Corruption galore

By March 8, 2020Australian Politics

Below is a list and brief explanation of the numerous instances of corruption of which this government is guilty. Undoubtedly it is just the tip of the corruption iceberg, and there will be many more such instances to come out when they are properly investigated. This article was a vague thought of mine, much along the lines of a list of the lies from the Murdoch media which I compiled some time ago1. This list turned out to be only the first volume and links to fourteen more detailed examinations of the Murdoch transgressions can be found therein. However, those vague thoughts coagulated into something less nebulous when Carrick Ryan posted a list on Facebook2. Carrick Ryan used to be a Federal Agent working in Counterterrorism. He has come up with a list of scandals that have characterised this government, which he often refers to as the most corrupt in Australian history. This corruption is reflected in the decline in Australia’s transparency index over the last seven years3.

Like Ryan, I often refer to this Government as the most corrupt I have ever seen. This is not hyperbole based on limited observation. I have been watching politics for over 40 years, and the criminal misappropriation of public funds has never been this bad. Discussing any individual instance of corruption would be an essay by itself (I know, as I have written several as you will see below), and it would be difficult to keep up. There are so many instances of corruption that it is difficult to keep track of all of them, let alone the details of any one, or all the miscreants who are involved. To try to keep track of all that Ryan and I, among others, have seen, I have compiled the list below, with references to online reports by assorted journalists and others, including mine. As I say above, I have no doubt that this list is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption perpetrated by the federal government, and details (and a link or two) of any further instances which are not listed below would be welcome for inclusion.

The Corruption List

Currently, the government is embroiled in the Sports Rorts scandal where grants to sporting clubs were doled out based on whether they were in electorates the government wanted to hold onto or believed they had a chance of winning from the Labor Party or independents. Senator Bridget McKenzie was sacked from the ministry, not for the rorting of the grants, but for a conflict of interest in being a member of a club that was given a grant. As further details have come out it is clear that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and his office were up to their respective necks in the rorting4-7.

Update: The Prime Minister’s Office asked McKenzie to seek Scott Morrison’s ‘authority’ for intended recipients of the $100 million in ‘sports rorts’ grants and to coordinate the announcements with Coalition campaign headquarters according to evidence presented at the Senate inquiry into the sports rorts. The Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) evidence at the inquiry contradicted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s assertion, in Parliament on February 27, that McKenzie was the ultimate decision-make for the grants program and that there were no changes after Parliament was dissolved prior to the election93.

Update 2: McKenzie has now blamed public servants for failing to warn her she may not have the legal authority to approve grants under the $100 million community sports grants scheme. The ANAO cast doubt on whether McKenzie had the authority to decide where grants went in its scathing audit of the scheme last year, which found there was a “distribution bias” in how money was given to community sporting clubs94. Fancy, a government minister not knowing what she is allowed to do. It is a shame she had no staff to tell her.

Update 3: Between October 2018 and April 2019 136 emails were sent between the two offices regarding the grants scheme. Morrison says his office had merely “passed on information about other funding options or programs relevant to project proposals”. The PM’s office also requested changes to the final list of approved projects on April 10 and 11 — the day the 2019 election was called. McKenzie told a Senate inquiry she “did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 201996

Update 4: Redcliffe Dolphins rugby league club received a $500,000 community sport infrastructure grant (CSIG) for female facilities, despite not offering women’s teams above the under 12s division. According to a leaked version of Sport Australia’s assessment, the project in the Queensland marginal seat of Petrie received a score of 65, below the cut-off score of 74 which the auditor general determined would have been the level required for funding, if former sports minister Bridget McKenzie had not intervened in the program99.

Update 5: Fresh details have emerged about the government’s so-called “sports rorts” affair after new documents revealed at least six grants were approved by the minister despite no application form for the money being received for them. In addition, Sport Australia also said that five new applications for a community sport infrastructure grant – all of which were approved for funding after the government called the election and was in caretaker mode – didn’t meet the score to be recommended for funding by Sport Australia100.

Bo ‘Nick’ Zhao, a Chinese born Australian went to ASIO telling them he’s been offered $1 million from the Chinese Government to run as a Liberal Party candidate and then to infiltrate the Australian Parliament as a Chinese spy. He then turned up dead in a Melbourne hotel room in March, 2019. Gladys Liu, the Liberal Candidate with a host of concerning connections to the Chinese Government, earned Liberal pre-selection thanks to she being miraculously able to raise $1 million in donations. Subsequently. a photo of Liu at her home with ‘Nick’ Zhao in the background appeared. Gladys is now the Liberal Member for Chisolm8.

