Parakeelia: The (almost) perfect Liberal Party scam

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Every Federal Liberal MP pays Liberal Party "software" company $2,500, but that doesn't come close to covering all its revenue — so where does the rest come from? Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones investigates.

PARAKEELIA. Nice name.

Before 1989 there was only one:

parakeelia—any of several herbs usually of the genus Calandrinia, esp. C. balonensis and C. polyandra, that have thick, succulent leaves and occur in arid, inland Australia.

But in 1989 a second Parakeelia was formed. This Parakeelia was established in 1989 by former Melbourne mayor and all round Liberal Party bon vivant Ron Walker as a wholly Liberal Party-owned software development company.

This Parakeelia is more succulent than its namesake. This Parakeelia is the (almost) perfect Liberal scam.

This Parakeelia just donated $500,000 to the Liberal Party. 

Parakeelia supposedly provides electorate "software" to Liberal MPs, data collection systems designed to enable the MPs to collect and dissect the detail of their electorate – who votes what and who does what – so campaign funds can be directed to maximise impact.

Fair enough. Everyone does it.

Labor uses an ostensibly similar program called Campaign Central, developed by software company Magenta Linus.

Back in 2007, Eric Abetz reckoned Magenta Linus was a Labor front because it was owned by a couple of former Labor staffers.

He might have been right — but Magenta Linus is not owned by the Labor Party.

This last week has seen a string of revelations that seem to show the Libs rorted taxpayers out $1,000 per MP in hard cold cash and used taxpayer-funded Liberal staffers to run "seminars" to make sure everyone toed the line.

Back in October 2015, Parakeelia director Brian Loughnane signed the 2014 to 2015 financial year Associated Entity Disclosure Form. He said the outfit grossed $932,234.

Of this, $43,524 was received from the Australian Taxation Office. No reason was given for the ATO’s contribution. If it was a refund, it would imply Parakeelia had paid tax at some time, but this is a Liberal Party operation and, if they hate anything, it is paying tax.

Deducting the ATO amount leaves gross revenue of $888,710.

Parakeelia also declared $30,000 from the NSW and Victorian Liberal parties.

Presumably, the $15,000 declared as from each of these was service fees but, if so, where is the recorded revenue for the other state and territory branches?

No other revenue sources were declared, so presumably they were all under the $12,500 declaration threshold.

That is, the rest of the revenue, all $858,710, was received in amounts of less than $12,400.

Thanks to Fairfax, it is known Liberal MPs were "asked" to pay an annual fee to Parakeelia of $2,500 per annum for software access, forcing each member to chip in an additional $1,000 above the $1,500 approved allowance:

'... nearly all Liberal MPs pay a company, Parakeelia Pty Ltd, $2500 a year to use "Feedback" software, money understood to come from their taxpayer-funded office allowances.'

Federally there are 64 Liberals in the House of Reps and 27 in the Senate, 91 in all. 91x $2,500 = $227,500. That’s a $662,210 shortfall from the $887,000 non-tax gross revenue.

Where did this money come from?

Let's instead assume every other Lib MP in the country, every lower and upper house MP in every state and territory – all 272 of them – each chipped in.

That would be an average contribution of $2,430 each.

I’m not sure of the software allowance enjoyed by non-Federal MPs, but if the Feds get $1,500 the others probably get less.

So if Parakeelia’s revenue is only from MPs, every Lib MP in the country is spending over the limit.

Maybe there are other sources?

Back in 2007 there was a bit of a flurry across the ditch:

'The Liberal Party in Australia has become embroiled in a controversy across the Tasman, with revelations a company controlled by party's chiefs was paid almost $80,000 of New Zealand taxpayers' funds by their conservative counterparts.'

But there have been no disclosures of outside funding sources since.

And it is not debt funded. Parakeelia’s 2015 disclosure lists only one debt: $18,091 to WysWeb Pty Ltd — a shadowy operation that lives exclusively behind a Canberra PO Box.

And here we come to the – maybe – scary revenue stream.

Since the operation’s 1989 inception, Ron Walker has held 98 of the 100 issued shares as trustee for the Liberal Party.

This very private operation mines and sells constituent data. What data, exactly, is it mining? And who, exactly, is it selling it to? They won’t say.

All is behind a wall. Who runs it? Who maintains such a mountain of sensitive information on probably millions of constituents?

It would be very valuable to some, especially industry lobby groups looking to whip up apparent ground level campaigns to push their point. Think pokies for example. Or the mining tax.

We do know $500,000 of the $887,000 made its way to the Liberal Party.

Confusingly, Julie Bishop told the ABC:

“I am informed that the payments we make to the service provider don’t make a profit so they’re not donations and that the operations of this service provider are entirely legitimate.”

Having $500,000 left over from $887,000 seems like a very tidy profit.

It’s got to come from somewhere and there are only two possible revenue streams — Liberal MPs or others.

If it is exclusively Liberal MPs, they are all paying over their allowance.

If it is others, every Australian constituent has a right to know.

Good luck!

You can follow Ross Jones on Twitter @RPZJonesRoss is the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. 

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