It’s hard to keep a tab on the current deluge of corruption coming out of federal politics, and barely a day goes by where there isn’t a new report of malfeasance by the Liberal–National government.
But there’s so much corruption being carried out by the government that it’s so hard to know where to start and, unfortunately for the public, it’s hard to know when it will all stop.
Here’s a short history:
Water for sale
When he was Minister for Water, Barnaby Joyce approved the $80 million water buy-back from properties owned by Eastern Australia Agriculture. Angus Taylor was a director of EAA before entering Parliament, but one of the main beneficiaries of the sale was Chris Gradel, Taylor’s former rowing partner at Oxford University between 1990 and 1993, and chief investment officer of the Pacific Alliance Group, a major investor in EAA. The company is registered in the Cayman Islands, and there is no public information available about the directorships, or the ownership structure.
EAA wanted to sell their water rights for a substantially lower fee on two occasions during the time of the previous Labor government, but both sales were rejected. The profit for EAA on this $80 million water buy-back transaction was $52 million. That’s $52 million in profit that has gone directly into an entity registered in the Cayman Islands.
Au pairs for friends in high places
In 2015, Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, granted tourist visas to two foreign au pairs (from France and Italy), who were in breach of their work conditions, within one hour of receiving a phone call from one of the au pairs at Brisbane airport. Lucky for some!
Representations were made on behalf of the au pairs by Dutton’s former colleague from the Queensland police force, and the chief executive of the AFL, Gillon McLachlan. The au pairs were employed by McLachlan’s cousin, grazier Callum MacLachlan. Six months after Dutton’s intervention, Callum’s father made a $50,000 donation to the Liberal Party.
In 2016, 30 hectares of endangered native grasslands were illegally poisoned on a property owned by Jam Land Pty Ltd, in which the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and his brother, Richard Taylor, have an interest. The clearing was reported by neighbours to the NSW and federal environmental authorities.
In early 2017, Angus Taylor personally intervened in these investigations and met with the Environment Minister at the time, Josh Frydenberg, who then announced a review of the Commonwealth laws that affect endangered native grasslands. Later in 2017, the NSW Government dropped its investigation into Jam Land.
Surfing the internet
The Assistant Treasurer at the time, Stuart Robert, charged taxpayers $37,975 for home internet usage, at a rate of over $2,000 per month – most internet services for unlimited data cost around $100 per month. It was alleged Robert and his wife were using this home internet connection to promote the services of the METRO Pentecostal Church, which launched a Christian television service at the same time.
Robert was asked by the Minister of State, Alex Hawke, to repay the amount. In comparison, when former independent Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper, was found to have spent $954 on cab fares, he was not allowed to repay the monies, was referred to the police, and found guilty of dishonesty. The charges were dismissed on appeal.
Scratching the back of Murdoch
The most widely known corruption is the payment of $30 million to Rupert Murdoch’s Foxtel service, ostensibly to “promote women’s sport”. The Minister for Communications at the time, Mitch Fifield, refused to release any information about this payment, and News Corp has consistently refused to outline how this money was spent, in context of a decline of the broadcast of women’s sport on Foxtel, which is what the $30 million was supposed to address. Whatever happened to this $30 million, and why is there no paper trail or record of how this substantial sum was spent?
The Liberal–National government provided a grant of $300,000 to Warren Mundine to create a television show, Mundine Means Business, on Sky News TV. Mundine was a member of the Liberal Party at the time, and then went on to contest the seat of Gilmore as the Liberal Party candidate in the 2019 federal election. The grant was awarded before the application was submitted, and was taken out of an Indigenous Advancement Strategy fund. The actual cost of the production of the program has never been revealed.
Sleeping around with the Minister
Barnaby Joyce employed his lover, Vikki Campion, but this was not considered a breach of Malcolm Turnbull’s ministerial code of conduct, because she was not the Deputy Prime Minister’s “partner at the time”. They are now in a de facto relationship and have two children.
Campion was then moved to Matt Canavan’s office on a salary of $190,000, and then moved to the office of the National Party whip, Damian Drum – it was alleged she never attended work at either of these new locations.
Cashing in on human misery
The Liberal–National government awarded a $423 million contract to Paladin, a security contracting company with strong connections with the Liberal Party. Paladin received the contract in a select tender, to manage the immigration detention centre in Manus Island. The paper trail and what the money was spent on was difficult to track and, according to refugee advocates, there was not much physical evidence of that amount of money spent on services on the island.
The Great Barrier Reef corruption
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation was given $444 million in 2018 after a clandestine meeting with the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Minister for Environment at the time, Josh Frydenberg. The GBRF did not request the meeting, had no idea what the meeting was about, and was surprised to learn they were going to be the recipient of almost half-a-billion dollars. It was no surprise, however, to discover there are many links between the GBRF and the Liberal Party.
