The consulting firm that gained secret advice from senior Liberal MP Stuart Robert denies it is a lobbyist and dismissed concerns from a client’s lawyer that it should be on the lobbyist register.
Leaked emails reveal the firm, Synergy 360, sought help from Robert at the same time it was telling people “NOT to use the L word!!” when it was advocating for companies seeking major contracts in Canberra.
With the government ordering a review of the contracts, the leaked cache of emails also reveals the firm sought work on a $1 billion visa outsourcing bid led by Scott Briggs, a close friend of former prime minister Scott Morrison.
Shadow assistant treasurer Stuart Robert in parliament on Thursday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Synergy 360, owned by Robert’s former business partner John Margerison and friend David Milo, sought to join forces with Briggs and his company, Pacific Blue Capital, in a pitch to collect a percentage of the revenue from the mammoth contract.
Concerns about the involvement of Robert and Synergy 360 triggered a row in federal parliament when Government Services Minister Bill Shorten ordered a review into contracts linked to Synergy 360 and warned against “corruption” when politicians tried to assist friends win government work.
Robert has denied helping Synergy 360 and its clients to win government work and denied any conflict of interest while he was a minister.
Independent MPs said the disclosures highlighted the need for a code of conduct for backbenchers.
The Attorney-General’s Department imposes rules on lobbyists to disclose their key staff and clients on a public register, but Synergy 360 told clients it did not need to register.
An executive at one of the firm’s clients, Unisys, raised the issue with a colleague in an email in August 2017 after learning that David Milo, Milo Consulting and Synergy 360 were not listed on the lobbyist register.
“I recommend we consider this and if necessary ask David whether he intends to register, and if not, why not,” the Unisys lawyer wrote.
Another Unisys executive then raised the issue with Synergy 360 by email, saying: “Are you guys on the Lobbyist Register for government lobbyist – our lawyer cannot see you.”
An executive at Synergy 360 replied that the company was not a lobbyist and instead was consulting “across the full spectrum of the capability lifecycle from definition to delivery” with government and commercial clients.
In a separate email about a different client in August 2017, the Synergy 360 executive wrote to Milo to say the word “lobbying” would not be used.
“Prior engagements have been in a lobbyist capacity and I told him NOT to use the “L” word!!” the executive wrote by email.
David Milo, CEO of Synergy 360.
The Attorney-General’s Department said it was considering the matter and that the rules meant people “must be registered” before talking to ministers, their staff or anyone in the public service on behalf of a third party.
“The code also places obligations on government representatives to only meet with registered third-party lobbyists and to report any breaches of the code by a lobbyist to the Attorney-General’s Department,” it said.
Milo said there was “no substance” to reports that Synergy 360 was a lobbying firm.
“We support any government review and continue to operate within the same stringent procurement policies that apply to all professional service providers,” he said.
Bill Shorten said “the job of an MP is to work for your constituents, not your former business partners”.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
But Shorten told parliament he had asked the peak services agencies to check the contracts linked to the lobbying by Synergy 360.
“We believe that when there is clear lobbying, as revealed by the emails, companies are required to be on the lobbyist’s register. This is not an option,” he told parliament.
“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 a defence. If and when public office has been used to enrich private mates, it is corruption.”
Robert interjected while Shorten was speaking and stood in parliament at the end of question time to reject the “smear and innuendo” against him.
Citing the report by this masthead, the Liberal MP said he was a backbencher at the time of the emails six years ago.
The leaked emails reveal the connections between Robert’s friends at Synergy 360 and a separate company, Pacific Blue Capital, set up by Briggs, a close associate of Morrison.
Documents obtained by this masthead show that Milo prepared a confidentiality agreement in November 2017 to work with Briggs on the visa outsourcing project after the federal government issued a call for expressions of interest from industry.
Milo told colleagues he wanted to work “in lock step” with Pacific Blue as long as Synergy 360 received a stream of revenue from the outsourcing deal.
“I have been consistent with Unisys that I want 10 per cent of any revenue we end up generating as a result of the opportunity and as we discussed, I am happy to split that equally between us,” he wrote.
Briggs told this masthead that no agreement was entered into. He worked on the Australian visa-processing consortium throughout 2018 and 2019 but media coverage about his links to Morrison led the government to delay a decision.
The government dropped the outsourcing idea in early 2020.
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article