Nothing opens a door quicker than the words “former defence minister”.
Christophe Pyne has been given another line to add to his CV, this time as an adviser to one of the country’s biggest beneficiaries of defence contracts.
Brisbane-based NIOA hardly basks in the limelight but it has managed to use its trading platform to become one of the government’s go-to arms dealers.
In the last year alone the small arms and ammunition supplier has achieved what many contractors could only dream of: 66 government contracts, many worth millions, and many done under a limited tender arrangement, including an $18 million contract to supply weapons and ammunition in May.
Pyne’s relationship with NIOA — not an acronym but the name of the family behind the business — goes back some years.
In 2018 as defence minister Pyne shook hands with NIOA chief executive Robert Nioa after the company took up tenancy at a Commonwealth-owned munitions factory in Benalla, Victoria.
And in January that year Pyne was photographed “checking out [NIOA’s] capability” at its Brisbane headquarters after the government handed it a $100 million contract for the supply of weapons and ammunition.
Nioa said Pyne would bring “tremendous personal qualities and unique skillsets” to the company at an important time in its growth.
‘’As the minister for defence, he led Australia’s defence industry through a period of unprecedented growth and change,” he said in a press release.
Also joining the company as an adviser is David Feeney, the former Labor senator, federal MP and parliamentary secretary for defence, and retired Major General Gus McLachlan, who was the head of the Australian Army modernisation program.
Gun for hire
Pyne’s controversial leap into lobbying less than a month after leaving federal parliament prompted an inquiry into whether he had breached ministerial standards.
Former ministers are not allowed to lobby on matters for which they held ministerial responsibility for 18 months after leaving parliament, however Pyne was cleared of any breach by the former Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson.
But it’s not hard to see why you want “the fixer” on your side when competing for government contracts.
As defence minister he oversaw a $200 billion investment in Australia’s military capability — the largest in the nation’s peacetime history.
And in August he proved his worth, with his client Saber Astronautics securing two federal government grants worth almost $7 million to help develop Australia’s space capabilities.