Confusing rules have been blamed for a superannuation fund awarding a young woman’s $180,000 death benefit to her much older lover instead of her mum.
Magistrate Rodney Higgins, a 70-year-old grandfather-of-eight, has sparked outrage for claiming fiancé Ashleigh Petrie’s superannuation and life insurance payout after his 23-year-old girlfriend was fatally run over in country Victoria in October 2019.
Before her tragic death, the young court clerk had struggled with publicity surrounding the revelation she was in a live-in relationship with Mr Higgins, who was 45 years her senior.
Her mother took industry fund Rest Super to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority arguing her deceased daughter had named her as the sole beneficiary.
A massive public campaign is underway to have one of Australia’s biggest super funds hand over a $180,000 death benefit to a young woman’s mother. Magistrate Rodney Higgins, a 70-year-old grandfather-of-eight, has sparked outrage for pocketing a superannuation and life insurance payout after his fiancé Ashleigh Petrie, 23, was fatally run over in October 2019
With a decision still pending more than 12,500 people, by early Wednesday afternoon, had signed a petition calling on the the industry super fund to give that $180,000 to Ms Petrie’s mother instead of Mr Higgins, a Victorian magistrate on a $324,000 salary package
With a decision still pending, more than 12,500 people have so far signed a petition calling on Rest Super to give that $180,000 to Ms Petrie’s mother instead of Mr Higgins, a Victorian magistrate on a generous $324,000 salary package.
‘We call on Rest Super to return Ashleigh Petrie’s super where it belongs – with her mother who is suffering from financial hardship and definitely not earning $300,000+ a year,’ it said.
Under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993, a young worker can typically nominate a parent as the ‘non-binding’ beneficiary who would receive their super and life insurance should they die.
Should that worker later get into a relationship, the law considers the partner or spouse to be a dependent.
Rest Super said it had obeyed the law when it awarded the payment to Mr Higgins but it declined to provide more details
Federal Labor’s superannuation frontbencher Stephen Jones said there was a lot of confusion around superannuation life insurance arrangements, especially among the young
Rest Super said it had obeyed the law when it awarded the payment to Mr Higgins but it declined to provide more details.
‘Rest has every sympathy for Ms Petrie’s loved ones and all those grieving her tragic passing,’ a spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The process of paying a death benefit can involve contested claims and disputes between potential dependents.
‘Rest always endeavours to handle situations like these with the utmost sensitivity and sympathy.’
Federal Labor’s superannuation frontbencher Stephen Jones said there was a lot of confusion around superannuation life insurance arrangements, especially among the young.
‘It’s certainly confusing to the average person, particularly when they’re young, the last thing they are thinking about is their will and their estate,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘A lot of people are even unaware that they have a significant asset in their life insurance policy and there’s a lack of financial literacy about these things.
‘There needs to be a lot greater awareness and a lot greater explanation about these life insurance policies.’
Highly-paid magistrate Rod Higgins fought to win the $180,000 super and life insurance payout of his young fiancee, who was 45 years his junior
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia noted Rest Super would be legally obliged to pay Ms Petrie’s mother if the Australian Financial Complaints Authority found in her favour.
‘In instances where the Australian Financial Complaints Authority makes a determination, super funds are legally obliged to abide by the determination and make member beneficiary payments accordingly,’ ASFA chief executive Martin Fahy told Daily Mail Australia.
Mr Higgins – who bizarrely referred to himself as Rocketman Rod in an online alias obtained by Daily Mail Australia – previously ran as a state and federal Labor candidate, unsuccessfully in western Victoria.
Magistrate Rodney Higgins referred to himself as Rocketman Rod in online profile obtained by Daily Mail Australia
‘I also love diamonds’: Lurline Le Neuf – the longtime partner of Mr Higgins – was labelled the ‘Queen of Bling’ in home renovation magazine. She is spotted wearing an apron from luxury London department store Harrod’s paired with a pair of yellow boots in Shepparton on Tuesday
Miss Petrie,23, excitedly accepted and called him ‘the love of her life’ after he proposed to her in Fiji in 2019. The couple is pictured together just weeks before her untimely death
Mr Higgins had reportedly inquired about securing his fiancee’s superannuation death benefit within 24 hours of her tragic death.
