By Voter G.
As employers, the people of Flinders (my electorate) are going to be effectively hiring someone and giving them close to a million dollars to look after our interests for the next three years in Canberra.
There are 10 applicants for the job and according to the bookies it’s a shortlist of four: Liberal Zoe McKenzie, ALP Surbhi Snowball and Independents Despi O’Connor and Sarah Russell.
But I want to focus on the Liberal candidate, Zoe McKenzie.
The Liberal quasi-incumbent is the favourite to win the seat so let’s take a look at her resumé and see what qualifications she brings to the job.
For someone we’re going to be paying $211,250 a year plus expenses to, her CV is disappointingly light on detail.
Regarding her previous work experience, this is all it says on her Meet Zoe page:
“… worked in the education and training sector, served on the boards of the NBN and Australia Council for the Arts and has worked at the highest levels of government.”
Fortunately for the enquiring mind she has been on the taxpayer payroll since at least 2007, so it wasn’t difficult to unpack that rather vague sentence.
Online searches show a 15-year history of work for and connection to the Liberal Party, a long-time relationship that has landed the Flinders hopeful millions of dollars of taxpayer funds:
2007: Chief of Staff to Federal Liberal Senator George Brandis.
2010-2013: Policy Advisor to former Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Bailleu.
2013-2016: Chief of Staff to Federal Liberal Trade, Investment and Tourism Minister Andrew Robb.
2016-2021: Appointed to the board of the Australia Council for the Arts, receiving over $200,000 in taxpayer funded remuneration during that time.
2018-21: Appointed to the Liberal Government’s NBN Co Board as a non-executive Director and received $361,839 in taxpayer funded remuneration over that time.
2019: Unsuccessfully sought Federal Liberal Party pre-selection in the inner city Melbourne seat of Higgins.
2020: Moved principle place of address to Sorrento.
2021: Successfully sought pre-selection in the Liberal held seat of Flinders to replace the retiring Greg Hunt.
Congratulations to Zoe McKenzie on being preselected as the Liberal candidate for Flinders.
Zoe is a brilliant local businesswoman with a strong environmental focus.
I could not be stronger in my endorsement. A vote for Zoe is a vote for the future of the Peninsula & Australia. https://t.co/ypDuloTnzk
— Greg Hunt (@GregHuntMP) December 22, 2021
But just like Shrek and onions, all resumés have layers, so as we took off the outer skin and started to peel away, there was a lot more interesting information which paints a clearer picture of the candidate and her deep connections to the Liberal National Party machine.
She is a Melbourne University educated lawyer who has worked for the Liberal Party in a variety of high level capacities since at least 2007.
She was Queensland Senator George Brandis’ first Chief of Staff when he was a Minister in the Howard Government in 2007. As the retired Senator said in his valedictory speech on February 7, 2018:
“Zoe McKenzie was my first chief of staff. She is a dear friend who decided to take me in hand, as the Howard government’s newest and most unexpected minister, some 11 years ago.”
You may recall that Senator Brandis infamously stood up in the Senate and said: “People do have a right to be bigots, you know.”
When the LNP Coalition under Tony Abbott won the 2013 election, she served as Chief of Staff to Trade, Investment and Tourism Minister Andrew Robb from 2013-16.
During this time the NT Government signed a 99 year deal to lease the Port of Darwin to a Chinese Company with close links to the Communist Party. While the current Prime Minister has abrogated any Federal responsibility for the deal, a 2015 photo of Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Treasurer Josh Frydenburg with Chinese Billionaire and Landbridge Chairman Ye Cheng in Darwin would indicate otherwise.
The day after Andrew Robb left Parliament, he took an $880,000 annual ‘consultancy’ salary from the CCP linked Shandong Landbridge Group – the same company who leases the Port of Darwin. He quit the consultancy position in 2019, right before the cut-off to be placed on the foreign influence register.
There is no suggestion that Ms McKenzie was involved in any wrongdoing with the Chinese Communist Party or the financially troubled Landbridge Group.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Ms McKenzie also played a significant role in finalising the Free Trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal which has been described by Brian Feeney in Parliament submitted documents as “a threat to democracy.”
“… the TPP is potentially a danger to public health, workers conditions, local media content, food labelling and pollution standards.”
However, the TPP deal has been viewed as being of benefit to multi-national corporations and some LNP aligned big businesses in Australia.
Before moving to Flinders a couple of years ago she unsuccessfully stood for preselection as a Liberal Party candidate in the wealthy inner city electorate of Higgins prior to the last Federal election in 2019. She was considered a short-priced favourite for the position and had the endorsement of Liberal Party heavyweights in her candidacy.
The seat of Higgins, formerly occupied by Howard Government Treasurer Peter Costello is home to such suburbs as Toorak, Malvern, Prahran, South Yarra and Windsor.
Following the failed preselection attempt she moved to Sorrento to a house she had purchased some years previously.
It mentions in her bio that she held a non-executive Director role on the board of the National Broadband Network from 2018 – 2021 a project that has been described variously as a “worldwide embarrassment, a national disgrace and horribly over budget and over deadline.” The NBN Co is a wholly Government owned and funded corporation.
In 2019, 2020 and 2021 she was paid $113,231, $124,304 and $124,304 in remuneration and superannuation for her role on the board. That is a total of $361,839 of taxpayer funds over a three-year period.
She was a board member of the Australia Council for the Arts from 2016 to 2021, an appointment which netted her $46,923 of taxpayer funds in the 2020/21 Financial Year alone. Since 2016 she has received over $200,000 in Taxpayer Funds plus Super for her role on the board.
She has conservatively received over half a million dollars of taxpayer funds just for sitting on these two boards.
And while the specifics around Chief of Staff salaries can be a bit hazy for those of us who aren’t across the relevant pay bands, drilling into the 2020-23 Parliamentary Staff Enterprise Agreement as well as knowing that Peta Credlin was paid $394,487 a year plus allowances when she was Abbott’s Chief of Staff, there’s no doubt she was on very good coin. Taking a conservative option, adding in her stints as Chief of Staff and time served on the boards, including super and expenses, Ms McKenzie has easily pocketed over $2.5 Million in taxpayer funds for her work.
And this is just what we know about. This figure may well be much higher if other unknown or undisclosed consultancy and advisory work was added.
There’s no suggestion that she wasn’t worth the money for the work she did.
She resigned from the taxpayer-funded positions she held in December 2021 to avoid any conflicts with section 44 of the constitution before declaring she would contest the preselection in Flinders.
Zoe McKenzie has been part of the Liberal Party machine for at least 15 years and has given loyal and dedicated service to the organisation. She has received ringing endorsements from past Liberal Prime Ministers as well as current and former Liberal Ministers on the back of this service.
So some questions to ponder:
- While her impressive government resume and taxpayer funded bank balance might encourage some of you to vote for her, it’s well worth asking the question – why choose to not include any of that significant information in her campaign literature? It is entirely relevant to the job and in the interests of transparency it should be made known.
- Is Flinders just a means to an end for entry to Parliament after her failed attempt at pre-selection three years previously in the super-wealthy inner city electorate of Higgins?
- Is her preselection a reward from the party for years of loyal service?
- What was listed as her primary place of residence when she unsuccessfully sought preselection in Higgins?
If you were a Flinders resident, would you vote for her?
I know that I won’t be.
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