Oz Blog News Commentary

Corruption galore 3

July 2, 2020 - 08:29 -- Admin

Only a couple of days after posting the second compilation
of the federal Coalition government’s numerous examples of corruption, I found
I had to start a third such compilation; such is the depth of their depravity1.

The chief executive of Canstruct International paid $3,500
to the Liberal National Party to attend a business dinner while the company was
negotiating a contract with the Peter
’s Home Affairs Department, eventually worth $591m. However,
Canstruct’s chief executive, Rory Murphy, says attendance at the function had
“no bearing” on the government department’s decision and any suggestion it did
was “ridiculous”. That contract has now blown out to be over $1.1 billion2,3.

In October 2018, the Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie slugged taxpayers for
a VIP flight from Adelaide to Western Australia for a National Party conference
and a shooters’ expo. She chose to charter a jet at taxpayers’ expense; the
total costs were extraordinary, running to $40,230, including flying the RAAF
plane empty from Canberra to Adelaide and from Perth back to Canberra4.

Fair Work Commissions Deputy President Gerard Boyce, who
was appointed to the position by the Coalition government in December 2018,
secretly emailed in-house modelling to BHP that showed its controversial new
enterprise agreement left workers worse off than the award minimum, two hours
before he approved the deal. A full bench judgment overturned his approval of
the BHP’s highly contested agreements, championed by chief executive Mike Henry5,6.

On June 30, 2017, Andrew
and his family set off on an eight day ‘work trip’ to the Northern
Territory and Western Australia. The justification given was that Mr Laming wanted
to visit Kununurra for NAIDOC Week, to meet indigenous leaders and health,
education and social service providers. One wonders why he had to go to the NT
and WA for NAIDOC week and why he didn’t want to spend it with indigenous
people in his electorate, or even his state. Surely there were communities in
Queensland who would have been eager to speak to an MP about their concerns.
That would have allowed Laming to visit by himself without ‘inconveniencing’
his family. The trip cost the taxpayer $19,619.8777.

In early 2020, Neville
was installed as National COVID-19 Coordination Committee (NCCC) and
was at the time deputy chairman of Strike Energy, which owns assets of gas
(about 500 billion cubic feet; 14.2 billion cubic metres) in the Perth (WA) and
Cooper (SA-Qld) basins. A report prepared by an advisory committee was leaked ,
and it recommended the Morrison government dramatically increase the Australian
gas market by underwriting a massive expansion of the domestic gas industry,
including opening new fields and building hundreds of kilometres of pipeline.
Power then stepped down from his position at Strike Energy but not his position
at the NCCC, at the same time neglecting to mention that he owned $320,000
worth of shares in Strike Energy, so he would still benefit from government
largesse in underwriting the expansion of gas infrastructure8,9.

In April, 2019, two members of government announced
environmental funding for community groups in a marginal electorate before the
grants program had even opened. In now-deleted Facebook posts, the Victorian
Liberal MP Chris Crewther published
video of himself and then environment minister, Melissa Price, visiting parts of his electorate of Dunkley to announce
tens of thousands of dollars in grants to environment organisations as part of
the government’s Communities Environment Program. But environment officials
told Senate estimates hearings that, at the time, applications for grants had
not opened, funding had not been appropriated and no money would be awarded
until mid-year10.

A $20m federal government program to upgrade showgrounds
delivered just $2.2m to 11 Labor-held seats while the Nationals received more
than four times as much – $9.2m – for 10 seats. The regional agricultural show
development grant program delivered $3.4m to the agriculture minister, David Littleproud’s seat of Maranoa
alone, more than the entire allocation for opposition-held seats. The program
was a Coalition 2019 election commitment, which funded 122 agricultural show
societies out of 424 applicants which registered from October to December 2019.
Given the previous item, it is a bonus that the awards were given after the
applications were registered11.

Then NSW Arts Minister Don
and Regional Development Minister John Barilaro, also the NSW leader of the Nationals, have been accused of ignoring expert recommendations and
pork-barrelling $44 million in arts funding into Coalition electorates.

Ahead of last year’s state election, Barilaro and Harwin toured
regional NSW, handing out infrastructure grants worth $47 million to arts and
cultural organisations.

