Corporate regulator to look into Liberal National MP Stuart Robert's businesses
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.
Liberal National MP Stuart Robert rejected allegations family companies benefitted from commonwealth investment as a ‘complete load of rubbish’.