In early March of 2020, I posted a list of instances of corruption by the coalition governments, both federal and state1. Not long after that was posted, I found it necessary to begin another compilation as the instances of corruption continued coming. That second effort was published at the end of April2. 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 July3, and two days later another instance was pointed out to me. So, off I went again. I’ll continue this despite the presence of the much more sophisticated QED campaign launched by Michael West4, 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 spiv which seems to be attracted to a political career.
The Southern Strategy donation scandal
In February, 2020, the Liberal Party declared it had received $165,000 from a company named Southern Strategy, a largely inactive political consultancy set up by Scott Briggs, a friend of prime minister Scott Morrison’s, four years ago. Guardian Australia queried the donation and Briggs said his company had never made it, and that the mistake was for the Liberal party to explain. The Liberal party subsequently deleted it from its records, but is yet to say how it came to erroneously declare a donation from a dormant business that had never donated before, while including its business address and the specific amount of $165,0005.
The Pacific Blue Capital scandal
The company leading a consortium bidding for a lucrative $1 billion visa processing contract is Pacific Blue Capital, led by former New South Wales Liberal Party deputy state director Scott Briggs, a longstanding personal friend of both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman. Briggs has contributed $133,000 to the Liberal Party since late 2017, including 14 donations worth $90,000 between November 2018 and February 20196,7.
The NSW Stronger Communities Fund scandal
A series of emails show that the NSW Stronger Communities Fund, originally set up by the Baird government to help merged councils, was used by the offices of the Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro to orchestrate funding announcements for seats across the state. Despite the community scheme being the responsibility of the Office of Local Government (OLG), its head Tim Hurst liaised directly with Berejiklian’s and Barilaro’s offices about what would be spent. On June 25, 2018, the premier’s office sent an email to the deputy premier’s office and the OLG saying Berejiklian had updated the guidelines of the scheme around the same time she approved $90 million for Hornsby Shire Council, which was a council which had not been merged8.
Update: The NSW government tried to withhold documents that show bureaucrats concealing Berejiklian’s personal involvement in a council grants scheme now alleged to be the subject of rorting. In email correspondence seen by the Herald, a draft answer to parliamentary questions said the Premier signed off on a $1 million grant to Hunters Hill Council under the Stronger Communities Fund, but that answer was struck out and amended32.
Update 2: Berejiklian has accepted the government’s controversial $250 million council grants program may have shored up Coalition votes, insisting the practice of pork barrelling was “not illegal”. Berejiklian said grants handed out through the program went to 95 per cent Coalition-held seats, because, she said, “Guess what? There are more Coalition seats than any other”36.
The Jeff Kennett office space scandal
It was revealed in 2017 that former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett‘s wife had been paid more than $200,000 over nine years for his office space in Cremorne, but the ex-premier said taxpayers would be up for the same amount if he was in a government building. “I get these entitlements, as each ex-premier does, the only difference is … in 2000 the government asked me to leave the government-provided space,” Mr Kennett stated9.
The Monaro electorate grants scandal
New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro approved more than $4 million in community grants going to councils in his own seat of Monaro months out from the 2019 state election. He also oversaw grants provided under the NSW Stronger Communities Fund going to councils in several electorates held by his own party. Emails and other documents show Mr Barilaro, who earlier in 2020 backed out of a bid to contest the federal Eden-Monaro by-election, approved more than $3.7 million going to Snowy Monaro Regional Council and Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council in November 2018. In late February 2019 a further $439,000 went to both councils, both within his electorate. This program was supposed to be administered by the Office of Local Government but its CEO Tim Hurst liaised extensively with Barilaro’s parliamentary office and his Monaro electoral office, as well as the Premier’s office, about how the money would be spent10.
The Australian citizenship scandal
Chinese Communist Party-aligned billionaire Huang Xiangmo paid tens of thousands of dollars to former Liberal minister Santo Santoro in a back-room campaign to secure Australian citizenship. In 2016, Santoro arranged a one-on-one meeting for Mr Huang with then immigration minister Peter Dutton. Despite meeting inside the private suite of a Chinese restaurant in Sydney in 2016, Huang ultimately failed in his citizenship bid after ASIO objected to his links to the Chinese Communist Party. However, Dutton gave approval for then Labor MP Sam Dastyari to conduct a private citizenship ceremony for Mr Huang’s wife and two children11.
