I thought things would tail off almost completely after compiling the first list of instances of governmental corruption from early March. However, after the initial rush1, rather than tailing off, they seem to have settled down to a consistent level of criminality2-5. While I, like many people, am sickened by the disease of lies and spin endemic in the political class, I am furious at the level of corruption clearly on display, and am outraged by the fact that the politicians know they can get away with it. I have been watching politics for four decades and this federal government is the most corrupt I have ever seen. Pressure from various sources forced Morrison to come up with a plan for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, but it was so insipid, secretive and not retrospective that it was derided by those who know what is required6. The fact that such a travesty of an Integrity Commission could be suggested by Morrison and his cronies is a disgrace. These spivs are laughing at us.
The Mable Technologies scandal
An organisation appointed by the federal government to provide a surge workforce for aged care facilities is backed by a powerful business network which includes Liberal Party donors (Lucinda Aboud), members (Ray Whitten) and campaign helpers (Matthew Playfair). Online workforce platform Mable Technologies was awarded a $5.8 million contract without open tender in April to provide emergency staff for COVID-affected aged care homes. However, within four days of being appointed, the company was unable to provide staff for Sydney’s Newmarch aged care facility, leaving Newmarch — which had lost 87% of its staff — to beg the federal health department to find “other avenues … to source suitable and skilled staff”7.
The Pauline Hanson novelty cheque scandal
The federal government has boosted its core $2.5 billion political slush fund with identifiable investment in the Community Development Grants program over the first nine months of this year already nine per cent higher than all of 2019’s election-inflated CDG rorts. And the $311.5 million of CDG spending published on the government’s GrantsConnect site so far doesn’t include the $23 million that featured in Pauline Hanson’s novelty cheque for a north Queensland rugby league stadium earlier this month.
The seventh year of the Coalition’s purpose-built CDG scheme follows the same modus operandi as the preceding six and the sports rorts scandal – an overwhelming bias towards Coalition electorates and other “seats of interest”8.
The 10 million dollar phonecall
Hundreds of pages of documents from the offices of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Foxtel — including personal emails, letters and cabinet submissions obtained through the Freedom of Information (FOI) process — reveal the speed with which Foxtel was awarded a $10 million extension to an existing 2017 $30 million “contract” for which there was no documentation. Foxtel is only available by subscription, meaning taxpayers must pay to watch the sports they are already paying to broadcast. Neither payment made to the company, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (65 per cent) and by Telstra (35 per cent), were ever put out to any form of competitive tender. Even after the grant was rushed through Cabinet within weeks, a ministerial brief warned Fletcher that Foxtel may not be satisfied. When a $100 million pandemic rescue package was announced for the nation’s media in April — with support for struggling regional newspapers and a $41 million tax rebate for free-to-air TV and radio broadcasters — pay-TV operator Foxtel was left out, and the day after commercial television broadcasters got their rebate, Foxtel’s displeasure was channelled into a letter to the Communications Minister that was sent at almost 8:00pm. Within weeks the discussion would be occurring in the office of the Prime Minister, $7.5 million of Government funds already granted to Foxtel would be brought forward and a new “no-tender” $10 million contract sped through Federal Cabinet — breaking the “10 Day Rule”, intended to improve governance by giving Cabinet time to assess submissions9,10.
The icare scandal
Emails and contracts reveal that NSW government owned insurance company icare paid labour hire firm Robert Walters tens of thousands of dollars in administrative fees and visa application costs to employ staffer Ed Yap to work in NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet‘s office. Yap is a former US Republican political staffer and the emails show his position was to be advertised to Australian applicants even though icare had no intention of employing anybody else. Yap was working as a senior policy adviser for Perrottet and icare was paying his wages. Despite effectively never working for icare the contracts show that icare paid more than $700,000 including GST while Yap was working in Perrottet’s office. Yap moved to Australia in 2015 to join Perrottet’s office and was “seconded” to the same office by icare in 2017. Yap never worked a day for icare until he was sent there in August 2020 after it was revealed his employment arrangements. He resigned 10 days later11.
