Former minister referred to anti-corruption commission

Andrew Brown |

Former cabinet minister Stuart Robert has been referred to a federal corruption watchdog over his links to a consulting firm awarded lucrative government contracts.

A parliamentary inquiry has been investigating Synergy 360 and allegations it was channelling money to a company linked to Mr Robert to win government work.

The allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, have been denied by Mr Robert.

Committee chair, Labor MP Julian Hill, said it did not have enough power to properly investigate the issue, instead referring the matter to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

“In light of the serious and systemic nature of the allegations, an agency with compulsory questioning and document gathering and investigatory powers should take up the matter so these questions may be properly assessed,” Mr Hill told parliament on Wednesday.

“A referral to the National Anti-Corruption Commission by a parliamentary committee should never be made lightly and certainly is not done so here. 

“In these circumstances, however, there appears no other appropriate course of action.”

Mr Robert labelled the referral a “farce” and an example of political payback.

“Surprise, surprise, a Labor-dominated committee using parliamentary privilege and process to even up political scores and using the NACC as a political weapon – who would have thought?” he said.

“A committee that has received zero evidence, used stolen emails and relied on a rambling incoherent testimony that is refuted, in writing, by every other witness, by every document and by every date that he got wrong.”

Businessman John Margerison, an associate of Mr Robert, had been ordered to produce evidence and appear before the committee.

But Mr Margerison’s lawyers said he would not face the inquiry because he lived overseas and had severed all ties with Australia.

Mr Hill said the committee did not have any powers or resources such as forensic auditing to properly examine the allegations.

He said the committee was not asking the NACC to investigate the issue, but determine whether an inquiry should be held.

“Concerning evidence has been received raising serious allegations and questions about financial impropriety, improper relationships and undisclosed conflicts of interest with parties receiving contracts from the commonwealth,” he told parliament.

The committee outlined the need for the referral in an interim report, with final findings to be handed down as soon as possible.

The report also recommended House of Representatives Speaker Milton Dick approve the commissioning of legal advice on the committee’s statutory powers, including in situations where a person claims to be an overseas resident.

Coalition MPs on the committee said they supported the principle of referring corruption allegations to the NACC, but argued it was not the role of the committee to make the referral.

“Coalition members do not agree with the chair’s report recommendation that seeks to direct the NACC to consider undertaking an inquiry – this is a decision of the NACC commissioner,” a dissenting report said.

“This departure from established committee precedent, especially in a matter with political overtones, raises serious concerns.”

Mr Robert, who represented the Queensland seat of Fadden, resigned from parliament in May.