At the time, the GBRF had annual revenues of $10 million and six full-time staff. There was no tender process for the allocation of the $444 million, no transparency, and no indication of a process to establish value-for-money, or even how the money was to be spent. The Auditor-General found the provision of the grant failed to properly follow government rules and was a process that was wide open to corruption and misappropriation of funds.
The bright red lights of Manila
The Nationals MP, George Christensen, spent almost 300 days between 2014–18 travelling to Manila – at least 70 days in each of those years – visiting his fiancé. Aside from the security issues this might raise, Christensen said he was representing his community and doing his electoral work from Manila using his mobile phone and iPad. Certainly, we should be encouraging telecommuting and working away from the workplace as much as possible, but this isn’t the way it works for a Member of Parliament.
According to the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, Christensen misused his travel expenses on one of these trips through to Manila, and paid back a total of $2,100. Again, unlike Peter Slipper, who was sent to face court over a sum of $954.
Mathias Cormann booked a holiday to the value of $2,780 – but didn’t pay for it. It was arranged by Andrew Burnes, the CEO of Helloworld, who also happens to be the National Treasurer of the Liberal Party. Helloworld is the travel booking company that has received over $3 billion in federal contracts, and the Liberal–National government made Helloworld the sole provider as the manager of all federal departmental travel. Again, no tenders, no selection process. The government removed the previous panel of providers, and gave all of this travel work to Helloworld.
A monopoly created by the Liberal–National government, and Helloworld provides favours to the Liberal MPs that created the monopoly for them. It’s reminiscent of the criminal mafia monopolies that were created after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The former Treasurer, Joe Hockey, owns shareholdings in Helloworld to the value of $1 million, and while he was in his role as Australian Ambassador to the United States, used his office to facilitate business for Helloworld.
Taking black money and giving it to the rich
On the day before the 2019 federal election, the Morrison government gave $15 million to one of its largest donors – the retail giant Wesfarmers, which had recently announced a half-yearly profit of $4.5 billion.
As was the case with Warren Mundine, the money was allocated from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy which, according to the Australian National Audit Office, has no framework in place to evaluate outcomes. The allocation to Wesfarmers is apparently for the delivery of activities that focus on getting Indigenous Australians into work, and business, and deriving economic and social benefits from land.
Wesfarmers has donated well over a million dollars to the Liberal Party over the past 18 years, and it is unclear how this $15 million will be used to advance Indigenous Australia, or why a retail giant that has just generated a record $4.5 billion half-year profit should receive this type of allocation from government, when it could easily be funding – and should be funding – such a program itself.
Faking the how-to-vote process
In the Queensland seat of Dickson, the Liberal Party distributed fake how-to-vote cards, instructing potential Greens voters to place a second preference vote for Peter Dutton, as opposed to the official Greens’ flyer, which placed Dutton at number five or six. The fake leaflets were unauthorised and highly misleading to potential voters, yet the Australian Electoral Commission rejected a complaint because although all the other preferences were misleading and incorrect, the direction for the first-preference vote was correct.
In the Victoria seats of Chisholm and Kooyong, the Liberal Party installed signage in Mandarin during the election campaign, designed specifically to mislead and misdirect voters in the Chinese community. The signage used the same purple colour and design as those from the AEC and mentioned: “Correct voting method. On the green paper ballot put a ‘1’ next to the Liberal Party candidate.” This was an obvious attempt for the Liberal Party to cheat and corrupt the electoral process. The Federal Court dismissed the complaints that were lodged after the election result.
When corruption is not enough
Prior to the federal election last year, Nick Zhao, a Chinese-born Australian, alleged he was offered $1 million by the Chinese Community Party to run as a Liberal Party candidate, enter the Australian Parliament and work as a spy on behalf of the Chinese government.
He refused, contacted ASIO to inform them about this development, and was then found dead in a Melbourne hotel room. Gladys Liu, who holds a wide range of questionable links to the Chinese government, became the preselected candidate for the Liberal Party in Chisholm, raised millions of dollars in donations, and won the seat by a narrow margin. In a subsequent media interview held in her home, there is a photograph of Liu and Zhao on the wall in the background. Is there something more we need to know about Gladys Liu and her links to the Chinese Communist Party?
Barnaby returns as an envoy
Soon after Scott Morrison became Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce was appointed the Special Envoy for Drought, spent less than three weeks outside his electorate in drought-affected areas and claimed $675,000 in expenses in a role which lasted nine months.
Although the figure includes Joyce’s backbencher’s salary, and approximately $100,000 for the salaries for two support staff – that would make a total of $250,000 – there are no other details for how the balance of this money was spent. There was no publicly available report, and there is no indication of what the findings are – if there are any – from Joyce’s time as Special Envoy. Scott Morrison has refused to release any of the details of Joyce’s findings, except to say there was “a substantial” amount of text messages that were sent via mobile phone.
