Foundation 51 is a $2 company that — according to the NT’s Country Liberal Party version of affairs — is a private company providing essential electoral and business research to like-minded supporters of the CLP but has no official connection with the party.
Others see the relationship between the CLP and Foundation 51 very differently. For the NT Labor Party opposition, Foundation 51 is little more than a secretive slush fund that channels millions of dollars from anonymous, big-end-of-town donors to their favourite political party.
Foundation 51 has been a running sore for the CLP since early this year. As I reported here in May, leader of the Palmer United Party in the NT, Alison Anderson, asked CLP Chief Minister Adam Giles the following questions:
Ms ANDERSON to CHIEF MINISTER
Have you or any other elected members of the Country Liberals, their families, de facto or otherwise ever received any funds, favours or inducements, either directly or indirectly, from a company called Foundation 51?
Does Foundation 51 have any links to or is it an associated entity of the Country Liberal Party, and has this company, in any way shape or form, paid for any election campaigns past or present?
Has the interest of Foundation 51 in the Country Liberal Party been declared to appropriate authorities?
Giles dead-batted those questions and has rejected calls for an inquiry into Foundation 51 and the related issue of the involvement of a sitting magistrate, Peter Maley, who was a Director of Foundation 51 until earlier this year. But last night the Labor Opposition, the three PUP members and Independent Gerry Wood combined to pass a motion calling for an inquiry into Foundation 51.
In reportedly dramatic scenes in the NT’s Legislative Assembly last night Gerry “Ich bin ein Bauer chook” Wood presented a motion seeking that:
… the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly establishes an inquiry under Section 4A of the Inquiries Act to investigate all aspects of political donations in the NT in the interests of public transparency and accountability with particular reference to:
1. all existing NT legislation and any other relevant legislation relating to political donations;
2. all donations to political parties and independents in the NT over the last 20 years;
3. the role of politically allied companies such as the Harold Nelson Holdings and Foundation 51 and other third parties to see if they are being used as fronts to avoid the disclosure of political donations;
4. the transparency and accountability of the existing funding regimes;
5. other jurisdictions and their practices in relation to political donations; and
6. other matters that the Board of Inquiry may wish to pursue that would assist in improving the confidence of the public in relation to the transparency and full disclosure of political donations and possible effects on Government policies and approvals.
and that the Inquiry report back to the Administrator within 6 months or any other extended period it reasonably considers necessary with any recommendations it considers appropriate that would improve the transparency and accountability of any matters relating to political donations.
In the normal course of events the CLP Government would have squashed that motion like a bug on the windscreen of a Toyota ute.
But, while reports are sketchy at the time of going to press, it appears that the CLP was caught asleep at the wheel and the motion passed on the voices.
As Gerry explained in his inimitable way in his presser:
… the motion to inquire into political donations in the NT has been passed by the Northern Territory Parliament at 6.45 this evening..
Gerry said a motion he brought forward today was supported by the Opposition and the PUP and passed on the voices.
… at 7.15pm the Government decided this should not happen.
Gerry said that like a spoilt child that didn’t get what it wanted the Government spat the dummy and tried to defeat the motion – and lo and behold they’re lost again.
Gerry says this win by the Independent supported by the PUP and the Opposition gives the people of the Northern Territory a real chance to look at whether when it comes to political donations, all is above board and whether the NT should look at controls on donations similar to those in NSW.
Leader of Government in the Assembly, John Elferink, opposed the motion but didn’t have the numbers present in the Assembly to defeat the resolution. According to reports, the Government only had five members — or less — in the House at the time the motion was bought on.
Labor MLA Ken Vowles spoke in support of the motion, drawing, as was intimated by Wood, on apparently distinct parallels between the response to electoral funding issues in New South Wales with the response in the Northern Territory.
Vowles said in part that:
Foundation 51 has much in common with Eight by Five – an entity established by the Liberal Party in New South Wales to conceal unlawful political donations. Investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales have exposed illegal and corrupt practices by fundraising entity Eight by Five and members of the Liberal Party.
If the Chief Minister was really committed to good governance and probity he would initiate a wide ranging judicial inquiry into Foundation 51. But he has refused to do that because he has so much to hide about the CLP’s secretive fundraising activities via Foundation 51.
Foundation 51 is a CLP slush fund set up to circumvent the disclosure of political donations required by the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Electoral Acts … Recently the Northern Territory Bar Association raised a broad range of serious concerns about the suitability of Mr Maley to continue to hold office as a magistrate. One of these serious concerns was Magistrate Maley’s directorship of Foundation 51. Chief Minister, Adam Giles has consistently stated that there is no connection between the CLP and Foundation 51.
This is not true.
There are startling similarities between the CLP’s activities in the Northern Territory and breaches of the law concerning disclosure of donations by the Liberal Party in New South Wales. In New South Wales the Independent Commission Against Corruption has exposed systematic rorting of donation disclosure provisions and other corrupt and illegal behaviour by the Liberal Party. A central element in the ICAC investigations is a corrupt scheme to make donations to the Liberal Party using a slush fund called Eight by Five to avoid the disclose provisions in the Electoral Act. The Liberal Party’s Eight by Five and CLP slush fund Foundation 51 are both designed to hide political donations from public scrutiny. The Chief Minister has consistently denied any connection between the fundraising activities of Foundation 51 and the CLP.
Recently the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a key fundraiser for federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has been called to give evidence to ICAC on alleged illegal donations to the North Sydney Forum. The Forum provides exclusive access to Mr Hockey in return for donations in the form of annual membership fees of up to $22,000. This is the model also used by the CLP’s Foundation 51.
The NT Inquiries Act provides two mechanisms by which inquiries can be established.
The first is found in Section 4, where the relevant Minister may appoint a Board of Inquiry or any person to inquire into and report to the Minister on any matter in relation to the Territory which is specified in the instrument of appointment.
The second method, and that used by Gerry Wood last evening, is found in Section 4A, where the Legislative Assembly passes a resolution that a Board of Inquiry or a person be appointed to inquire into and report to the Administrator on a matter which is specified in the resolution and which relates to the Territory. Interestingly, when such a resolution is passed by the legislative Assembly, the Administrator shall appoint a Board of Inquiry or a person.
ABC Radio in the NT is this morning reporting Gerry Wood’s comments that: “People in the NT would like to know what the truth is, they want to see a system of elections that is not tainted, they want to see a government bringing out policies that are not favoured or tainted by whether someone is a donor to the party.”
And the CLP’s woes won’t be helped by a report in the NT News this morning that NT Treasurer Dave Tollner made homophobic comments about the political staffer son of CLP MLA Gary Higgins.
Politics in the Northern Territory – often boring, never dull.