2003
It has been brought to my attention that I am still a registered proprietor of the property situate[sic] of 83 Davey Street Hobart in Tasmania and as a mortgagor to the Island State Credit Union.
I signed a Memorandum of Transfer divesting myself of all and any interest in the property in or about February 1994.
Since then I have received no income nor paid any monies in relation to the property ...
Special Minister of State
I suggest that someone who Abetz could not ignore had informed him that his 1994 Memorandum of Transfer was invalid. As a result Abetz still had an interest in Abetz Curtis - for there was no sale.
Who was this someone and what control did he appear to exert over the Minister?
If this signed Memorandum of Transfer exists why was this document not registered as required by law when drawn up between two lawyers, equal partners in a property owned by them for the purpose of housing their legal business?
No Memorandum of Transfer is registered on the Title Deeds and under section 58(2) of the Land Titles Act 1981 and a transfer is not effective until it has been registered with the Land Titles Office.
This transaction would have taken place under the Stamp Duties Act 1931 before it was revoked on 1 July 2001.This Act requires the stamp duty to be paid within 90 days from the signing of the Memorandum of Transfer:
• Abetz states in his declaration to the Senate that he signed the Memorandum of Transfer.
• Failure to comply means that monetary penalties apply.
• If these are calculated from 1994 they will be substantial.
If no Memorandum of Transfer ever existed then Abetz has knowingly and in writing given false and untrue information to the Senate and Parliament when signing and dating his November 2003 Register of Interests.
I ask Abetz was this problem caused by a desire not to draw attention to his continuing but undeclared interest in property that housed the firm of Abetz Curtis Lawyers at 83 Davey Street Hobart and his association with that company while a Minister of the Crown?
Capital Gains tax became law in Australia on 20 September 1985, so any property purchased in 1989 is subject to Capital Gains tax. The Memorandum of Transfer for a proposed sale over 83 Davey Street was according to Abetz created in or about February 1994. On the assumption that Abetz did not lie when signing his Register of Interests this transaction is subject to capital gains tax both cumulative and with interest.
On 2nd February 2004 a second declaration, presumably made under advice, was made by Abetz to the Senate Registrar, (Document 6). This makes no mention of the signed Memorandum of Transfer of February 1994 yet in the slap-dash world inhabited by our pollies nothing was seen to be amiss when Abetz stated:
Further to my letter dated 17th November 2003 re the property at 83 Davey Street Hobart in Tasmania please be advised that on 28th January 2004 I executed the appropriate documentation to enable transfer out of my name of all the estate and interest specified in Certificate of Title Volume 38477, Folio 4. [83 Davey Street]
I have received an undertaking that the documentation will be lodged for registration with the Tasmanian Land Titles Office within the next 60 days.
The actual change in ownership between the: “Transferor: Erich Abetz by direction of Roger Andrew Curtis (as to a one half share) and Roger Andrew Curtis”, was made by the payment in this same order of two different sums of money. One was of $150,000 and the other of $300,000 to the Transferee, Curtis Investments No 1 Pty Ltd (ACN 079912673). Stamp duty amounts of $3925 on the $150,000 and $9550 on the $300,000 were paid on 7 September 2004. (Document 7)
The in-house witness to the transfer was Abetz’s wife, Michelle Abetz, whose occupation was given as clerk of Channel Highway Kingston. It would appear that Mrs Abetz annotated the amount of stamp duty to be paid by each party on this document as 3925 – 9550 again with the smaller amount first. The sums as calculated are correct.
From this document it would appear that Curtis and Abetz transferred their original half-share interest as tenants in common over 83 Davey Street Hobart into Curtis Investments No 1 Pty Ltd at two different values with either Abetz or Curtis having a half-share valued at $150,000. This is confirmed by the annexed receipts for two different rates of stamp duty paid by the vendors, not the purchaser? Importantly, section 11 of the Duties Act 2001 requires that the Transferee pay duty on the transaction rather than the Transferor.
