Michael Johnson (Australian politician)

From Global Energy Monitor

Michael Johnson was elected in 2001, 2004 and 2007 as the Liberal Party of Australia representative for the federal House of Representatives seat of Ryan which covers the north-western suburbs of Brisbane. In 2007 he was appointed as the Federal Opposition Whip.[1]

On 20 May 2010, he was expelled from the Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP), the Queensland branch of the Liberal and National parties following a hearing into complaints that he had brought the party into disrepute over his attempts to secure a $12 million-plus commission out of a coal contract he tried to negotiate and his involvement with the Australia China Development Association. In response Johnson announced that he would contest the seat as an independent at the 2010 federal election.[2] In June 2010, Jane Prentice, a Brisbane City Councillor, was chosen by the LNP to stand for Ryan.[3]

Background

A biographical note states "Michael holds an Arts/Law Degree from the University of Queensland, a Masters Degree from the University of Cambridge, and is a graduate of the Kennedy School’s Executive Leaders’ Program at Harvard. Michael led the Australian Government’s contribution to the UN International Observer Delegation of the 2003 Cambodian elections and was the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Observer of the 2008 Mongolian Parliamentary Elections. He is a frequent visitor to Asia and is only one of two sitting Australian Members of Parliament who have been to North Korea (the other being current Prime Minister Rudd). Following his 2009 visit to Pyongyang, Michael gave interviews on CNN, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia."[1]

"Michael has a deep interest in international relations and global geo-politics, global energy issues and international trade. He is especially passionate about promoting Australia’s ties with the Asian region to secure Australia’s future economic prosperity and strategic security. Michael was named by the Geneva based World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader (YGL) in 2007. He is also Chairman of the Australia‐China Business Forum (ACBF), sits on the Australian Advisory Board of the Asia Society, and the Asia Society’s Global Advisory Board. Michael has conducted interviews on all of Australia’s leading television networks and is a regular guest commentator on Australia’s leading subscription TV News Programme – “Sky‐News Agenda”. He is also a regular special commentator on Brisbane’s Radio 4BC with Joel Helmes on Saturday evenings."[1]

Maiden speech

In his maiden speech to parliament on February 13, 2002 Johnson stated that "our mighty challenge is to make globalisation our friend, not our enemy."[4]

"Australia is well placed in this context. Through hard work and constructive engagement, we maintain healthy relations with most countries of the world. We are also fortunate to preserve even stronger ties with the major industrial and financial powers. I commend the government for its full appreciation of the significance of our historic ties with Great Britain and our crucial security links with the United States. Both are firm friends and loyal allies with which the Australian people have much in common. As someone who has spent three years in the United Kingdom, including as a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, and who keeps strong personal links with the United States, I look forward to playing a new member's role in strengthening our ties with these two countries," he continued.[4]

"But, of course, it is indisputably within the Asia-Pacific region that our own country physically exists. Our geographic location in the Asia-Pacific region represents both a tremendous opportunity and a bold challenge. We sit on the edge of a geographic region as diverse and historic as it is challenging in policy and frustrating to us in temperament—a geographic region teeming with the humanity of some 1.3 billion. But there are many friendships to be won and even more business to be transacted in the region. China, Japan and Indonesia are clearly three major nations with which it is in our compelling national interest to have positive relations. These countries, on any index, have the capacity through unilateral action to impact upon our broadly defined economic and security contours. Our dialogue with each of them, and collectively, must be within the framework of appreciating their own uniqueness, history and overwhelming policy challenges. As a member with a deep and abiding connection to the Asia-Pacific region through my birth in Hong Kong, my childhood years in Papua New Guinea and my time spent as a Chinese language student in Beijing and Shanghai, I look forward to supporting any dialogue that strengthens Australia's friendships in the region,"he said.[4]

Controversy over proposed coal deal

In March 2010, Vexnews -- a political blog site published by Andrew Landeryou -- reported that Johnson's political career could be in trouble as a result of an investigation by the Liberal National Party hierarchy of his fundraising. In particular VexNews claimed that the investigation centered on claims that "he doesn’t always direct these funds to LNP accounts but to other entities within his control" and that "Johnson had been acting in some respect as a paid lobbyist on behalf of Australian companies in China, while serving as a federal Member of Parliament."[5]

Two months later, Sean Parnell reported in The Australian that the LNP had undertaken a three month long investigation into Johnson's fundraising affairs and compiled a report including a series of emails and attachments. Parnell wrote that in 2008 Johnson "tried to broker a deal between a Chinese conglomerate and a Queensland coal company". Parnell reported that "according to the emails, Mr Johnson first discussed a fee structure with his Swiss associate, suggesting they demand a commission from both parties, an unusual arrangement that could have secured them anywhere between $24m and $48m - to be split between them - if Mr Johnson achieved his favoured contract price of $400m. While his associate did not believe they could obtain a commission from both parties, he was generally satisfied with Mr Johnson's terms, except to say "the only thing is that you should take more, you brought the deal and you bring the political credibility".[6] Parnell later reported that the proposed deal between Queensland Coal Corporation and Fosun floundered with the email suggesting that "neither party knew of his expectations of a $24m to $48m commission".[7]

Parnell reported that Johnson and his partner sought to ensure that Fosum and the Queensland Coal Corporation were not directly in contact with each other. In one email cited by Parnell, Johnson asked the Australian company to "help me out with the $15,000 sponsorship for my China Business Forum".[6] This request for sponsorship followed the Carbon Capture and Storage company ZeroGen Pty Ltd withdrawing its support for the forums.[7]

