Wren's week: Paladin, Helloworld and other #ChumGate scams

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

The Paladin and Helloworld scandals are just the latest in a long line of Liberal Party cronyism and money laundering operations.

So, let’s have a look at a few of these and see if we can see a pattern.


Parakeelia is one of the oldest money laundries in the Liberal Party arsenal. What is it? It’s a sophisticated software platform owned by the Party. To simplify, it is a political CRM (customer relationship manager) that is used to track voters, their interests and voting intentions.

This in itself is not unusual. The Labor Party has something similar (although theirs is licensed from a third party provider). But what’s the rort you ask? Well, all Coalition MPs, senators and candidates are required to subscribe to Parakeelia. The subscription costs are in the order of $3,000 per year. For sitting MPs this is claimed as an entitlement from the taxpayers (us). So, what we are seeing is a mechanism to funnel taxpayers’ funds directly into the coffers of the Liberal Party. They could simply double the subscription charge and double the money we pay them.


The Indue cashless welfare card is another nice little earner. The intent of the card (essentially a debit card) is to control how welfare payments can be spent. For instance, an Indue card cannot be used to buy alcohol. The company that administers the card, Indue Pty Ltd is a corporation owned by Liberal and National Party members that in turn donates to the Liberal and National parties.

Indue charges the Government $12,000 per card to administer. Yes, you read that correctly — $12,000. That’s taxpayers’ money (our money) going to a cabal of former Liberal and National MPs, who also then donate a portion back to their respective parties. That’s taxpayers’ money going straight back to the Party and the Indue shareholder skimming their own cut off the top.

But wait, there’s more! In remote areas, there are often very few stores where cardholders can spend their welfare money. In some remote mining communities, the only stores that will accept the Indue card are owned by the mining companies themselves — often Liberal Party donors. They can hike prices up and syphon off the taxpayers’ funds every time a purchase is made. It’s the old company store trick, revamped for the digital age.


The detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island have proven another great opportunity for the Liberal Party to funnel taxpayers’ funds into their own pockets. Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield), Canstruct, Serco and, as we have learned this week, Paladin have all been involved. All these companies (and there are others) have close ties to the Liberal Party. They have all donated to the Party either in their own right, or their senior executives (often ex-Liberal Party executives) have done so directly.

So how does the laundry work? The Government pays these companies extraordinary amounts of money to manage these facilities — billions in fact. No doubt big chunks of that money are used to pay off local power-brokers and officials (especially on Manus Island – PNG). This is illegal of course under Australian law. It emerged during the week that Paladin pays its local staff on Manus a pittance and, even so, delivers virtually nothing. So where does the money go? We don’t know yet but remember dear readers, money transferred from one offshore account into another is not going to be picked up by Austrac — the Australian financial tracking agency. Someone has lots of our money stashed in the Cayman Islands.


Linked to Paladin are many other scandals. Most seem to have the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton at the core as he is responsible for the Nauru and Manus detention centres as well as Visa processing. This is another scandal being investigated as we speak, cash for Visas, which if proven will be straight out old-fashioned graft and corruption. If the allegations are proven true and Dutton is the recipient of the payments, then he should do gaol time. Time will tell.


And the final example we’ll cover is the still-developing Helloworld scandal. Helloworld is a publicly-listed retail and corporate travel agency run by honorary Federal Liberal Party Treasurer Andrew Burnes. You may recall Burnes from a past scandal in Victoria that involved then State Liberal Party Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who infamously rezoned some prime Port Melbourne land for Andrew and other Liberals, making them a motzah along the way. Another Liberal Party member, former (failed) Treasurer Joe Hockey is also a substantial shareholder in Helloworld.

The whole Helloworld saga started with a Channel 9 report that Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had not been invoiced by Helloworld for some personal family travel to Singapore, worth a little under $3,000. This led to him making an appearance before Senate Estimates. However, as his inquisitors tugged and pulled at the thread more emerged — much more.

It transpired that Cormann had called Burnes directly to make the booking. Cormann claimed to have given Burnes his credit card details and it simply hadn’t been charged. Cormann has since paid the gifted amount. The timing of the oversight could not have been worse as it was a only a week or so after Helloworld had won a major tender to supply travel services to the Government. This looks awfully like an in-kind payment for services rendered.

Further, it then emerged that shareholder Joe Hockey, now Australia’s Ambassador to the USA, had also actively lobbied on behalf of Helloworld to win the contract. This contract – worth $21 million – meant that Helloworld became almost the sole government travel booking agency. Jobs for mates, or chums in this case. The media has named this scandal “#ChumGate”.

But wait, there’s more! The Herald Sun apparently asked all 82 Liberal Party parliamentarians if they had ever received free travel from Helloworld. Only 14 said they had not. So this now appears to be systemic.

If the examples above provide a guideline, Helloworld:

  • is likely to make substantial donations to the Liberal Party;
  • will win substantial tenders;
  • will supply services at above-average rates, paid for with taxpayers’ dollars; and
  • in return, it will continue to provide free travel to key party influencers and donate more money back to the Liberal Party.

Have you seen the pattern yet? If you didn’t already think the Liberal Party was rotten to the core, hopefully, this week’s column will make you think a bit harder. And we didn't even start on some other laundering schemes such as Job Access, Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Clean Energy Fund or others. Is it time for the election yet?

You can follow John Wren on Twitter @JohnWren1950.

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