At the 2019 election, Liberal candidates Gladys Liu and Josh Frydenberg both had Mandarin signs at polling booths in the colours of the Australian Electoral Commission branding telling Chinese citizens how to vote ‘correctly’ (by putting ‘1’ next to the relevant Liberal Candidate). There was no Liberal Party branding on the sign and, in court, Liberal officials admit that the signs were designed to convey the appearance of official electoral commission material. Despite this the Australian Electoral Commission did nothing9.

Angus Taylor wrote an open letter, published in the Daily Bellylaugh, to Sydney mayor Clover Moore criticising her for supposedly spending $14 million dollars on domestic travel and nearly $2 million dollars on international travel. The document Taylor quotes is a forgery and the amounts spent were in the thousands not millions. Taylor has refused to disclose from where he obtained the fake document and also refuses all Freedom of Information requests from the media that might give an insight. Taylor’s wife, Louise Clegg, had planned to run for mayor of Sydney against Clover Moore10.

When the Taylor forged document investigation was referred to the NSW police, Morrison called his former neighbour, NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller and if there was any investigation it was closed down. The matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police and they “determined it is unlikely further investigation will result in obtaining sufficient evidence to substantiate a commonwealth offence”. It had previously emerged that police did not interview Taylor or Moore before dropping the investigation11-12.

Update: NSW police say they cannot find any evidence an allegedly forged document that Energy Minister Angus Taylor used to politically attack the Sydney Lord Mayor was downloaded from the City of Sydney website. Taylor had claimed that the document had been “drawn directly from the City of Sydney’s website” in September last year. Clearly he was telling porkies92.

Fake ‘How To Vote’ cards were handed out in Peter Dutton‘s seat of Dickson designed to trick Greens Voters into voting for Dutton13.

George Christensen charged tax payers for domestic flights and ComCar transport that were part of his trips to known red light districts of the Philippines. When he is caught he simply pays back $2,100 with no consequences14.

Barnaby Joyce ran up a bill of $675,000 over 9 months in his role as Special Drought Envoy. When asked what he did in the role, Joyce explained that he sent his “report” in the form of multiple text messages to Morrison. When The Guardian submitted a Freedom Of Information request for these texts, it was rejected on the grounds that Morrison was too busy to retrieve them. For some reason, Barnaby Joyce was seemingly too busy to provide them too15-17.

Then Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg granted $444million to a little known organisation called the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The process involved no public tender, no transparency, and the organisation was later found to have business partnerships with BHP and Rio Tinto and sundry other large corporations18-20.

Update: The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has raised only $21.7m out of a target of $357m in donations more than two years after it was awarded the largest single environmental grant in Australian history. It has prompted Labor to call for greater transparency from the foundation about its fundraising, while the Greens have said the figure “makes a mockery of the government’s logic” for awarding the grant. The government defended its decision at the time by saying the private foundation would use the funds to attract further investment in reef restoration and science from the private sector97.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton awarded a $423 million contract to run Manus Island detention facilities to a tiny and almost unknown company called Paladin as part of a “limited tender” process. This process is only meant to be used under special circumstances. The company’s head office was a small shack on Kangaroo Island and family members of the PNG Parliament were found to be directly profiting from the contract21.

Helloworld, whose CEO is the treasurer for the Liberal Party, was given a government contract with Mathias Cormann’s Department of Finance worth $1 billion, and its shares shot up 170% after this contract was signed. Not only that, but Helloworld gave Cormann and his family free overseas flights. Cormann only paid for the flights when the freebie became public knowledge. Cormann claims he didn’t notice his holiday had been free22-23.

On two separate occasions, Peter Dutton personally intervened to have European au pairs allowed into the country after they had initially been refused by Border Force. The first was on behalf of an old Police colleague, the second on behalf of the AFL Chief Executive and son of a Liberal Party donor24-25.

Barnaby Joyce‘s paramour, Vikki Campion was forced to leave her role as his staffer when rumours of their affair started causing tension with colleagues. As a result she was given a plum $190,000 a year job with good friend Senator Matt Canavan despite Parliamentary rules prohibiting jobs for ‘partners’. She then went to another job in another MP’s office. There were a number of allegations suggesting she never attended work whilst in either role. On top of this, Joyce claimed 50 days travel and accommodation while in Canberra with Campion while parliament was not sitting26-27.

