lobbyists
MP turned lobbyist Santo Santoro resigns from the Howard ministry in 2007 (Image: AAP/Mark Graham)

There is nobody else anywhere who is better placed than me to help you through this particular part of the project. Nobody … I can go to somebody in the minister’s office and say ‘can you have a close look at this’.

Santo Santoro to Huang Xiangmo

This week, the long simmering question of the influence the Chinese Communist Party exerts over Australian politics returned to the surface as an AgeSydney Morning Herald and Four Corners investigation — “China’s Operation Australia” — revealed more connections between Communist Party-linked Chinese businessmen and Australian politicians.

The report mentions that Howard-era cabinet minister turned lobbyist Santo Santoro was recorded offering Chinese Billionaire Huang Xiangmo access to his “best friend” — then-immigration minister Peter Dutton. A meeting was arranged in 2016 and, according to the report, Santoro was paid tens of thousands of dollars for his trouble.

Santoro resigned as a minister in 2007, following a scandal during which he failed to sell off or correctly declare shares in health related companies. The following year he wandered into lobbying and has stayed there ever since. 

The ability of those in power to leave politics and leverage their access and influence into lucrative careers is an ongoing scandal that Crikey has always kept an eye on. Here are a few recent entries, and a reminder of some of the most remarkably swift moves. 

Bruce Billson

Former small business minister Bruce Billson is now the avuncular head of the Franchise Council of Australia. He’s particularly swift, having received a $75,000 salary from the job before he left his seat, a fact he neglected to mention to parliament

Martin Ferguson

Former Labor heavyweight Martin Ferguson — a Rudd/Gillard energy and resources minister and president of the Australia Council of Trade Unions — is a real standout on this list. He took up a position on an advisory panel to peak oil and gas industry lobby group APPEA in October 2013, just six months after quitting as minister. Since then he’s used his considerable platform and influence to argue relentlessly against everything he has previously fought for, whether it’s penalty rates, privatisation or collective bargaining. 

Andrew Robb

Former trade minister Andrew Robb took a contract with Chinese-owned Landbridge Group a day before he left office. Landbridge had controversially won a 99-year lease to the Darwin port in 2015

Robb has since criticised former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s China policy, and denied China poses any security threat to Australia. Robb ceased employment with Landbridge in the lead-up to the passage of foreign interference laws in February 2018. 

Mark Arbib

“And there goes the heart and soul of the NSW Right. Off to casino land, the moral epicentre of that particular factional grouping,” was Kevin Rudd’s assessment of Mark Arbib, one of many put-downs in The Killing Season that one suspects Rudd practiced in the mirror beforehand.

He is referring to Julia Gillard’s former sports minister taking up a well-paid job with Crown Casino in 2012. He had resigned his ministerial role three months earlier. 

Alexander Downer 

Crikey has long covered “Australia’s Watergate” — the illegal bugging of the Timor-Leste’s cabinet office by Australia during negotiations over maritime boundaries and access to Timor Sea oil and gas deposits. Among the many facets of this case, it’s easy to lose sight of a more base commercial interest.

In his life after politics, through his consulting firm Bespoke Approach, Alexander Downer — the foreign minister who authorised the bugging — became a paid consultant to Woodside Petroleum, which stood to make billions of dollars from the arrangement.

It is understood that whistle-blower Witness K decided to come forward about the bugging when he learned of Alexander Downer’s post-politics career. Bespoke Approach is bipartisan and equally interested in state politics, by the way — it also took in former Labor senator Nick Bolkus and former South Australian premier John Olsen. 

Richard Alston

Alston, a former communications minister in John Howard’s cabinet, was lobbying for Austereo on digital radio policy within six months of leaving Parliament.

Bob Carr

Within days of retiring as NSW premier, Carr registered a lobbying business. Within months Macquarie Bank was among his clients. Macquarie, Crikey reported at the time, made $1 billion-plus from the Eastern Distributor toll road between the city and Sydney Airport presided over by Carr’s government. 

Peter Reith

Within two days of resigning as defence minister, Peter Reith had signed up as a consultant to Tenix, Australia’s biggest defence contractor.

Know of any other notable examples of politicians who traded in a ministry for a lobbyist’s office? Send us your thoughts at [email protected].