A team of experts had been appointed in 2018 to assess more than
150 applications for the Regional Cultural Fund grants and ranked the 116
successful projects in the order they should be funded. Their advice was
largely ignored and instead all but $3 million was spent on projects in
Coalition seats. Indeed, Barilaro and Harwin even signed off on cash for at
least eight projects that were not recommended for funding. A total of 56 projects were funded in 23 electorates, of
which 20 were held by the Coalition12,13.

This, while not referring directly to an instance of
corruption it does demonstrate that the government are not interested in
uncovering corruption. A public servant claiming to have evidence of
ministerial corruption was warned that speaking to journalists may be unlawful
and later was directed to use a generic online form for contacting the prime
minister Scott Morrison, leaked
correspondence shows. The system makes it nearly impossible for public servants
to lawfully speak publicly about corruption, and instead works to funnel their
complaints internally through their departmental or ministerial superiors and
into administrative oblivion14.

In 2014, it was revealed that, in 2013, several Liberal
Party members of the House of Representatives, Stuart Robert, Tony Abbott
and the now former Member for Groom, Ian
. received Rolex watches with a total value of $250,000 from a
Chinese billionaire businessman Li Ruipeng. They all declared them on their
parliamentary pecuniary interests register, even though they believed the
watches to be fakes. It was later confirmed the items were genuine Rolex
watches. Once it was discovered they were valued at a quarter of a million
dollars, the members of Parliament (including Stuart Robert) said that the
watches had been returned. However, Robert was given two watches with an
estimated total value of $100,000 — one for himself and one for his wife. Despite
saying he had returned both watches, by early 2019, Robert seems not to have
updated his pecuniary interest register statement to reflect their return. Strangely,
according to documents tabled in Queensland State Parliament, former Ipswich
Mayor Paul Pisasale also came into
possession of two Rolex watches– one men’s and one ladies’ – around the same
time as Robert came into possession of his two watches15.

If you thought the Sports Rorts programme was an appalling misuse
of millions of taxpayer dollars, it was just the entrée to the porkfest of
Community Development Grants (CDG). Scott
’s government has teed up a cunning plan which could see the CDG
pork-barrel used in another two election campaigns, to the tune of over $2.5
billion (yes, billion with a B). The potential for a serial plunder of
taxpayers’ dollars is huge, as the CDG program had been extended to 30 June
2026. This is yet another of the government’s slush funds and it was regularly
topped up, especially between 2016 and 2019 when the combination of Scott
Morrison and his then chief of staff (and later Treasury secretary), Phil
Gaetjens, controlled the budget levers. CDGs are not supposed to be purely
regional grants – some of the biggest winners are rich Liberal-held city seats
– but it is the National Party that has done by far the best out of the way
this barrel has rolled. Under this program, in 2019, 68 Labor seats averaged
$836,000 in CDGs, Liberal seats $2.086 million, LNP seats in Queensland $2.473
million – and the 10 National Party seats scored an average of $6.712 million. However, to be really “lucky”, one should be in
Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England. It was showered with $28.9 million in CDGs16-19.

Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack announced on June 13,
2020, that grants totalling $41m to upgrade regional airports around Australia,
but these grants included $4.5m (11% of the total) for Merimbula Airport and $152k
for Tumut Airport. This is more pork barrelling as both of these airports are
in the electorate of Eden Monaro which will have a by-election on July 4. Of
course, McCormack was flanked by the National Party Candidate for the seat, Trevor Hicks20.

The Small and Medium Enterprise Export Hub program is
administered by the Department of Industry Science, Energy and Resources, the
minister for which is Karen Andrews.
The initial round of the grant program was announced on March 13, 2019 and
seven of the eight grants were in Coalition electorates, with the eighth over Coalition
and a Labor electorates. The second round was announced on May 11, 2020 and
this was more evenly distributed. However approximately two thirds of all
grants went to Coalition electorates21.