Will Abetz please explain the reasoning behind all this.
Was one of the two parties selling at a value that reduced their Capital Gains tax liability?
Curtis Investments No 1 Pty Ltd was registered on the 1 September 1997 ACN 079912673, with 1,000,000 ordinary $1 shares. The subscriber to the Memorandum of Association was Roger Andrew Curtis with one fully paid share. (Documents 8 and 8a) The office of Curtis Investments No 1 Pty Ltd was stated to be at 136 Davey Street, currently the Electoral office of Senator Abetz.
Why was Abetz and his failure to disclose his half-share ownership in a building for over 10 years seen as unworthy of comment by the Registrar?
The Senate demands that all Senators declare all real estate and the purpose for which it is owned to the Registrar:
“A Senator who knowingly provides false or misleading information to the Registrar of Senators Interests shall be guilty of a serious contempt of the Senate……..”
If Senator Abetz has declared false and misleading information to the Register of Senators’ Interests then the matter should be referred to the Privileges Committee of which Abetz is a member.
A question over the $150,000 payment has been put to Abetz by the Editor of Tasmanian Times. It elicited the following reply:
“We don’t respond to disreputable outlets like the Tasmanian Times who constantly publish fake and defamatory news. Suffice to say all relevant disclosures have been made.
Office of Senator Abetz”
167/191 Channel Highway Kingston
Abetz has a track record over capital gains tax and its treatment on the sale of property as detailed on Tasmanian Times5 regarding his house at 167/191 Channel Highway which was sold on the 18 July 2005, which I restate here for purposes of completeness:
I became aware of Senator Abetz’s property dealings during the process of preparing my Petition to the Court of Disputed Returns for I had cause to check the residential address provided by Senator Abetz on his nomination forms for the 1998 and 2004 Senate elections. The Senate requires all Senators to maintain a “Statement of Registrable Interests”. This is kept at the Senate in Parliament House, Canberra. There are questions the Senator should clarify, in the public interest. For example the sale of one property raises questions about the declared profit, compared to an apparent actual profit. Was the full extent of the capital gain declared to the Australian Tax Office? It is vital Australians have complete faith in their elected representatives…..
Three properties were involved, 163, 167, and 191 Channel Highway Kingston. They adjoined the Antarctic Centre in Kingston.
The property 191 Channel Highway appears to have been owned by Senator & Mrs Abetz and was their family home. The land area was 0.6206 hectares and on it stood a weatherboard house with an imitation tile roof with six main rooms built circa 1910. The property was acquired prior to the introduction of Capital Gains Tax (CGT) so was free of CGT when the Abetz family decided to sell.
An adjoining block, Lot 167 comprising some 3.894 hectares or approximately 10 acres, was purchased by E and MA Abetz from the Tasmanian State Government on 1 June 2000. Lot 167 was purchased for $100,000. The purchase price was $20,000 less than the Government capital valuation price and I can find no trace of it ever being put out to tender.
The then RPDC archives examined a case between two potential developers; this provides a good background to the matter but does not reveal who applied for the change of land zoning use. A Council Planning Officer for some reason incorrectly described the Abetz land as “167 Channel Highway in two titles (owner E Abetz) ….includes a small title of .3662 ha incorporating the house Lynden Rise” He continued thus to place emphasis on Lot 167,
“Of these lots it is this rear lot of 167 Channel Highway that potentially has the most potential, providing potential for facilities and services that interconnect with those of the Antarctic Division site”.
Interestingly the Council Planning Officer in this application reduced the land area of title 191 which gets no mention; only the house is named.
Lot 163, the adjoining house block on a larger land area 0.8232 hectares, had been purchased prior to the RPDC’s agreement to rezone from a Mrs V Wiseman on 10 December 2004 for $565,000 by AAD Nominees Pty Ltd. The Government valuation in 2004 (Cap) was $208,000 (the house was built in 1968). The Capital Value as of 1 March 2009 was $670,000 with a land value of $490,000.
