Stuart Robert denies ‘extreme’ allegations, claims of secret payments

Corruption allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, have been denied by Stuart Robert.

Corruption allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, have been denied by Stuart Robert. Photo: AAP

Former cabinet minister Stuart Robert has denied extraordinary claims made at a parliamentary inquiry that he used his office and influence to direct multimillion-dollar government contracts to a business that paid him kickbacks.

The bombshell allegation made by Anthony Daly, an employee at a firm helping major multinationals win work worth hundreds of millions, put Mr Robert at the centre of an alleged government contracting racket.

Mr Robert rejects the accusation entirely and describes the claims as “wild”, not backed by proof and “unbelievable in the extreme”.

Wednesday’s evidence takes allegations about a blurring of the deeply controversial MP’s private business interests and public duties to shocking new heights, one month after they forced his resignation from Parliament.

Crucial influence

A lobbying firm part-owned by Mr Robert’s friend and former business partner, Synergy 360, helped global technology giants pull in more than $350 million in contracts.

Mr Daly has now alleged not only that Mr Robert privately met with company executives, including in his office in Parliament, to help with their bids but that he enjoyed a 10 per cent slice of the proceeds of a business arrangement that was never disclosed.

“This arrangement was to secure Stuart Robert’s involvement and support in acquiring federal government contracts,” Mr Daly’s statement alleged under parliamentary privilege.

“Stuart Robert’s political influence and connections within the government sector were deemed crucial.”

Synergy was not on the government’s register for lobbyists because Mr Robert feared it would bring attention to the business, Mr Daly said.

But David Milo, another shareholder at the firm, angrily denied that it met the criteria when testifying in April.

A friend and former business partner who once managed Mr Robert’s business affairs in trust while he was a cabinet minister, John Margerison, allegedly passed the money along through a former company, United Marketing.

‘Heavy’ testimony

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten, who has assumed Mr Robert’s old portfolios and vigorously questioned him over recent revelations, described Wednesday’s testimony as “heavy”, and said he had asked his department to advise him on his options before responding.

“This is not a usual day in the life of politics,” he said. “I’m not saying Mr Robert [has] done the wrong thing, but I also know I’ve got to investigate this. And to do any less than that would be negligent.”

Mr Shorten declined to comment on whether Mr Robert’s case would come before a new federal anti-corruption commission that opens its doors next month after integrity scandals shook the previous Parliament.

“If there is something wrong [that] has happened, [the] proper process will mean that you can actually get to the bottom of [it],” he said.

“The [commission] is fiercely independent, as they should be.”

In April, Mr Margerison told a parliamentary committee that Mr Robert’s near-half share of a joint holding in Synergy 360 had been paid into a discretionary trust of which the MP was one of an uncertain number of beneficiaries.

That arrangement stopped, he said, in late 2018, or around the time that Mr Robert was making a sensational comeback to the centre of power in Canberra years after an earlier scandal over shareholdings.

Infosys, the Indian technology giant, paid Synergy $16 million in success fees over five years, the inquiry has heard.

The company has won more than $500 million in work from government departments over a decade, according to tender records.

Standard service

Mr Robert has previously admitted to meeting clients of the firm part-owned by his friends, but denied they received treatment any better than he would provide any constituent.

The former MP for Fadden, whose former constituents are going to the polls in a month to select his replacement, rejected entirely the evidence of Mr Daly, whose ex-wife held equity in the lobbying firm he said he had worked for from home.

“I don’t believe I have ever met Mr Daly nor spoken to him,” the MP said.

“I reject completely all of his allegations in the strongest possible terms and I note that he had only made them under privilege where he is immune from legal consequence.

“At no time have I ever been paid for any advice or guidance in any form. At no time did I lobby to assist any firm in such a manner.”

In any case, the allegation has brought Mr Robert’s business relationship back into focus for the inquiry and potentially even added to the former MP’s problems.

Focus of scrutiny

United Marketing, Mr Margerison’s former company, has been the focus of scrutiny in Canberra when it emerged Mr Robert’s department, years later after his return to cabinet, had paid its subsidiary $3.5 million to rent a warehouse.

Mr Robert denied any influence over departmental procurement or departmental real estate dealings or knowing who was holding shares in companies that won work.

The only testimony to contradict Mr Robert’s assurance has been what Mr Daly claimed was told to him second-hand by Synergy’s shareholders.

But resolving the allegation that money flowed to Mr Robert via United Marketing could bring further scrutiny on the many businesses it had a stake in and whether these intersected with the government.

One, Mr Margerison’s disability services business, DJ Health, was paid tens of millions of dollars in NDIS provider fees during a period when Mr Robert was the minister overseeing the scheme and, he said, at arm’s length from all such decisions.

Mr Robert told TND that his business partners had denied he was ever paid or sought money through businesses, but did not respond to a follow-up question asking if this contradicted testimony made in April.

Voters in Mr Robert’s former seat of Fadden on the Gold Coast go to the polls on July 15.

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