Then Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, granted $30 million to Foxtel, ostensibly to assist with coverage of ‘underrepresented’ sports (whilst simultaneously slashing ABC funding). There was no public release of any conditions or oversight regarding the funding. That was said to be because there weren’t any, and the $30 million was organised on the basis of just a phone call28-29.

Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion granted $200,000 to Sky News to fund a new show featuring future Liberal candidate Warren Mundine. The funding was taken from money budgeted for “Indigenous Advancement”. Inquiries later found that the funding had been officially approved before Mundine had even formally applied for it30.

Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert charged tax payers $2,000 a month for home internet, blaming “connectivity issues”. He was later forced to repay $38,000 in inappropriately claimed expenses but was not further investigated31-32.

The Coalition government awarded a Chinese company a 99 year lease on the Port of Darwin. A year later, Andrew Robb, the Trade Minister at the time of the deal, ‘retired’ from the parliament to assume an $880,000 a year job as a “Consultant” with the same Chinese company33.

Barnaby Joyce approved a dodgy $80 million water buyback from a property owned by a Cayman Island based company of which Energy Minister Angus Taylor used to be a Director and which his Oxford University mate now runs. When Twitter users began to discuss it, his lawyers sent letters to them threatening legal action for defamation if they didn’t delete the tweets. That $80m purchase of overland flows from Eastern Australia Agriculture is now under scrutiny by Australian National Audit Office. It was only in the last couple of weeks that the Commonwealth has been able to access any water despite the $80 million ‘deal’ being finalised in 201734-38.

Update: An Auditor-General’s report into a 2016-2019 controversial water buyback scheme in the Murray-Darling Basin found the department “did not use a value for money approach for procurement” of water rights, and only ensured it recovered the required volumes and did not pay above market price. Under the Basin Plan specific water recovery targets were set catchment by catchment to return water to the environment and boost the health of river systems. Buybacks began under open tenders in 2008 and irrigators offered their water rights for the Department to buy. Voluntary offers started to dry up in 2016, so to ensure it met its targets the federal government began a $190 million program where it actively sought out deals. By 2019 it had purchased about 80 billion litres of water across eight catchments. The buybacks were executed under then-water minister Barnaby Joyce, who faced criticism because the Cayman Islands parent company Eastern Australia Irrigation recorded a $52 million profit from the sale98.

A property owned by Energy Minister Angus Taylor‘s brother was alleged to have illegally burned 30 hectares of native grassland classified as endangered under existing environment laws. After Angus Taylor personally intervened and met with then Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg about the investigation into his brother, the Government suddenly announced a review into the part of Commonwealth environment laws that specifically deals with endangered native grasses39.

Update: Jam Land, the company part-owned by the energy minister Angus Taylor and his brother Richard, illegally poisoned critically endangered grasslands in the New South Wales Monaro region, the federal environment department has concluded. The department has ordered the company to restore 103 hectares of native grassland but Jam Land has avoided a fine and criminal finding91.

Update 2: Jam Land, the company part-owned by the energy minister, Angus Taylor, and his brother, Richard, has sought a ministerial review of an order to restore native habitat after it was found to have illegally poisoned critically endangered grasslands. Jam Land is now appealing that determination and has sought a ministerial review of the determination. Believe it or not, the review will be conducted by a departmental delegate for the environment minister, Sussan Ley, one of Taylor’s colleagues95. What do you think will happen?

The Commuter Car Park Fund (CCPF) was designed to invest in commuter car park upgrades that encouraged greater use of public transport, especially along rail corridors. The pre-election budget in 2019 announced 13 new CCPF projects totalling $149 million, and all (yes, all) of those initial projects went to seats held by the Liberal Party, including six in highly marginal NSW and Queensland electorates. These included the electorates of Peter Dutton and David Coleman. These grants came as a shock to local councils and state governments40-41.

Shine Energy wants to build a coal-fired power station in Collinsville, but the only physical trace of Shine Energy, is a small post office box next to an Asian grocer at a suburban Brisbane shopping complex. The same mailbox is shared by more than a dozen online businesses, including the maker of a metal card that spuriously claims to improve the quality of wine. Company documents show Shine Energy is worth a nominal $1,000 on paper. It has no registered financial obligations, and no physical office at its listed address. This month the company was awarded $4m by the Morrison federal government to conduct a feasibility study – a grant widely viewed as a concession to pro-coal elements of the Coalition42-43.

