We’ve produced a few lists
over the years tracking the post-parliamentary careers of various
former Ministers, but one chap who has sprinted to the top of the class
in terms of cashing in on knowledge and connections is John Howard’s
first Transport Minister, John Sharp.

The former National Party
MP for Hume resigned from Cabinet in September 1997 after being caught
out trying to make a secret $9,000 payment to cover his travel rorting
tracks when the heat was on the late Labor Senator Mal Colston. Sharp
survived for just 18 months as a Minister and left Parliament at the
1998 election after 14 years of service, secure in the knowledge that a
generous pension for life was coming his way.

However, don’t for
a minute think that Sharp wasn’t going to milk his transport knowledge
and connections. In 1999 he joined the board of EADS subsidiary
Australian Aerospace and then in 2001 he popped up as a consultant to
Ansett during its grounding crisis. He was paid handsomely to chaperone
Ansett CEO Gary Twomey around the halls of power in the months leading
into the collapse in September 2001, but clearly didn’t manage to avert
a disaster.

In 2003 he became chairman of the Aviation Safety Foundation
and then in 2005 he made his first foray into the public company space,
joining the board of small airline Regional Express Ltd (REX), where he
is now deputy chairman. Rex explains his skills as follows:

Mr Sharp retired from the House of Representatives in 1998
and established his own high level aviation and transport consulting
company, Thenford Consulting. Mr Sharp is currently Chairman of the Aviation Safety Foundation
of Australia, a director of Australian Aerospace, a wholly owned
subsidiary of European Aeronautics Defence and Space (EADS)
representing Airbus (the aircraft manufacturer of ATR, CASA, Eurocopter
and Astrium satellites) and a director of Skytraders, an air freight
and aerial work operation providing services for Australia’s Antarctic
Division.

The Skytraders operations has extracted more than $3 million from the Federal Government to get its service
from Hobart to Antarctica off the ground. Did John Sharp, who also
happens to be honorary Treasurer of the National Party, personally
lobby for this or enjoy any form of bonus as a director?

Sharp
has been so successful in his post-parliamentary career that he is now
spending at least $2 million building a lovely mansion on his farming
property near Moss Vale. Who knows, maybe he even gets to clip the
ticket on every Airbus that gets sold Down Under. Given that Andrew
Peacock is his rival as chairman of Boeing Australia, the conservative
political alumni are doing pretty well from the aircraft importation
and defence procurement business, even if the taxpayers are suffering
with all these billion dollar blow-outs.

However, EADS is going through its own crisis
at the moment with billions lost in delayed planes, causing BAE to take
a huge haircut as it tries to offload a 20% stake. Let’s hope the
sudden need for belt-tightening won’t eat into the tidy income stream
that our boy John Sharp has pulled out of them.

Peter Fray

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