By Tom McIlroy originally published in the Australian Financial Review Sep 19, 2021 – 6.26pm
Julie Bishop claims she was not lobbying for Greensill Capital when she approached Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on behalf of the failed supply chain finance firm, telling a review she was only seeking a “one-way flow of information” from government.
In her first public statement about the matter since the company founded by Bundaberg-born Lex Greensill collapsed in March, the former foreign minister told the Attorney-General’s Department that her approaches to Mr Frydenberg and Treasury, as well as meetings with Mathias Cormann on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, were not subject to federal lobbying rules and did not require her to join a public register.
Officials asked Ms Bishop to explain whether she or her company, Julie Bishop & Partners [JBP], conducted lobbying before she signed up to the transparency register on April 10 this year.
The former deputy Liberal leader became a Greensill board adviser in late 2019, receiving as much as $US600,000 a year in pay. Engaged as a consultant, she was named chairwoman of Greensill Asia Pacific.
It was revealed in June that Ms Bishop had personally approached Mr Frydenberg to seek information about the government’s small and medium enterprise guarantee scheme, before a phone hook up with Treasury officials on April 2, 2020, before she joined the register.
Internal documents obtained by The Australian Financial Review reveal Ms Bishop told the department she did not believe her actions represented lobbying.
“Mindful of the obligations of the Lobbyist Code, my judgement was that for JBP to facilitate a contact for Greensill to obtain what was essentially a one-way flow of information from the government to Greensill, did not give rise to ‘lobbying activities’ as defined by the code,” she wrote.
The redacted documents, released under freedom of information rules, suggest Ms Bishop registered as a lobbyist for Greensill “out of an abundance of caution”.
“In my judgement, at no time did I or JBP engage in lobbying activities for Greensill as defined by the code,” she wrote.
Department officials told Ms Bishop on July 23 that the matter was closed, and no “identified activities constituting third-party lobbying” were identified.
The code defines lobbying activities as including communications seeking to influence government decision-making, such as the allocation of taxpayer funds.
Ms Bishop co-hosted an Australian National University networking event with Mr Cormann in Davos in January 2020 in her capacity as university chancellor. Ms Bishop said Mr Greensill was among attendees she introduced to the then finance minister, but she “made no representations” on behalf of Greensill.
Greensill was removed from Ms Bishop’s register entry in July. L’Oréal Australia is JBP’s remaining client.
Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson, SC, said the department’s conclusions did not make sense.
“Any external person assessing what she was doing would say that is lobbying,” he said.
“The classic way it happens in Australia is you have certain political connections which you utilise by putting one person into contact with another so they can put forward their view on a matter.”
Opposition industry spokesman Ed Husic said he believed Ms Bishop’s explanation raised more questions than provided answers.
“Australians deserve to know exactly what role Ms Bishop played on behalf of Greensill inside the Coalition government,” he said.
“Labor will continue to pursue this matter until answers to these important questions are provided.”
A review in Britain, sparked by former prime minister David Cameron’s extensive lobbying for Greensill, last week called for transparency around lobbying to be strengthened and for lobbyists to disclose the ultimate person paying for and benefiting from their work.
Mr Greensill pressed Scott Morrison to use the company’s services for public service wages in late 2019. The botched WhatsApp message, praising the Prime Minister’s “inspired leadership”, went to a wrong number.
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