The federal government is spending up to $2m buying water from Queensland agribusiness Eastern Australia Agriculture (of which Angus Taylor was a founding director) in a bid to keep an internationally significant wetlands from dying, despite paying $80 million (see above) to the same company three years ago for water rights for the same purpose44-45.

The Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream was created in March to “remove barriers” for women participating in sport “in our regions”, and to develop and upgrade community pools in remote and regional areas. When the program was unveiled, the Morrison Government said in a statement that “further details on the change room and swimming facilities fund will be released later in 2019”, but no details were released for prospective applicants. Indeed, the grants were part of a closed non-competitive process, and North Sydney pool obtained a $10 million grant it hadn’t asked for from a fund supposedly for regional centres. The North Sydney pool is of course not regional, and there is no real issues with the women’s facilities. It is in Liberal federal electorate held by Trent Zimmerman46.

A donor to the Liberal National Party received a $5.5m jobs and investment grant, despite potentially being ineligible because it is a registered training organisation. In April 2018, Nolan Meats was approved to receive the grant under the $200m regional jobs and investment package’s business stream, despite being listed as a registered training organisation, a disqualification under the program guidelines. Despite being ineligible, Nolan Meats was included only after intervention from Michael McCormack’s office47-48.

The Morrison government, through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet broke the law in delaying a Freedom of Information request regarding the former Public Service Commissioner helping the Institute of Public Affairs49-50.

The deputy leader of the New South Wales Nationals, Bronwyn Taylor was notified within minutes of an $8 million grant being approved to an organisation run by her husband – and well before it was made public – despite telling parliament she had no involvement in the grant process. Bronwyn Taylor, who maintains she had no influence over the process, was asked a number of questions in an estimates committee on Thursday about the Country Universities Centres program, which received $16 million funding from the state government. The program also received further funding from the federal government. Bronwyn Taylor’s husband, Duncan Taylor, was chairperson when the organisation applied for the grant and later became the CEO. Duncan Taylor is the brother of the federal energy minister, Angus Taylor. Louise Clegg, Angus Taylor’s wife, is on the board of the centre in Goulburn51-52.

Former Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion approved more than $560m worth of funding in his last few weeks in the role, leading up to the election in 2019. A Senate committee has heard Scullion also gave almost $4m to 12 projects that his department, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) did not recommend be funded. A number of the grants were “minister-initiated”, the committee has been told. Of the $1.279bn in the Indigenous Affairs budget for this financial year, $567m was handed out by Scullion in the six weeks from 1 March to 11 April53.

Sussan Ley was pinged for buying an $795,000 apartment on the Gold Coast while on a trip at taxpayers’ expense, while maintaining she had meeting with ‘health professionals’ but neglected to say who they were. Questions were asked about another 18 trips at taxpayers’ expense. Ley was forced to resign54.

Stuart Robert, who flew to China for the signing of a mining deal involving Nimrod Resources, a company part owned by prominent Liberal party donor Paul Marks. Robert owns shares in a company that owns part of Nimrod. He was forced to repay about $1500 he received for a visit to the gold mine, owned by Nimrod55.

In April, 2017, Stuart Robert appeared as a witness before the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) as part of Operation Belcarra, an investigation into the conduct of candidates involved in the 2016 local government elections for the Gold Coast City Council, Moreton Bay Regional Council, Ipswich City Council and Logan City Council8. Robert was accused of putting up supposedly ‘independent’ candidates, supposedly with no political ties, for the Gold Coast City Council elections. These two candidates, Kristyn Boulton and Felicity Stevenson, worked in Robert’s office at the time; Boulton for 8 years. Robert also had to pay back about $350 he charged the taxpayer to attend MP Stephen Irons’ wedding56-57.

Stephen Irons slugged taxpayers about $2,300 for flights to attend his own wedding. He paid the money back, maintaining that it was claimed in error. In 2013, it was reported that he spent about 120 nights in Melbourne and more than 15 in Adelaide over a couple of years. His son Jarrad played for part of that time with the Port Adelaide AFL team58-59.

