Stuart Robert: One of public life’s weirdest characters and the mystery of what made him tick

Stuart Robert at robodebt royal commission

Two horrible obscenities were perpetrated in Australian politics over the past decade; Stuart Robert had his feet planted in the middle of both.

Expectations the former human services minister would have to resign after “coming under a lot of pressure” – first revealed by The New Daily – were confirmed this weekend.

Many of his former colleagues’ reputations are riding on evidence given by Mr Robert to the royal commission into robodebt, an account that has often conflicted with that of two top public servants.

That has led some to dub him the “front man” for that scandal, an illegal and inaccurate debt collection scheme targeting people on welfare payments that cost the government billions.

The LNP fundraising guru with mining magnate mates has also been described as the “money man”.

Second act

The second scandal, much broader, is about the elision of MPs’ private and public interests and a disregard for public disclosure.

The former military intelligence officer-cum-chief executive of a government contractor leaves Parliament after 15 years and with a chequered reputation and motives not understood.

Mr Robert was a close ally of Scott Morrison and part of a small band of Christian soldiers who helped him exploit divisions in the Liberal Party to gain access to the Prime Minister’s office.

Niki Savva captures the relationship in her recent account of the Morrison years Bulldozed: “As prime minister, Morrison would host gatherings of his prayer group in his Parliament House office. Robert, who kept a musical keyboard in his office, would call his staff in, and together they would sing hymns.”

On April 15, 2021 Mr Robert was secretly appointed to administer Mr Morrison’s own prime minister’s department on the same day Mr Morrison had himself secretly installed as the nation’s resources minister.

It is remarkable that Mr Robert got so far in public life again – after a disastrous first act in public life.


Then assistant defence minister Mr Robert was forced to quit cabinet after it was revealed he had travelled to China on a diplomatic passport on official business but also found time to attend the unveiling of a deal for a mining company he held shares in.

Mr Robert said he had no idea about the shares because someone else was holding them for him, but he got the boot.

On the other side of the decade Mr Robert was somehow back in cabinet and that excuse was somehow passing muster.

(The man put in charge of running the minister’s “blind trust” in later years, TND revealed, had briefly been CEO of a disgraced Sydney fund manager, AG Financial, involved in transferring tens of millions from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund to the Cayman islands.)

(His later interests included an NDIS disability provider and a business lobbying for lucrative IT contracts, a business that Mr Robert advised and opened doors for).

The year before he was sworn back in as assistant treasurer – after the Morrison challenge – it was revealed that he had transferred his stake in a recruitment business to the name of his 80-year-old father.

Alan Robert was an unwitting but highly successful company director of a business that won tens of millions of dollars of contracts and with which Mr Robert told Parliament he had severed ties six years earlier.

An inverted world

Mr Robert personally raised the bar for public sensitivity to political scandal and persisted where in decades prior ministers had been forced out for making errors on customs declaration forms.

At the royal commission into robodebt, where he claimed to bravely wind up a scheme other witnesses have implicated in family members’ suicides, he plainly laid out his warped, inverted view of ministerial duty and the sense of honour underneath it.

He said making misleading public statements that the robodebt scheme was accurate, even though he knew it was not.

“As a dutiful cabinet minister, ma’am, that’s what we do,” Robert said.

Commissioner Catherine Holmes replied: “Misrepresent things to the Australian public?”

How to stitch together a parliamentary career full of such deeply weird episodes?

“Sometimes you come across someone whose motivations are …” said one former minister who sat around the cabinet table with Mr Robert.

That observation ends with a four-letter-word, a noun, for a kind of person stereotypically found in Mr Robert’s political home of the Gold Coast; it ends in ‘v’.

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