Corruption galore 10

By October 6, 2021Australian Politics, Society

While compilation of this tenth instalment of the listing of corruption by federal and state coalition governments has been a slower process than the previous efforts1-9, it is also a little shorter than usual. 

This is basically because I became disgusted, as the criminal corruption never seems to end, and I needed a bit of a breather. In addition, the patterns of corruption became so familiar, they made me roll my eyes rather that get irate. Most of the corruption is designed to enrich certain parliamentarians directly, to enrich their associates, or to enrich those who donate to the Liberal and National parties, or all of the above. Enriching their associates and donors is also a way of laundering taxpayer funds given to their donors as grants, subsidies or tax cuts, into political donations. Their actions are appalling, and in light of them, it is unsurprising that the federal government, having announced they would have a federal Integrity Commission almost 3 years ago, have not established one. The initial announcement by Scott Morrison was for an organisation which will operate outside of public view, with the investigative body to make no public findings, hold no public hearings, and refer any recommendations directly to prosecutors, who will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to go forward with a case. In addition, the organisation will not be able to investigate retrospectively (i.e. not allowed to investigate corruption before the organisation’s establishment). A former commissioner of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption described the omission of public hearings as “very weak”. At the time of Morrison’s announcement there was much derision about the lack of retrospectivity10.

Besides this episodic compilation there are others who are keeping tabs on the corruption of this current government. These include The Chaser11, New Politics12, and The Monthly13. It is no surprise that Australia has slid down the global Corruption Perceptions Index. From 2012 to 2020, Australia has slid 8 points in Transparency International’s ranking14. This corruption will likely continue, unless this government is voted out of office. Here is the 10th list of incidents of corruption.

The Safer Communities Fund Scandal

The federal government redirected cash from a $31 million safety program into a selected group of churches and cultural events after a key minister rejected department advice that ruled the projects ineligible. Assistant Minister Jason Wood handpicked the projects to receive taxpayer funds for security services and equipment in a decision that cut funding to recipients that scored more highly in the Home Affairs department’s analysis of their merit.

The Safer Communities Fund Round 5 Infrastructure stream provided $31 million for security to protect against racial or religious intolerance, with officials recommending 80 applications on merit. Wood cut funding for the 80 projects by an average of 10 per cent in order to redirect the $3 million to other projects not recommended by the department15.

The Kurri Kurri gas plant scandal

The $600 million subsidy announced for a gas plant in Kurri Kurri makes no commercial sense for the taxpayer, but there are windfalls everywhere you look for Liberal donors. From the owners of the proposed site through to the Hunter Gas Pipeline and on to the Santos’ Narrabri gas project, there are vested interests as far as the eye can see. Liberal Party donor Jeff McCloy stands to be one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of the plant. The former Newcastle mayor purchased the prospective site, with John Stevens in 2020. The gas for Kurri Kurri will likely come from the Narrabri gas project, owned by big political donor, Santos, and will probably be delivered via the Hunter Gas Pipeline. The pipeline developers Hilton Grugeonand Graham Burns are also Liberal Party donors. Snowy Hydro, who will build the plant is a Commonwealth-owned corporation, the CEO of which, David Knox, is a former CEO of Santos, while the former federal director of the National Party, Scott Mitchell is on the board16.

The Monaro Farming Systems scandal

A senior New South Wales public servant recorded his serious concerns about a $50,000 payment to an agricultural cooperative, Monaro Farming Systems (MFS), after he was told the payment had been directed by the NSW deputy premier, John Barilaro, and should be disguised as a contract payment. The payment to MFS was made after January 2021 and was the latest in more than $800,000 in grants to the group made from state and federal coffers since 2015. MFS is a farming research cooperative established by Richard Taylor, brother of federal energy minister, Angus Taylor, and the brother-in-law of the NSW Nationals MP Bronwyn Taylor. Until 2019, Richard was the chair of MFS. The Taylor family are major landholders in the Monaro and stand to benefit from the output of MFS, which conducts research on how to improve farming practices in the Monaro17.

