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Saturday, February 24, 2024

It all begins again. Politicians chasing money and donors


Do we want or deserve neo-liberalism ?

It all begins again

The retirement announcement of Julie Bishop, late on Thursday afternoon, was a signature Bishop move. Stylish, timed for maximum impact, and full of coded messages.

Where does it start

It all begins by others having the foresight to befriend aspiring political aspirants who then allow themselves to be sold a neo-liberal vision

It hardly matters that this neo-liberal vision is never in the interests of the entire country however it is vitally important that all players actors and hacks should mostly but not always, blindly place the values of this neo-liberal organisation above all else. Keep the party in office – win at all costs.  Institutionalisation

  • 1st you need the egotists, actors, the bullies, the manipulators, the muppet masters, the orators, the partially gifted communicators, the self absorbed, the gullible, the narcissists, the lawyers and party hacks.
  • Then design, create and sell the virtues of a neo-liberal Australia
  • Financially support, mentor and guide the players and actors to best achieve the goals and aspirations of the party
  • Ensure everyone knows their place and the pecking order

That organisation commences as a political party which shamelessly promotes the vision of neo-liberalism, unfettered by government or regulation.

Hoodwink Australia into the belief that companies who create jobs and the creation of jobs is key. The political class is quick to gloss over and minimizes the overly generously tax breaks large and bountiful concessions and hidden below the fine print that allow these companies to insist that ordinary taxpayers meet the shortfall,  pick up their non-contributions (their not paying company tax) by the very society that allowed them to generate enormous untaxed wealth. Glencore, Ergon, Santos, NRMA, RACQ, view that list here. Tax avoiders, Tax minimisers

However as the public and voters soon discover that your local member, MP or Senator has been more than loose with the truth, confusing and distorting fact with spin, is in reality untrustworthy can hit you like a ton of bricks. Your faith in politics and politicians is thrown into a state of crisis that destroys trust.

Current distrusts and untruths abound in the Murray-Darling Basin disaster. The finger points to cotton growers and illegal water extractions and the subsequent denial of and dismissal of the SA Royal Commissions findings by politicians, NSW Premier, state and federal Ministers all the way to the Prime Minister. Trust has been further (if that is at all possible) shattered by the subsequent findings of the Banking Royal Commission which had been underpinned by years of political resistance to its establishment.

Needless to say, this is a nightmarish experience. Often, more upsetting than the actual spin and deceptions is the politicians revealed history of lying and secret keeping. Essentially, the one person that I thought would always be honest and loyal has not been, and this revelation just shatters my trust in politicians.

Further the willful ignorance of massive tax avoidance prevalent in all sectors of the mining, coal, energy, gas and industrial sectors is particularity galling to most voters and the public at large

Energy Australia: four years, $30 billion, zero tax

Energy Australia is owned by a company in the infamous tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. For the fourth year on the trot, the gas and electricity behemoth paid zero income tax; that’s according to the corporate transparency data released by the Tax Office earlier this month

Last year Energy Australia disclosed $6.3 billion in total income but managed to entirely wipe out that income in costs, conveniently leaving zero taxable income. It therefore paid no tax.

The Coalition government has appointed several former Liberal MPs to lucrative jobs at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on the final parliamentary sitting day before the budget.

Attorney-General Christian Porter announced the appointments on Thursday afternoon, including a seven-year part-time role for former Senate president Stephen Parry, who quit politics in 2017 due to his dual citizenship.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the AAT required additional members to cope with an increased caseload.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Howard-era Veterans’ Affairs minister De-Anne Kelly, of the National Party, was appointed to a part-time role – after years of lobbying to join the tribunal, according to close sources.

Former Liberal speaker of the West Australian Parliament Michael Sutherland was handed a five-year, full-time job on the tribunal. Mr Sutherland caused controversy when he called refugee activists and environmentalists “a bunch of cockroaches” who were “crawling all over the seat” while he was unsuccessfully seeking a federal Senate vacancy in 2017.

Former federal Liberal MP Bob Baldwin was also made a part-time AAT member. Former West Australian Liberal MP Joseph Francis was appointed to a seven-year full-time role, while ex-South Australian Liberal MP Steven Griffiths was made a member for three years.

Malcolm Turnbull’s former press secretary Tony Barry – a Liberal Party veteran who was famously captured on film Googling the meaning of the word “concocted” – was appointed to the tribunal for five years.

Some of the Coalition’s new AAT appointees, from left to right: Howard-era Veterans’ Affairs minister De-Anne Kelly, former federal Liberal MP Bob Baldwin, former Senate president Stephen Parry, and former Liberal speaker of the West Australian Parliament Michael Sutherland.Credit:SMH/TheAge, Parliament of Western Australia

Other Liberal-linked appointees included John Griffin, who was chief-of-staff to former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett and is currently a director of Liberal lobbying firm Barton Deakin, and Phoebe Dunn, who was an adviser to Alexander Downer.