Lot 203 was subdivided from the Antarctic Division block already owned by AAD Nominees Pty Ltd.
In summary therefore the blocks owned by Senator & Mrs Abetz Lots 191 (although not specified) and 167 were attached to 163 and 203 then owned by AAD Nominees Pty Ltd for the purposes of a rezoning in an application referred to the RPDC for approval.
Following approval by the RPDC on 24 Feb 2005, Senator & Mrs Abetz immediately sold 191 and 167, with completion on 18 July 2005, to AAD Nominees Pty Ltd for $1.9m with Abetz apportioning $1.5m to the family home, 191 Channel Highway, and $400,000 to Lot 167, the 10 acres purchased from the State Government for $100,000. It should be noted that the Abetz name does not feature on the Title to Lot 191 in this transfer; why not?
Since the purchase, AAD Nominees Pty Ltd obtained two reductions in the rated value on Lot 191 - the Abetz family home, with an adjusted land value of $430,000 and a capital value of $840,000. In a rarity for Kingston this loss of value up to 2010 must put a question mark over the assigned value of the Abetz residence in 2005.
Was it a case of Lot 191 having been overvalued by Abetz? This would reduce his capital gains tax liability on the adjoining 10 acre land Lot 167.
Perhaps Abetz can elucidate further.
The Senate requires all Senators to maintain a “Statement of Registrable Interests”. This is kept at the Senate in Parliament House, Canberra.
Regarding real estate, the Register requires that the suburb or area is provided and makes a distinction between residential and investment property and whether the property is used as a residence, as a holiday home, as a farm, or is held for investment or other business purposes. For all purchases or disposals of real estate, the date of settlement is to be considered the date of alteration of interests and notification should be made within 28 days of that date.
Senator Abetz’s information in his Statement of Registrable Interests for each of his terms of office reveals, in part, his real estate interests. The 1994 Register, his first in Parliament, gives his only property as ”Kingston Tasmania Residence”; in an alteration to Senators’ Interests (Document 4) he cancels his loans but he makes this addition to his interests, “Consultant to Abetz & Co in association with Shields Heritage”.
He declares the purchase of two investment properties at Gagebrook in 1995 and 77 Beach Road Kingston - a block of four units or flats overlooking the golf course - in 1998, with a sale in 1999.
There is no mention on the Register of Assets of the separate purchase from the State Government of Tasmania of Lot 167, yet he informed the Register: “My wife and I have contracted to purchase land adjacent to our residence through a nominee” possibly the Abetz Family Trust on 14 Feb 2000. He later confirmed the purchase but in joint names (Document 5) on 5 June 2000. There was no mention of investment that would turn out to be financially beneficial. Eighteen months later, in Dec 2002, still no mention, but he informs the Register that he has paid out the loan.
The acquisition of 10 acres of land, Lot 167 Channel Highway, from the Tasmanian State Government, followed by rezoning from Residential to Business and Civic, must have turned this transaction to a “property held for investment” and as such it becomes very much a “Registrable Interest.” This property as 167 Channel Highway has never been declared as either a purchase or sale to the Senate of Australia.
Abetz still gives, “Kingston Residence” as his only property even after 167 and 191 are sold with completion, 18 July 2005, yet he has to inform the Register within 28 days of sale. I ask why the delay? The sale was declared as Residential on 3/Jan/2006.
The sale of Lot 167 within five years, at a declared profit of $300,000 - but arguably an actual profit of approximately $1.3m - makes this a very good investment indeed. If this is so the capital gain is in excess of $1m and the Capital Gains Tax unpaid would be in excess of $200,000.
My requests to the ATO for an investigation over possible tax fraud by Abetz regarding the underpayment of capital gains tax on the Channel Highway property may now be considered more interesting after consideration of the sale of his half share in his former legal office at 83 Davey Street Hobart.
I have taken Abetz to the High Court acting as the Court of Disputed Returns over his right to sit in the Senate between 1994 and 2010, and contest the 2010 senate election as a dual national.
