26 July 2023

Canberra firm's head 'severed all ties to Australia', won't testify on procurement allegations

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Stuart Robert

Former minister Stuart Robert faces allegations about government procurement. (Photo: Screenshot)

Businessman John Margerison, who formerly headed Canberra lobbying firm Synergy 360, won’t give evidence to a parliamentary enquiry into how government contracts are awarded because he has “severed all ties” to Australia, according to his lawyer.

The joint committee of public accounts and audit has heard allegations that Mr Margerison proposed a structure that would benefit former Human Services minister and Liberal MP Stuart Robert.

In claims made under parliamentary privilege, it’s alleged that Mr Margerison and his partner David Milo intended to pay Mr Robert in return for his help in securing government contracts.

The committee heard evidence Mr Margerison suggested a structure to Mr Robert whereby 20 per cent of shares owned by former executive director Kham Xaysavanh would be transferred to an entity entirely controlled by Mr Margerison, with the intention of facilitating the flow of funds through to Mr Robert.

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The allegations were made by Mr Xaysavanh’s former personal and business partner, Anthony Daly in a sworn statement to the committee.

“The main objective of this arrangement was to secure Stuart Robert’s involvement and support in acquiring federal government contracts,” Mr Daly said.

Mr Robert has strenuously denied the allegations and says there is no evidence of any kind to support the claims. He has specifically denied part-owning any company that received funds from Synergy 360 and says that the contracts in question had been investigated, with no findings of misconduct.

Mr Margerison, who also raised funds for the Queensland Liberal National Party, has been described by Government Services minister Bill Shorten as “the key link” in establishing the nature of the relationship between Synergy 360 and Mr Robert.

Synergy 360 says on its website that the company’s “ethos of loyalty, honesty and partnership underpin Synergy 360 business operations. Our services are backed by an engagement team of highly experienced Defence and industry specific professionals who have a keen interest in delivering high quality business outcomes”.

The company has no connection with established Canberra professional services firm Synergy.

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Mr Margerison had been due to appear on Friday (28 July) in a hearing on procurement processes at Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency, but committee chair, Julian Hill, said yesterday (24 July) that part of the hearing could no longer proceed without his participation.

His lawyer told the committee that Mr Margerison now lives overseas, had severed all ties with Australia and considers himself outside parliament’s jurisdiction.

The committee will consider Mr Margerison’s position and Mr Hill commented that his whereabouts were “a matter of great mystery” and “a somewhat surprising turn of events”.

The committee can make findings based on the evidence before it and recommend referrals to other investigative bodies.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also asked for an explanation about Mr Margerison won’t be fronting the parliamentary inquiry. While the PM refused to comment on whether the matter should be referred to the National Anti Corruption Commission, citing its independence, he described the situation as “really disturbing”.

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