Mr Porter appointed at least one former Labor MP – David Cox, who held the federal seat of Kingston during the Howard years.

Controversy over appointments to the AAT is not new, with both Labor and the Coalition attacked for so-called “political appointments” in the past.

In total, 34 new members were appointed and another 52 existing members were appointed again.

Mr Porter said the tribunal had experienced “a significant increase in the number of applications being lodged” and the additional appointments would provide the resources it required.

AAT members are paid up to $244,520 a year, while senior members are paid up to $384,250.

The tribunal’s new deputy president, retired Family Court chief justice John Pascoe, will receive a salary of $486,820.

The job of the independent tribunal is to review administrative decisions, usually made by government departments, on their merits.

Some of its decisions – particularly on migration matters – have been labelled “infuriating” by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the appointments showed the Coalition was “only in it for themselves”.

“The government has a shameful record on stacking the AAT with Liberal donors, former MPs, former staffers and mates – but it has outdone itself today,” he said.

Mr Dreyfus also committed a Labor government to introducing a “transparent merits-based policy to judicial appointments”.

Labor MP Rob Mitchell tweeted that Mr Parry’s appointment to the tribunal was “crooked”. He said he did not know whether a Labor government could or would sack Mr Parry, but “its [sic] a joke all these failures are on the AAT”.

Tax payable was precisely $1,000. Yet total income for this one Glencore entity was almost $15 billion for the 2017 year alone.

Australia’s largest coal producer, the secretive Swiss commodities trader, Glencore

Glencore’s three-year aggregate “total income” of nearly $28 billion produced just under $108,107,993 of “taxable income” – a margin of 0.39 per cent. It reported zero “tax payable” over the three years

Profit is often diverted to foreign associates by debt-loading, or siphoning off interest on loans from foreign associates.

Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Photios is under investigation by the NSW Electoral Commission over allegations he broke lobbying laws in his work with the Spanish contractor building Sydney’s light rail.

Who are the lobbyists?

In a budget estimates hearing on Thursday, the NSW Electoral Commissioner John Schmidt confirmed an investigation was started after he was contacted by Labor’s leader in the upper house, Adam Searle.

Mr Photios, the most powerful figure in the Liberals’ moderate faction in NSW, is being investigated for a potential breach of the lobbying act.

The potential breach deals with whether the light rail contractor Acciona was disclosed as a client on the state’s lobbyist register when Mr Photios allegedly lobbied the Premier’s office in 2017.

In a letter to the commissioner, dated May 10 this year, Mr Searle referred to a newspaper article that said Mr Photios had contacted the Premier’s chief of staff, Sarah Cruickshank, in 2017, while acting for Acciona’s lawyers.

“My concern is that Mr Photios’s lobbying firm, Premier State, only declared Acciona as a client on 23 March 2018,” his letter said. “If the claim made in The Australian is correct, then Mr Photios was seeking to lobby government officials on behalf of a client that had not yet been declared.”

The Spanish sub-contractor Acciona is locked in a $1.1 billion legal battle with the state government over the troubled light rail project.  It has accused Transport for NSW of “misleading and deceptive” conduct.

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The latest register from September lists 200 of 535 lobbyists, or 37%, as former government representatives.

Neither of the analyses includes in-house lobbyists. In-house lobbyists are harder to define, but are generally employed directly by big corporations or peak interest groups as government relations advisers. They could include a government relations director employed within a multinational mining company, for example.

In-house lobbyists largely operate without scrutiny or transparency in federal parliament.

Former trade minister Andrew Robb has quietly ceased his controversial $880,000 per annum consultancy with a company closely linked to the Chinese government, as the deadline looms for lobbyists for overseas state interests to sign up to Australia’s new foreign influence register.

Mr Robb’s consultancy with the leaseholder of the Darwin Port, Landbridge, was trumpeted by the Chinese-government aligned company in 2016, but became intensely controversial when an investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and Four Corners revealed his fee, and that he had joined the company straight after quitting parliament..

It’s estimated that Mr Robb pocketed more than $2 million plus expenses from Landbridge. A company document revealed that Mr Robb’s consulting contract was so vague and ill-defined he would be paid even if he did nothing.

Mr Robb has confirmed that he has left Landbridge for the time being because, “at this stage, Landbridge has no other projects relevant for me to assist”.

“I had been commissioned by Landbridge for well over a year to prepare a comprehensive report on ways that Australia’s world class health industry could assist with a major improvement of China’s public health system,” Mr Robb wrote in answer to questions.

“Just before Landbridge had an opportunity to formally present my report to Chinese authorities, they were advised not to bother because the relationship between the Australian and Chinese governments ‘had become so toxic’ that the report would be binned.”