The Country Universities Centre scandal
A tiny outback Queensland town with only 12 university students has won a taxpayer-funded Country Universities Centre (actually an internet café), reigniting concerns raised by NSW bureaucrats that the study hubs do not represent value for money. The federal government’s decision to locate all three of the state’s Country Universities Centres in the electorate of Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud has also raised eyebrows, only months after questions over whether the party was using the centres for pork barrelling. And in NSW, a centre has curiously turned up in development plans for Young High School – despite there being no proposal for one. Young is in Nationals leader Michael McCormack’s Riverina Electorate. Country Universities Centre (CUC) is a non-profit organisation founded and run by Duncan Taylor, husband of NSW Nationals MLC Bronnie Taylor and brother of federal minister Angus Taylor12.
The Mayo scandal
The Morrison government has tipped an extra $103m into a discretionary fund that will pay for a $23m grant to build a 16,000-seat stadium in Rockhampton, as announced by Pauline Hanson (see above). The Australian National Audit Office is considering investigating how Hanson was involved. The $103m allocation for the community development grants program, contained in the 2020 budget, also pays for two $5m grants in the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie-held seat of Mayo. The recipients of the remaining $70m are yet to be announced. A spokeswoman for Sharkie denied the grants were linked to Centre Alliance’s vote for the Coalition’s higher education legislation13,14.
The property developer donation scandal
The Queensland Liberal National Party will offer property developers free cocktails and other perks as part of a paid ‘diamond membership’ package, following the state’s ban on them making political donations. This allows these erstwhile donors to pay a $990 special membership fee to get around the ban on donations. The benefits of the new diamond membership appear mainly to relate to fundraising and social events, such as free entry to “cocktail reception(s)” and other functions. The LNP has a multi-level membership structure, with individual fees ranging from $110 to $1,300. The more expensive memberships under the existing structure entitle party faithful to attend peak policy forums such as the state convention and state council. The LNP president, Dave Hutchinson, told the convention the new membership had been instigated because of the donations ban15.
The industry forum scandal
In 2017, then Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy was embroiled in a donations scandal, in which a false invoice for $10,000 was issued to give a developer exclusive access to the then planning minister in a private penthouse. An invoice for the charge was issued by deputy Liberal leader David Hodgett years earlier in 2013. It directed the developer to place a $10,000 donation into Hodgett’s electorate branch account for “sponsorship” of an “industry forum”. However, there was no such industry forum. Rather, Guy and Hodgett and a small number of their staffers met two developers at a private penthouse apartment. Victoria’s planning department was briefed and Guy was accompanied to the lunch by a senior public servant. It seems Hodgett’s November 2013 invoice was sent to disguise the trading of access to Mr Guy while he was planning minister16.
The Badgery’s creek road scandal
Three federal infrastructure department officials and federal MP Angus Taylor separately met with Louise Waterhouse while she lobbied for potentially lucrative changes to her vast landholdings near the Western Sydney airport. The meetings, have prompted calls for further investigations of the “source and method” through which access was gained to top departmental officials. Waterhouse’s efforts to secure better road access for her land near Badgerys Creek, a critical change needed to sell or develop the landholding, have been widely canvassed before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) recently. Waterhouse was aided by the disgraced Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire to influence the state government, including senior New South Wales planning officials, who say they were shocked and angry when the the pair turned up to a March 2018 briefing and began lobbying them to make the changes. In October 2017, Waterhouse met with infrastructure department officials and Taylor to discuss “access to the Northern Road and intersection design changes”17.
The document shredding scandal
The allocation of a fund set up to compensate councils impacted by the State Government’s disastrous forced council mergers is being slammed as ‘pork barrelling’, after it was revealed 80 per cent (over $200 billion) of the money went to councils in Coalition-held seats. $252 billion was set aside under the Stronger Communities Fund, as part of the now failed council amalgamation scheme, to compensate local governments and to help them upgrade infrastructure. Documents which Premier Gladys Berejiklian used to approve millions of dollars in grants to local councils were later shredded, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has heard. One of the Premier’s senior policy advisers, Sarah Lau, told the inquiry she also deleted electronic copies of the notes. The inquiry heard that $141.8 million of the grants were allocated by the Premier, with $61.3million allocated by the Deputy Premier John Barilaro and $48.9 million by the Minister for Local Government18,19.