Abetz, during the hearing, produced under duress the Renunciation Certificate of his German citizenship dated in 9 March 2010. As a result I was forced to withdraw my case before the High Court - as for the election of 2010 Abetz was legally (for the first time) to take his seat in the Senate; he having renounced his German nationality immediately prior to the election.
As you cannot renounce a citizenship you do not have, Abetz must have been sitting illegally in the Parliament as a dual national between 1994 and 2010.
Despite my withdrawal of the challenge before the High Court, unusually Abetz was made to pay his costs.
To date the Senate and its President have shown absolutely no interest in any of these matters.
Is this because Senator Abetz, a former Minister of the Crown and Leader of the Liberal Party in the Senate has had sufficient influence within that exclusive club to keep the inquisitive at bay?
I ask Senator Stephen Parry as President of the Australian Senate, will you now act over the issues tabulated above and place the matter before the Privileges Committee?
Failing that will any Tasmanian Senator break ranks and ask Abetz on the floor of the Senate to answer the questions posed in this article?
Download supporting documents ...
Davey Street Documents:
• Document 1. Transfer to Roger Andrew Curtis and Erich Abetz as Tenants in Common in equal half shares.
• Document 2. A. & C. Management Services Pty Ltd (1/3 holding)
• Document 2a. A. & C. Management Services P/L Director a service Company to legal practice.
• Document 2b. Abetz Curtis Docking – Kingston Substantial source of income.
• Document 2c.
• Document 2d.
• Document 3. Addition: Consultant to Abetz&Co in Association with Shields Heritage. Deletion: A. & C. Management Pty Ltd, Abetz Curtis & Docking – Kingston…..
• Document 4.A. & C. Management Services Pty Ltd a History.
• Document 5. 18 Nov 2003 Registry of Senators Interests: It has been brought to my attention….
• Document 6. 4 Feb 2004, Registry of Senators Interests….transfer out of my name….
• Document 7. Tasmanian Land Titles Office Sale of 83 Davey Street by Erich Abetz by direction of Roger Andrew Curtis (as to one half share) and Roger Andrew Curtis….to Curtis Investments…..
• Document 8. Creation of Curtis Investments No. 1 Pty Ltd on 29/8/97 with a registered office at 136 Davey Street Hobart occupied by Horwarth and Horwath share capital 1,000,000 $1 shares one $1 share owned by Curtis.
Channel Highway Documents: ( TT here )
• Document 1 Layout of land Titles used in this Document.
• Document 2 Overlay of proposed Shopping Centre and Car Park.
• Document 3 The Kingborough Council Planning Scheme 2000, Amendment A1 with no Lot 191.
• Document 4 14 July 1994, Alteration to assets.
• Document 5 5 June 2000, purchase of 167 land Channel Highway.
• Document 6 Letter 17 Nov 2003, over discovery of lost property.
• Document 7 Sale of lost property, 2 February 2004.
• Document 8 Alteration of Interests 3 January 2006, sale of 196 & 197 with no distinction drawn between Residence and Investment.
References Davey Street …
1Jane Cadzow, 30/3/2016 SMH . March 26 2016
2Sally Glaetzer. Mercury. Tas Weekend 27.2.2016.
4Land Titles Office Lot 4/38477.
5The Channel Highway Land Deal on Tasmanian Times 2010 ( Here )
*John Hawkins was born and educated in England. He has lived in Tasmania for 13 years. He is the author of “Australian Silver 1800–1900” and “Thomas Cole and Victorian Clockmaking” and “The Hawkins Zoomorphic Collection” as well as “The Al Tajir Collection of Silver and Gold” and nearly 100 articles on the Australian Decorative Arts. He is a Past President and Life Member of The Australian Art & Antique Dealers Association. John has lived in Australia for 50 years and is 75 this year. In two of the world’s longest endurance marathons and in the only teams to ever complete these two events, he drove his four-in-hand team from Melbourne to Sydney in 1985 and from Sydney to Brisbane in 1988.