$6.1 billion - $0 tax

Victoria Power Networks has all the hallmarks of the unscrupulous corporate tax cheat: tax haven connections, Asian billionaires, a history of Tax Office probes, a devious corporate structure, huge loans to itself, and a conflicted Big Four auditor.

$6.1 billion $0 Tax over 4 years

The accounts are signed off by Big Four auditor Deloitte

Mr Robb joins former foreign minister Bob Carr and former Victorian premier John Brumby in leaving lucrative roles with companies or, in Mr Carr’s case, a think tank, founded by businessmen with strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr Carr recently announced he was stepping down as director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, which was founded by controversial billionaire political donor Huang Xiangmo. Mr Huang has been blocked from entering Australia and has had his permanent residency cancelled by the Department of Home Affairs after advice from ASIO that he may engage in foreign interference activities on behalf of the Chinese government.

Mr Brumby announced in February he was quitting the Australian board of Huawei, the Chinese telco accused by security agencies of posing a security risk to western communications infrastructure.

Mr Brumby, Mr Carr and Mr Robb have previously insisted that the Chinese government has no tangible influence in the organisations they worked for, despite evidence the organisations’ founders were aligned with the Chinese Communist Party willingly, or because of the way the party-state controls seemingly private companies.

Billionaire Ye Cheng is the owner of Landbridge, which controversially acquired the 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin in 2015. He is also a member of the national Chinese People’s Consultative Committee, an advisory body that President Xi Jinping has directed to “uphold the CPC [Chinese Communist Party] leadership without wavering”.

Mr Ye frames much of his business activity, including the acquisition of the Port of Darwin lease, in terms of advancing Beijing’s ambitious global trade and infrastructure policy “One Belt, One Road”.

Mr Robb continues to advocate for Australia to back the policy although has previously insisted this is unconnected to his Landbridge consultancy.

Late last year, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme became active with the launch of a public register for people who seek to influence the Australian political process on behalf of foreign interests. The new register is designed to ensure that, if a person is advocating on behalf of a foreign power, it is declared.

The scheme was largely prompted due to concerns about undeclared Chinese government efforts to influence Australian institutions, but applies to any lobbyist or consultant working for a company or think tank controlled by a foreign nation and involved in influencing the political process.

Lobbyists have until March 1 to register, although government sources have acknowledged that enforcing the scheme may be difficult given the lack of legal precedent surrounding its operation and the likelihood that some potential registrants will argue it does not apply to them.

Mr Robb, who quit as a minister in Malcolm Turnbull’s government before the last election, previously denied working on behalf of Beijing, and defended his contract with Landbridge, saying he was not doing business in Australia, so could not be captured by the new scheme.

In December 2017, then Attorney-General George Brandis suggested that Mr Robb would have to sign up to the new register.

Landbridge confirmed Mr Robb’s departure. The company has previously denied its operations are influenced by the Communist Party and stated that Mr Robb was not engaged in political representation on its behalf in Australia.

The latest is the newly appointed National party federal vice-president, Katrina Hodgkinson, who at the same time works for one of Australia’s largest lobbying firms, Barton Deakin. Barton Deakin’s clients include AGL Energy, the multinational contractor Serco, Nucoal Resources and the wealth manager AMP.

Hodgkinson was registered as a Barton Deakin lobbyist but removed herself from the register when she nominated for the Nationals’ vice-presidential role. She remains the firm’s corporate counsel but says her work is “internal and advisory in nature”.

There is no suggestion that Hodgkinson has acted improperly or breached the lobbying code.

Last year concerns were raised about the current Nationals federal president, Larry Anthony, who co-owns a consulting firm, SAS Group. The group has previously lobbied on behalf of Santos, among others, and lists China Telecom Global and Delta Electricity as clients.

Anthony also rejects any suggestion of impropriety or a breach of the lobbying code.

“We note that while there has been some media interest over the last 12 months in Larry Anthony’s volunteer role as federal Nationals president, there has been no allegation of impropriety made against him or the firm in that time,” an SAS Group spokesman said.

The Paladin and Helloworld scandals are just the latest in a long line of Liberal Party cronyism and money laundering operations.

So, let’s have a look at a few of these and see if we can see a pattern.


Parakeelia is one of the oldest money laundries in the Liberal Party arsenal. What is it? It’s a sophisticated software platform owned by the Party. To simplify, it is a political CRM (customer relationship manager) that is used to track voters, their interests and voting intentions.

This in itself is not unusual. The Labor Party has something similar (although theirs is licensed from a third party provider). But what’s the rort you ask? Well, all Coalition MPs, senators and candidates are required to subscribe to Parakeelia. The subscription costs are in the order of $3,000 per year. For sitting MPs this is claimed as an entitlement from the taxpayers (us). So, what we are seeing is a mechanism to funnel taxpayers’ funds directly into the coffers of the Liberal Party. They could simply double the subscription charge and double the money we pay them.

