Stuart Robert faces a widening investigation: Did he write that strange note to try to get out of it?

Former Liberal minister Stuart Robert has been accused of "bullying" a public servant.

Former Liberal minister Stuart Robert has been accused of "bullying" a public servant. Photo: AAP

Embattled former Coalition minister Stuart Robert is facing a new investigation into meetings he took as a minister with a business associate and their Canberra firm who he had previously advised on their bids for IT contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

New reports revealed Mr Robert, while serving as a minister, had meetings with a Canberra firm owned by friends and a former business partner, John Margerison, which was in the business of lobbying for lucrative IT contracts.

Meetings with Mr Robert were also arranged by the firm on behalf of wealthy clients.

The New Daily understands the widening investigation into Mr Robert and the Synergy 360 firm has at least $300 million in contracts in its scope, based on early revelations and work by investigators.

But given the complexity of Mr Robert’s own businesses and the size of his associates it’s possible that figure might grow as the investigation could take longer to conclude than expected.

Demand to public servant

In an extraordinary development on Thursday morning, Mr Robert emailed the top public servant who also jointly leads the investigation into him, demanding she write a formal statement that he had done nothing wrong.

He insisted on a tight deadline.

Mr Robert did not write a formal letter to the head of the government services department, the usual means of communicating with someone of her position.

It is unclear how he expected her to respond but Mr Robert asked the CEO to write back to him with official confirmation his actions met the highest standards of probity or proper conduct.

That would have allowed the CEO only four hours from the start of the business day to examine his conduct; it is not clear what standard of ‘probity’ could have been investigated in such a window.

Mr Robert adds that there was proof within department records that his behaviour in a particular grant case had been conducted in a way that met ethical standards.

In parliament, Mr Robert denied there was anything unusual about his contact with Rebecca Skinner and asking her to endorse his conduct as ethical. The department CEO once answered to Mr Robert but who now leads the body tasked with investigating him.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten condemned in parliament what he said was “bullying” of Ms Skinner, and told Mr Robert to direct future correspondence to him personally.

Attempts to contact Ms Skinner were not successful but she is highly respected around Canberra where she has worked in top departments for 30 years.

Mr Robert declined to comment when asked why he thought it appropriate to apply a deadline or contact the public servant.

But he said he was only seeking information that he thought would be provided for the parliament when addressing MPs.

“I reiterate that all departmental procurements were run with the highest levels of probity,” he said on Thursday.

Review welcomed

Mr Robert welcomed the review, which Mr Shorten said would get to the heart of whether there had ever been a perceived conflict arising from Mr Robert’s business affairs.

Mr Shorten had already promised an investigation into the links between the firm, Synergy 360, and Mr Robert – his predecessor as minister in that role and the NDIS portfolio.

A client of that firm, Infosys, Mr Robert announced in 2019, had won a multi-million-dollar tender for Centrelink, for which they were to develop an “Entitlement Calculation Engine”.

They were paid a total of $135 million for the entitlement work but additional companies were hired to complete it at an extra budget.

“I think the detail is extremely concerning,” Mr Shorten said.

“I want to find out how the contract was allocated, I want to get to the history of this process; it’s big money.

“I’m not saying there’s fire yet, but the smoke hasn’t blown away, in fact it’s getting thicker.”

Nine newspapers had previously reported that Mr Robert had allegedly helped the same company while serving as a backbencher in 2017 and 2018 by giving them advice.

Mr Robert defended that practice by saying he met with “stakeholders” routinely for work.

The New Daily revealed that Mr Robert was also a shareholder in a company that received payments from a department he ran as a minister. He has disclosed those shares were held in a trust run by Mr Margerison, but later deleted such information from his interests register.

A vehicle of Mr Margerison took on shares in the company anywhere up to a month after Mr Robert’s exit.

Additional Infosys contracts worth $130 million are reportedly also in view of any probe.

But to shine light on his relationship with his friend’s firm, Infosys, would require getting past the many hurdles inbetween Mr Robert’s deeply complicated business affairs and an investigator.

Some of Mr Robert’s business interests flow through a series of trusts.

John Margerison was at first listed as the manager of Mr Roberts personal campaign body: the Fadden Forum.

His own empire is vast. Just one of his previous companies, Excela, had $4 billion in assets last decade. A healthcare conglomerates has made millions in NDIS fees in recent years.

Mr Robert is Opposition spokesman on financial services.

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