Oz Blog News Commentary

Corruption galore 5

September 24, 2020 - 08:59 -- Admin

Here we go again. In early March of 2020, I
posted a list of instances of corruption by coalition governments, mostly from
the federal government, but some from the state governments1. Not
long after that was posted, it was necessary to begin another compilation as
the instances of corruption continued piling up. That second effort was
published at the end of April, 20202. Only a couple of days after
that was posted, more instances were pointed out to me, so another compilation
was begun. That third compilation was published on the first day of July, 20203,
and two days later another instance was pointed out to me. So, off I went again,
compiling more instances of corruption mostly from what is clearly the most
corrupt federal government in living memory. That fourth compilation was
published near the end of July, 20204. However, the despicable
behaviour of the coalition governments, both state and federal, did not cease.
As a consequence, this fifth compilation of their corruption became necessary.
As I have said before, I’ll continue this compilation of travesties despite the
presence of the much more sophisticated QED campaign launched by Michael West5,
with the aim of instigating the formation of a proper federal Independent
Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). I can recommend QED, for we must have a
federal ICAC to protect us from the sort of venal spiv who nowadays seems to be
attracted to a political career.

Taxpayers footed the bill for family
members of Coalition former MPs Luke
and Natasha Griggs to
fly to the idyllic Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean for a weekend stay.
Department of Finance records reportedly show Ms Griggs’ husband Paul flew from
Darwin to Cocos via Perth and Christmas Island at a cost of $4385. Simpkins’
wife Kelly and two daughters travelled from Perth via Christmas Island for
$5100. Air fares for the family members to Cocos appear to have been funded
under “family reunion” provisions of the parliamentary entitlements system. Questions
were raised about the appropriateness of using the family reunion provisions
because travel records suggest Mr Simpkins and Ms Griggs both spent the
previous week in their electorates6.

Liberal backbencher Fraser Ellis, the South Australian MP for the Yorke Peninsula
electorate of Narungga, claimed taxpayer-funded travel allowance for a night
when he was photographed at an evening event just 10 minutes from his home –
but declared he was staying in the city. Under parliamentary rules, country MPs
can claim up to $234 per night if they live more than 75km from the Adelaide
GPO and need to stay in the city to attend parliament or undertake other work

In May, the National Covid-19 Coordination
Commission awarded a $42,000 contract to Commtract Communication Services Pty
Ltd, which connects freelance communication, marketing, creative and digital
experts with contract jobs. Commtract is required to provide “creative, design
and editorial services” and “general support services in communicating the
Australian government’s priorities and policy responses to the Covid-19
pandemic”. Commtract’s CEO is Luke
, a former adviser to then tourism minister Richard Colbeck, now the aged care
minister, and to former trade minister Andrew
. The firm was founded by Peter McConnell, who was previously chief of
staff to the former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell8.

A small Liberal-linked communications firm
was given multiple contracts without tender by the office of the Australian
small business ombudsman, Kate Carnell,
a former Liberal chief minister of the ACT. The company, Agenda C, has been
awarded three contracts with the ombudsman’s office for social media-related
work since it was established early last year.

The ombudsman’s office said it did not use
a tender process to award the contracts – worth $79,840, 79,922 and $31,989 –
because they each fell below the procurement threshold of $80,000, where
tenders would be required. Agenda C is led by former Liberal party advisers and
candidates. Its managing campaign director, Carrington Brigham worked as party of the federal Liberal Party’s,
digital strategy team on Tony Abbott’s election campaign in 20139.

As a new Liberal senator for Western Australia, Linda Reynolds claimed $1,268 on the
public purse in May 2015 so she could fly return to Brisbane from Canberra for
an Australian Medical Association’s national
conference entitled ‘Medicare: mid-life crisis?’ followed by a cocktail
party event. Her husband Robert Reid was the AMA’s director of communications,
a role he had held since 2011. Just two months
later, in July 2015, Senator Reynolds charged taxpayers another $4,242 to
travel 2,200 km return from her electorate office in Perth to Broome. Her visit coincided
with the town’s weekend races, but a spokeswoman said she was there to attend a
National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee ball. The weekend package
included $1,576 in return flights for her and another $1,576 for her husband10.

the Attorney General Christian Porter
being required by law to table his use of National Security Information (NSI) orders
(concerning criminal proceedings) to Federal Parliament each year, he has
failed to do so ever since he was appointed to the role in 2017. This is
despite his enthusiasm for the legal sledgehammer he discovered when he took on
the job. NSI orders confer on the Attorney General some of the most extreme
powers imaginable in a justice system. Under the orders, evidence used in a
prosecution can be withheld not just from the public but also from the accused,
the defence team and witnesses for the defence. This power allows Porter to
conceal whatever he wishes, and the NSI orders
are being issued not to target terrorists or extremists but to silence
whistleblowers, to burden their defence and to stop the reporting of cases that
might embarrass the government11.