The Hughes pre-selection scandal
A shire councillor and a two-time Liberal mayor at Sutherland and the former Labor mayor of Rockdale, Kent Johns, has long harboured ambitions for a federal seat. He had an unsuccessful tilt in Werriwa in 2013 and, in late 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison intervened to save sitting federal MP Craig Kelly, despite Mr Johns having the numbers to topple Kelly. Only months later, Mr Johns made a $33,000 donation to the Liberals’ coffers for the May federal election. The donation, which he signed, was made by his recently established company, Eco Water Group. The company was funded by drug kingpin Marcello Casella, who has been gaoled over a major cannabis crop and pleaded guilty to knowing about another12.
The Alex Hawke party minutes doctoring scandal
The Liberal Party has officially appointed a former ICAC boss to investigate allegations the Prime Minister’s right-hand man Alex Hawke doctored party minutes to prevent ten new members from joining his branch. It is believed the ten potential members were from an opposition faction within the Liberal Party13.
The Regional Jobs and Investment Program scandal
The Auditor-General criticised the Coalition Government’s management of the $220 million the Regional Jobs and Investment Program. It was a Coalition promise rolled out after the 2016 election. The Auditor General’s report found the decisions made by the ministerial panel were not always consistent with advice received from the Department of Infrastructure. Two projects in the NSW electorate of Gilmore received funding, despite not being backed by the department’s process. Liberal-held Gilmore was one of the most marginal electorates following the 2016 election and the Coalition ultimately lost it to Labor in 2019. Four projects in the Labor electorate of Eden-Monaro were recommended for funding, but were not approved by the ministerial panel. Overall, the panel did not fund 28% of recommended grant applications and approved 17% that had not been recommended14.
The preschool funding scandal
More than three quarters of a fund to expand preschools in booming areas was spent in electorates the New South Wales Nationals held or were battling to win before the 2019 state election, under a program overseen by National Party minister Sarah Mitchell. It has been revealed that $3.6 million of the $4.6 million in grants awarded in 2018 (78%) went to preschools in electorates belonging to the Nationals or its greatest electoral threat, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party15.
The Toondah Harbour scandal
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has launched a legal bid to access documents kept secret by the federal government. These documents relate to meetings between Walker Corporation, a major political party donor, and authorities assessing plans for their development on protected wetlands near Brisbane. The development includes a marina, hotel, shops and more than 3,000 apartments at Toondah harbour, and would involve dredging and reclaiming about 40ha of Ramsar-listed wetland. Plans have been revised multiple times since 2013, when Toondah was declared a priority development area by the Queensland government. In 2018, the ACF obtained documents that showed that then-federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg had previously rejected his department’s advice that the development was “clearly unacceptable”. Those documents showed the government was under sustained pressure to approve the development, and in 2017 Walker Corporation threatened legal action to challenge the view of environment department officials. The ACF has since been attempting to obtain documents related to meetings between Walker Corporation and the department. Freedom of information requests for documents have been refused, and the environment group is now appealing that refusal in the administrative appeals tribunal16.
Update: Documents obtained from the environment department by Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws show Walker Corporation, a major Liberal donor, used a meeting with then Environment Minister Frydenberg in August 2016 to stress the government had the power to remove part of the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland as a matter of “urgent national interest”. The site is listed under the Ramsar convention, an international treaty set up to protect the ecological character of listed wetlands. 20% of the world’s eastern curlews use the wetland for feeding and rest each year after their long migration from the northern hemisphere34.
Update 2: A letter, obtained by Guardian Australia under FOI laws, shows Frydenberg wrote to the Queensland government in 2017 to suggest the two governments jointly create a proposal to delist part of the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland. This was in response to the lobbying by Walker Corporation, a major Liberal Party donor, which has applied to build 3,000 apartments, a marina, a hotel and shops in the site37.
Stuart Robert’s Government IT contract scandal
Stuart Robert listed his parents as directors of an IT company that was awarded millions in government contracts including from Robert’s own department. Robert’s father Alan said he was unaware he was a director of the private investment company and that the company, Robert International, was run by his son during the six-year period Alan and his wife, Dorothy, were the company’s only directors. The time-line reportedly appeared to link the Queensland MP with the IT services business, GMT Group, at a time when Stuart Robert says he “ceased involvement” in GMT. Stuart Robert resigned his directorships and offloaded his shares in his GMT Group in 2010, three years after he was first elected to Parliament. He told the newspaper he structured his affairs in a way that did not breach the constitution, but did not provide any evidence to support this claim. Alan Robert’s comments suggest Stuart Robert was still involved in Robert International, which continued to hold shares in GMT for more than a year after the 2010 election17.
