No doubt emboldened by the resurgence of Arthur “I don’t recall” Sinodinis, Stuart Robert is apparently lobbying Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to return him to the frontbench at the next significant reshuffle, likely by the end of the year.
This has come about because the Queensland corruption watchdog has apparently found no evidence of wrongdoing by Robert when he allegedly funnelled $70,000 from his LNP fundraising arm, the Fadden Forum, to three candidates in last year’s Gold Coast City Council election – two of whom were his electoral office staff – who stood as Independents.
The inquiry is centred on whether candidates who received Fadden Forum funds failed to inform the Electoral Commission of Queensland that they would be campaigning as a group. Failing to inform a returning officer is an offence.
Robert is insisting he has been cleared and should be reinstated to the Ministry. After all, he backed Turnbull in the leadership spill. But this is not the only question mark over Stuart Robert.
Of far greater concern than meddling in council elections is Robert’s relationship with co-investor and Liberal Party donor Paul Marks, and the extent to which Chinese business interests are buying influence in Canberra.
The following timeline lists the close links between Robert and Marks and how Robert has used his position and party to promote Mr Marks’ business dealings with China.
In April 2013, Stuart Robert billed taxpayers $1600 to attend the opening of a gold mine owned by Evolution Mining, a company in which he owned shares. He was later forced to repay the money. Paul Marks was a Non-Executive Director of the company.
In June 2013, Chinese businessman Li Ruipeng presented Robert and other Coalition figures with Rolexes during a dinner attended by Tony Abbott and Paul Marks in Stuart Robert’s parliamentary office.
In early 2014, a staffer in the former Queensland government introduced noodle king Mr Li to agents looking to lease premium top-floor office space at 50 Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise. Subsequentlty, Li Ruipeng, who owes creditors in China up to $30 million, was evicted from the Gold Coast office space for being $200,000 behind in rent.
In mid 2014, Paul Marks started making huge donations to the Liberal Party under several different names – $250,000 to the federal Liberal Party and $181,361 to the Free Enterprise Foundation from P. Marks Investment Pty Ltd, another $250,000 to the federal Liberal Party from Paul Marks, and $500,000 from his mining company Nimrod Resources Limited.
In August 2014, Stuart Robert flew to China with Paul Marks, lending what was perceived as official support for a mining deal that Marks was negotiating with the Chinese government despite Robert insisting he was there in a private capacity and had paid for the trip himself.
There are several problems with this.
Firstly is the Statement of Ministerial Standards which states, under section 2.1 (entitled “Integrity”):
Although their public lives encroach upon their private lives, it is critical that Ministers do not use public office for private purposes.
And in section 2.20 (“other forms of employment”), the Standards mandate that:
A Minister shall not act as a consultant or adviser to any company, business, or other interests, whether paid or unpaid, or provide assistance to any such body, except as may be appropriate in their official capacity as Minister.
Secondly, it was revealed that both Robert and Marks had shares in a company called Metallum Holdings Pty Ltd and the company had an interest in Nimrod Resources.
Thirdly, whilst Mr Robert paid for some of his trip, he charged taxpayers $881.92 for accommodation and the flight from Coolangatta to Sydney the day before he flew out claiming “official business”, and then he flew back to Australia via an Asian stop, at which point his “private travel” again became “official business” for which he claimed $10,449.83.
Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson revealed Mr Robert only officially informed the department of his private visit to China after he returned to Australia which seems odd because the “official business” in Singapore was “To attend the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial meeting and the Defence Ministers’ Dialogue.” Did he just front up without telling anyone? Did he say I’ll make my own way there? Or did he drop in so he could charge us for his trip?
After an internal investigation by Martin Parkinson, Robert was later forced by Turnbull to stand down from the Ministry with Barnaby Joyce saying, “once all the details become apparent you’ve got to say sorry, ‘Goodnight Irene’.”
In November 2014, Tony Abbott hosted a red carpet event with the President of China, Xi Jinping, where 14 deals were signed between Australian and Chinese businesses and organisations.
The most senior business figures in Australia lined up to sign the papers with their Chinese counterparts, under the watchful gaze – and the implied endorsement – of President Xi and Mr Abbott.
Bank chiefs were there – Mike Smith from ANZ, Gail Kelly from Westpac; the head of Australia Post, Ahmed Fahour; the boss of the stock exchange, Elmer Funke Kupper; the head of Qantas, Alan Joyce; and the mining giants – Sam Walsh, head of Rio Tinto, and billionaire Andrew “Twiggy’’ Forrest.
And then there was the unknown Mr Marks, signing up to a deal with the Chinese government-owned Minmetals to develop a greenfields site in Bourke through his mining company, Nimrod.
In March 2015, Tony Abbott infamously was late for a caucus meeting after he had taken a taxpayer-funded RAAF jet to Melbourne the night before, also claiming $788.03 for comcars and accommodation, to attend Paul Marks’ birthday party (ignoring the fact that his birthday is in December). Stuart Robert also attended the party at Huntingdale Golf Club.
The donations ramped up.
April 2015 Liberal Party Australia $150,000
May 2015 Liberal Party Australia $175,000
June 2015 LNP Qld $15,000
July 2015 Liberal Party Australia $1,300,000
Liberal Party Vic $30,000
LNP Qld $15,000
May 2016 Liberal Party Tas $30,000
Country Liberals NT $30,000
Liberal Party ACT $30,000
Liberal Party NSW $30,000
Liberal Party SA $30,000
This list only goes to June 2016 and may not be complete as Mr Marks donates under various different names to different branches of the Liberal Party whose returns don’t always correlate with Mr Marks’ declarations.
Last September, Paul Marks was in Brisbane reportedly to explore a potential gold deal, quite possibly in Bob Katter’s electorate. Interestingly, he was accompanied by a Katter Party fundraiser.
Marks sure seems to have a great deal of money to splash around.
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