Corruption galore 8

By February 13, 2021Australian Politics

It is difficult to write something new when this is compilation No. 8 of the corruption that is endemic in the Liberal and National parties, both at a federal and state level. After compiling the first list in early March, 20201, I thought things would tail off almost completely. However, after the initial rush, rather than fading away, they seemed to settle down to a consistent level of criminality2-7. 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, with the complicity of so many journalists. I have been watching politics for four decades and this federal government is the most corrupt I have ever seen. It makes Queensland’s corrupt Bjelke-Petersen government look like amateurs by comparison. Four ministers in that government were gaoled for their corruption, numerous police officers were convicted and gaoled, as was the police commissioner8. This needs to happen with the criminals in our current government as well. We desperately need a federal integrity body with sufficient staffing and the retrospective ability to investigate past corruption and criminal behaviour.

The Northern Endeavour scandal

Just before Christmas 2020, Resources Minister Keith Pitt gifted another $130 million Christmas present to big-time political donor Woodside to help the oil and gas company clean up its own mess. In 2015, Woodside sold its ageing oil floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) platform Northern Endeavour  to a small company named NOGA. At that time, NOGA had no experience operating such a platform. The sale involved a loophole in the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA) rules. After a series of failed safety inspections, the facility was ordered to cease production by the regulator National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) in July 2019. NOGA, unable to remain solvent – and with production stalled – was put into liquidation by its primary secured creditor in February 2020. No-one was willing to buy the faulty platform, so regulators decided to put the Australian taxpayer on the hook. Now, after Woodside has drilled 20 years of profits out of the seabed, taxpayers are cleaning up Woodside’s mess9.

The Forbes Lowndes scandal

A former senior Howard government media adviser has been awarded a $190,000 public relations contract with Australia’s bushfire recovery agency without a full tender process. Richard Forbes, who was an adviser to the former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Mark Vaile, is being paid to produce videos documenting the recovery of communities affected by the ‘black summer’ bushfires of 2019-2020. A contract notice posted on the government’s AusTender website on Christmas Eve says the deal with Forbes’ company, Forbes Lowndes Pty Ltd, was reached by limited tender – rather than a full competitive tender process. The National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA) said the project would be jointly funded by the agency and Tourism Australia. When asked why a full tender could not be done, the spokesperson for the NBRA said the procurement approach “was in accordance with the commonwealth procurement rules, including a value-for-money assessment”10.

Taxpayer funded holidays

Then Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt allegedly spent more than $20,000 on as many as 12 holidays to resorts in Queensland with his family between 2007 and 2017. Hunt also reportedly enjoyed holidays in Noosa with his family between 2004 and 2005 and again in 2008. These trips alone allegedly cost taxpayers $5,214. A spokesman said Hunt made a base for himself “for multiple electorate or portfolio visits, events or meetings over a number of days”. Hunt also visited Hayman Island six times since 2003 at a cost of $12,000. On four of the trips he was accompanied by his family11.

The Zion Graphics scandal

The owner of a company used by senior Berejiklian government ministers and MPs to print taxpayer-funded electoral material despite not having commercial printing facilities has donated nearly $30,000 to the NSW Liberals over the period 2011-2018. Zion Graphics has been used by then Corrections Minister David Elliott, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Western Sydney Minister Stuart Ayres and Mental Health Minister Tanya Davies, Innovations minister Matt Kean, Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly, Kuringai MP Alister Henskens and Seven Hills MP Mark Taylor. At the time, Zion Graphics did not have commercial printing facilities and outsourced its printing works to Hills Banners, taking a generous cut of public money to process the printing requirements of Elliott’s factional ally, federal MP Alex Hawke, who had spent close to $500,000 with Zion Graphics, a company owned by Hillsview Pacific Pty Ltd, in which Rudy Limantono, of the Bella Vista branch of the Liberal Party, is the only shareholder. Limantono has donated $9399 to the party since 2013, although a small fraction of that is for membership fees, NSW Electoral Commission disclosures show. Hillsview Pacific separately donated $19,254 between 2010 and 2012.12

The Hope Unlimited Church scandal

A wealthy pentecostal church whose leader described the Liberal MP Lucy Wicks as a “dear friend” won thousands of dollars through a grant process Wicks wields influence over. The Hope Unlimited Church, led by Mark and Darlene Zschech and largely based on the New South Wales Central Coast, was awarded a grant of $8,580 in November to upgrade its auditorium with soundproof acoustic panels and a new partition wall. The grant was from the federal government’s Stronger Communities scheme, which gives local politicians significant influence in deciding who can receive money. Wicks has attended Hope Unlimited Church on multiple occasions, speaking on stage during a 2015 event and following a visit in 2017, praising the church in parliament, saying it was “run by two incredible people, Mark and Darlene Zschech”.13

