Travel rorts and an AFP investigation of former minister Stuart Robert

Recently resigned federal minister Stuart Robert spent over $1600 of public funds on a trip to a North Queensland mine in which he had recently bought shares.

The Australian reported this morning that Robert made travel allowance claims in 2013 for flights and accommodation from Brisbane to Townsville and return, for a trip in which he visited the opening of the Mt Carlton Mine owned by Evolution Mining.

Robert had no official capacity for the visit, with his portfolio at the time being the ministry for defence, science technology and personnel.

Yesterday it was revealed that Australian Federal Police will become involved in an investigation into the now-infamous China trip taken by the former Turnbull government minister for Human Services and Veteran affairs.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has referred the case to the AFP with a request to investigate whether Robert intended to gain any kind of benefit from his visit to China.

The former minister maintained that he was not aware of his indirect interest in Nimrod Resources when he took the trip to China in August 2014 with Nimrod Resources chairman Paul Marks.

Paul Marks is also a former non-excecutive director of Evolution Mining, who stood down in 2013.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed in a statement that an internal investigation had found that Robert had shares in Metallum Holdings Pty Ltd, just as did Marks.

“Mr Robert advised (the secretary of my department) Dr (Martin) Parkinson that at the time he travelled to Beijing in August 2014 he did not believe that he had any interest in or connection to Mr Paul Marks’ company, Nimrod Resources,” the PM said.

“In the course of assisting the investigation, Mr Robert advised Dr Parkinson that on checking his records he had become aware that shares in Metallum Holdings Pty Ltd, a company in which Mr Marks was also a shareholder, had been allocated to his trustee some time before the visit to Beijing.

“He told Dr Parkinson that this had been done without his knowledge. He further advised Dr Parkinson that he believed Metallum Holdings Pty Ltd had an interest in Nimrod Resources.

“Mr Robert recognised that this connection would create the impression that at the time he went to Beijing he had something personally to gain from the Nimrod Resources project.

“As a result, Mr Robert has asked me not to consider him in the pending reshuffle of the ministry. I thank him for his service as a minister and for his candid co-operation with Dr Parkinson in his inquiry.

“Dr Parkinson concluded that Mr Robert had acted inconsistently with the Statement of Ministerial Standards, although he accepts that Mr Robert may not have intended to do so.”

Dreyfus argued in a letter to AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin that Robert’s conduct in his trip to China "may also have involved serious criminality" and constituted a breach of section 142.2 of the criminal code, “abuse of public office”.

"It is clear that Mr Robert sought to benefit Mr Marks, a significant Liberal donor, but the revelation that Mr Robert himself stood to gain financially through his shareholdings in a company related to Nimrod is even more serious," Dreyfus wrote.

"The Prime Minister has been careful to say only that this created an 'impression' that Mr Robert stood to gain personally from his trip.

"Whether he intended to do so now merits a proper police investigation."

Nimrod Resources chairman Paul Marks donated $500,000 to the Liberal Party in 2012/13, the largest donation from any mining company to a political party.

The next largest donation to the Liberal Party by a resources company was Santos with $185,000.

Early last year Robert, then defence minister, introduced Marks to then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Roberts said he had held discussions with Marks about a joint venture between Nimrod and a Chinese government owned company in developing Nimrod’s tenements around Bourke NSW.

Marks signed a deal for that joint venture in front of Tony Abbott and Chinese president Xi Jinping in November 2014.

Abbott was questioned over his use of a RAAF jet to travel to Marks’ birthday party in Melbourne on March 22, 2015.

The Herald Sun identified at the time that Marks’ birthday was actually three months earlier than the party attended by Tony Abbott.

 

[Correction: The story formerly stated that the donation from Nimrod Resources was made last year.]

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