Tim Wilson’s franking credits inquiry scandal
In the lead-up to the 2019 election, Tim Wilson chaired an inquiry into Labor’s proposed changes to franking credits. Tim Wilson had a private website for the inquiry that was badged as official, but which solicited submissions and attendance at public hearings from just one perspective (i.e. against the Labor policy). Wilson is also an investor and shareholder of Wilson Asset Management, founded and chaired by his cousin, Geoff Wilson. The company was very vocal in its opposition to Labor’s policy to change franking credits, as part of its income relies on franking credit refunds. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age obtained an audio recording in which Geoff Wilson boasts about using the taxpayer-funded inquiry to maximise the chances of defeating the policy. Geoff claims he contacted Tim to ask for the parliamentary hearings to be scheduled at the same time as one of his six-monthly investor Franking Credit Roadshows. Indeed, one of Wilson Asset Management’s roadshows coincided with a hearing of the parliamentary inquiry in Sydney on November 20, 201818,19.
The poker machines policy scandal
Victorian Liberal MP Kevin Andrews received a $20,000 donation from Clubs NSW, Australia’s most powerful gambling lobby, as he led the formulation of the Coalition’s poker machines policy before the 2013 election. The donation was made via Victoria’s Menzies 200 Club in August 2013. While the lobby group declared the donation to electoral authorities, it nominated the Victorian Liberal Party as the recipient, which blurred the link to Andrews. Clubs NSW represents the cashed-up, pokie-dominated clubs of NSW. The Menzies 200 Club did declare that donation, but failed to declare another $10,000 donation from Clubs NSW, made in June 2014, until eight months after the deadline set by the Australian Electoral Commission. That donation came three months after Andrews’ bill to repeal Labor’s tough poker machine regulations passed the Parliament. Both Andrews and Clubs NSW refused to explain for what the second $10,000 was used20.
The taxpayer funded trip to the AFL Grand Final
Finance Minister Matthias Cormann, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and Tasmanian senator David Bushby charged taxpayers more than $2,500 for a trip to the AFL grand final in 2013. All three were guests of the National Australia Bank and received complimentary tickets and hospitality. Cormann billed taxpayers $3,533 for airfares to attend the 2013 match with his wife. His office said he had “official commitments before, during and after the AFL grand final weekend”. Ciobo charged taxpayers $1,102 for an airfare to the match. His office did not respond to a request for comment. Bushby billed taxpayers $863 for flights from Hobart to Melbourne and back again21.
The Seniors Expo scandal
Exhibitors at a purported non-political Seniors Expo run by the then Assistant Treasurer, Stuart Robert, were instructed to pay $300,000 in fees into the Liberal National Party’s campaign account. The annual event, held since 2009, is the biggest expo of its type in Australia and at various times was attended by Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop and Scott Morrison. Electoral Commission records show companies that exhibited at the expo, including funeral homes, and eye and hearing clinics, each declared thousands of dollars in “donations’’ to the LNP in the weeks before and after the Gold Coast event. Promotional material for the expo also touted the presence of government agencies, including Centrelink and the Australian Electoral Commission, although there is no evidence they were charged. The expo was not billed as a political fundraiser, but Robert conceded he had instructed exhibitors to pay their fees into the LNP campaign account, which were declared as donations22.
Taxpayer funded trip to Morrison’s swearing in ceremony
After the 2018 Liberal leadership spill, when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann billed taxpayers $60,000 for RAAF flights to attend Morrison’s swearing-in ceremony. Both flew on routes heavily serviced by commercial airlines, contrary to parliamentary rules that stipulate politicians should take commercial flights where possible. Dutton flew from the Amberley RAAF base near Brisbane to Canberra on the Sunday following the spill. He was sworn in again as Home Affairs Minister on the Monday, then flew to the Gold Coast later that day. The flights cost $25,396 in total, including the trips with no passengers to take the RAAF aircraft from, and return it to Canberra. Cormann’s flight from Perth to Canberra on the Monday cost $1,823. After being sworn in, he flew back to Perth on a RAAF aircraft. Sending the aircraft to Perth and back to Canberra cost $37,720. He held a press conference in Perth the following day. A spokesperson said: “On 28 August Senator Cormann was required both in Canberra and back in Perth later that day”23.
The Human Rights Commission scandal
A trove of internal emails, which Tim Wilson fought to keep from being released, shows the now Liberal MP for Goldstein used his official Human Rights Commission email account to help arrange an international speaker for a major Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) event, organise his own attendance at functions for IPA donors, and ask for a political endorsement for his 2016 Liberal preselection from someone who approached him in his capacity as Human Rights Commissioner24.