Former South Australian senator Cory Bernardi charged taxpayers for a
$2,500 trip to Sydney to attend a major fundraiser for his Australian
Conservatives party in 2017.

He flew into Sydney on the afternoon of
Friday October 27, 2017. Comcar records, released through freedom of
information, show he arrived at his hotel about 2pm before taking another
Comcar to the fundraiser about two hours later, joining about 120 supporters
for a riverside dinner at Parramatta Wharf. The records show he also used a
Comcar to leave the fundraiser and return to his hotel about 10pm that night. Bernardi
stayed in Sydney for the weekend, flying out on Sunday 29 October. He declined
to answer questions about the trip when contacted but tried to insinuate that
he had parliamentary business12.

Since June 2020, federal MP Dave Sharma has purchased shares in CSL
(formerly Commonwealth Serum Laboratories before privatisation). This is the
company Prime Minister Scott Morrison has (behind closed doors) tipped to
manufacture the coronavirus vaccine which is under development by Oxford
University. The announcement of a non-existent agreement with AstraZeneca, who
are collaborating with the university, was made by Morrison on August 19th,

At some time in February-March 2020, Dave Sharma purchased Qantas shares at
plunging market lows, where the price dropped from just over $6 to just over $2.
In the middle of March, the government announced a $715 million bailout
package. After that announcement, the price of Qantas shares rose to about $415,16.

Senator Andrew Bragg, who chairs the Senate Select Committee
on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology, received
a gift of a television from the principal of Churchill Advisory Pty Ltd, Sam
Fay, on December 19, 2019. Churchill Advisory is a registered state and federal
lobbyist and has a number of financial and technology clients. One
of these clients is Raiz Investments and this company was one of the first
invited to appear before the Committee. Of course, Dave Sharma bought Raiz shares17.

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar used his taxpayer-funded electorate office budget to
pay one of his close friends, graphic designer Matt Pham, between 2016 and
2018. At the time, Pham worked in full-time roles for a real estate advertising
company during the same period that Sukkar has said Pham worked “as a
casual Electorate Officer in the Deakin Electorate Office”. Pham was
tasked with designing Sukkar’s political smear files and materials to solicit
party donations. That is a breach of parliamentary rules18.

The idea of building a massive dam at Urannah
Creek, northwest of Mackay, has been championed by speculators, business groups
and rural politicians. It has been studied and discarded more than a dozen
times. The latest iteration– a $2.9bn plan for a 1.5 trillion litre dam,
pipelines, irrigation and pumped hydroelectricity – has had the vocal support
of prominent National and Liberal National Party figures such as George Christensen, Barnaby Joyce and the state opposition leader,
Deb Frecklington, whose husband
works for the group. Since the 2019 election, the federal government has given
$12m from separate grants towards planning for what would be one of
Queensland’s biggest dams. In its announcements, it said the beneficiaries of
those grants would be a regional business association and a Brisbane-based
renewables firm. But in both cases – via non-transparent funding and
subcontracting arrangements – the money ultimately flowed to a separate firm,
run by prominent Queensland Liberal National Party figures and donors19.

In partially refusing a Freedom of
Information request about a controversial $10 million taxpayer-funded grant to
Fox Sports, Communications Minister Paul
‘s chief of staff Ryan Bloxsom said the disclosure “could
reasonably be expected to have a detrimental effect on the working relationship
between the minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office, now and into the
future”. In addition, the letter outlining that specific decision found
the public interest was to “withhold the exempt material” rather than
release it. The grant was intended to boost broadcast coverage of under-represented
sports. The money, in addition to an earlier $30 million, pays the sports
channel to broadcast sports under-represented on television. Fox Sports is only
available by subscription, meaning taxpayers must pay to watch the sports they
are paying to broadcast20.

The federal government has handed Woodside
Energy $8.8 million on a limited-tender basis to advise it on decommissioning
one of its own abandoned oil production vessels. Minister for Resources Keith Pitt said that the oil company —
which sold the vessel in 2016 to a shelf company that has since collapsed —
would be providing advice on what would be needed to decommission the facility,
which is now threatening to spew oil into the ocean north of Darwin21.

ServeGate Australia, a company founded and
run by a close friend of the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has received more than $43 million in government
contracts since 2015, while being a registered charity helping Indigenous
businesses with advice. The company’s nominated charitable purposes are to
increase Aboriginal employment and reduce welfare dependency. It became a
registered charity in February 2019, and therefore exempt from income tax and
GST. Shortly before that, two Indigenous businessmen became shareholders, which
means the company qualifies for preferential treatment under government
procurement policies that set targets for contracts awarded to Indigenous
businesses and mandate preferential treatment for small contracts and those in
remote areas22.

An ASX-listed marketing group with
extensive links to the NSW Liberal Party was awarded millions of dollars in
contracts by state-run workers’ compensation insurer icare without all being
put to an open tender. Icare, overseen by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, has spent more than $18.3 million since 2015
with IVE Group, an ASX-listed marketing firm run by former NSW Liberal Party
president Geoff Selig. But in an apparent breach of state laws, the NSW
government’s e-tender site only discloses contracts worth just over $10 million
awarded by icare to the company. Between 2014 and 2019, IVE Group donated
almost $100,000 to the NSW Liberal Party. It also donated $55,500 to the
federal Liberal Party in 201823.

