Friday, 9 June 2017

The optics are not good when it comes to the former Australian Minister for Trade and Investment

According to former Australian Minister for Trade and Investment & former Liberal MP for Goldstein Andrew Robb he is now in the business of providing "boutique investment, trade and major projects counsel for companies and organisation's globally, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region" through his company Andrew Robb Pty Ltd which is contactable "C/- Ellerston Capital". 

The website goes on to state that; Mr Robb is currently a Board Member of the Kidman cattle enterprise and the Network Ten television station, Chair of Asialink and CNSDose, and strategic advisor to Beef Innovations Australia, as well as a range of national and international businesses.

On 13 July 2016 the Australian Financial Review added an investment bank to the list:

Former trade minister Andrew Robb has joined investment bank Moelis & Company, where he will focus on deals with China.
Robb had announced this appointment on the same day.
By 2 September 2016 Landbridge Group Co Ltd, a Chinese corporation based in Rizhao, China, had informed the world that Mr. Robb was now a senior economic consultant with the group effective two months earlier. 

According to The Age on 6 June 2017:

The details of the consultancy have never been disclosed by Mr Ye or Mr Robb. Neither has the fact that Mr Robb is being used to spruik a Chinese Communist Party-backed trade park as part of his consultancy agreement.

Mr Ye frames much of his business activity, including the acquisition of the Port of Darwin lease, in terms of advancing Beijing's ambitious global trade and infrastructure project "One Belt, One Road".

The port's acquisition sparked a major controversy after then US president Barack Obama complained he hadn't been forewarned. The Defence Department and ASIO have vetted and cleared Landbridge's acquisition of the port. But the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, said the port deal might benefit Beijing's long-term strategic interests, and not necessarily those of Australia.

Mr Ye publicly announced on September 2 last year that Mr Robb had been appointed as a "high-level economic consultant". At the time, Mr Robb had already been working for Mr Ye for eight weeks, and had earned $146,000, including GST but minus expenses…..

In April 2016, less than three months before his consultancy agreement began, Mr Robb visited China with an Australian delegation in his capacity as Australia's trade envoy. The delegation was lobbied by Rizhao Communist Party deputy secretary Liu Xingtai to support the trade park as part of a "Two Countries, Two Parks" proposal.

"The proposal has been fully recognised and highly affirmed by the Shandong Province Party Committee, the Provincial Government and the Department of Commerce," the Chinese government statement said.

The statement also said deputy secretary Liu had met Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NT Chief Minister Adam Giles on April 14, 2016, and "proposed the co-operative model of Two Countries, Two Parks".  

Mr Ye placed Mr Robb on his payroll 10 weeks later.

Now if memory serves me correctly on 11 February 2016 Mr. Robb announced that he would not recontest his seat and the Australian Parliament was dissolved on 9 May 2016 ahead of the federal election.

As he was on his feet in the House of Representatives on 4 May and was listed as a sitting member in the Hansard of 5 May when the Budget was delivered after which all federal politicians then returned to their electorates, one can be forgiven for assuming that he did not officially retire until 9 May 2016 when the parliament was dissolved.

Twenty-three days later on 1 July 2016 (the day before the 2016 federal election day) Andrew Robb was on the Landbridge payroll according to ABC TV Four Corners 5 May 2017 transcript:

From that date, he's be[ing] paid $73,000 a month, or $880,000 a year, plus expenses.

This of course is in addition to his parliamentary superannuation lumpsum and/or periodic payments based on Commonwealth contributions equivalent to est. 15.4% of salary/wages per the Parliamentary Superannuation Act 2004 (Robb turned 65 years of age in August 2016) and remuneration for aforementioned directorships and other consultancy positions.

On 1 July Mr. Robb would have reached the end of any period in which he was eligible to receive a percentage of his base parliamentary salary as a departing MP not standing for re-election.

Looking at this timeline I wouldn't be surprised if the formal contract with Landbridge was not signed even earlier than 1 July, that the ink was probably still drying on this document when Robb told parliament of his intention to resign and stood down as trade and investment minister on 18 February 2016.

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