Billionaire Andrew Liveris is one well-connected man. He’s apparently so key to Australia’s post-COVID economy that he’s on not one but two advisory commissions, tasked with shaping the economy for years to come.
Yet his potential conflicts of interest are still not clear.
When the oil and gas executive popped-up on Scott Morrison’s National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission (NCCC) it raised questions about his role as special adviser.
Now the former Trump adviser is facing more scrutiny over how he will manage his financial interests as the chair of another powerful group of COVID advisers: the Northern Territory’s Economic Reconstruction Commission.
Both of these advisory groups have made it clear they believe Australia’s natural resources, particularly gas, is key to an economic recovery.
And yet like other advisers Liveris, who made his fortune from the resources and chemicals sector, is not required to tell anybody whether his advice will make him richer.
Power without oversight?
The NT commission is another COVID advisory body that has a lot of power yet little oversight. As its terms of reference say, the body is non-statutory and its role and functions are “advisory in nature”.
But the NT commission, like the NCCC, is made up of high profile corporate and government leaders, including former Westpac CEO Gail Kelly and former secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson. It’s also putting a lot of emphasis on the role of resources to pull the state out of recession.
Liveris is not just any member of the NT commission — he is the co-chair. Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick says Liveris must declare his interests to ensure full transparency.
“He needs to declare publicly his interests in areas where he may end up benefiting as a result of decisions made by the government,” he said.
Liveris made his fortune as the head of Michigan-based Dow Chemicals, where he spent 14 years as CEO. He was hand picked by Trump to advise on economic policies.
Yet his private financial interests are not clear, and they will remain opaque unless he and other NT commission members are required to disclose them.
Liveris has talked up the potential of the NT’s Beetaloo Basin to contribute to Australia’s onshore gas needs. In an interview with The Australian, he said there was a lot more gas onshore that could be produced. “There is a lot of gas sitting under the ground in Australia onshore (which could be tapped by) working with state governments,” he said.
In a leaked report he wrote for the national commission, he argued for Australian taxpayers to underwrite an expansion of the gas industry.
Rick Wilkinson, head of consulting at energy advisory firm EnergyQuest, says that an energy company which Liveris deputy-chairs, Worley, stands to gain from any development in the region.
“Worley would benefit from increased activity in the oil and gas industry because they do the engineering work for oil and gas,” he said.
Crikey tried to contact Liveris to ask about his potential conflicts but received no response.
But we understand that the NT government may be considering new measures to increase the commission’s transparency. At the moment, there is virtually none.
As the commission’s own terms of reference on accountability make clear, the body is a non-statutory body and its role and functions are “advisory in nature”.
This is the first story by our newly-appointed Conflicts of Interest reporter Georgia Wilkins. If you have any tips or information about conflicts of interest (no matter how big or small) you can contact us via the email [email protected], or through our tips line. We will respect your confidences.