Angus Taylor uses loophole to hide thousands in lavish "gifts"
By Anthony Klan | April 11, 2o20
The Qantas Chairman's Lounge. A look inside one of the exclusive clubs. Source: Supplied
Our federal MPs have been accepting largess from Virgin Australia and Qantas for years, long drawing concerns from governance experts. Now scandal prone MP Angus Taylor has found a loophole around disclosing tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts - including from Virgin Australia, whose CEO is begging for a $1.4 billion taxpayer bailout. The loophole means all MP's can potentially get away with failing to disclose the valuable "gifts" they receive, just as long as they aren't caught out doing so in the current parliamentary term. Anthony Klan reports.
Embattled Energy Minister Angus Taylor will exploit a little-known parliamentary loophole to hide from the public tens of thousands of dollars worth of lavish gifts he and his wife received, including from Virgin Australia, over his first six years in federal parliament.
Earlier this month Taylor was forced to update his pecuniary interests register after Michael West Media revealed that both he and his wife had been given memberships to Virgin’s ultra-exclusive lounge network, called The Club, and to its rival’s equivalent, the Qantas Chairmans’ Lounge, but Taylor had not disclosed the gifts.
On April 2, following our questions, Taylor updated the Register of Members' Interests to disclose the membership gifts, and also disclosed a free first class upgrade he had received on a Qantas flight from Dallas to Sydney.
However the updates were only made to the register pertaining to the current parliament, which started in July last year, after the Coalition was returned to power in May.
Taylor and his wife, Sydney barrister Louise Clegg, were made members of the exclusive Virgin and Qantas lounges long before the current parliament, but none of Taylor’s disclosures between when he first entered parliament, in 2013, and the May 2019 election, list any airline club memberships, or any flight upgrades whatsoever.
Just over a week ago, when asked about the missing entries, a spokesman for Mr Taylor said “we are looking into that and will provide an update as appropriate”.
Mr Taylor’s office has now said Taylor will not be updating the earlier registers, or updating the current register to reflect gifts he or his family members received in earlier periods.
“Advice provided by the Clerk’s office was declarations do not need to be backdated to previous parliaments,” the spokesman said.
The situation means that MPs who break the law and do not disclose “gifts” and other potentially serious conflicts never have to make those disclosures - so long as they make it to the next federal election without being caught.
Taylor would not disclose when he and Clegg first received memberships to the exclusive lounges, or whether he or his family members had received any flight upgrades between 2013 and May 2019.
MPs are usually offered free memberships to the exclusive Virgin Australia and Qantas exclusive clubs when they first enter parliament and it is understood Taylor and Clegg have each held complimentary memberships to the two longes since 2013.
Experts say the memberships are worth “thousands” of dollars a year.
Australian Business Traveller editor David Flynn last year told The Sydney Morning Herald that membership to the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge would be worth “many, many thousands”.
Even at a value of $2,000 a year, the value of memberships to both clubs for both Taylor and Clegg between 2013 and 2019 - the period where such gifts have not been disclosed - is about $24,000.
Upgrades received by Taylor and family members which have also not been disclosed could also run into the many thousands of dollars.
Under parliamentary law, MPs must disclose on the Register of Members' Interests, within 28 days, all gifts they receive worth more than $300.
The law says members of parliament who “knowingly fail to declare a gift" are “guilty of serious contempt” and are to be “dealt with accordingly”.
However MPs rarely, if ever, face any action for breaking the disclosure laws, despite the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests stating that it reminds MP's of their duties several times a year.
Taylor’s office suggested the Energy Minister had overlooked his membership of the exclusive clubs.
This claim appears to hold little weight however, given concerns over the gifting of exclusive memberships to the Qantas and Virgin clubs have been repeatedly raised in the media over many years.
The gifts lavished on the nation’s MPs are being closely examined, with the long-time struggling Virgin Australia currently seeking a $1.4 billion taxpayer bailout amid the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite our repeated requests, Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah has refused to disclose the names of MP’s and other government officials to which he has gifted the exclusive memberships.
The calls from Virgin Australia for a $1.4bn bailout have received strong opposition, with many arguing the long struggling airline should not be bailed out with public funds, especially given it has paid no tax in Australia for many years.
Intensifying that opposition is the fact that all five of the foreign companies that collectively own 91 per cent of Virgin Australia - including a sovereign investment giant owned by the Singaporean government and two conglomerates closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party - are refusing to provide Virgin Australia any support whatsoever.
Taylor has faced a string of scandals in recent years, including over using doctored documents to attack Sydney mayor Clover Moore’s record on climate change, and revelations of his connections to a highly controversial $80 million federal government water buy back.
The Saturday Paper today reported concerns Taylor was pushing ahead with plans for the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation to use taxpayer-backed funds to fund a coal plant upgrade.