Cor­po­rate reg­u­la­tor to look into Lib­eral Na­tional MP Stu­art Robert's busi­nesses

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Gareth Hutchens

The busi­ness deal­ings of LNP MP Stu­art Robert will now be the sub­ject of in­quiries from Aus­tralia’s cor­po­rate reg­u­la­tor.

Aus­tralian Se­cu­ri­ties and In­vest­ments Com­mis­sion com­mis­sioner John Price has told a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee he will be look­ing into al­le­ga­tions that the 80-year-old fa­ther of LNP MP Stu­art Robert was made a direc­tor, with­out his knowl­edge, of a pri­vate in­vest­ment com­pany that held shares in his son’s IT ser­vice busi­ness.

It fol­lows a re­port in Fair­fax Me­dia that Robert Snr was un­aware that he and his wife had been reg­is­tered as di­rec­tors of Robert In­ter­na­tional Pty Ltd be­tween 2010 and 2016.

Robert In­ter­na­tional Pty Ltd owns shares in Robert’s IT ser­vice busi­ness GMT Group, which has won tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in govern­ment con­tracts, ac­cord­ing to Fair­fax Me­dia. Robert off­loaded his shares in GMT Group and re­signed his di­rec­tor­ship in 2010, three years af­ter be­ing elected to par­lia­ment.

Price told a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on Thurs­day he was aware of the al­le­ga­tions, and had con­cerns about them.

“I think we’ll make some in­quiries into that,” Price said.

He ad­mit­ted there was no ID re­quire­ment for some­one to be­come a com­pany direc­tor in Aus­tralia, and it was pos­si­ble for some­one to be signed up as a com­pany direc­tor on­line, with­out their knowl­edge.

It was a crim­i­nal of­fence un­der the Cor­po­ra­tions Act to ap­point some­body a com­pany direc­tor with­out their con­sent, he said.

“It can hap­pen ... if it is hap­pen­ing it may in­di­cate some mis­con­duct,” Price said.

“Asic has been in­di­cat­ing for some time that while it’s a mat­ter for govern­ment, we think that the adop­tion of the direc­tor iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber would be some­thing wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Robert re­jected Fair­fax’s story on Thurs­day, telling par­lia­ment it was “a com­plete load of rub­bish.”

“Fair­fax ... al­leges that my fa­ther was not run­ning our fam­ily com­pany when the di­rec­tors changed; that I was, even though the trust wasn’t do­ing very much,” he said.

“I will seek to ta­ble the copies sourced from our char­tered ac­coun­tant of an­nual trust res­o­lu­tions signed by the di­rec­tors, my par­ents, for mul­ti­ple years dur­ing this pe­riod.

“My fa­ther is a so­phis­ti­cated in­vestor and even to­day runs a very suc­cess­ful busi­ness. Fair­fax names him at 80 years of age, of which his age is ir­rel­e­vant, un­less Fair­fax is try­ing to make an ageist point about com­pe­tence.

“All of this is based on a sin­gle call last night by a Fair­fax jour­nal­ist ask­ing opaque ques­tions to my fa­ther who is cur­rently car­ing for mum, who was just dis­charged from hospi­tal af­ter her sec­ond heart at­tack.”

In 2016, Robert was part of a group of Coali­tion MPs, in­clud­ing Tony Ab­bott and Ian Mac­far­lane, who faced heavy scru­tiny for ac­cept­ing de­signer watches worth over $250,000 from a vis­it­ing bil­lion­aire from China, which they were as­sumed were fakes.

Robert also faced in­tense po­lit­i­cal pres­sure last year af­ter it emerged he had trav­elled to Beijing in 2014 for “per­sonal” pur­poses to cel­e­brate a min­ing deal in­volv­ing Nim­rod Re­sources, an Aus­tralian min­ing com­pany headed by ma­jor Lib­eral party donor Paul Marks.

Robert, who was as­sis­tant de­fence min­is­ter the time of the trip, said he had at­tended the event “in a pri­vate ca­pac­ity” but a me­dia re­lease is­sued by China Min­metals Cor­po­ra­tion said Robert had ex­tended his con­grat­u­la­tions “on be­half of the Aus­tralian De­part­ment of De­fence” and had pre­sented “a medal be­stowed to him by Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter in hon­our of re­mem­brance and bless­ing”.

Robert dis­puted the me­dia re­lease.

The head of the De­part­ment of Prime Min­is­ter and Cabi­net, Mar­tin Parkin­son, later in­ves­ti­gated the trip, and dur­ing the course of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion Robert dis­closed he had a share­hold­ing in Me­tal­lum Hold­ings at the time, which had an in­ter­est in Nim­rod Re­sources.

Mark Drey­fus, La­bor’s shadow at­tor­ney gen­eral, re­ferred the mat­ter to the fed­eral po­lice for in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but the AFP dropped the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in July last year.

Robert re­tained his Queens­land seat of Fad­den at last year’s elec­tion on a large mar­gin of 19,752 votes de­spite a 3.31% swing against him.

On Thurs­day, La­bor con­tin­ued to pur­sue Na­tion­als sen­a­tor Barry O’Sul­li­van in ques­tion time over al­le­ga­tions he had a com­mer­cial in­ter­est in the Toowoomba sec­ond range cross­ing and two other projects.

Sec­tion 44 of the con­sti­tu­tion for­bids MPs from hold­ing an “of­fice of profit un­der the Crown” through “any di­rect or in­di­rect pe­cu­niary in­ter­est in any agree­ment with ... the com­mon­wealth”.

“I’ve not now nor have I ever had a con­tract or an in­ter­est in a con­tract with the pub­lic ser­vice of the com­mon­wealth of Aus­tralia, ei­ther di­rectly or in­di­rectly,” O’Sul­li­van told the Se­nate.

“Nor have I had a share in a com­pany that has a share in an­other com­pany, even through mul­ti­ple structural re­la­tion­ships, where those [other com­pa­nies] have had a con­tract with the pub­lic ser­vice of Aus­tralia.”

La­bor be­lieves that be­cause the Toowoomba sec­ond range cross­ing is funded by Queens­land with some fed­eral funds un­der a na­tional part­ner­ship agree­ment with the com­mon­wealth that O’Sul­li­van may have an in­di­rect in­ter­est in that agree­ment which could ren­der his el­i­gi­bil­ity sub­ject to chal­lenge.

Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

Lib­eral Na­tional MP Stu­art Robert re­jected al­le­ga­tions fam­ily com­pa­nies ben­e­fit­ted from com­mon­wealth in­vest­ment as a ‘com­plete load of rub­bish’.

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