Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nathan Tinkler & Co: Political Donors Anonymous

The Boardwalk #1

In 2012 political donations to parties in Queensland were capped at $5000. Donations from related corporations were treated as one from a single entity. Anonymous donations of $200 or more were banned.

However, there was a get-out-of-jail-free card. Gifts to political parties were uncapped so long as they were not for campaign purposes. Later that year the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) explained in its report ‘The regulation of political donations and gifts in Queensland’:
‘Political parties, state candidates and third parties are required to establish state campaign accounts. Only electoral donations that fall under the cap are able to be deposited into the account and only electoral expenditure is allowed to be paid out of the account. Any electoral donation that exceeds the cap can only be deposited into a general administration account. There is no cap on general donations that are unrelated to election campaigns.’
Queensland’s Liberal National Party must have had a large administrative bill in 2012. Money was flooding in, even from interstate.

Controversial Newcastle mining and ‘magnate’ Nathan Tinkler was grilled at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) earlier this year about political donations in New South Wales, in particular to Liberal Party slush fund Eightbyfive. Political donations by property developers were banned in NSW in 2009. His defence, according to the Sydney Morning Herald: 'I've given more to worse people'.

The Daily Telegraph summarized the money trail:
ICAC alleges $66,000 was paid through the back door in order to subvert electoral funding laws which prevented developers from donating to politicians.

ICAC revealed yesterday Mr Tinkler made $214,000 in allegedly illegal political donations ahead of the 2011 state election — $50,000 to the Newcastle Alliance, $45,000 to the National Party, $66,000 to EightbyFive and $53,000 to the NSW Liberal Party through the Free Enterprise Foundation — at the same time he was lobbying for [a] coal loader in Newcastle.
It seems that Tinkler may have form in Queensland as well. At least two companies linked to him gave gifts to the Liberal National Party during the 2012 State election period: International Ports and Logistics Ltd ($22,500 contribution) and Boardwalk Resources Pty Ltd  ($22,500 donation).

The LNP return to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (First Half 2012) gave the address for both companies as 366 Queen Street Brisbane Qld 4000. International Ports and Logistics used the following address on its own return for the same donation: C8 The Boardwalk Newcastle 2300. Aimee Hyde, Corporate Counsel at Tinkler Group from April 2011, completed the form giving the date of the donation as 21 March 2012, three days before the State election.

Tinkler apparently put up the Queen Street property for sale later that year. The address was also given to the Australian Electoral Commission for a Tinkler Group donation ($22,000) recorded on the Liberal Party of Australia disclosure form for 2010-11. However, the main AEC page shows the address at The Boardwalk.

Apparently the Tinkler Group website was taken down in December 2012, and his company Queen Street Capital was being wound up.

A tangled web indeed. Strange how everything and everyone is connected in this shadowy world. One of Boardwalk Resources’ directors is Peter Kane who is Group Managing Director of Guildford Coal. There’s more about Guildford in Townsville Money Trail: Political Donors in Queensland's Deep North.

Nathan Tinkler and his group seem to be centred in Singapore of late. Let’s hope he’s read the various laws on foreign political contributions to Australian political parties. Crikey is still following his every move:

The Boardwalk #2

During research into Tinkler’s donations, Boardwalk Marine Investments popped up as a donor in Queensland. It appears to be a quite separate entity. In May 2012 it gave $10,000 to Forward Brisbane Leadership (FBL) , an associated entity of the Liberal National Party of Queensland. This campaign, slush fund was closed after corruption allegations against the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

Another business, BMI Group Pty Ltd, also donated $6,200 to FBL in 2011-12, on top of $14,400 given in 2010-11. Both gave the same address: PO Box 2117 Fortitude Valley QLD 4006. They shared more than a post box. They had the same company accountant. I won’t give her name as she is not a public figure like Aimee Hyde. Hyde was mentioned at the ICAC hearings but without “suggesting she did anything wrong”.

The wonderfully named Straddy Services Pty Ltd, gave FBL $4000 in February 2012. No prize for guessing that it had the same accountant and same address.

The LNP reported a fundraising gift of $1,100 on 21 October 2013 from Bemcove Pty Ltd, also at the Fortitude Valley PO Box 2117. According to BMI’s website, Bemcove is the former name of one of its facilities now known as Acacia Ridge.

BMI says it is ‘at the forefront of both the property development and waste management industries’. Apart from the address, its only apparent connection with Boardwalk Marine Investments is their common initials. Straddy Services has no web presence except an address, 11 Tramican St Point Lookout QLD 4183, and brief company info. You have to pay to get more, if it exists.

The Big Picture

On the release of CMC’s 2012 report, Dr Rebecca Denning, its Director of Applied Research and Evaluation,
“explained that the vast majority of financing for political parties and candidates came from private sources, adding that this was considered to be a legitimate exercise of political association and expression.

