Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s top indigenous affairs adviser Warren Mundine is prepared to step down from his numerous business and philanthropic roles if they pose potential conflicts of interest with his government duties.
As well as running his own lobbying business, Mundine sits on the boards of companies and non-profits that try to influence government policy and, in some cases, receive government funding.
Mundine has told Crikey he will meet with fellow member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Peter Shergold on Wednesday for a “tick and cross” test on his various roles.
“I’m very conscious about any conflicts,” he said. “We will go through everything I’m doing, and even things I’m not doing but may be interested in in the future … It will be an interrogation.”
Mundine says the “big, big question” is whether he can continue to run his lobbying business, NyunggaBlack, while serving as chairman of the IAC. The council’s focus will be boosting economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and how to get better value from government spending.
“I want to make sure there is no conflict of interest there and no shenanigans,” he said. “If that [giving up lobbying] has got to happen, it’s got to happen.” In a reference to recent controversy over Coalition expense claims, Mundine joked: “I don’t want to get caught going to any weddings [at the taxpayer’s expense].”
When asked if there were any roles he thought he would have to give up, Mundine nominated his role as chairman of the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association Dance College as one possibility. Mundine has been chair of the college, which receives federal government funding, since 2005.
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Mundine is also a director of the Australian Uranium Association, an advocacy body whose mission is to “argue for policy change that will let uranium compete on its merits as an energy source appropriate for the needs of the 21st century”. He is also a director of the federally funded Australian Indigenous Education Foundation and an adviser to Max Employment. Max Employment competes for federal government tenders to provide job training services.
Furthermore, Mundine is an adviser at IndiEnergy, a firm providing advice on native title and indigenous commercial opportunities, and executive chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce.
Although his role advising the Abbott government is part time, Mundine says he is willing to give up his other roles because of the council’s potential to improve the lives of indigenous Australians. “I think it’s a really great opportunity to make a difference to people on the ground,” he said. Mundine is a former national Labor president, but fell out with the party over a lack of policy progress and the ALP’s failure to put an Aboriginal representative into federal Parliament (Nova Peris has since been elected as an ALP senator). He then formed a close bond with Abbott during his time as opposition leader.
Mundine says he has not yet read a profile of him published in Faifax’s Good Weekend on Saturday which focused on his divorce from his second wife, Lynette Riley. In the piece, Riley claims Mundine committed several affairs and told her she was “too Aboriginal” (a charge he denies). Mundine has since married Elizabeth Henderson, the daughter of conservative columnist Gerard Henderson.
“From my experience, a divorce is not very nice and there are two sides of the story,” he said. “I’m on the record saying I went to therapy and went through depression … When you are in public life, you come under scrutiny. My approach is to cop it and move on.”