The attorney general’s department has written to the former foreign minister Julie Bishop seeking “clarification” of her role at collapsed finance group Greensill Capital when approaching the Morrison government on behalf of the company last year.
Bishop personally contacted the office of the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to arrange a phone meeting between Greensill and treasury officials that took place on 2 April last year, parliament heard last week.
Her application for registration as a lobbyist was lodged with the attorney general’s department eight days after the meeting, on 10 April, and became effective on 14 April.
Lobbyists are generally required to register with the department, but there is an exception for people directly employed by companies. It is unclear whether Bishop was employed directly by Greensill or paid through her company Julie Bishop & Partners.
Greensill Capital, which was founded by Bundaberg sugar farmer Lex Greensill, collapsed in April this year owing $4.9bn, putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs at companies that borrowed money from it.
In response to questions on notice posed by Labor MP Murray Watt, tabled on Thursday, the attorney general’s department said it understood that Bishop was “appointed as Greensill Capital’s Asia Pacific chair in December 2019 and as a ‘special adviser’ to the company (via her firm Julie Bishop & Partners) in January 2020”.
“Based on available information about Ms Bishop’s roles with or on behalf of Greensill Capital, the department has not formed the view that Ms Bishop’s activities prior to 10 April 2020, when her registration under the code was lodged, were subject to the code,” it said.
“The acting secretary of the department, Mr Iain Anderson, has written to Ms Bishop to seek clarification about the nature of her role with Greensill prior to her registration under the code being lodged.”
However, the department’s answer is inconsistent with information released about her appointment by Greensill Capital itself following her appointment, which said Bishop was employed in both roles at once.
In a 16 January 2020 press release, the company said that Bishop was appointed as both a “senior adviser via her consulting firm Julie Bishop & Partners” and “chair of Greensill Asia Pacific” on the same day, 1 December 2019.
The press release described her as “chair of Greensill Asia Pacific”, and Bishop was not recorded in official company records as a director of the parent company of the group, Greensill Capital Pty Ltd – a role which would have also made her exempt.
Labor’s industry spokesman Ed Husic said further clarification around “what Julie Bishop did on behalf of Greensill” was needed.
“We do know that Julie Bishop used her government contacts to introduce Greensill to some of the highest political offices in Australia and there should be transparency around these meetings,” he said.
“There have been parliamentary inquiries in the UK into the dealings of former prime minister David Cameron on behalf of Greensill. The Coalition should be asking similar questions.”
Bishop has been contacted for comment.
Greensill loaned money to companies, including the owner of the Whyalla steel mill, GFG Alliance, through a complex and controversial arrangement known as “supply chain finance”.
Lex Greensill met with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, in November 2019, to pitch the idea as a way to pay the commonwealth’s 150,000 public servants.
Greensill also employed the former British prime minister, David Cameron, as a lobbyist, sparking a political stoush and multiple official inquiries in the UK.
As Guardian Australia has reported, Cameron also travelled to Australia in 2018 or 2019 to meet with a central figure in Greensill’s collapse, insurance executive Greg Brereton.