Many occur to be intently aligned to Mr Robert’s former political fundraising enterprise, the Fadden Discussion board. In some circumstances additionally it is not solely clear why membership of a bunch aimed on the “development of commerce, funding, public coverage and cultural understanding” between Australia and 22 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations can be a profit to the Queensland companies.
So what precisely is the Australian Ibero-American Enterprise Council and what position does Mr Robert play in its operations?
In response to its web site, the council is a “not for revenue, apolitical” organisation that “supplies non-public and public sector leaders with a platform to interact in high-level dialogue on mutually useful financial and public coverage points”.
Transnational peak company teams aren’t unusual – the Australia-Latin America Enterprise Council has been working since 1989 and lists BHP, Austrade and Air New Zealand amongst its members – however few are as politically related.
The organisation has confirmed itself adept at attracting huge names to its occasions, with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, then treasurer Scott Morrison and Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese pictured at features on its web site.
The AIABC’s political associations have raised considerations about company influence-peddling inside politics and potential “astroturfing”, the place one thing that appears like a grassroots group organisation is definitely established by, and for, company pursuits.
A Fairfax Media investigation has tracked the hyperlinks between Mr Robert, the Liberal Nationwide Occasion member for Fadden on the Gold Coast, and his company supporters from the Fadden Discussion board to the AIABC.
By no means removed from controversy
Mr Robert has confirmed himself excellent at elevating cash for Queensland’s LNP. Nevertheless it has additionally received him into loads of strife. In an unrelated however current controversy, Mr Robert had hassle connecting to the web from his Gold Coast house, charging taxpayers as much as $2800 a month, however his connections to political donors and Prime Minister Scott Morrison run deep.
In 2016, Mr Robert resigned from the Turnbull ministry after serving to Liberal Occasion donor Paul Marks signal a deal in China – for an organization through which they each held shares – whereas he was on private depart. He was elevated again to the ministry in August this 12 months.
Mr Robert was Mr Morrison’s numbers man within the current coup in opposition to Mr Turnbull and shared a house with him in Canberra.
As the perfect LNP fundraiser in Queensland, Mr Robert has supported one donor by giving a speech of their favour in Parliament and lobbied the Metropolis of Gold Coast council on their behalf.
Two individuals who have been previously on Mr Robert’s employees have been elected to political workplace just lately – Kristyn Boulton to the Gold Coast council and Sam O’Connor to the Queensland Parliament. Mr Robert additionally bankrolled an unsuccessful marketing campaign for an additional of his employees – Felicity Stevenson – to get elected to the Gold Coast council.
He used $60,00zero, raised through the Fadden Discussion board, to assist Ms Stevenson and Ms Boulton marketing campaign as unbiased candidates. The transactions have been checked out as a part of a broad inquiry into political corruption by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Fee. The CCC utterly cleared Mr Robert, Ms Stevenson and Ms Boulton of any wrongdoing.
In April this 12 months, Mr Robert began a brand new enterprise by organising and selling the Australian Ibero-American Enterprise Council. For its first 5 months it had three administrators, together with one listed as secretary – Mr Margerison, beforehand the longtime chairman of the LNP fundraising machine.
Mr Margerison, an entrepreneur and self-described “technique professional”, is the director of a Queensland-based conglomerate known as the DJ Group which is a “main accomplice” of the council. DJ Group administrators have connections to different members of the AIABC and its board.
Mr Epstein, who changed Mr Margerison on the board in early September, purchased a stake in DJ Companions, one other AIABC member, two months earlier than he grew to become chairman. Mr Margerison didn’t reply to requests for remark. Mr Epstein declined to remark.
The AIABC web site says it “commonly hosts excessive stage political, diplomatic and enterprise features and small intimate VIP enterprise occasions throughout the nation”.
Dentists, eye docs and property builders
AIABC has 22 members listed on its web site together with Gold Coast-based tax attorneys, a dental group, a incapacity help providers firm, property builders and an ophthalmologist.
The AIABC ranks are largely crammed by corporations which in whole have declared donations of greater than $240,00zero to the LNP up to now two years straight or through their house owners.
Mr Robert says his time as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties – the place he closed commerce offers with South American international locations – was the genesis for AIABC as a result of there was “zero engagement at a severe authorities or diplomatic stage” with South America.
“So I went to some enterprise guys [and] stated we have to construct this and get it performed correctly,” Mr Robert stated. “After which encourage everybody to attach with the rising market when it comes to the place we’ll go.
“The 2 nice rising markets are South America and naturally Africa.”
Mr Robert stated John Margerison is a “excellent pal” and denied Margerison was concerned in fundraising at AIABC.
“There is not any fundraising concerned [with AIABC], its board is bipartisan, it was a bipartisan launch related to the parliamentary associates of Ibero America commerce and commerce,” Mr Robert stated.
“After I set it up I used to be the patron, to say hey ‘I believe it is a nice concept and I’ll get this factor up’. However as quickly as I grew to become a minister I resigned from that.
