A design academic who taught the Prime Minister’s daughter and has been caught in a leaking scandal has brought a legal claim against his former employer saying he was effectively dismissed – and he has added Tony Abbott as a respondent to the action.
Academic Melletios Kyriakidis is at the centre of a storm over how the Whitehouse Institute, a private design school with Liberal Party connections, awarded a scholarship worth some $60,000 to Mr Abbott’s daughter Frances in 2011.
In May this year, Mr Kyriakidis leaked news of the scholarship to the media and was investigated by his employer for breaching student privacy. He resigned in June but has now brought an adverse action complaint in the Fair Work Commission alleging he was constructively dismissed and discriminated against for his political beliefs.
He has brought the claim against Whitehouse Institute and four other individuals including Mr Abbott .
Speaking in an interview with afr.com for the first time since the affair broke, he said he was “morally outraged” by the waiving of Ms Abbott’s tuition fees, particularly given the government’s plans to increase the cost of degrees.
“If you are going to put a budget out there and say you all have to do it tough, you have to lead by example,” Mr Kyriakidis said. He taught Ms Abbott over three years.
He questioned whether Mr Abbott’s daughter was worthy of a merit scholarship, saying while she was a hard-working “high achiever” who got a distinction for portfolio design, “there were a lot more people more deserving [of a scholarship]”.
“Even from her class I could name 10 people more deserving either for merit or financial need or both,” he said. He added that he knew of other “more deserving” students who tried to get a scholarship and were rebuffed.
He also expressed his sadness at Ms Abbott being caught up in the affair.
“Frances is a lovely person. I don’t want this to be about her but I want this to be about fairness.” Mr Kyriakidis said he leaked to the press because he believed he was a whistle-blower.
MPs must disclose gifts above $750 that go to dependent children.
Mr Abbott has resolutely said his daughter’s scholarship was awarded on grounds of merit and did not need to be disclosed. In his FWC case, Mr Kyriakidis alleges Mr Abbott should have disclosed the scholarship .
Mr Kyriakidis is being represented by Harmers Workplace Lawyers, the firm that acted for James Ashby in his sexual harassment case against former federal Speaker Peter Slipper.
On May 20, Mr Kyriakidis swapped emails with another staff member, Freya Newman, who has been charged with hacking into computer records. Mr Kyriakidis maintains he was never involved in accessing records illegally and Ms Newman declines to comment.
Mr Kyriakidis admitted that while still working for the Whitehouse Institute he emailed journalists and politicians on May 14 urging them to investigate Ms Abbott’s fees being waived.
Asked about Mr Kyriakidis’s claims, Whitehouse chief executive Ian Tudor said “we have consistently stated that the awarding of the scholarship to Frances Abbott was discretionary and based on merit”.
“We are appalled that a teacher would actively seek to comment publicly on the comparative academic merit of a former student merely to justify his own behaviour,” he said. Mr Tudor has previously said the adverse action claim was “without merit”.
Mr Abbott’s office did not respond before deadline. The FWC matter will go to a private conciliation hearing next Tuesday in Sydney.