Virus breach may put Neville Power in jail

Michael Ramsey |

Millionaire businessman Neville Power is facing a possible jail term after flouting Western Australia’s strict COVID-19 quarantine laws during a private helicopter trip.

Power, 63, and his son Nicholas Power, 36, on Friday admitted failing to self-quarantine upon returning from Queensland in October last year, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment.

The breach came just 18 months after Neville Power was appointed to head up Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s since-disbanded National COVID-19 Coordination Commission.

A police prosecutor told Perth Magistrates Court the pair’s actions had put West Australians at “unacceptable risk” and a term of imprisonment was appropriate.

But defence lawyer Sam Vandongen urged the magistrate to instead impose substantial fines on the pair.

He also flagged they would apply for spent convictions which would allow Power, the chairman of Perth Airport and former Fortescue Metals Group chief executive, to continue in his board roles.

Mr Vandongen cited a psychological report which said Power had suffered stress-induced “cognitive distortions” which had clouded his judgment.

“Mr Power does not at all back away from the fact he did the wrong thing,” he said, adding that both men had cooperated with police.

“This is not an instance where Mr Power felt he was above the law or arrogantly or cynically decided this was not for him.”

More than a dozen personal references were submitted to the court including one from billionaire FMG chairman Andrew Forrest.

The court heard Power and his son had flown separately to Queensland in September last year, spending a week mustering cattle at the family’s Bushy Park station near Mt Isa.

They flew back to WA together on a private helicopter, staying overnight in Exmouth in WA’s north – where they were captured on CCTV footage moving freely around a resort while not wearing face masks – before arriving at Jandakot Airport on October 9.

Travellers from Queensland were required at the time to isolate for 14 days upon arrival in WA under the state’s controlled border regime. They also had to complete G2G pass declarations advising of their recent movements.

But the pair did not make G2G applications and failed to isolate, with Neville Power joining other business elites and politicians at the Telethon Ball on October 16.

Days later they were interviewed and charged by police, subsequently returning negative COVID-19 test results.

The pair each pleaded guilty on Friday to two charges of failing to comply with a direction under WA’s Emergency Management Act.

The prosecutor said Power would have been fully aware of his responsibilities given the role he had played in helping to manage the economic effects of the pandemic.

“We submit it was an act of wilful blindness to his obligations,” he said.

Mr Vandongen said the psychological report had referenced various stresses in Power’s life as well as the impact of previous time he had spent in quarantine.

He also outlined a report by Clay Golledge, a Perth doctor specialising in infectious diseases, which said Power was highly unlikely to have brought COVID-19 back to WA.

“Hindsight’s a wonderful thing,” replied Magistrate Elizabeth Woods.

“I must say it doesn’t do much for me … he could well have been with people who had COVID but they just didn’t have any symptoms.

“All of his behaviour put people at risk.”

Ms Woods will sentence the pair on February 24.