John Wren’s article originally appeared in Independent Australia


The Indue cashless welfare card is another nice little earner. The intent of the card (essentially a debit card) is to control how welfare payments can be spent. For instance, an Indue card cannot be used to buy alcohol. The company that administers the card, Indue Pty Ltd is a corporation owned by Liberal and National Party members that in turn donates to the Liberal and National parties.

Indue charges the Government $12,000 per card to administer. Yes, you read that correctly — $12,000. That’s taxpayers’ money (our money) going to a cabal of former Liberal and National MPs, who also then donate a portion back to their respective parties. That’s taxpayers’ money going straight back to the Party and the Indue shareholder skimming their own cut off the top.

But wait, there’s more! In remote areas, there are often very few stores where cardholders can spend their welfare money. In some remote mining communities, the only stores that will accept the Indue card are owned by the mining companies themselves — often Liberal Party donors. They can hike prices up and syphon off the taxpayers’ funds every time a purchase is made. It’s the old company store trick, revamped for the digital age.


John Wren’s article originally appeared in Independent Australia


The detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island have proven another great opportunity for the Liberal Party to funnel taxpayers’ funds into their own pockets. Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield), Canstruct, Serco and, as we have learned this week, Paladin have all been involved. All these companies (and there are others) have close ties to the Liberal Party. They have all donated to the Party either in their own right, or their senior executives (often ex-Liberal Party executives) have done so directly.

So how does the laundry work? The Government pays these companies extraordinary amounts of money to manage these facilities — billions in fact. No doubt big chunks of that money are used to pay off local power-brokers and officials (especially on Manus Island – PNG). This is illegal of course under Australian law. It emerged during the week that Paladin pays its local staff on Manus a pittance and, even so, delivers virtually nothing. So where does the money go? We don’t know yet but remember dear readers, money transferred from one offshore account into another is not going to be picked up by Austrac — the Australian financial tracking agency. Someone has lots of our money stashed in the Cayman Islands.

John Wren’s article originally appeared in Independent Australia


John Wren’s article originally appeared in Independent Australia


Linked to Paladin are many other scandals. Most seem to have the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton at the core as he is responsible for the Nauru and Manus detention centres as well as Visa processing. This is another scandal being investigated as we speak, cash for Visas, which if proven will be straight out old-fashioned graft and corruption. If the allegations are proven true and Dutton is the recipient of the payments, then he should do gaol time. Time will tell.


And the final example we’ll cover is the still-developing Helloworld scandal. Helloworld is a publicly-listed retail and corporate travel agency run by honorary Federal Liberal Party Treasurer Andrew Burnes. You may recall Burnes from a past scandal in Victoria that involved then State Liberal Party Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who infamously rezoned some prime Port Melbourne land for Andrew and other Liberals, making them a motzah along the way. Another Liberal Party member, former (failed) Treasurer Joe Hockey is also a substantial shareholder in Helloworld.

The whole Helloworld saga started with a Channel 9 report that Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had not been invoiced by Helloworld for some personal family travel to Singapore, worth a little under $3,000. This led to him making an appearance before Senate Estimates. However, as his inquisitors tugged and pulled at the thread more emerged — much more.

It transpired that Cormann had called Burnes directly to make the booking. Cormann claimed to have given Burnes his credit card details and it simply hadn’t been charged. Cormann has since paid the gifted amount. The timing of the oversight could not have been worse as it was a only a week or so after Helloworld had won a major tender to supply travel services to the Government. This looks awfully like an in-kind payment for services rendered.

Further, it then emerged that shareholder Joe Hockey, now Australia’s Ambassador to the USA, had also actively lobbied on behalf of Helloworld to win the contract. This contract – worth $21 million – meant that Helloworld became almost the sole government travel booking agency. Jobs for mates, or chums in this case. The media has named this scandal “#ChumGate”.

But wait, there’s more! The Herald Sun apparently asked all 82 Liberal Party parliamentarians if they had ever received free travel from Helloworld. Only 14 said they had not. So this now appears to be systemic.

If the examples above provide a guideline, Helloworld:

  • is likely to make substantial donations to the Liberal Party;
  • will win substantial tenders;
  • will supply services at above-average rates, paid for with taxpayers’ dollars; and
  • in return, it will continue to provide free travel to key party influencers and donate more money back to the Liberal Party.

Have you seen the pattern yet? If you didn’t already think the Liberal Party was rotten to the core, hopefully, this week’s column will make you think a bit harder. And we didn’t even start on some other laundering schemes such as Job Access, Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Clean Energy Fund or others. Is it time for the election yet?

John Wren’s article originally appeared in Independent Australia


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