Freelancer chief executive Matt Barrie warned an employee for inviting an ABC camera crew into the company’s office’s without approval because he was concerned the resulting Four Corners episode could “disrupt his political ambitions”, a court has heard.
The high-profile tech entrepreneur is embroiled in a Federal Circuit Court battle after sacked operations and talent manager, Matthew O’Kane, sued Freelancer and Mr Barrie personally in December 2016. Mr O’Kane alleges he was unfairly sacked over Mr Barrie’s decision to hire a certain employee. Freelancer and Mr Barrie are defending the claim.
In a cross-examination of Mr O’Kane on Tuesday, the former Freelancer employee admitted he invited the camera crew from ABC’s investigative program Four Corners onto Freelancer’s premises without first checking with the company’s communications team or the designated senior management team members, in breach of company procedure.
Mr O’Kane said that conversations with the cameraman, who was a friend, and the reporter led him to believe the Four Corners story would be a “puff piece” on the future of work.
However when the episode aired Mr Barrie was “very annoyed” with him and held a meeting to give Mr O’Kane a warning about the incident, the court heard.
Mr O’Kane said at the meeting, Mr Barrie was worried about how the episode could “disrupt his political ambitions”.
The Four Corners episode by ABC reporter Geoff Thompson, which aired in July 2016, had featured 2012 footage of Mr Barrie stating: “chances are, any job you can think of can be done with a computer, which means anyone anytime of day on the other side of the world potentially can do it for you for a fraction of the cost”.
This footage was immediately followed by an academic stating that outsourcing was “just another way” of connecting Australia to the labour market where people are “poor” and “more desperate”.
Michael Seck, barrister for Freelancer and Mr Barrie, said the episode had the potential to be perceived in a negative way.
Mr O’Kane alleges he was sacked because he was unfairly blamed for Mr Barrie’s decision to hire a certain employee who was subsequently sacked from the business.
Later on Tuesday the court heard Mr Barrie blamed Mr O’Kane for the mother of the sacked employee turning up at the office.
Mr Barrie said to Mr O’Kane he had not returned the belongings to the former employee as he was instructed to and said the issues with the former employee were “all [Mr O’Kane’s] fault”.
Mr O’Kane replied the statement was “rubbish” and Mr Barrie was being “unreasonable”.
During the cross-examination Mr O’Kane gave evidence that he could not courier the sacked employee’s belongings because the police refused to confirm the former employee’s address.
The case provides a rare insight into the culture of the ASX-listed technology company.
Mr Barrie is an outspoken critic of many government and policy issues, publishing a lengthy attack on Sydney’s lockout laws and calling for the abolition of state governments. Most recently, at The Australian Financial Review Innovation Summit Mr Barrie said Australians are “too busy paying off their mortgages and watching Netflix” to capitalise on the technology goldrush and warned Australia could become a third world country unless it starts an “Apollo program”.
Solve Legal’s Kyle Kutasi is representing Mr O’Kane and Piper Alderman is representing Freelancer and Mr Barrie.
The hearing before Judge Nicholas Manousaridis continues. Mr Barrie is due to give evidence at a later date.