Wednesday, 10 February 2016

In which then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott gives the nod for then Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert to help smooth the way for a big Liberal Party donor and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull inherits a problem

These are the antics of then Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and his not-so-faithful side kick LNP MP for Fadden & then Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert, as reported in the Herald Sun on 7 February 2016:

A FEDERAL minister is under pressure after admitting he made a secret trip to Beijing where a Liberal donor and mate finalised a mining deal.
Human Services Minister Stuart Robert told the Herald Sun he was acting in a “private capacity” when he attended a signing ceremony with Nimrod Resources’s Paul Marks and high-ranking Communist Party ­officials who run Chinese Government-owned company Minmetals.
Mr Robert has previously said Mr Marks was a “close personal friend” and he’d bought shares in two of the Melbourne millionaire’s companies.
Mr Marks has also donated $2 million to the Liberals in the past two ­financial years. Last year, then prime minister Tony Abbott flew on a taxpayer-funded jet to Mr Marks’s birthday party at Huntingdale Golf Club.
Minmetals’s website says that at the August 18, 2014, event in Beijing, Mr Robert, then assistant defence minister, spoke “on behalf of the Australian Department of Defence”.
It says he presented to a senior Communist Party official “a medal” bestowed by the prime minister.

In 1999 Stuart Robert registered Robert International Pty Ltd and in 2007, the same year he entered Parliament, he created his own private investment company Robert Investment House Pty Ltd, with himself and his wife as directors.

His time in politics apparently always hast its "slip-ups" as this intriguing entry in Griffith University Vice-Chancellor's 2012 report hints:

One political misstep in 2012 was speeches he made under parliamentary privilege which saw The Australian reporting this on 19 February 2015:

In a comparatively rare development, parliament’s privileges committee — chaired by Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent — granted Mr Lee leave to make a statement to the House of Representatives detailing his acquittal.
Mr Lee thanked the committee and Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and accused Mr Robert of denying him the presumption of innocence while his case was before the courts.
“It was very distressing for us and our families, seeing the member for Fadden, Stuart Robert, on not one but two occasions in 2012, rise in the house and accuse me of a crime, on behalf of his wealthy constituents Sunland,’’ he told The Australian. “In doing so, and under the safety of parliamentary privilege, Stuart Robert never considered the ordeal we had been through or continued to endure, that of being imprisoned and detained in the Middle East, nor did he try to contact us to get a balanced view of the situation before he spoke.”
Mr Robert said he would not apologise for defending the interests of his constituents, including the Sunland Group.

“I will always stand up for Gold Coast companies,’’ he said. “It was a difficult time for all those involved and my job is to stand up for my … community.”

On 19 and 21 August 2014 this is how China Minmetals Corporation and the Chinese Ministry of Land Website described Robert's allegedly private stay in Beijing:

#On August 18, a ceremony was held in Beijing to sign the agreement between 
Minmetals Exploration & Development Co., Ltd. and Australia Nimrod Resources 
Limited (hereinafter “Nimrod”) for the joint establishment of an exploration 
technical committee. 
Chairman Zhou Zhongshu and Stuart Robert, Assistant Minister of Australian Department of Defence, attended the ceremony and delivered speeches. 
Vice President Li Fuli attended the signing ceremony. 
Wang Jionghui, Assistant President of Minmetals and General Manager of Minmetals Exploration & Development Co., Ltd., and Paul Marks, Executive Chairman of 
Nimrod and Director Robert Kingdon signed the agreement on behalf of the two 
The ceremony was hosted by Huang Dongmei, Deputy General Manager of MinmetalsExploration & Development Co., Ltd.

#August 19 morning, Vice Minister of Land and Resources Wang Min meets Australia Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Stuart and his party. The two sides will jointly create a favorable external investment environment and promote mining agency cooperation and further strengthen Sino-Australian mining industry cooperation talks and exchanges.

According to the Herald Sun on 28 March 2015:

Mr Marks was a director of Conquest Mining Pty Ltd from December 2009 to April 2012. On May 13, 2011, Mr Robert declared Conquest shares.
Mr Marks was a director of Evolution Mining Ltd from October 2011 to November 2013. In August 2013, Mr Robert declared owning shares in his and one of his sons’ names.
Mr Marks said: “Conquest merged with Catalpa and subsumed a number of Newcrest Assets to create Evolution Mining. Consequently I went on the board of Evolution Mining. I resigned from the Evolution board because I took the chairman role of Nimrod.’’

On 8 February 2016 the Australian House of Representatives Hansard records this exchange:

Mr Burke: Mr Speaker, on one final point of order: the clause that I am referring to, which leads to why the parliament must be able to pursue this, says: A Minister shall not act as a consultant or adviser to any company, business, or other interests, whether paid or unpaid, or provide assistance to any such body, except as may be appropriate in their official capacity as Minister … 
Ms Henderson interjecting—
The SPEAKER: The member for Corangamite will cease interjecting. 
Mr Dreyfus interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Isaacs will cease interjecting. I have obviously given this careful consideration and I have examined the practice carefully. For anyone who examines the practice carefully, on page 555—and I just happen to have it with me—they will see that it says, 'A minister may not be asked a question about his or her actions in a former ministerial role.' However, in a case when a minister has issued a statement referring to earlier responsibilities a question relating to the statement was permitted. There has been one case of that, in 2006. Beyond that, questions have not been allowed. That is certainly the practice and the history, I can assure the House, from the best of my research. Whilst I want to see questions asked and answered, if this question had been asked some time ago, when the minister had different responsibilities, it would, clearly, be in order. But the minister responsible for the code of conduct is the Prime Minister, and it is the Prime Minister that makes the determination on whether ministers have complied with it. Having heard that patiently, and I apologise for detaining the House for so long, I am not going to allow that question and will move to the next question. 

While on 9 February 2016 The Australian stated of the now Minister for Veterans Affairs & Human Services Minister:

His register of interests shows his investments are held in a company called Robert Investment House. This in turn is owned by Robert International, which lists his parents — 78-year-old Alan and 75-year-old Dorothy — as directors and shareholders.
The investment company was previously held by Mr Robert, but was transferred to his parents three weeks after the 2010 election.

At this time Robert and his wife also ceased to be trustees of the Robert Family Trust and the Robert Investments Family Trust according to his statement of registrable interests in 2010, although they both still appear to derive income from one or both of these discretionary trusts.

The first year in government must have been a busy housekeeping year for the Member for Fanning as he decided to return two Cartier watches given to him by a Chinese investment company known as the Liguancheng Group.

Rather coyly on 15 July 2013 he had listed these very expensive items simply as "watches":
His last lodged statement of registrable interests shows Robert's self-managed super fund (which sometimes buys/sells shares) is still active and he still carries a "portfolio investment loan" with the National Australia Bank as well as a home loan.

Stuart Robert is being characterized by the Murdoch press as being somewhat naive in his dealings with the Chinese.

Somehow I think the Gold Coast Bulletin's 28 December 2015 assessment of this LNP politician is probably closer to the mark:

Minister Robert appears to see himself as a businessman and investor as well as an elected parliamentarian. It will be interesting to see what else surfaces concerning his past and current business interests.

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