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 Canstruct scandal
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 Peter Dutton’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.
Bridget McKenzie’s taxpayer funded shooter’s expo trip
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.
The Fair Work Commission scandal
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.
The Andrew Laming family holiday scandal
On June 30, 2017, Andrew Laming 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.
The National Covid-19 Commission Committee scandal
In early 2020, Neville Power 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.
The pre-emptive community grants scandal
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.
The Maranoa grants scandal
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.
The NSW arts funding scandal
Then NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin 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.
The gagged public servants scandal
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.
The Rolex watch scandal
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 Macfarlane. 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.
The Community Development Grants scandal
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 Morrison’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.
The airport grants scandal
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 scandal
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.
Taxpayer funded trip to Liberal Party fundraiser
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.
The Amanda Vanstone scandal
Former Howard government cabinet minister Amanda Vanstone 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’s taxpayer funded trip to the Melbourne Cup
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’s taxpayer funded fundraiser
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.
Eric Abetz’s taxpayer funded attendance at mining dinner
Liberal senator Eric Abetz 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.
Terry Stephens home address scandal
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 available28.
Tasmanian Hotels Association scandal
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.