After Ms Petrie’s death, Mr Higgins moved back to the riverside home in Shepparton he shared with his former partner, Lurline Le Neuf, to resume their 18-year relationship.
On Tuesday, the pair were seen sauntering about town in pricey duds looking every inch the millionaire couple.
Daily Mail Australia can reveal Mr Higgins and Ms Le Neuf appeared in a feature article in ‘Our Home’ magazine in 2013 where they discussed their good fortune.
Mr Higgins had reportedly inquired about securing his fiancee’s superannuation death benefit within 24 hours of her tragic death. After Ms Petrie’s death, Mr Higgins moved back to the riverside home in Shepparton he shared with his former partner, Lurline Le Neuf, to resume their 18-year relationship
In it, Ms Le Neuf was described as ‘The Queen Of Bling’ and had appeared on the front cover.
‘It is everywhere, from jewellery encrusted with precious stones and bracelets laden with rhinestones, to glitter glued onto shoes to add flair and the bling artwork she weaves into the home she shares with partner Rod Higgins,’ the article read.
‘I also love diamonds,’ Ms Le Neuf told the publication.
Mr Higgins’ proud partner talked of her troubles at finding the perfect chandelier for their home and bragged about her time working with fashion gurus in London.
‘I have always been bling and people just expect it of me,’ she said.
I’m a rocketman: Controversial magistrate Rod Higgins referred to himself as Rocketman Rod on a social media profile
The ‘Rocketman’s’ expansive home in Shepparton, in Victoria’s north, which sits just a stone’s throw from a tranquil river
The wealthy magistrate’s partner Lurline Le Neuf got about town in posh yellow boots and a Harrod’s apron on Tuesday morning
Lurline Le Neuf, who once worked in fashion in London, changed into another pair of fancy boots before leaving her home on Tuesday afternoon (above)
Ms Petrie posted on Instagram just days before here death
Photographed beaming on a Vespa motor scooter, Higgins told the magazine he was loving life.
‘He has a natural tendency to take care of the down and out,’ it stated.
When not scooting about town, Mr Higgins professed a love of chomping down on fancy chocolates from Haigh’s.
The couple had met through mutual friends in 2003 and two years later had a commitment ceremony in Bali.
‘We love to cook and entertain and we have a great time together,’ they gushed.
Daily Mail Australia can further reveal Mr Higgins had a bizarre alias on social media.
When news of his relationship with Ms Petrie broke in October 2019, Mr Higgins had still operated a Facebook page under the name Rod Rocketman.
His profile claimed the magistrate worked at ‘Queen’ and he had attended ‘The school of hard knocks’.
One photo posted to his page showed a smiling Mr Higgins beside a woman declaring ‘Happy Birthday Mr Lawman’ followed by a dozen kisses.
Rod Rocketman’s friend list made for colourful reading, not often associated with a dealer of justice.
Grandfather-of-eight Rodney Higgins prepares to run errands on Tuesday after a day off his role as a magistrate
Mr Higgins proposed to Ashleigh Petrie (pictured together), from Mirboo North in Victoria, during a romantic trip to Fiji months before she died
In happier days: Ashleigh Petrie and Rod Higgins at the local pub. She often took to social media to inform friends of her love
Ashleigh Petrie’s last post on Instragram. She stated she had been in Metung in East Gippsland- posting a peaceful photo of her view. She would be dead hours later.
Timeline of a doomed romance
2016-17: Rod Higgins and Ashleigh Petrie meet living next door to each other in Shepparton, Victoria
2017: She is a guest at a party celebrating his appointment as magistrate
2018: The two start a secret relationship under the nose of his second long-term partner
Early 2019: Court colleagues are shocked to discover the relationship and raise concerns. Mr Higgins is moved to another court far away
September: Mr Higgins proposes during a romantic trip to Fiji
October 9: News of their relationship, engagement, and colleague concerns breaks in the media
October: Mr Higgins’ ex-partner controversially gets a restraining order against Ms Petrie with allegations of bias against chief magistrate who granted it
October 28: Ms Petrie is killed when she is hit by a car as a pedestrian. Her death is later found to be a suicide
While Mr Higgins is due to retire within a month, he has told friends he plans to continue working as a reserve magistrate where he would be paid $1,380 a shift.