Scott Morrison was found to have slugged taxpayers $350 for an extra night on a trip to Melbourne to allow him to attend Irons’ wedding. Morrison stated to shock jock Ray Hadley, that he thought the hotel accommodation was free. However, Morrison’s office later received a bill from Crown, and paid it with Morrison’s credit card, including the extra day for the wedding. Morrison paid the $350 back60-61.

Barnaby Joyce claimed $650 to attend the wedding of broadcaster Michael Smith in 2011. In the same year, he also claimed about $5,500 in overseas study allowances to attend a wedding in India to which he had been flown by private jet at the invitation of Gina Rinehart. The $5,500 was actually for a flight back from Kuala Lumpur to Australia for Joyce and his wife, after he had been ‘dropped off’ in KL by private jet. He maintained that the study in Malaysia was only of one day’s duration and involved meeting government officials for the afternoon. Joyce also slugged taxpayers for $3,600 worth of flights for him and his wife to Perth, the day before they were flown to Hyderabad in India by Rinehart. His office stated that he had several meetings with Senate colleagues and business people in Perth that day, but the spokeswoman refused to say who those colleagues and business people were62-64.

Barnaby Joyce slugged the taxpayer for over $18,000 for travelling to Armidale and Tamworth, while he was a Queensland senator preparing to jump to the lower house seat of New England. He also used a VIP RAAF jet for himself and four staff to fly from Tamworth to Canberra after attending a televised debate against his opponent, Tony Windsor. This flight is estimated to have cost over $20,000. Needless to say, it was within the rules. However, Joyce declined to say what official duties had been undertaken in Armidale and Tamworth on the dates in question65-66.

Barnaby Joyce chartered a helicopter, at a cost to taxpayers of about $4,000 to take him to the small town of Drake, in northern New South Wales. The town is about a four hour drive from Joyce’s home in Tamworth and about a 40 minute drive from his second electorate office in Tenterfield. While in Drake, he ‘launched’ a Telstra mobile tower, visited a school and a blueberry farm. It was his second chopper ride to the township in a year67-69.

Teresa Gambaro was also invited and flown to the Indian wedding by Gina Rinehart, and claimed overseas study allowances while there, to the tune of about $3,50070-71.

Julie Bishop was another invited and flown to the Indian wedding by Gina Rinehart, and she also claimed overseas study allowances while there, to the tune of about $3,500, which was for the flight home from Hyderabad72-73.

Bronwyn Bishop infamously paid $5,200 back to the taxpayer after chartering a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraising event. She has also claimed for flights to the wedding of former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, and travelling allowance for the wedding of former Liberal National MP Teresa Gambaro. It cost Bronwyn Bishop her preselection and she was forced to retire74-75.

Tony Abbott had to repay $1700 after claiming entitlements to attend the weddings of Sophie Mirabella as well as former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper. In addition, the publishers of Abbott’s book paid back $9,400 in travel expenses that Abbott had claimed while promoting the book76-79.

Joe Hockey bought an investment property in Canberra and claims $270 per night to stay in this, a home he owns. He also charges other MPs rent when they stay at the place80-81.

Barnaby Joyce moved the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to his electorate, in a disgraceful show of pork barrelling. This is seemingly a weak effort at staving off any further threat from the popular Tony Windsor, who he had difficulty defeating in the last Federal election. This turned out to be costly for the taxpayer and disastrous for the organisation82-85.

The Federal Government’s Department of Communications has refused to release details about a $30 million gift to Foxtel, ostensibly to support underrepresented sports. It was delivered to Foxtel by then Minister Mitch Fifield. These sports include women’s sports, niche sports and those with a high level of community participation (?). The ABC filed a Freedom of Information request seeking correspondence between Foxtel and the department, but the request was declined on the basis that no such documents existed.

Journalist Stephen Mayne suggested that this gift was to keep the Murdoch dynasty onside because free-to-air television licence fees have just been waived in an attempt to resuscitate free-to-air, and the Murdochs were not happy. Mayne is of the opinion that the stated reasoning behind the gift was an afterthought86-88.

The Abbott Government’s former Small Business Minister, Bruce Billson, has been caught accepting a retainer of $75,000 from the Franchise Council of Australia over the last four months of his occupation of his seat in the House of Representatives, while he was on a taxpayer funded salary of just under $200,000 per annum. He was in breach of the rules requiring that the payment be disclosed on the parliamentary register of interests. Of course, Billson stated that it was an ‘administrative failure’89-90.

Sources

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