The organisation at the centre of the latest rorts scandal has been described as an industry body representing retailers and fast food outlets.
While that’s true, there is a lot we don’t know about the Queensland-based National Retail Association (NRA) and exactly whose interests it’s pushing.
The ABC’s 7.30 revealed this week the NRA received a one-off $880,000 grant from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in 2018 for a project that would assist retailers to “deter, detect, delay and respond to a terrorist attack”.
The grant came just weeks after the group made a political donation to support the minister in November 2018.
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While its name would suggest it represents some of the country’s big-name retailers, the NRA is a separate body from the main retail employer group, the Australian Retailers Association.
When Crikey asked the NRA who its members are and which retail sectors they represent, a spokesperson declined to comment.
But, while there are many things we don’t know about the group, there are a few things we do know.
Friends of the LNP
The NRA is chaired by Mark Brodie, a close friend and business partner of former Queensland premier Campbell Newman. He was appointed by Newman to head a business advisory group as well as chair the Gladstone Ports Corporation board.
Brodie is a former chicken shop chain owner and property developer. He recently attracted attention for hosting secret fundraisers for the LNP ahead of last year’s Queensland election.
According to an investigation by The Australian, Brodie attended an unpaid “business advisory forum” with Queensland LNP leader Deb Frecklington and property developers, which were held at the NRA offices.
Property developers are banned from making political donations in Queensland. But Brodie, who is also chair of property development group Triumph Investment Group, was declared a non-prohibited donor by the Electoral Commission of Queensland, according to the Oz.
The NRA denied any suggestion it had circumvented donation laws. “That claim is utterly unfounded,” it said.
The NRA has another connection to the LNP, through its PR firm SAS Group — the lobby group directed by current National Party president Larry Anthony.
Crikey asked the NRA if it used SAS Group for political lobbying as well as PR. It did not respond.
Friends of vaping
In the years since receiving the one-off grant from Dutton, the NRA has picked up some interesting clients. For one it’s taken up the cause of the tobacco industry by heavily lobbying against a proposed ban on nicotine liquid imports without a prescription.
Over a series of media releases, the NRA claims it is unfair that its retailers are permitted to sell cigarettes but not the “much less harmful smoke-free” vaping and heated tobacco products.
The NRA would not say what proportion of its membership was tobacco or vaping-related businesses. But it’s clear there’s more to the picture than just retail and fast food.