Following the articles, Johnson told ABC Radio that "the central point at the moment is an accusation in the public domain that I have acted improperly as a federal MP, that I have used my resources as a federal MP improperly. I absolutely reject that. This story on the front page [of The Australian newspaper] is just a beat-up. At no time was I as an individual going to be a personal beneficiary of it. Any benefit I would have been able to raise would have gone to the Australia China Development Association."[8] Johnson said that "there is absolutely in my judgment, no inconsistency with my position as a member of the federal Parliament to promote the bi-lateral relationship (with China) using something like a vehicle such as the Australia China Business Forum".[9]

Johnson even went so far as to argue that others should follow his example. "I think that more of my colleagues should get off their backsides and promote relationships globally where they may have an opportunity to do so," he said.[9]

Subsequently, the executive of the LNP met to discuss whether Johnson should be expelled over the allegations that expenses from his re-election account were either personal or inappropriate. Johnson insisted that he gained no personal benefit from the funding received by the Australia China Development Association. As Sean Parnell wrote in The Australian "the main purpose of ACDA is to fund forums conceived and chaired by Mr Johnson, and organised by his electorate staff. ACDA has also paid for Mr Johnson to undertake more than 30 overseas trips, at least one with his family."[7]

Johnson told Parnell that "I don't define it as a benefit to me directly, because a benefit to me directly is into my bank account, for my personal discretion (with) which I can buy a Rolls-Royce or a McMansion. I consider opportunities to travel as broadly opportunities within my parliamentary charter. There is no difference with me receiving an overseas trip and Rudd receiving a trip to go to Africa or Gillard going with Australian Jewish Association to Israel."[7]

According to Parnell, Johnson "conceded that the emails - sent from his parliamentary account, often when parliament was sitting - could have been interpreted as him seeking to secure commissions for himself." However, he insisted that he was trying to raise money for the ACDA forums. Parnell reported that "Johnson said his secret negotiations would only present a conflict if he were a minister, whereas, being a backbencher, he did not have to meet the same level of transparency." He also reported that the controversial mining magnate, Clive Palmer "has sponsored Mr Johnson's travels, and separately the forum, and will be a major contributor to the LNP's election campaign."[7]

Despite the controversy, Johnson was unapologetic. "I consider myself to be a bit of an action man, a bit of a get up and go man, and I like to do things differently and innovatively - it's who I am ... I'm not the sort of person who resigns or quits under pressure. I have big dreams for Australia, I think I can make an enormous commitment, and I want to serve the people of Ryan, he said.

On 20 May 2010, Johnson was expelled from the LNP. In response Johnson announced that he would contest the seat as an independent at the 2010 federal election.[10] In June 2010, Jane Prentice, a Brisbane City Councillor, was chosen by the LNP to stand for Ryan.[11]

Subsequently, Parnell reported that the LNP's audit of the Michael Andrew Johnson Re-election Account "found there had been $125,000 more transferred back to the re-election account than had been sent across during the period, suggesting the term deposit held at least that additional amount, possibly more." Johnson said that the term deposit had been been closed but declined to provide additional details. Parnell also reported that the LNP executive did not address all the allegations made against Johnson including the claim that "that 71 payments from the re-election account were personal in nature and another 345 were inappropriate." He reported that funds from the re-election account had been used to "take a trip to Islamabad, repay $1234 in taxpayer-funded travel expenses, and buy a scooter and thousands of dollars of electronic and kitchen equipment."[12]

Johnson insisted to Parnell that he had done nothing wrong but declined to release his written statement in response to the allegations put to him by the LNP. Johnson said that the voters in his seat of Ryan would decide whether he was re-elected "not the unelected faceless and nameless LNP state executives".[12]

Investigations

While the LNP argued that the items he bought and the funding in his re-election account did not belong to the ALP, Parnell reported that he may face investigation by Queensland Police, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Electoral Commission. For his part, Johnson requested that Queensland Police investigate whether there was any criminality in his actions and also complained to the Australian Federal Police that it should investigate a "senior LNP official's improper attempts and undue influence to pressure and intimidate me to resign from parliament".[13]

Affiliations

  • Member of the Advisory Council of the Australian section of the Asia Society;[14]

Articles and resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "About Michael", Michael Johnson website, accessed July 2010.
  2. "Michael Johnson expelled from LNP", The Australian, May 20, 2010.
  3. "LNP endorses popular councillor Jane Prentice for Ryan", The Australian, June 23, 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Michael Johnson, "Michael's Maiden Speech", Michael Johnson's website, February 13, 200.
  5. "GONER: Federal MP Michael Johnson under investigation by Liberal and LNP hierarchy", VexNews, March 11, 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sean Parnell, "Liberal Michael Johnson sought $12m windfall with secret China deal", The Australian, May 19, 2010.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Sean Parnell, "MP Michael Johnson faces expulsion over funds", The Australian, May 20, 2010.
  8. "MP probed over $12m coal kickback claims", ABC News, May 19, 2010.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Anthony Templeton , "Michael Johnson denies receiving $12m commission for brokering China coal deal", The Courier Mail, May 19, 2010.
  10. "Michael Johnson expelled from LNP", The Australian, May 20, 2010.
  11. "LNP endorses popular councillor Jane Prentice for Ryan", The Australian, June 23, 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Sean Parnell, "Michael Johnson unable to explain $125,000 transfer to campaign", The Australian, May 25, 2010.
  13. Sean Parnell, "Expelled Lib faces tax office grilling", The Australian, May 27, 2010.
  14. "Board of Directors and Advisory Council", Asia Society, accessed July 2010.

Related SourceWatch articles

External resources

Statements by Johnson

External articles