Stuart Robert still owes money to Australian taxpayers as well as an apology and an explanation as to why he should still hold office. Belinda Jones investigates.
No apology. No contrition. Just a very matter-of-fact tweet with an air of finality about it. Problem solved. Nothing to see here.
The previous Friday (5 October), Robert’s excessive claims for his home internet costs were exposed. Robert had only recently been resurrected to the Government front bench after being relegated to political purgatory by former PM Turnbull for a previous transgression — breaking the Ministerial code of conduct. Morrison and Robert not only share a house in Canberra when Parliament is sitting, but they are close friends who also share the Pentecostal faith.
Gold Coast locals are probably more familiar with Member for Fadden Stuart Robert than most other Australians. Robert, who somehow holds a master’s degree in information technology, is well-known around these parts for being a long-serving local member with a very chequered past, that seems to be ignored every time he’s up for re-election. Though, it is getting more and more difficult for the voters of Fadden to overlook his still mounting indiscretions.
It’s important to note that the safe Coalition Electoral Division of Fadden encompasses some of Queensland’s wealthiest suburbs, such as Sanctuary Cove, Hope Island and Sovereign Island, where most homes have million dollar super-yachts moored at the end of their private jetties. Robert, who actually lives in the electorate of Wright, is also well-known among locals for his ability to attract wealthy donors to his Liberal-National Party campaigns.
Robert is no stranger to controversy and his scandal-ridden political career highlights include:
- Robert delivers a speech to Parliament that had sections of it written by a lobbyist for Gold Coast property developer Sunland.
- Robert and his wife receive gold Rolexes, valued at $50,000 each from a Chinese billionaire businessman:
“Mr Robert has now confirmed that in 2013, Chinese businessman Li Ruipeng presented himself and other Coalition figures with Rolexes during a dinner attended by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Liberal Party donor Paul Marks.”
- Robert made a trip to China for personal business interests, he appeared at a signing ceremony for a mining deal between Australian company Nimrod Resources and a Chinese business. Robert’s Chinese hosts believed Robert was meeting with them in an official capacity.
- Robert resigns from the Turnbull Ministry when an internal investigation proves he breached the ministerial code of conduct during his 2014 China trip for Nimrod Resources.
- Robert bankrolled two former staffers who stood as so-called "independents" in the Gold Coast City Council election to the tune of $60,000.
- Robert’s elderly father said he was unaware his son had made him a company director and had used his elderly parents’ home address as the company’s "principal place of business". The private company in question had been winning Government contracts.
- In April, Robert receives free tickets to Sanctuary Cove Boat Show. Five days after attending the Boat Show, he advocates in Parliament for the removal of GST on "charter" yachts while denying support for calls to remove GST from feminine hygiene products.
- In October, reports surface of excessive residential internet expenses for Robert’s suburban Gold Coast home.
So, when Robert tweeted last Friday that he had repaid an amount, IA double-checked his figures.
Robert was elected as MP for Fadden in 2007 and assumed office on 24 November 2007. Robert served in both Abbott and Turnbull's ministries, holding various portfolios, including Minister for Human Services.
During his time as Minister for Human Services, Robert said:
The Government says to those: you are not just cheating and stealing from the Government; you are stealing from your neighbour; you are stealing from those genuinely in need. So today the Government announced the establishment of Taskforce Integrity, which will ensure taxpayer’s money only goes to those who genuinely need a helping hand. Taskforce Integrity is the largest welfare taskforce ever initiated by Government. It is led by the Department of Human Services. $47 million has been provided to it over the next four years.
That’s right, as Minister for Human Services; Robert announced the $47 million "Taskforce Integrity", to track down people who cheat the government.
In February 2016, Robert was quoted in Business Insider :
“While most people receiving welfare payments are honest and do the right thing, there is a small segment of the community who still think it is okay to cheat the system.”
While Robert was saying all this, he was claiming extraordinarily high internet bills from the taxpayer for his Gold Coast home. Robert claimed that he had "connectivity" issues despite his semi-rural home being located approximately 15km from the heart of Surfers Paradise. Robert’s neighbours report being "stunned" by the amount of data usage at their neighbour’s home.
Robert’s residential expenses claims from 11 December 2008 to 30 June 2018 have been calculated bu IA below. (He did not claim any internet expenses prior to December 2008.)
Robert claimed a total of $62,814.52 for his residential internet costs during this time. While these costs were consistently high, there was a noticeable and significant spike in Robert’s residential internet expenses in 2016. This spike prompted speculation about the reason for his high residential internet costs when reported in mainstream media earlier this month.
Around the same time, coincidentally, the church where Robert and his family worship, METRO Pentecostal Church on the Gold Coast, launched their Christian TV streaming service. Robert’s wife, Chantelle, is the People’s Pastor at this church; she and Robert are advertising that in 2019 they are hosting a trip to Israel at the cost of $5,600 per person.
While investigating what other politicians were spending on their residential internet claims around the same time as a basis for comparison, it seems that many politicians don’t claim their residential internet costs at all.
Robert’s residential internet claims were compared with two other MPs — Member for Cook Scott Morrison (who was Treasurer at the time) and Member for Mitchell Alex Hawke.
For the period Jan 2017 to June 2018, the three MPs claimed the following for residential internet:
- Alex Hawke: $2,243.16
- Stuart Robert: $28,487.23
- Scott Morrison: Nil
So, Robert owes a bit more coin than he has paid back to the Australian taxpayer:
$62,814.52 - $37,975.00 = $24,839.52
Alex Hawke’s residential internet costs of approximately $400 per quarter seem fair and reasonable. If Robert is allowed an average of $400 per quarter or, $1600 per annum, from January 2008 to Jun 2018, that makes a total of $16,800.
This is also a generous figure considering no claims were made by Robert for internet costs in 2008 until December of that year:
$24,839.52 - $16,800 = $8,039.52
It appears Stuart Robert still owes the Australian taxpayer $8,039.52.
And, a notice to show cause as to why he should still hold the position of Assistant Treasurer in the Morrison Government given his veritable litany of transgressions.
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