Services Aus to re-examine lobbying scandal

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Government Services minister Bill Shorten has ordered his agency to investigate its exposure to a lobbying scandal that allegedly sought to funnel kickbacks to former minister Stuart Robert for helping tech companies win government contracts.

Former Services Australia official Damien West was further embroiled in the scandal on Wednesday with the publication of allegations he assisted Canberra lobbying firm Synergy 360 with winning government contracts during several private meetings.

Mr West is the brother of the best friend of former Synergy 360 executive, Kham Xaysavanh, who set up the company in 2017.

According to explosive allegations published on Wednesday, Synergy 360 was structured in a way that facilitated the “flow of funds… onward to Stuart Robert” in exchange for his assistance with companies bidding for the government work.

Synergy 360 also won its own government contracts, including a $28,875 deal for a month’s work on an identity management project in 2019.

A procurement inquiry has heard this contract was awarded when Mr West was the relevant division head at Services Australia.

Mr West had previously received help from Ms Xaysavanh on both placing contractors in his previous role at ACMA and with his own resume before moving to Services Australia, according to leaked emails.

The more recent allegations made by Ms Xaysavanh’s ex-husband Anthony Daly include a claim that Mr West would collaborate with his former partner and fellow Synergy 360 owner David Milo on “joint projects”.

“Throughout 2018-2019, Damien West would frequently visit the family residence at and hold meetings with both Kham and [Synergy 360 co-owner] David Milo in the lounge room. These gatherings typically took place on Thursday or Friday evenings after Damien West finished his work for the day,” Mr Daly said.

“… Kham also mentioned to me that Damien West had the chance to personally meet with Stuart Robert, and it was also mentioned that Stuart Robert played a role in assisting Damien West securing a new position within the government,” Mr Daly’s statement said.

The identity contract was awarded under Mr West’s watch as the general manager of business integrity at Services Australia, senior Services Australia officials told the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit inquiry into the scandal in April, after examining dozens of procurements linked to Synergy 360.

Mr West has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The committee’s chair Julian Hill has said the timelines mean Synergy 360 may have been “providing advice to the department on identity management, [and] was also being paid both a retainer and a percentage fee for winning contracts by two of its clients, multinational firms Unisys and Infosys, in relation to identity management”.

Infosys last week told a subsequent inquiry by the committee it had paid Synergy 360 around $16 million in fees over several years, as it won multiple lucrative state and federal contracts.

Infosys has secured a series of federal contracts worth $274 million, according to current Government Services minister Bill Shorten.

On Wednesday, Mr Shorten said it is unclear where the fees paid to Synergy 360 ultimately went.

“I don’t know where the money’s gone and who received it,” Mr Shorten said.

“But it’s a serious issue. It’s a very, very serious issue.”

In light of the allegations, Mr Shorten said he has asked Services Australia to “advise what the next appropriate avenues are including implications for my agency, where a former public servant of the agency is referred to”.

Services Australia will also examine the allegation by Mr Daly that Mr Robert Stuart Robert directed Centrelink leases towards properties owned by one of the former minister’s political fundraisers, John Margerison, resulting in “favourable terms such as high rents and long lease durations”.

Mr Robert’s unexpected retirement from politics in May has triggered a by-election in his seat of Fadden in two weeks.

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