The market research scandal
A major taxpayer-funded market research project about community attitudes to Covid-19 undertaken by Jim Reed, a long-term researcher for the Liberal party pollster Crosby Textor, has been handed to both the prime minister and the treasurer’s political offices. Officials from the Treasury confirmed during a Senate estimates hearing the market research, valued at more than $500,000, had informed a $15m taxpayer-funded advertising campaign about economic recovery, and the underlying research reports had been emailed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s offices. Last week, officials confirmed another, separate trove of market research about the coronavirus undertaken by Resolve Strategic, Reed’s current firm, under a contract worth $541,750, had also been sent to Morrison’s office. This is thinly disguised political research and should not have been funded by the taxpayer, but by the Liberal Party20.
The Barnier scandal
The Health Department earlier this year engaged Gary Barnier, who previously led Australia’s largest nursing home chain, Opal Aged Care, before resigning in 2017 when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 highlighted Opal’s neglect of some residents and his personal behaviour towards customers and their families. The Health Department, which oversees aged care in Australia, has now handed a company Barnier owns and runs, two major contracts to help prevent nursing home operators from financially collapsing. Before awarding the contracts, officials ran what is known as a limited tender process. They did not publicly advertise the upcoming project or allow other companies to bid for the work21.
The Yorke Peninsula Country Times scandal
South Australian country Liberal MP Fraser Ellis says he is entitled to spend thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on a business owned by his family. The Member for Narungga spent $6,701 on advertising with the Yorke Peninsula Country Times (YPCT) newspaper in two months this year. It is the most prominent local newspaper covering most of Mr Ellis’s electorate on Yorke Peninsula and is owned by his family while his father, Michael Ellis, is the managing director. In his parliamentary declaration of interests, Ellis has declared himself a “general beneficiary” of the Yorke Peninsula Country Times Pty Ltd via the Michael Ellis Family Trust22.
The Boston Consulting Group scandal
The NSW Premier’s department paid above commercial rates for a $1 million eight-week contract for a COVID-19 economic plan that was awarded to a consulting group without going to tender. Boston Consulting Group was awarded the contract earlier this year “without a competitive process” to help the government “understand the changing shape of the post-COVID economy”. The consulting group won the contract a day after writing to the department’s secretary Tim Reardon. The group’s April 20 letter said “committing effort now to develop ways to restart and rebuild the economy, whilst balancing health and societal needs, is going to be imperative”. Details of the contract reveal the consultants did not accept the “capped rates, capped expenses, or agreed scheme discounts” which would usually prompt the requirement for two other quotes23.
The Camellia land purchase scandal
The NSW government paid three times as much as the Valuer-General’s estimate for a parcel of highly contaminated land near Parramatta. In a series of transactions that has sparked calls for the Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate, property company Billbergia bought the six-hectare site at Camellia in November 2015 for $38 million. Just seven months later, the government bought it for $53.5 million – well above the $15.5 million the Valuer-General said the land was worth at the time. The bill for taxpayers is compounded by costs associated with cleaning up the site, which will cost at least $48 million to prevent toxic chemicals from leaching out of the property. Billbergia bought the land in Camellia days before the government announced the preferred route for its multibillion-dollar Parramatta light rail project, which would make the site crucial as the designated depot for trams. Billbergia is a big political donor24-26.
Update: Transport NSW agency launched an internal investigation two years ago into the controversial Camellia land purchase but the findings were not reported to ICAC. The transport agency was thrown into turmoil last week after the shock termination of its chief Rodd Staples, and the referral of the department over its handling of the purchase to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the NSW Auditor-General28.
Update 2: A scathing report by the NSW auditor-general has refused to rule out “misconduct or corruption” after the state government bought land in Sydney’s west for three times its value. The NSW auditor-general found the government didn’t organise a formal valuation before Transport for NSW paid developer Billbergia. Auditor-general Margaret Crawford found the department’s decisions were “rushed and poorly-informed”, and poor documentation meant “we are unable to exclude the possibility that the transaction was affected by misconduct or corruption”29.
The pest and weed scandal
David Littleproud is the deputy leader of the National Party, Minister of Agriculture and the MP for the electorate of Maranoa. The Department of Agriculture manages a grants scheme to help parts of the country get rid of pests and weeds, and over the last couple of years has handed out just over $25 million. The Department of Agriculture states on its website that Australia has problems with pests and weeds right across the country. Out of the $25 million in grants, the electorate of Maranoa (Littleproud’s electorate) received the lion’s share at $9.4 million. Coming a distant second was National Party MP Barnaby Joyce’s electorate of New England, with $2.9 million. These grants were not applied for, they were ‘invitation only’, ‘targeted’ or ‘restricted competitive’27.