Three cabinet ministers, Stuart Robert, Dan Tehan
and Simon Birmingham, charged
taxpayers more than $4,500 for an overnight trip to Sydney during which they
mingled with mining and banking donors at a lucrative Liberal party fundraiser
hosted by Channel Nine. The three flew into Sydney on the day of the $10,000
per head fundraising dinner in 2019 before flying out again the following day,
charging their flights and overnight accommodation costs to their parliamentary allowances. The
rules for expenses bar MPs from claiming travel where the dominant purpose is
to raise funds for political parties, but all three claim they were within the
rules because they were in Sydney for other parliamentary business in the hours
either side of the fundraiser. The networking
event was organised by the Liberal party’s fundraising arm, the Australian
Business Network, which asked Nine to host the dinner at Willoughby and carry
the cost of the catering22-23.

Former Howard
government cabinet minister Amanda
is Chair of the Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board. The Chair
is required to be independent, yet Vanstone also sits on the board of Lockheed
Martin Australia, part of the world’s largest weapon-maker24.

Michael McCormack
and his wife flew to Melbourne on a VIP government jet before the Melbourne
Cup, celebrated in the marquee of gambling giant Tabcorp, billed taxpayers for
their return flights, and justified the trip by reannouncing a three-year-old
funding pledge for a sports hall at an event that dismayed local councillors. The
deputy prime minister, a regular at the races, was last year given tickets by
Tabcorp to attend Flemington’s exclusive Birdcage section with his wife
Catherine Shaw, alongside a host of other ministers, gambling executives, and
Australia’s richest woman, mining billionaire Gina Rinehart.

They took an RAAF special purpose jet – though to cost taxpayers
about $4,6oo per hour – to fly into Melbourne on the Sunday, made the funding
announcement on Monday, attended the race on Tuesday, and flew out, again at
public expense on Wednesday, with McCormack going to Canberra, via Sydney, and
his wife back home to Wagga Wagga25.

Pauline Hanson charged
taxpayers $3,700 for a three-night trip to Perth where she held intimate
dinners for high-paying One Nation donors and a “fish and chip” fundraiser that
drew the support of far-right extremists, the Proud Boys.

Politicians are not allowed to charge taxpayers for travel
if the dominant purpose is party fundraising, but in October 2018, Hanson had
taxpayers pick up the bill for flights to and from Perth, as well as three days
of travel allowance, where she hosted multiple One Notion fundraisers26.

Liberal senator Eric
says he was serving the interests of his Tasmanian electorate when he
billed taxpayers $3,000 to attend a glitzy gala dinner celebrating the mining
industry. He claimed domestic return flights from Hobart to Melbourne and a
series of Comcars so both he and a family member could attend the Australian
Mines and Metals Association centenary celebrations on 1 August 2018. The
senator flew into Melbourne on the day of the gala dinner, stayed overnight,
and left the following day. Abetz has no ministerial connection to mining or
industrial relations (on which John Howard spoke at the dinner), but said he
attended because mining was important to Tasmania27.

President of the South Australian Legislative Council,
Liberal Terry Stephens is refusing
to release details of any allowances paid to him and other regional MPs amid
questions over his eligibility to claim such allowances. Terry Stephens
publicly claims to live in Victor Harbour, but there is evidence which raises
the question whether paying tenants have stayed at his previous registered
voting address. He has also been observed spending significant time at his
second property in Adelaide’s inner east.

South Australian state MPs who live further than 75 km from
the Adelaide General Post Office are entitled to payments of $234 for each
night they spend in Adelaide on official business. Living in Victor Harbour
would qualify Stephens to be paid that allowance. However, unlike other
parliamentary allowances, details about these payments are not publicly

The head of Tasmania’s powerful hotels association has
credited his contact book with helping ensure mainland construction workers
were able to finish building Hobart’s newest hotel in the midst of the
coronavirus pandemic. At the opening of Crowne Plaza, Tasmanian Hospitality
Association chief executive Steve Old personally thanked senior bureaucrat Tim Baker for helping ensure some of
the project’s construction workers were exempt from quarantine upon arrival in
Tasmania. Mr Baker was the chief of staff to former premier Will Hodgman and is now secretary of
the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

People deemed “essential travellers” are allowed
to skip Tasmania’s strict 14-day mandatory quarantine. Essential travellers are:
national and state security; health services; transport freight and logistics;
specialists critical to maintaining key industries or businesses29.