This is the second in what will probably end up being a series of lists providing a brief overview (with links to more detailed explanations) of the corruption of the federal Coalition Government. Given that the first list was a compilation from several sources, and was published here on March 8, 20201, the fact that compiling this second list has taken less than two months is testament to the rampant corruption in the federal Coalition government. This political corruption is mostly concerned with lavishing taxpayers’ money on themselves, mates or former colleagues, laundering taxpayers’ funds so that a proportion of them can find their way into the Liberal Party or National Party coffers as donations, or spraying money around electorates in the leadup to elections as a way of garnering votes. Whichever of these it is, it is still corruption, and must be stamped out.
Parakeelia is a company owned, in some unclear way, by the Liberal Party. It provides software services to the party’s federal members of Parliament – voter monitoring software that compiles information about constituents. That information appears to be largely compiled by MPs’ electorate staff: i.e., Liberal Party operatives. No doubt it’s highly valuable data. Reportedly each Liberal MP in Federal Parliament pays Parakeelia several thousand dollars each year for access to it. The MPs get that money from us. The source is the Parliamentary Entitlements Act, one of numerous instruments which supplement MPs’ salaries. This gives each MP an allowance for their electorate office, such as “equipment, facilities, office requisites and stationery necessary to operate the office, as approved by the Minister, for purposes related to Parliamentary, electorate or official business, but not commercial business”. Nor is it supposed to be for Liberal Party business. “Office requisites” include software and that is what Parakeelia provides. So, the Liberal Party owns Parakeelia, Liberal Party members pay Parakeelia for their software out of their parliamentary allowances, and that money goes to the Liberal Party. It is simply a way of siphoning or laundering taxpayer funds to the Liberal Party2-5.
Six taxpayer-funded grants were approved in the key Queensland marginal seat of Longman, now held by Liberal National MP Terry Young, through the Department of Social Services in the month before the last federal election, including $177,000 for the Bribie Island and Districts Junior Rugby League Club. The club received funding from the $60m Mutual Understanding, Support, Tolerance, Engagement and Respect (Muster) initiative, one of a number of programs distributing grants on a closed, non-competitive basis, requiring invitations from the department to apply6.
Tens of thousands of dollars in grant money was handed to a gun club and a church with links to federal government MPs. The Stronger Communities grant scheme awarded more than $40,000 total to the Port Bouvard Pistol and Small Bore Rifle Club and the Clovercrest Baptist Church, which have links to Liberals. The Stronger Communities program gives local MPs a gatekeeper-type role in the application process. Only organisations that have been formally invited by MPs are eligible for a grant. The scheme’s guidelines contain rules requiring MPs and applicants to take steps to avoid conflicts of interest, including disclosing “any professional, commercial or personal relationship with a party who is able to influence the application selection process”. The Port Bouvard gun club boasts Andrew Hastie, the Liberal MP for Canning, as its patron. Hastie has competed there at least twice at invitational events. The club, located in Mandurah, south of Perth, received the maximum possible grant of $20,000 in late 20187.
Fortescue Metals, retail giant Wesfarmers, two NRL clubs, and Catholic and Anglican welfare organisations were awarded millions of dollars from a fund for alleviating Indigenous disadvantage. The former Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion approved more than $560m worth of funding in his final six weeks in the role, ahead of the announcement of the federal election in 2019. Fortescue Metals received a grant of $3.8m for “strategic activities that focus on getting Indigenous Australians into work, fostering Indigenous business and assisting Indigenous people to generate economic and social benefits from effective use of their land, particularly in remote areas”. The funds from the federal government’s controversial Indigenous Advancement Strategy were approved on 5 April 2019, just six days before the Morrison government went into caretaker mode. Indigenous Affairs department representatives said in a senate enquiry that in 12 cases, Scullion funded projects the department had advised against8.
The Scott Morrison government has refused to release details of a $3.9 million “act of grace” payment made the day before the 2019 federal election was called. The application was lodged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on January 6, 2017 but took until April 10 last year to be approved by the finance minister. A day later, the government went into the caretaker period during which no major policy decisions or undertakings can be made. The payment but not the names of the recipients was revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question9.
Christopher Pyne took a job with EY straight after leaving politics – despite the fact he was the Defence Minister and EY had been awarded $21 million in contracts to do consulting work for the Defence Force. Pyne discussed the job while still a minister, and took it up a short time after leaving parliament. The laughable Statement of Ministerial Standards says that for 18 months after they leave office, former ministers will not lobby members of the Government on matters they had dealt with as a minister10,11.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had no idea Julie Bishop was taking a job with Palladium, a multinational corporation and one of Australia’s biggest foreign aid contractors, until it was publicly announced. Bishop, the former Foreign Affairs minister, had only left parliament months earlier, and this is a breach of the laughable ministerial standards which states that politician should wait 18 months before taking a job relating to their ministerial responsibilities12.