“I haven’t got any position in any respect.”
However Smiles Inclusive chief govt Mike Timoney, whose agency operates over 50 dental practices in Australia, stated he had been to about 5 AIABC occasions this 12 months and Stuart Robert was at all of them.
“I do know Stuart and John [Margerison] from earlier enterprise relationships so I’ve been going to their boards for 5 or 6 years, [and] they invited me to affix that one [AIABC],” Mr Timoney stated. “All of us type of adopted alongside [from the Fadden Forum] extra folks got here in from the South America facet and we carried on networking.”
Requested what profit he would acquire from AIABC membership, Mr Timoney stated he employs a couple of Brazillian dentists. He added there’s “quite a lot of alternative popping out of South America when it comes to their innovation”.
“They [Brazil] ship first world dentistry at third world costs,” he stated.
The community of Mr Robert’s enterprise contacts seemingly intersects with these of AIABC and its members. For instance, he is likely one of the largest buyers in a non-public firm – Centaur assets – that claims tasks throughout South America that can yield “low-cost lithium”.
Mr Robert additionally declared possession of a stake in Sequoia Monetary, an under-the-radar wealth and asset supervisor which is one other AIABC member, in his parliamentary pursuits. However he says the point out is mistaken as he bid for a stake in Sequoia and was unsuccessful.
Director of Scott PDI, a Queensland property improvement firm, Peter Scott stated he was provided a spot on the AIABC by Stuart Robert and “jumped” on the likelihood.
“He is launched, not solely to us however different enterprise folks, enterprise alternatives down there [in Latin America] and we jumped at it frankly,” Mr Scott stated.
The AIABC has 22 members listed on its web site, together with Gold Coast-based tax attorneys, a dental group, a incapacity help providers firm, property builders and an ophthalmologist. Its ranks are largely crammed by corporations that in whole have declared donations of greater than $240,00zero to the LNP up to now two years straight or through their house owners.
Mr Robert stated Mr Margerison was an excellent pal and denied Mr Margerison was concerned in fundraising on the AIABC.
However Smiles Inclusive chief govt Mike Timoney, whose agency operates greater than 50 dental practices in Australia, stated he had been to about 5 AIABC occasions this 12 months and Mr Robert was at all of them.
“I do know Stuart and John [Margerison] from earlier enterprise relationships so I’ve been going to their boards for 5 or 6 years, [and] they invited me to affix that one [AIABC],” Mr Timoney stated. ‘‘All of us type of adopted alongside [from the Fadden Forum], extra folks got here in from the South America facet and we carried on networking.’’
The community of Mr Robert’s enterprise contacts seemingly intersects with these of the AIABC and its members. For instance, he is likely one of the largest buyers in a non-public firm – Centaur Sources – that claims tasks throughout South America that can yield “low-cost lithium”.
Peter Scott, a director of Scott PDI, a Queensland property improvement firm, stated he had been provided a spot on the AIABC by Mr Robert and “jumped” on the likelihood. “He is launched, not solely to us however different enterprise folks, enterprise alternatives down there [in Latin America] and we jumped at it, frankly,” Mr Scott stated.
Central and South American nations listed as constitution members of the AIABC stated they supported the thought of extra connections with Australia however didn’t pay to be members.
Former ALP senator Stephen Conroy and Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese are featured on the AIABC web site however gave the impression to be unaware of the involvement of some LNP members.
‘Did not need to be impolite’
Mr Albanese instructed Fairfax Media he had stumbled into the AIABC launch occasion by mistake after the management dialogue he was meant to be at modified venues.
Mr Conroy just lately joined the board of AIABC as an unpaid director and is but to attend a board assembly. He declined to remark.
College of NSW senior lecturer of worldwide and political research Belinda Edwards stated the AIABC gave the impression to be a physique that could possibly be used to place its members within the driving seat for negotiating offers in South America.
“This appears to be like like an train in astroturfing, the place enterprise pursuits are attempting to create what appears to be like like a broad-based group organisation however truly they management it,” Dr Edwards stated.
“The problem to look at right here is whether or not the commerce deal does find yourself favouring them. And whether or not the phrases that profit them, hurt different Australians who haven’t engaged on this behaviour.”
Throughout his time in Parliament, questions have dogged Mr Robert’s enterprise dealings. He’s being investigated by the company regulator ASIC, for the second time, however he’s additionally partially liable for the oversight of ASIC in his position as Assistant Treasurer. At the moment, ASIC is checking if Mr Robert failed to provide well timed notification of his resignation as a director of Cryo Australia. Mr Robert stated he gave correct discover to the corporate.
When Mr Robert discovered Fairfax Media was inquiring in regards to the AIABC, his workplace known as to rearrange an interview. “I used to be simply encouraging folks to get behind what I believe is a superb capability in that a part of the world,” he stated. “I am not concerned in any manner form or type, I’m not an govt, there’s no beneficiary, I haven’t acquired something, I don’t intend to.”
Nigel Gladstone is The Sydney Morning Herald’s information journalist.