The Albanese government has ordered an investigation into contracts awarded in the government services portfolio, with Bill Shorten declaring parliamentarians using public office to “enrich private mates” is corruption.
The new probe follows a report in Nine Newspapers on Thursday alleging Stuart Robert had provided private advice to a lobbying firm pursuing lucrative government contracts and access to decision-makers, including the current opposition leader, Peter Dutton. Earlier in the day, a spokesperson said Robert “completely rejects all assertions made in the article”.
Shorten, the minister for government services, used question time to confirm he had asked the chief executives of Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency “to immediately and thoroughly investigate any of the contracts awarded to these companies and individuals named in these reports”.
“I want to say to Australians listening to this, the Albanese government believes the job of an MP is to work for constituents, not your former business partners,” Shorten told parliament.
The Labor frontbencher used parliamentary privilege to declare “using public office as a politician to enrich your private friends and mates, including political donors, is not a shade of grey”.
“When public office has been used enrich private mates, it is corruption.”
Nine Newspapers on Thursday published copies of leaked emails dating from 2017 and 2018. The news report said the private correspondence demonstrated efforts by Robert to assist a firm – Synergy 360 – to recruit new clients and facilitate access to key decision-makers in Canberra.
The report did not suggest Robert was an employee of Synergy 360 or received payment for his assistance. Shorten noted the report had identified John Margerison – a former business partner of Robert – owned one-third of Synergy 360.
Shorten told parliament the leaked emails revealed that Synergy 360 “was lobbying for corporations in relation to lucrative government contracts, including in the portfolios I’m now responsible for”.
Shorten noted Synergy 360 was not registered on the commonwealth’s lobbyist register, despite the report it had lobbied for “lucrative government contracts” on behalf of corporate clients.
Two of those reported clients – American tech giant Unisys and Indian multinational Infosys – are registered as clients of lobbying firm DPG Advisory Solutions.
The lobbying code of conduct defines lobbying as “communications with Australian government representatives in an effort to influence federal government decision-making” – including the awarding of a government contract.
Guardian Australia has contacted Synergy 360 to ask why it had not registered on the lobbying register.
A spokesperson for Infosys said the company engages Synergy 360 “to provide technical project personnel for several government projects and to help pursue and write proposals”.
“Infosys has engaged a registered lobbyist for engaging with government.”
Robert told parliament on Thursday he rejected outright “the accusations and the innuendo” in the Nine Newspapers report and in Shorten’s comments during question time concerning his time as a backbencher.
“With respect to when I was a minister years later, all ministers know the processes for procurement. All understand how procurement is run by the public service,” Robert said.