Government Services minister Bill Shorten on Thursday warned of “corruption” when ordering a review of the government contracts linked to a lobbying and consulting firm that allegedly received secret advice from former minister Stuart Robert.
The Canberra firm, Synergy 360, reportedly helped multinational tech companies win lucrative government contracts after liaising with Mr Robert, and won its own smaller contracts from Services Australia around the time he held the Services portfolio in 2019.
InnovationAus.com is not suggesting Mr Robert was employed by Synergy 360 or was paid for his advice and assistance, or had any involvement in awarding contracts to the company.
Services Australia declined to provide details on the two contracts it awarded Milo Consulting (trading as Synergy 360) in 2019.
The agency awarded the first, a one-month $28,875 contract for an identity project, days before Mr Robert took the portfolio when the Coalition was re-elected in May 2019.
The second, a two-month $79,585 contract for “labour hire” was awarded in September 2019.
A spokesperson for Services Australia on Thursday declined to provide a response to written questions about the contracts from InnovationAus.com, citing the review ordered by Bill Shorten earlier in the day.
Mr Shorten ordered the review based on reports by the Nine newspapers that Mr Robert had secretly provided advice to a Synergy 360 as the firm was helping “large companies win lucrative government contracts and obtain access to senior Coalition politicians”.
The newspaper revealed leaked emails that showed Mr Robert, a friend and former business partner of one of the major shareholders of Synergy 360, John Margerison, used his status to help the company sign clients. Mr Robert also vouched for the Synergy 360 majority shareholder, David Milo.
Mr Robert was assisting Synergy 360 at the same time Mr Margerison was running the Queensland MP’s political fundraising vehicle, according to the report.
Synergy 360 client Infosys won major Centrelink contracts worth more than $100 million at the time Mr Robert was overseeing Centrelink between May 2019 and 2021, according to the newspaper, which stressed there is no suggestion Mr Robert had any involvement in awarding the contracts to Infosys.
Mr Robert also attended a meeting with the Synergy 360 owners and representatives from American tech giant Unisys in 2017, who later arranged a lunch with Mr Robert in Parliament House through Synergy 360, according to the Nine report.
Synergy 360 is not listed on the Australian Register of Lobbyists.
Mr Robert has rejected the suggestion he helped Synergy 360 and its clients win contracts in the federal government as a “load of rubbish”.
During Question Time on Thursday, Mr Shorten announced he had ordered government agencies to review the contracts linked to Synergy 360.
“The leaked emails reveal that synergy 360 was lobbying for corporations in relation to government contracts, including in the portfolios I’m now responsible for,” he told Parliament.
“Therefore, this morning, I’ve asked the CEO of Services Australia and the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency to immediately and thoroughly investigate any of the contracts awarded to these companies and individuals named in these reports to assure me and the Australian people that the process was entirely aboveboard and appropriate.”
Mr Shorten said MPs should “work for your constituents, not your former business partners” and companies engaging in lobbying must be registered.
“But most importantly, using public office as a politician to enrich your private friends and mates, including political donors is not a shade of grey,” Mr Shorten said.
“Whether you are a backbencher or a frontbencher is not a defence. If and when public office… has been used to enrich private mates, it is corruption.”
Mr Robert later told Parliament he rejected the “accusations and the innuendo” from both the Nine newspapers and Mr Shorten.
He noted he was a backbencher at the time of the leaked emails with no responsibility for procurements, and that he and all other ministers understand the process for procurement.
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