Broadly, she said an effective regulatory framework aimed to reduce the risk of corruption and increase the transparency and integrity of the political process, as well as the accountability of and equity between key participants”.
To test if the framework is working well, try a search of the AEC and ECQ returns for the Free Enterprise Foundation. ICAC has barely scratched the surface.

Or take a look at Victoria where the laws are very loose. The National Party receives much of its funding through associated entities such as Doogary Pty Ltd and Pilliwinks Pty. Ltd. The AEC has investigated the nature of these ‘trusts’ and concluded that they “are not required to lodge associated entity financial disclosure returns”. Without such a return the $55,000 donation by Boardwalk Resources to the Free Enterprise Foundation in 2010-11 would have remained buried.

A quick check shows that the National Party of Australia (Victoria) received $788,030 from Doogary in 2010-11, an election year in Victoria. The Age reported that it was $200,000. That’s a lot of money if it is just returns on their investments. Two of Doogary's and Pilliwinks' directors are former National Party parliamentarians, Ron Best and Bill Baxter. Baxter is a former Victorian Minister for Roads and Ports and the current Victorian State President of The Nationals.

You be the judge!

The boardwalk examples from either side of the border raise many concerns including:
  • Who is making political donations in Australia?
  • Are many gifts really political donations that exceed the legal caps?
  • Are some single donors using multiple channels to cover their tracks?
  • How many contributors are using intermediaries to disguise their gifts?
  • Is anyone apart from corruption commissions monitoring the laws? Is anyone enforcing them?
  • Are the laws adequate to ensure transparency, honesty, accountability and enforcement?

For citizen journalist sleuths, the best places to start are:

The Australian Electoral Commission: Periodic Disclosures

Electoral Commission of Queensland: Funding and Disclosures

Electoral Funding Authority (NSW): Disclosures

This post is part of a series about political donations in Australia:

Foundation 51's Cosy Links with the Country Liberal Party

Dare We Call it Whitehousegate

In search of slush funds and off-books moneys in the NSW Liberal Party

Townsville Money Trail: Political Donors in Queensland's Deep North

Nathan Tinkler & Co: Political Donors Anonymous

[NB: No inference of wrongdoing should be drawn from any of this information. It has been double-checked and cross-checked where feasible. If there are any errors please leave a comment or contact the author.]

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Townsville Money Trail: Political Donors in Queensland's Deep North

Money to burn

It is easy to guess why cigarette company Phillip Morris gave the Liberal and National parties more than $100,000 before the 2013 Federal election. But why do other companies and business people make political donations of thousands of dollars? Often these gifts are given to individual candidates or group campaigns including those at local government level.

My political donations homework has shifted to our deep north in a desperate but futile attempt to get away from New South Wales corruption scandals. [I’ve been studying ‘Investigative Journalism in the Digital Age’, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by the Knight Center for Journalism.]


There are six State electorates in the region: Burdekin, Hinchinbrook, Mundingburra, Thuringowa, Townsville and Whitsunday. The Liberal National Party holds all these seats, as you would expect having won 78 out of 89 at the Queensland 2012 State election. It also holds the Federal seat of Herbert, which covers Townsville. The only real Australian Labor Party outpost is at local government level where Councillor Jenny Hill is mayor of the City of Townsville.

The money trail

David Crisafulli. Photo courtesy Engineers Australia Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Digging started with Mundingburra where the sitting member, David Crisafulli, is also the Minister for Local Government, Community Recovery and Resilience in Premier Campbell Newman’s team. He is a former Townsville city councillor and was eyeing the mayor’s position before gaining pre-selection for the State seat.

Crisafulli’s 2012 candidate disclosure form for the Electoral Commission of Queensland looks pretty dull at first glance. You’d expect the odd coal mining company and the like to be on the donor list. However, there is an outlier in the data, as they call it in the IJ game. One of the donors, Humanis, has a Melbourne address and a fair bit of activity on the form. A quick search revealed that it is now known as Bluestone Global Limited (BGL) ‘an international recruitment, professional placement and labour hire specialist’.

Humanis also contributed $5000 to the unsuccessful 2012 Townsville mayoral campaign of Dale Last, a member of the LNP who was part of the Townsville First group.

Persons of interest

So what is the connection? Who stumped up the money and why?

BGL has many interests in Queensland. Rabieh Krayem was a director of Humanis Group at the time, and CEO and Managing Director from April 2011 to May 2013. He has also served as a director of Port of Townsville Ltd from 1 October 2009 to 30 September 2012.

However, he is not the only or most intriguing Humanis person of interest. Their chairman from 2 May 2011 to 6 September 2012 was Craig Anthony Ransley. Craig is the director of ResCo Services Pty Limited, a company he founded that is now part of the BGL group. Incidentally, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, Rabieh Krayem has been Managing Director of ResCo Services Pty Limited since April 2011.

