Singaporean Government-owned telco giant Optus — which hired ex-NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian amid an ongoing state corruption probe — made almost $70,000 in political “donations” to the nation’s major parties despite payments from “foreign donors” being illegal.
It can also be revealed that the company paid zero income tax on Australian revenue of $8.4 billion in 2020-21, the most recent figures released by the Australian Taxation Office.
Australian Electoral Commission records show the telco made $69,900 in “donations” last financial year, comprised of $41,400 to the Liberal and National parties and $28,500 to the ALP.
Optus is fully-owned by Singtel, which is majority owned — and fully-controlled — by Temasek Holdings, the investment arm of the Singaporean Government.
Under laws introduced in 2019, it is illegal for political parties to receive payments of over $100 from “foreign donors”.
A foreign donor includes a “foreign public enterprise”. Source: AEC
It states a “foreign public enterprise” is defined by “Section 70.1 of the Criminal Code”.
Section 70.1 of the Criminal Code states a foreign public enterprise is a company where “the government of a foreign country…holds more than 50% of the issued share capital of the company”.
Optus is both majority owned and fully controlled by the Singaporean Government.
Singtel is 52 per cent owned by Temasek Holdings, which is 100 per cent owned and controlled by the Singaporean Government.
Optus CEO Kelly Bayer-Rosmarin and fellow executive Berejiklian — who remains the subject of an ongoing investigation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption — both refused to comment on the explosive revelations.
Clearly meets criteria of “foreign public enterprise” – Section 70.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. Source: ATO
Singtel chairman Lee Theng Kiat and Group CEO Yuen Kuan Moon also repeatedly refused to comment.
Signed disclosure returns filed with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) by Andrew Sheridan, Optus Vice President of Regulatory and Public Affairs, states the $69,900 in donations were made by Singtel Optus Pty Ltd, the company that trades as Optus.
Annual reports for Singtel Optus Pty Ltd state: “The ultimate parent entity is Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited (incorporated in Singapore)”.
“Singtel Optus Pty Limited is a private company limited by shares. The company is incorporated and domiciled in Australia and its registered office and principal place of business is 1 Lyonpark Road, Macquarie Park, NSW, Australia.”
‘The company’s parent entity is Singapore Telecom Australia Investments Pty Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore Telecommunications Limited (“Singtel) (Incorporated in Singapore). The ultimate parent entity is Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited (incorporated in Singapore).”
Refusing to comment: Singtel chairman Lee Theng Kiat and Group CEO Yuen Kuan Moon. Source: Singtel
Section 70.1 of the Criminal Code provides five criteria where, if a company meets any one of them, it is defined as a “foreign public enterprise”.
Singtel Optus Pty Ltd, ultimately majority owned and fully controlled by the Singaporean Government, appears to meet all five.
A company is a foreign public enterprise if “the government of a foreign country or of part of a foreign country holds more than 50% of the issued share capital of the company”.
The Singaporean Government owns 52% of Singtel Optus Pty Ltd.
(The Singaporean Government owns 100% of Temasek Holdings, which owns 52% of Singtel, which owns 100% of Optus).
A company is also a foreign enterprise if “the government of a foreign country…holds more than 50% of the voting power in the company”.
The Singaporean Government, via Temasek Holdings, both owns over half the shares, and controls over half the voting rights, of Singtel, and so Optus.
A company is also considered to be a foreign public enterprise if a foreign government is “in a position to exercise control over the company”.
Optus made $69,900 in political donations last financial year. Source: AEC.
The Klaxon approached the AEC regarding the legality of the donations on February 10.
We asked simply: 1.”Does Singtel Optus Pty Limited qualify as a ‘foreign donor’ under the Commonwealth Electoral Act?” and 2. “If not, why does Singtel Optus Pty Limited not qualify as a ‘foreign donor’ under the Commonwealth Electoral Act”?”
We were told it was not possible to provide us with a response that day “as Part XX of the Electoral Act is a complex area” and “specific cases can require time to properly review before commenting”.
Eleven days later, on February 21, we received an emailed response.
The AEC said the “donations” disclosed by Singtel Optus Pty Ltd “have also been disclosed by the relevant political parties” but disclosed as “other receipts” rather than “donations”.
“There is a reporting discrepancy between the disclosures, and the nature of the transactions will need to be determined to establish whether a breach of the Electoral Act has occurred,” said AEC spokesman Evan Ekin-Smyth.
However regarding the vastly more serious matter of the donations being illegal – whatever they were filed as – the AEC refused to comment.
“In line with standard practice, the AEC does not comment on activities it may be conducting, or correspondence it may or may not have with particular individuals or entities on matters that may trigger an obligation under the financial disclosure scheme,” said Ekin-Smyth.
“Where the AEC identifies that full disclosure has not occurred, the AEC will pursue the matter and seek disclosure directly with the person or entity concerned. If an amendment is required, it will be published on the Transparency Register.”
The AEC has been heavily criticised by the Australian National Audit Office for failing to do its job properly and take appropriate action against parties breaking the law.
Last year Optus was the subject of the biggest data breach in the nation’s history, with the personal details of around 10 million Australian’s exposed, roughly every second adult.
CEO Bayer-Rosmarin has repeatedly claimed Optus had been subject to a “sophisticated attack”, despite providing no evidence to back her claims.
Cybersecurity Minister Clare O’Neil has repeatedly and strenuously rejected Bayer-Rosmarin’s claims, as have many other experts.
Bayer-Rosmarin is yet to correct the record. She is also steadfastly refusing to say whether the group’s global security arm Trustwave, which it bought for $1 billion in 2015, was being used to protect Optus’ own customers.
In Febraury last year Bayer-Rosmarin announced Optus had appointed Gladys Berejiklian to an executive role.
That was just months after Berejiklian voluntarily resigned as NSW Premier, after the NSW Indepdent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced she was one of two people officially under investigation in a major corruption probe.
The ICAC is yet to release its findings, which it has said it expects to do after the “first quarter” of the year, which is after the March 25 NSW election.
Help us get the truth out from as little as $10/month.
The need for fearless, independent media has never been greater. Journalism is on its knees – and the media landscape is riddled with vested interests. Please consider subscribing for as little as $10 a month to help us keep holding the powerful to account.