Julia Gillard’s former sports minister Mark Arbib shocked many political observers when he resigned three months ago. And he certainly didn’t waste any time cashing in on his insights.
The Australian Financial Review revealed on Saturday that Arbib has landed a well-paid job with James Packer’s private company, where he will focus on the campaign to grow high-roller Chinese casino tourism.
Ordinarily, such an appointment would raise eyebrows and trigger a debate about the ethics of former ministers inappropriately cashing in on their connections and knowledge. Indeed, some other countries have cooling off periods whereby politicians, staffers and senior bureaucrats can’t work in related areas with the private sector for at least a year after leaving office.
But when you consider the following roll-call of post-ministerial gigs landed in less than a year after resignation, it is clear the Coalition is in no position to complain …
Richard Alston: Was only six months out of Parliament when John Howard’s first and longest-serving communications minister was lobbying for Austereo on digital radio policy.
Larry Anthony: Howard’s former children’s affairs minister joined the board of ABC Learning six months after losing his seat in 2004.
Steve Bracks: After giving KPMG plenty of work while in office, the former Victorian premier signed up as an advisory board member just nine weeks after resigning from Parliament in 2007.
Bob Carr: Macquarie Bank made a fortune out of his tollroad dealings in Sydney and he happily signed up for a reported $500,000 a year consultancy with the Millionaires’ Factory just three months after retiring as NSW premier in 2005.
John Fahey: After claiming he’d privatised more things than anyone else in the world, the former federal finance minister signed with JP Morgan four months after retiring at the 2001 election.
Peter Reith: The retiring defence minister waited about 48 hours after retiring in 2001 before accepting a lucrative consultancy with Australia’s biggest defence contractor, Tenix.
Alan Stockdale: Privatised about $35 billion worth of assets as Victorian treasurer and signed with Macquarie Bank as an infrastructure and privatisation specialist just three weeks after leaving Parliament in September 1999.
Lindsay Tanner: Retired as finance minister at the 2010 election and within a month had landed a special adviser gig with Wall Street investment bank Lazard.
Michael Wooldridge: Redirected $5 million from healthcare programs to help relocate the Royal College of General Practitioners just seven days before the 2001 election. The GPs then used the money to hire Wooldridge as a consultant after the election before then firing him and paying out $382,5000 on an unfair dismissal claim in an exercise that added about $600,000 to his gross wealth.
The Bracks appointment at KPMG in October 2007 was one of the rare occasions when key figures from both sides of politics got stuck in. Former Victorian premier John Cain declared it was “not to my taste” while then opposition spokesman and current Victorian Health Minister David Davis went in even harder declaring:
“I think John Brumby has a blind spot where he has failed to appreciate this is a significant conflict of interest for this government. It is just weeks after Steve Bracks left as premier. His seat at 1 Treasury [Place] is still warm, and now he’s moved across to KPMG. He is putting personal interests ahead of the interests of the state.”
Let’s see if we get anything comparable out of the Abbott front bench over the coming days. I suspect not, partly because few politicians ever publicly criticise the Packer family.
Another former Howard government communications minister, Helen Coonan, joined the Crown board last year and would probably be quietly advising her former colleagues that public complaint about the Arbib gig would not be appropriate.
Meanwhile, some Arbib watchers are still scratching their heads about this Kate McClymont story in The Sydney Morning Herald back in November 2011:
The sale of land for $1, mysterious donors, property developers bankrolling a company of an MP’s son, union officials getting mining deals — welcome to the NSW Right where connections are crucial.
It was in July 2003 that Eric Roozendaal and Mark Arbib — both prodigious fundraisers through their then positions as head and deputy head of the NSW Labor party — completed their respective real estate purchases. Neither has been able to explain what coincidence led to them purchasing boutique beachside apartments not only in the same suburb but also in the very same block.
Mr Arbib’s unit in “Sea Breeze”, only 100 metres from the surf at Maroubra, was purchased in the name of his wife, Kelli Field, who works in investor relations at Macquarie Bank, having previously been a policy adviser to Eddie Obeid and Michael Costa’s chief of staff. Mr Roozendaal’s was bought by a family company.
Of the 20 townhouses, built by developers Brian and Garry Boyd, the purchase price of only two apartments in the block was not disclosed to land titles department. They were Mr Arbib’s and Mr Roozendaal’s. Residing in the same block, in a unit owned by the Boyds right next door to Mr Arbib’s, was Moses Obeid, son of the controversial Labor figure Eddie Obeid.
Having sold the apartment in 2007 for $960,000, the Arbibs bought a $1.625 million house in South Coogee. They have lodged plans for a $1.15 million renovation. Because the South Coogee house is registered in his wife’s name, Mr Arbib is not required to disclose it in his pecuniary interest declaration.