The federal Liberal MP Stuart Robert told a lobbyist and potential donor not to donate to colleague Angus Taylor’s fundraising group as it would need to be declared and “it will hurt you”, emails have revealed.
Robert was sent an email from his friend David Milo, the chief executive of lobby group Synergy 360, inquiring about an invitation he had received to join the Hume Forum, “the official supporters’ network of federal minister and member for Hume, Angus Taylor”.
In the invitation to join the forum, Taylor was described as “a shining light in Australian politics – and a rising star of the conservative movement”.
In a June 2018 email to a private Gmail address, first reported by the Nine newspapers, Milo wrote: “Stu, Is this something we should consider joining?”
Just over an hour later on the same day the email was sent, Robert replied: “Nope. It will be declared and it will hurt you.” He signed off “Hon Stuart Robert MP”. Milo responded: “Ack. Many thanks.”
Guardian Australia asked Robert, one of the LNP’s most proficient fundraisers, for comment, including why he would advise someone against making such a donation to the Liberal party, apparently because of the requirement to declare it, what he meant by “it will hurt you” and why he used an anonymous email address and not his official parliament address.
Robert did not address those specific questions.
Bill Shorten recently ordered an investigation into contracts awarded in the government services portfolio after Nine newspapers reported allegations Robert had provided private advice to a lobbying firm looking for government contracts and access to decision-makers. Robert has repeatedly rejected the allegations.
Late last week, Shorten announced Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency would be establishing a joint review into what he called “the Synergy 360 lobbying scandal”.
Shorten used parliamentary privilege to layout a timetable for $274m in contracts awarded to Infosys, a long-term client of Synergy 360, to upgrade payments software in human services in what is called the ECE project.
Shorten said in parliament the timeline for the ECE project was as follows:
2 October 2018: the ECE tender opened – three companies including Infosys were shortlisted.
29 May 2019: the member for Fadden was appointed minister for human services and the NDIS.
26 June 2019: leaked emails reveal the minister met Infosys and his good friend Milo, a paid consultant to Infosys, in Sydney.
2 July 2019: final valuation was submitted – negotiations on value and period of contract continued for another four months.
8 November 2019: Infosys was awarded the first of four contracts valued at $18m.
19 November 2019: the minister met Infosys.
30 December 2019: the minister met his friend Milo on the Gold Coast, which triggered an email from Milo saying “minister gave insights on progress of Infosys and future opportunities”.
1 February 2020: the minister was guest speaker at an Infosys conference at Melbourne Park on the afternoon of the Australian Open tennis finals.
1 July 2020: Infosys was awarded a further $142m contract.
Shorten told parliament on Thursday: “At the same time, wheels start to come off the project. It has to be overhauled and one of the unsuccessful tenderers is called in to resuscitate the project.”
Robert, the former government services minister, has rejected the “implied imputation” that he had influenced procurement, declaring he had “zero involvement” and that departmental procurement was conducted with the “highest levels of probity”.
Robert’s spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “I refer you to Mr Robert’s statements in parliament where he rejects the imputations in the strongest possible language. Mr Robert looks forward to the outcome of what should be a short review of departmental procurement processes, which were always conducted independent of the minister and overseen by strict probity guidelines.”
The inquiry is ongoing.
• This article was amended on 6 December 2022 to acknowledge that the email exchange about the Hume Forum had previously been reported elsewhere.