The day before the 2019 federal election, Scott Morrison’s Government gave more
than $15 million to Wesfarmers, one of its biggest political donors, from
funding set aside to alleviate grinding Aboriginal poverty. Just three months
earlier, Wesfarmers announced a record half-yearly profit of $4.5 billion. The grant
came from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), the government’s main
Aboriginal affairs funding pool. Just one month after the contract was approved,
an Australian National Audit Office report revealed the IAS had no effective
framework in place to evaluate any outcomes, despite expending more than $5
billion over five years. The grant was classified as “Closed –
Non-Competitive”, meaning other corporations could not bid for the money. The
deal was approved on May 17, one day before the federal election24,25.

A major NSW property developer, former
Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy, sent his concerns about the Koala State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) to Deputy Premier, John Barilaro‘s
electorate office. Planning Minister Rob Stokes was
sent McCloy’s letter from Barilaro’s office on September 8. This was the only stakeholder correspondence received from Barilaro about the
policy which is aimed at preserving koala habitat. It was McCloy who once told the Independent Commission
Against Corruption he felt like a “walking ATM” for politicians26.

The South Australian
Government has awarded a $2.14 billion contract to run the city’s train network
for the next eight years, to a joint venture between the NZ-founded Downer
Group and French transport company Keolis. Freedom of Information documents
revealed an e-mail sent by the Downer Group to Premier Steven Marshall’s Government included fake quotes attributed to
both himself and Labor MP Stephen Mullighan. The Downer Group’s former manager
of government partnerships, Sasha Grebe, wrote “these might be helpful”, before
detailing a series of fabricated quotes attributed to Mr Koutsantonis and Mr
Mullighan when they were frontbenchers in 2014. The e-mail was sent on July 2,
2019, one day after the Government announced plans to privatise the running of
Adelaide’s passenger rail network, despite promises by Marshall ahead of the
2018 election win, that he did not have a privatisation agenda27.

The disgraced former New South Wales MP Daryl Maguire is being investigated by
the state’s anti-corruption body, the Independent Commission Against Corruption
(ICAC) over an alleged cash-for-influence scandal that forced his resignation from
state parliament.

The former member for Wagga Wagga resigned
from the NSW parliament in 2018 after a separate ICAC inquiry heard, from
recorded phone conversations, he sought payment to help broker deals for some
property developers. ICAC is investigating allegations that, from 2012 to
August 2018, Maguire engaged in a breach of public trust by using his public
office as a member of the NSW Parliament, and the use of parliamentary
resources, to improperly gain a benefit for himself and entities close to him.
These entities included G8wayinternational/G8wayinternational Pty Ltd and
associated persons28-30.

Assistant Treasurer Stuart
was a guest speaker at the Pentecostal church’s Hillsong Conference
Nights event in Sydney, in July 2015. He delivered a ‘Pillars of Influence
Masterclass’ lecture on how ‘innovative individuals’ are ‘influencing their
pillar with the message of Jesus’. The then
assistant defence minister claimed the travel entitlements ($2,326 for
Mr Robert’s travel and accommodation, and $672 for his wife) for the event, claiming it was ‘official business’
even though it had nothing to do with his portfolio31.

Scott Morrison has announced that the government will build a gas-fired
power plant at Kurri Kurri on the site of the former aluminium smelter, if the
energy sector doesn’t replace the capacity lost with the closure of Liddell Power
Station. The site of the aluminium smelter was acquired earlier in 2020 by
developers Jeff McCloy and John Stevens. The gas would be supplied
via the yet-to-be-completed Queensland to Hunter Valley gas pipeline. That
project, whose shareholders include developer Hilton Grugeon, will transport
gas from the Wallumbilla gas hub near Roma in Queensland and Narrabri to
Newcastle. In 2016, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against
Corruption found that, among others, Grugeon and McCloy acted with the
intention of evading election funding laws relating to the disclosure of
political donations to the Liberal Party, the ban on donations from property
developers, and caps on political donations32-35.

The federal government handed
over $29 million to Tony and Ron Perich’s billion dollar Leppington Pastoral
Company in 2018 for land next to Western Sydney Airport at Badgery’s Creek,
only for the Commonwealth to value the 12 hectares at just $3 million less than
a year later. The Auditor-General released a damning report into the Paul Fletcher’s federal Department of
Infrastructure’s purchase of the Perichs’ land in 2018, parts of which “fell
short of ethical standards”. The Commonwealth ended up paying 22 times
more per hectare than the NSW government shelled out for another 1.36-hectare
slice of the Perichs’ dairy farming property at Bringelly for a road. Leppington Pastoral Company is also a donor to the Liberal party,
contributing $58,800 in donations in 2018-201936-37.