The Northern Suburbs Aquatic Facility scandal

Because the Coalition was desperate to win the marginal seat of Pearce, held by then Attorney General, Christian Porter, which was at risk of being taken by the Labor Party in the 2019 federal election, the “Northern Suburbs Aquatic Facility” was given $5 million in federal funding under the Coalition’s much-criticised Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream (FFWSS) program. The FFWSS had no guidelines, no tender process and required no application form. The program was supposedly meant to fund female change rooms, but 80% of the $150 million FFWSS budget went to just 11 Liberal and National Party-held seats, most of them marginal. Oddly, the Northern Suburbs Aquatic Facility project will not commence until 2026-27 which is four years after the project funding is finished18.

United World Enterprises scandal

Former New South Wales state member for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire, was a self-confessed “door opener”, and on May 3, 2018, just before Question Time, he phoned his girlfriend, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian about an opportunity post-politics from long-term Chinese-Australian business associate, Jimmy Liu. In the intercepted call, he said: “I’ll tell you tonight, Jimmy’s made me an offer.” Berejiklian replied: “Right, well, you stay away; stay away please”. The Independent Commission Against Corruption played a series of tapped calls in which he shared with Berejiklian some details of his dealings as a fixer for a network of Chinese-born business figures, including Jimmy Liu. Berejiklian did not report the conversations and said she had no recollection of them. Maguire used his position to lend legitimacy to Liu’s company, United World Enterprises (UWE), while it was allegedly involved, with a Chinese aged-care company, in a series of major frauds in Australia and in China19.

The McKinsey and Company scandal

The federal government has handed management consultants McKinsey and Company $2.2m of tax-payer funds for a confidential contract for two months’ work, but is refusing to give even basic details about what the company is doing with taxpayers’ money. The contract is for work through the Department of Education, Skills and Employment for which Stuart Robert is the minister. However, details of the contract have been kept confidential. It is not the first time the government has shrouded McKinsey advice in secrecy. Last year, the government took advice from McKinsey on its vaccine and treatment strategy, which cost $660,000 for four weeks’ work20.

The Beetaloo Basin Scandal

Federal resources minister Keith Pitt awarded three grants to Imperial Oil and Gas to accelerate the company’s exploration of the Beetaloo Basin (in the Northern Territory) and fund the drilling of new gas wells. Imperial Oil and Gas will receive a total of $21 million in funding through the grants. The company is a subsidiary of Empire Energy, which has close ties with the federal Liberal Party through the company’s chair, Paul Espie. Espie has donated almost $400,000 to the Liberal party and aligned organisations over the last few years and chairs the Liberal party aligned think tank, the Menzies Research Centre, serving on its management committee alongside a number of senior Liberal party members21.

Another Beetaloo Basin scandal

In October of 2020, Empire Energy, which won $21m in grants to frack in the Beetaloo Basin paid for a charter flight for the head of a Liberal Party fundraising body and energy minister Angus Taylor to inspect its operations. Empire Energy organised a “return charter flight and hospitality” for Taylor and the chair of the Hume Forum, Ryan Arrold. The Hume Forum is similar to the Federal Forum and the now-defunct Millennium Forum. Hume Forum events are used to raise funds for the party, and donation records show the Hume Forum has contributed $180,000 to the federal branch of the Liberal Party, all in 2018-1922.

The Australian Clay Target Association scandal

New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian‘s resignation from parliament on the afternoon of Friday, October 1, was made following an announcement by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that it was now investigating whether the Premier herself breached public trust. Berejiklian’s then boyfriend Daryl Maguire informed the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) CEO that they had been awarded $5.5 million but the latter received no paperwork. In March 2016, then Sports Minister, Stuart Ayres wrote to ACTA, stating that “The project falls outside the scope of current Sport and Recreation funding programs, as the funding amount sought is in excess of the maximum amount available under current grant programs”. The grant failed an initial cost-benefit analysis. However, it was then reassessed in July 2017 and met the assessment criteria. Documents reveal that the reassessment appears to have been undertaken following direct intervention from Berejiklian23.



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