Chinese businesswoman Sally Zou is a key sponsor of the Port Power AFL club, owner and director of AusGold Mining Group, and promotes her interests through social media and newspaper ads. She established a company called the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation, apparently in homage to Australia’s Foreign Minister. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has claimed she was in no way aware that Zou had set up the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation. Zou is one of the Liberal Party’s largest donors, having donated $360,000 to the South Australian Liberal Party and $100,000 to the Federal Liberal Party. One of the sensitive issues for the Liberal Party might be that questions have been raised about links Ms Zou’s family is claimed to have with the Chinese Government13-15.
Shane Stone is to be paid $500k per annum to oversee flood recovery efforts in rural Queensland. This salary is nearly the same as that paid to the Prime Minister. Stone is a former Liberal Party President and his appointment was among several announced in the months prior to the 2019 federal election, with links to the Coalition parties16.
Barnaby Joyce says there was no conflict of interest in his ownership of more than $500,000 worth of land holdings, which is why he did not declare it during cabinet deliberations about an inland rail project that passes within 15km of those land holdings, and when built will substantially increase the value of that land17.
Arthur Sinodinos could recall very little under oath when questioned by NSW Indpendent Commission Against Corruption regarding Australian Water Holdings Pty Ltd (AWH) (of which he was deputy chairman), and its large donation ($74,000) to the Liberal Party, despite being the treasurer of the Liberal Party at the time. The inquiry heard AWH was pursuing a lucrative public-private partnership (PPP) with the NSW government that would have made Sinodinos between $10m and $20m and the family of disgraced former Labor party powerbroker Eddie Obeid about $100m18,19.
Under the Tony Abbott government, Sarina Russo Job Access won two major federal government contracts with the Department of Education and Training through open tender. The contracts in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory were worth $41.2 million and $4.4 million respectively. In June 2010 Sarina Russo Job Access donated $20,000 to the federal Liberal Party20.
On 22 January 2014, Simon Brandis, the son of federal Attorney General George Brandis, was given notice to appear in court, accused of wilful damage to property. He was facing a punishment of up to five years in jail. His defence lawyer was one Theo Tavoularis, whose law firm donated $1200 to the Liberal Party in August 2013. In May 2016, two days before Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution election, George Brandis sprang into action. In the final hours before caretaker mode began, Brandis raised eyebrows in the legal community by announcing 76 appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. One of these appointees was Theo Tavoularis. His job pays $375,000 per annum21,22.
Tony Abbott’s daughter Frances received a ‘chairman’s scholarship’ for a Bachelor of Design degree costing more than $60,000 from the Whitehouse Institute of Design where an Abbott donor sits as chairman on the board of governors. Spokesman for the Institute declines to say how many times a ‘chairman’s scholarship’ had been awarded and its website stated it “does not currently offer scholarships to gain a place into the Bachelor of Design”23.
Indian mining giant Adani Mining and its subsidiary Carmichael Rail Network donated $247,300 to the Coalition during the 2018-19 financial year, data released by the Australian Electoral Commission has revealed. On April 5, $12,500 was donated to the Liberal Party. That was four days before then-Environment Minister Melissa Price signed off on the groundwater management plans for Adani’s central Queensland mine. Another $100,000 was donated to both Coalition parties in the month after Ms Price gave final federal approvals to the mine24.
Former Resources Minister Matt Canavan billed taxpayers $5,390 for a private charter flight to travel 150km for the opening of Byerwen coalmine, where he gave a speech attacking “hypocritical, self-indulgent” environmental activists25.
Travel agent Helloworld has strangely been given the contract for the federal government’s Coronavirus Information Line. Co-owner and CEO of Helloworld, Andrew Burnes, is the Liberal Party’s federal treasurer, and a big donor to the party. Helloworld recently stood down many of its staff to try to survive the coronavirus economic impact26,27.
Three senior Liberal politicians – Peter Dutton, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews – billed taxpayers thousands of dollars for an overnight trip to Sydney in late 2019, where they attended a lavish New South Wales Liberal Party farewell knees-up for Tony Abbott after he lost his seat. The trio collectively billed taxpayers more than $6000 for flights, cars and hotels for their whirlwind visit before flying back to their home states the following day. A fourth Liberal politician, Australian Capital Territory Senator Zed Seselja, also took an overnight trip to Sydney on the day of the farewell dinner and claimed more than $1200 in flights and government cars, but refused to even confirm he attended the dinner28.
Tony Abbott was appointed to the board of the Australian War Memorial after he lost his seat in the 2019 federal election, just as the position to which he was appointed, received a $15,000 per annum pay increase29.