Stuart Robert is a member of the Liberal Party and has served as the Federal MP for the seat of Fadden since 2007. Mr. Robert has held various department portfolios, having served as the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business ('21-'22), Minister for Government Services ('19-'21), Minister for National Disability Insurance scheme ('19-'21), Assistant Minister to the Treasurer ('18-'19), Minister for Human Services ('15-'16) and Assistant Minister for Defence ('13-15'), before retiring from parliament in May of 2023. Mr. Robert has been described as "close friends" with the CEO of the lobbying Group, Synergy 360, David Milo.
The "Synergy 360 Lobbying Scandal"
Mr. Milo initially received an invitation to attend the forum before asking Mr. Robert via email in June 2018 “Stu, Is this something we should consider joining?” Mr. Robert replied just over an hour later that day replying: "Nope. It will be declared and it will hurt you.” Mr. Milo then responded with: “Ack. Many thanks.”
This email revelation follows Bill Shorten, present Minister for Government Services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, ordering an investigation into contracts awarded by the former government after media reports revealed that Mr. Robert had given private advice to Synergy 360 who were seeking access to government decision-makers and government contracts. Mr. Shorten referred to the media reports and announced the investigation in parliament on the 24th of November:
"The leaked emails reveal that Synergy 360 was lobbying corporations in relation to lucrative government contracts, including in the portfolios I am now responsible for; therefore, this morning I have asked the CEO of Services Australia and the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency to immediately and thoroughly investigate any of the contracts awarded to these companies and individuals named in these reports to assure me and the Australian people that the process was entirely above board and appropriate. In conclusion, I want to say to Australians listening to this: the Albanese government believes the job of an MP is to work for their constituents, not their former business partners. Further, we believe when there is clear lobbying, as revealed by the emails, companies are required to be on the lobbyist register; this is not an option. But most importantly, using public office as a politician to enrich your private friends and mates, including political donors, is not a shade of grey. Whether you are a backbencher or a frontbencher is not an offence. If and when public office is being used to enrich private mates; it is corruption."
[Mr. Shorten's speech regarding the Synergy 360 Lobbying begins at 01:43]
Mr. Robert outright rejected Mr. Shorten's "accusations" and "innuendo." The Guardian has contacted Mr. Robert with questions regarding the email exchange but had not received a response to their specific questions at time of writing. A spokesperson for Mr. Robert responded to The Guardian stating:
“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.”
In June of 2023 the joint committee of public accounts and audit released a signed statement from Anthony Daly. Mr. Daly was the former personal and business partner of Synergy 360 former executive director, Kham Xaysavanh. In his statement, Mr. Daly alleged that Mr. Milo had suggested a structure designed to allow Mr. Robert to profit from millions of dollars worth of government contracts, including allegedly directing Centrelink leases towards properties owned by a colleague, which would then be redirected back to Mr. Robert.
The structure involved a trust being established where Synergy 360 would deposit funds. Mr. Robert would then receive payments including a 1% ‘success fee’ derived from the value of any project and a monthly retainer of between $10,000 to $20,000.
In his statement, Mr. Daly’s described the arrangement:
“Ultimately, this arrangement was designed to facilitate the flow of funds through United Marketing and onward to Stuart Robert…The main objective of this arrangement was to secure Stuart Robert’s involvement and support in acquiring federal government contracts…Stuart Robert’s political influence and connections within the government sector were deemed crucial in ensuring favourable outcomes.”
Mr. Milo, Mr. Robert and Ms Xaysavanh have all denied the accusation that Mr. Robert was assisting Synergy 360 in acquiring federal contracts, with Mr. Robert rejecting the allegation in “the strongest possible terms” and stating there was “zero evidence” in the submitted statement:
“I reject completely all of [Daly’s] allegations in the strongest possible terms and I note that he had only made them under privilege where he is immune from legal consequence…I note he has provided zero evidence, simply made wild allegations under privilege. [It is] extraordinary that a committee would release as such with zero evidence…I note that every contract has been investigated fully by the Watt review [into procurement at Services Australia and the NDIA] and no misconduct was found…I reiterate what I have said numerous times. At no time have I ever been paid for any advice or guidance in any form. At no time did I lobby to assist any firm in such a manner…Mr Daly’s submission with zero evidence and wild accusations is rejected in its entirety, simply not believable and is outrageous.”