A key witness in a parliamentary inquiry into consulting firm Synergy 360 has “severed all ties” with Australia and will not provide evidence at a hearing on Friday.
John Margerison is a former part-owner of Synergy 360 and chief fundraiser for ex-Liberal MP and minister Stuart Robert, who recently quit federal parliament.
Synergy 360 has been accused of setting up a channel to secretly pay Robert in return for Robert’s help in winning government contracts, but there is no evidence that Robert has received any payment.
Margerison was due to appear before the joint committee of public accounts and audit, which is chaired by Labor MP Julian Hill, to answer questions about procurement by Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency.
Robert served as government services minister and minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme from May 2019 to March 2021.
Hill said in a statement that Margerison’s lawyer had informed the committee that Margerison was now living overseas.
It is not known where Margerison is now, but his lawyer has been contacted for comment.
The MP said in a statement on behalf on the committee that he understood from Margerison’s lawyer that the businessman had “severed all ties with the country of Australia many weeks ago”.
“That Mr Margerison’s lawyer now claims he has left and severed all ties with Australia is a somewhat surprising turn of events indeed,” Hill said. “Mr Margerison’s whereabouts remains a matter of great mystery.”
The audit committee will continue with the inquiry.
“It remains within the [committee’s] power to recommend referrals to other investigative bodies with additional resources and powers,” Hill said.
Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said Margerison was the key link between Synergy 360 and Stuart Robert, and despite persistent attempts by the government, parliament and media to get to the bottom of what had happened, “rather than adhere to an order to provide documents and appear at an upcoming hearing to answer further questions about his role in this scandal, Mr Margerison has chosen to leave Australia and reside overseas.
“Many questions remain unanswered, not least of which are why Mr Margerison was gifted a significant proportion of Synergy 360 shares, what his role as a director was, and what was the final destination of money directed to a trust which Mr Robert had previously disclosed on his register of members’ interests?
“Mr Margerison was a leading fundraiser for Queensland LNP. The opposition now needs to shine some light on what they know about his activities, including his decision to move overseas.”
The claim that Synergy 360 planned to funnel funds to Robert was contained in a sworn statement to a parliamentary inquiry by a former insider of the consultancy firm, Anthony Daly, the ex-husband of one of the former owners of Synergy 360, businesswoman Kham Xaysavanh.
Daly gave the statement to the joint committee of public accounts and audit to assist its inquiries after a government review found in March that contracts linked to Synergy 360 and worth $374 million in taxpayer funds needed further investigation.
When Robert resigned from parliament in May, he acknowledged his time in parliament has not been the smoothest ride and that people “throw the kitchen sink at you”. The Liberal National Party held his seat of Fadden in a recent byelection, with a 2.8 per cent swing to the Coalition.
With David Crowe
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