The Bushfire recovery fund scandal

A fast-tracked, unnamed Bushfire recovery fund directed grants to the timber industry, coalition donor Visy and community infrastructure that was not in accordance with project guidelines. There was even a $194,000 grant to Snives Hives, a business in the unaffected leafy Upper North Shore suburb of St Ives to “establish a Meadery to make honey wine on the Central Coast”. The federal Labor electorate of Macquarie was devastated economically by the 2019-2020 bushfires. Macquarie comprises predominantly the state electorates of the Blue Mountains, held by Labor MP Trish Doyle, and the state electorate of Hawkesbury, held by Liberal MP Robyn Preston. And according to the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, the Blue Mountains economic loss was twice that of Hawkesbury’s – about $66 million compared to $33 million. In the recent round of $177 million funding from the federal and NSW Coalition governments for bushfire recovery, Hawkesbury communities were awarded grants totalling $4 million. The Blue Mountains received nothing.14

The Drought Communities Program Extension scandal

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has been embroiled in the Drought Communities Program Extension which gives councils in eligible areas up to $1 million for drought relief projects. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an extra 52 councils would be eligible for the program, during a visit to Orange and Blayney on Tuesday, January 26. However, councils that did not meet the eligibility criteria were given grants during the 2019 election campaign. McKenzie was the responsible minister for the program in the lead-up to the election. Councils were deemed to be eligible if they had below average rainfall in 12 of the 24 months leading up to the cut-off date and had 17 per cent of employment linked to agriculture, forestry or fishing. Fourteen councils were announced as eligible during the 2019 election campaign, after the caretaker period had commenced, but six of the 14 areas didn’t meet the 17 per cent employment threshold. Eight of the 14 areas also had a rainfall deficiency of less than 50 per cent. Thirteen of the councils that got funding are in seats that were ultimately held by the coalition.15

The other Vales Point scandal

Mining magnate and big time Liberal donor, Trevor St Baker’s company donated $25,000 to the Liberal Party while its (successful) application for a $8,700,000 government grant to upgrade its coal plant was going through the department. This grant was already in the budget papers before St Baker had applied for it.16-18

The Regional Growth Fund scandal

The parliamentary inquiry into the Integrity, Efficacy and Value for Money of NSW Government Grant Programs heard that the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, approved a $20 million grant in Wagga Wagga without going through the required approval process. The grant was announced during the Wagga Wagga by-election that was sparked by the resignation of Berejiklian’s boyfriend Daryl Maguire over corruption claims. The inquiry heard evidence from the deputy secretary of the Public Works Advisory, Chris Hanger. He said that there was no written approval process for the reservation of the additional $20 million, although the money was intended to continue work on an already committed $10 million conservatorium redevelopment. Furthermore, Hanger told the hearing it was ‘unusual’ for money from the Regional Growth Fund to be reserved without a formal application, “but that doesn’t stop the government from reserving funding so that people like a conservatorium … when they put together a business case that meets the criteria, they have knowledge the funding will be there.” He also told the inquiry that public servants were told the business case would be submitted, but it never appeared.19

The Safer Communities grants scandal

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton personally slashed millions in Safer Communities grant funding from organisations that were strongly recommended by his department to improve community safety, and used the funds to support his own handpicked list that did not follow his department’s recommendations. Dutton was warned by his department, in a previously confidential ministerial briefing, that overruling the merit system could draw scrutiny from the Australian National Audit Office or from news organisations. The Department of Home Affairs recommended funding the 70 highest ranking projects to a combined value of $17,504,115. However, on January 31, 2019, Dutton reduced funding for 19 of the highest-scoring grant applications, via a handwritten note, by a combined total of $5.59 million. These applications were all from local councils, with some of them located in remote or regional areas. Some of these funds were used to support grants for two local councils that his department recommended should not be funded at all in the lead up to a by-election in a highly marginal seat.20

The National Retail Association scandal

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s office fast-tracked a one-off $880,000 grant proposal to a retail association eight days after it made a $1,500 political donation to the Queensland Liberal National Party — at an event Mr Dutton attended — for the purpose of personally supporting him. Dutton awarded a one-off “national security and criminal justice” grant to the Queensland-based National Retail Association, which represents employers in the retail and fast food industry. The grant was not awarded through any open or competitive grant scheme, but was awarded on a one-off basis by Dutton.21



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