By Luis Feliu
Richmond MP Justine Elliot has joined her federal Labor colleagues in calling for an investigation into National Party president Larry Anthony’s lobbying firm, which profits from big energy and mining firms.
Mr Anthony, the former MP for Richmond toppled by Mrs Elliot in 2004, hit national headlines recently when it was revealed his SAS Consulting Group acted for companies with major stakes in coal and gas, as his former colleagues in government considered major energy policy decisions.
The call for a probe into the alleged conflict of interest comes as prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced this week the ‘National Energy Guarantee’ policy, which the Greens says amounts to subsidies to the coal industry.
Labor has called for the investigation over what they say is a ‘clear conflict of interest’ while the Greens have urged for a major overhaul of the rules governing lobbying.
A Fairfax Media report has revealed Mr Anthony’s firm represented big energy companies such as Santos and Delta Electricity while the government debated important energy policy decisions, yet he is not an officially registered lobbyist.
Mr Anthony dismissed the report, telling the news group he was ‘not directly a lobbyist’ and didn’t ‘blend’ commercial and political interests
But Mrs Elliot said Mr Anthony had a ‘clear’ and ‘unacceptable’ conflict of interest as director of lobbying firm SAS Consulting Group and in his position as National Party president.
‘There must be a thorough investigation into all government contracts awarded to organisations represented by Mr Anthony’s lobbying firm,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘Another of SAS Consulting Group’s clients, Indue, runs the contentious cashless welfare card program.
‘Indue has already been awarded tens of millions of dollars’ worth of government contracts and a group of Nationals MPs is pushing for a major expansion of the welfare card program. Mr Anthony was also deputy chairman of Indue until 2013.
‘The Lobbying Code of Conduct stipulates that lobbyists must not be “a member of a state or federal political party executive”,’ Mrs Elliot said
The Fairfax Media report says Mr Anthony, a former Howard government minister, founded, co-owns and manages the consulting firm which promotes him as a president of the Nationals or ‘one half of the ruling Coalition government’.
The report said that as president, he sat on policy and campaign committees, chaired the national conference and acted as a director of the Nationals’ fundraising company.
Mr Anthony told Fairfax he did not need to appear on the federal lobbyist register, managed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which he removed himself from in 2015.
But Labor’s shadow special minister of state, Don Farrell, told media that the clear conflict of interest caused by Mr Anthony’s positions ‘did not simply disappear when he removed himself from the Australian government lobbyist’s register’.
Mrs Elliot agreed with Mr Farrell that the prime minister Turnbull and his deputy Barnaby Joyce must insist on a thorough investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet of all the government contracts awarded to organisations represented by the Mr Anthony’s firm.
NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said she will push for a major overhaul of the system governing lobbyists.
Mr Anthony is no stranger to controversy over his consulting (see our previous story at https://www.echo.net.au/2016/01/richmond-mp-not-happy-with-larrys-mining-interests/
He also courted headlines when the private firm he joined as director after leaving government, ABC Learning Centres, crashed spectacularly in 2008.
In an inquiry over the collapse, Mr Anthony, who had been a minister for children’s affairs, defended not disclosing in annual reports almost $13,000 a month in fees from a contractor for the childcare giant.