The COVIDSafe app scandal
The COVIDSafe mobile app, was meant to help trace contacts of people who have been infected with Coronavirus. Government spending on the app has cost millions more than previously stated and one of the companies involved in working on it has links to the Liberal Party. Technology company DELV worked on the COVIDSafe app and was paid more than $3.8 million to help develop the government’s coronavirus information app and another $6 million for work also including the COVIDSafe program. DELV’s CEO Masseh Haidary is the husband of Liberal Party Canberra candidate Mina Zaki and, in a previous role, his company hosted MP Angus Taylor at business events. An additional $64 million has been spent on advertising. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison originally stated the app would offer people protection from COVID-19 cases, the app is yet to find a single infected person not already picked up by contact tracers25.
The second Foxtel scandal
Foxtel will get $10 million to support the broadcast of women’s sports and “niche” competitions, in a move slammed as “the height of arrogance”. Communications minister Paul Fletcher and sports minister Richard Colbeck announced that the federal government had allocated the sum to Fox Sports, ”to continue its support of coverage of women’s, niche and other under-represented sports”. It is an extension of a $30 million grant to Foxtel in 2017. Questions were raised over that decision, after the government declined to answer why and how the funding was allocated and spent26,27.
Update: A controversial $10 million given to Foxtel to broadcast women’s and under-represented sports has been revealed as being funded under a federal coronavirus response package, a decision derided as a mockery33.
Update 2: Foxtel has been given a blank sheet for choosing how to spend a $10 million Federal Government grant and does not need to submit anything about it until next year, Freedom of Information (FOI) documents reveal, show the Federal Communications Department gave Foxtel free rein to allocate millions of dollars of taxpayer money granted to broadcast under-represented sports35.
The South Australian accommodation allowances scandal
South Australian Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll will repay more than $29,000 for all Country Members Accommodation Allowance payments made to him since December 2018. He has also committed to repay another night’s allowance from April 2018, saying the payment was claimed as an “administrative error”. He stayed with his parents when in Adelaide, paid board to his parents in a ‘private arrangement’, and claimed the daily allowance. Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone unreservedly apologised for claiming in error more than $20,000 for 90 nights from 2012 until now. However, he will only have to repay $6,993 for nights claimed before he became a minister in 2018. That’s because since becoming a minister he has spent nights in Adelaide beyond the annual allowance cap of 135 nights and some of those additional nights have now been substituted for those he incorrectly claimed. Liberal backbencher Fraser Ellis has also agreed to repay $42,130. Ellis stayed rent free at the Norwood residence of fellow Liberal MP Terry Stephens while claiming the allowance28.
The fake time sheets scandal
South Australian Trade Minister David Ridgway admitted to a government investigator and the SA Employment Tribunal that he signed the time sheets for a government chauffeur in 2016. It is alleged the driver ferried around other Liberal MPs while Mr Ridgway was on a family holiday overseas. Mr Ridgway said the blank time sheets were in place to support the team and he believed it was the only way the driver would get paid while he was away29.
The Greater Sydney Sports Facility Fund scandal
Gladys Berejiklian’s government has splashed the lion’s share of its $40 million sports grants program on its own Sydney seats, with Liberal electorates receiving 17 of the 22 grants. It is the second consecutive year Liberal seats have been awarded the majority of the Greater Sydney Sports Facility Fund after $26.8 million was issued in 17 grants to projects in Liberal seats this year. This is 67% of the total funding pool for the 2019-20 funding round, despite the fact Liberal MPs hold just over half of all Sydney-based seats, representing 29 of the 54 seats (54%). The grants to Liberal electorates included: $5 million to upgrade the North Sydney Olympic Pool, $618,000 to the North Shore Rowing Club for “enhanced boat storage and club facilities”, and $790,995 to Palm Beach Golf Club for an “accessibility upgrade”30.
Bridget McKenzie’s taxpayer funded travel to sporting events
Bridget McKenzie claimed $19,942 in travel expenses from Rockhampton to Melbourne on a chartered flight to watch an ice hockey game. Her 1,700 km direct flight to Melbourne, where she watched the game, cost taxpayers $19,942 the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority data has shown. An equivalent commercial flight, with a stop-over in Brisbane, would have cost just $614. Another $500 in Commonwealth car bills to get her from Melbourne’s Essendon airport was paid for by the taxpayer, taking the total cost to $20,442. McKenzie’s spokesman said a charter flight was chosen because no commercial flights were available to get the minister to Melbourne in time for an urgent meeting of the Australian Sports Commission Board. On top of this, a month earlier, McKenzie spent $13,955.00 of taxpayers’ money to sit near Prince Charles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The then-sports minister took the ‘unscheduled’ flight from the Gold Coast to Cairns in April 2018, even though Australia wasn’t playing. Her spokesman said she took the $14,000 ‘unscheduled’ flight so she could represent then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Cairns, as Prince Charles visited Far North Queensland31.