Why such as report would need to be kept away from the public – or why a report was sent by text messaging – has never been revealed, although we can never be sure if a report exists in the first place.
The fine art of forgery
Whenever there is talk about corruption in politics, Angus Taylor is a Minister whose name just keeps popping up. In September 2019, he accused the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, of spending $15.9 million on air travel, and of her hypocrisy in calling for a climate change emergency, when her council was generating so many emissions through excessive air travel. The only problem was, the real amount of spending is $5,934: Taylor had relied on a forged document, provided by a Liberal staffer, Josh Manuatu, and put this document into the public domain by sending the document directly to the Daily Telegraph, who went on to publish these incorrect details.
This case was referred to NSW Police, who then referred the matter on to the Australian Federal Police. To show off their allegiances to the government and the Liberal Party, the case was dropped because, according to the AFP, there was “insufficient evidence” but it’s a clear case of not looking hard enough. There was also no reference to the strong possibility the forgery was created to discredit Clover Moore and boost the prospects of Louise Clegg – the wife of Angus Taylor – a likely candidate in the City of Sydney Council elections in September 2020.
Not a sporting chance in hell
The Community Sport Infrastructure program is a $100 million fund, independently managed by Sports Australia and, supposedly, grants are allocated independently and free from political inference – that ensures value for money for the taxpayer, and ensures the regions that need facilities the most, are the regions that end up with the grant allocation.
But not in this case! Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie intervened in the lead up to the last election and allocated 66 per cent of funds to Liberal–National Party held seats. Almost 43 per cent of grants were provided to projects that were ineligible to receive funding; high ranking applications were rejected, and low ranking applications in marginal seats were awarded the highest level of funding – $500,000.
There is a clear link between this so-called ‘sport rorts’ affair, and the Prime Minister’s office and the Liberal election campaign team.
Regional jobs and investment rorts
In the lead up to the 2019 election, there was a $220 million allocation to regional jobs and investment packages to “diversify economies, stimulate long-term economic growth and deliver sustainable employment”. There were 10 regions that received funding and these were allocated to projects in very marginal seats.
The auditor-general was scathing in the assessment of the scheme, claiming that it suffered from intense conflicts of interest and intervention by Liberal and National Party ministers. Sixty-four projects worth $76 million were recommended by the public service, but there were overruled by ministers and replaced with 64 other projects that were not recommended for funding.
“Applications were not soundly assessed in accordance with the program guidelines,” the Auditor-General said.
Under this scheme, a Liberal Party donor received a $5.5 million jobs and investment grant, despite being ineligible to receive the funding, due to his business being a registered training organisation.
Discussing on-water matters
The final matter of corruption is perhaps a culmination of all the corruptions contained in other government programs. The Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream program contained a fund of $150 million and was supposed to develop and build women’s change rooms to stop, as Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack perversely kept on telling the electorate, “girls having to change behind trees and in car parks”.
$120 million from this fund was allocated to the construction of 14 pools, all in marginally-held Coalition seats. There were no guidelines, no tenders, no application forms: in some cases, organisations and councils found out they were receiving funding through the media; in other cases, they had not even applied; a few did not actually want the funding, as they had no way of maintaining these pools into the future.
Very few of the projects that received these funds were for women’s change rooms, or specifically for female amenities – areas that were badly in need of change rooms went without and, in one case, a rugby club without any female teams at all, received large investment grants to build amenities specifically for women.
Corruption greater than the Rum Corps
The current Liberal–National government is the most corrupt entity since the Rum Corps (officially the New South Wales Corps), that operated between 1789 and 1818. But at least that had the task of quickly building an economy.
It’s even worse than the final years of the NSW Labor government during 2008–2011, when the worst excesses of Labor Ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald were being played out.
It’s evident the Liberal–National government was not expecting to be re-elected at the May 2019 federal election, and decided to corruptly throw as much money out to friends of the Liberal Party, and create as many budget problems as possible for an incoming Labor administration. But Labor didn’t win that election and these are now problems the Liberal–National government will need to resolve.
And the worst problem?: Although there has been widespread and overt corrupt behaviour from the Liberal–National government since 2013, it’s a government that keeps winning elections. Instead of being admonished and rejected by the electorate, it is being rewarded by the electorate. In this environment, the government believes it’s invincible and will continue with its nefarious activities, protected by a right-wing mainstream media, paying lip service to reporting the actions of the Liberal–National government, and keen to deflect the attention to non-existent problems on the Labor side – as we witnessed last week in the reporting of the Otis meeting of Labor MPs.
Virtually every day, there is a new report of corrupt behaviour or government ministers rorting the system, or the Auditor–General announcing yet another government program that is open to corruption.
When will the public finally have enough?