South of the border

Everything seems to be connected these days, especially in the world of business and politics. The connection with Craig Ransley leads us to back to NSW and the investigations of ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption).

Ransley and his associate Andrew Poole were “found corrupt” for their involvement with the Doyles Creek Mine, infamous for the roles of NSW Labor Party ministers Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid.

No brownie points for guessing Poole’s business link:
International recruitment specialist Bluestone Global Limited (ASX: BUE) today announced that non-executive director Andrew Poole has requested leave of absence from his duties, following a current public inquiry of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Spot the philanthropist

So it is not clear which individual may have been responsible for initiating the donations to David Crisafulli and Dale Last. But there is another clue hidden in the original document of this money trail. Another Crisafulli donor was Guildford Coal Ltd of Newcastle. One of the transaction dates on Crisafulli’s disclosure form, 16 February 2012, was common to both Humanis and Guildford.

At the time Craig Ransley was a non-executive director of Guildford, having been its founder and chairman. Former Liberal Party Federal MP for Herbert, Peter Lindsay, was the chairman in 2012. Former Labor Federal MP for Maribyrnong, Alan Griffiths, currently holds that position. Just to square the circle, former Labor mayor of Townsville, Tony Mooney, is also a director of Guildford Coal. It should be noted that there have been no allegations of corruption against Guildford at ICAC.

Guildford Coal also donated $5000 to the conservative Katter Australia Party on 20 March 2012, just four days before the State election. So did Craig Ransley, on the same day in fact. Both of these donations, plus the one to Townsville First for Dale Last, were formally disclosed by the donors. However, Humanis does not appear to have submitted a form for its Crisafulli donation. Townsville First’s group return does not list Humanis as a donor.

On the face of it, there were a number of breaches of the legal requirements for disclosure of political donations.

Townsville tracks

The business of governing is a complex one, as this Guildford’s website report about their Hughenden Project shows:
Guildford signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Port of Townsville Limited (POTL) in December 2010, to conduct a feasibility study on the logistics of exporting coal through Townsville Port via the Eastern Access Rail Corridor and utilising the Townsville State Development Area.
John Anderson of the Townsville Bulletin asked in March this year:
HAS anyone heard of from Mr Craig Ransley lately?

...Mr Ransley lived in Townsville for a time while trying to shore up coal contracts around Hughenden.

Coal boss hard to find
There is another link in these machinations. In May 2013 the Magpie’s Nest blog quoted an article from the Townsville Bulletin by Tony Raggart:
'In another development last year, it was revealed the Obeid Corporation donated to the campaign of Labor federal candidate Tony Mooney. Mr Mooney, a former mayor of Townsville, is Guildford's stakeholder relations general manager. The Electoral Commission of Queensland return specifically named Mr Mooney as a beneficiary of a $5000 donation.

Mr Mooney said he had no idea why the Obeid Corporation would have named him in the return.'
The story is no longer online but the newspaper image on the blog is legible and the ECQ return by Obeid Corporation is still available. The Australian Labor Party (State of Queensland) return for the Second Half 2010 does show a $5000 donation from Obeid Corporation.

Townsville Bulletin 11 May 2013 - Image courtesy Magpie's Nest 

Accountability - not just following the money

It is a pity that the Queensland government has legislated to increase the level at which political donations must be publicly disclosed from $1000 to $12,400. They are just trying to take all the fun out of Investigative Journalism 101. Not to forget the chance of more political accountability that could come with a rigorous donations reporting system.

The upside of this change to political transparency is that Queenslanders might get real enforcement of the disclosure laws in future. Under the Electoral Act 1992, as it applied in 2012, penalties started at approximately $2200. However, no evidence of such penalties actually being applied was unearthed along the trail. I received this response to my enquiry from the ECQ Funding & Disclosure Unit:
In relation to the 2012 Queensland State general election, the Commission currently has not engaged in court proceedings to enforce compliance with funding and disclosure provision.

As this compliance regime remains in progress, the Commission cannot comment further on individual matters ongoing or under review.
Unless we have real transparency, accountability and enforcement, the money might as well be given in plain packages like the bad of days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's brown paper bags.
This post is part of a series about political donations in Australia:

Foundation 51's Cosy Links with the Country Liberal Party

Dare We Call it Whitehousegate

In search of slush funds and off-books moneys in the NSW Liberal Party

Townsville Money Trail: Political Donors in Queensland's Deep North

Nathan Tinkler & Co: Political Donors Anonymous

[NB: No inference of wrongdoing should be drawn from any of this information. It has been double-checked and cross-checked where feasible. If there are any errors please leave a comment or contact the author.]

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