Ms Petrie was struck by a vehicle and killed on Metung Road near Lakes Entrance in eastern Victoria about 1am the night she died.
Her death sparked an outpouring of emotion and anger at the fact her relationship was made public shortly before her death.
The news reports saw Victorian opposition attorney-general Ed O’Donohue write to the Judicial Commission of Victoria about Mr Higgins’ suitability as a magistrate.
Daily Mail Australia was told that rather than dreading the revelations, Ms Petrie was ‘excited’ about the prospect of further stories exposing the inner workings of the court.
A source told Daily Mail Australia at the time Ms Petrie had spoken candidly about approaching the media herself to expose the ‘toxic’ culture of the court.
Mr Higgins had come a long way from the tough days toiling on the wharves of Melbourne where he spent 22 long years.
Back then, he was married, had three kids and was the union representative on the docks.
During the infamous Australian waterfront dispute in 1998 Mr Higgins picketed Patrick Stevedores for months.
He dabbled in politics in the 1980s and Prime Minister Bob Hawke would encourage him to chase a degree in the field.
Ashleigh Petre, 23, was engaged to 68-year-old magistrate Rob Higgins. Her relationship raised eye brows and created headlines
Ashleigh Petrie showed off a huge sparkler after Rod Higgins popped the question
Ashleigh Petrie was said to be enthusiastic about damning news reports unveiling the grubby underbelly of the justice system
Mr Higgins completed a politics and law degree during the 1990s.
In 2000 he started practicing law in the Victorian country town of Shepparton in northern Victoria – the hometown of a young Ashleigh Petrie.
In 2014 he ran for a Labor seat there in a state seat, a year after unsuccessfully contesting the overlapping federal electorate of Murray.
Mr Higgins settled back into practicing law and by 2017 was elevated to the bench as a magistrate.
Rod Higgins, 68, has been slammed by ordinary Australians after getting the super payout of Ashleigh Petrie, which she had asked to go to her struggling mum
Ashleigh Petrie and Rod Higgins in happier times
He was still attached to his second long-term partner when he fell head over heels for a young court clerk who just happened to be dating the bloke next door.
Ms Petrie was a bubbly and popular Shepparton local.
While her friends chased locals lads their own age in the often tough, working-class town, the vivacious Ms Petrie was interested in more mature men.
Some were known to want to fight over her.
Ms Petrie had been in a five-year relationship with the 48-year old next door neighbour of Mr Higgins when she hooked up with the even older beau.
Outwardly, the fractured Ms Petrie seemed on top of the world.
There was no hiding that she was in love with her older work colleague.
Ashleigh Petrie and Rodney Higgins in social media posts before her death
Ashleigh Petrie and her mum. Ms Petrie had wanted her super fund cash to go to her mum, but Rodney Higgins had different ideas
On September 5, with a little over a month of her short life left ahead, she took to social media to poke fun at her relationship with Mr Higgins, captioning a photograph of him holding a senior citizens card.
‘Dating a senior citizen … my community work is done,’ was written over the photo.
Mr Higgins whisked her away to Fiji where he popped the question.
The clerk excitedly accepted and called him ‘the love of her life’ in a gushing Facebook post where she showed off pictures of her sparkly new ring.
‘What an amazing 10 days it has been here in Fiji! Firstly, I arrived as Rod’s girlfriend and I leave as rod fiancé! I cannot wait to become Mrs Higgins!’ she wrote online.
‘It started with a crush and now I have a ring on my finger. The love of my life asked me to marry him and I said YESSSS.’
During their trip, the pair went zip lining, met a Fijian tribe and swam in the sea together.
When the happy couple arrived home, a storm was about to smash them both.
It was October 10 when the first story about the pair opened the floodgates.
Ms Petrie would be dead a little over two weeks later.
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