Julie Bishop’s job with Palladium caught Dfat by surprise | Australia news


The foreign affairs department had no idea Julie Bishop was taking a job with one of Australia’s biggest foreign aid contractors until it was publicly announced, internal documents show.

Documents obtained by the Guardian through freedom-of-information laws suggest the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was blindsided by a July announcement from Palladium, a multinational aid contractor, that Bishop was joining its board.

Bishop, the former foreign affairs minister, had only left parliament months earlier, and the appointment prompted Labor to allege a breach of ministerial standards.

Inside the department, Bishop’s appointment prompted a flurry of urgent emails between senior officials.

One unnamed official asked Dfat deputy secretary Clare Walsh to organise an “urgent” briefing on the announcement for question time, seemingly aware of the likelihood for controversy.

“Given DFAT association with palladium [sic] through the aid program, would it be possible to get an urgent [question time brief] on the Bishop board press and any other angles that might run on this?” the unnamed official asked Walsh.

Subsequent documents reveal that Dfat was not aware of Bishop’s plans to take the job prior to Palladium’s announcement.

Talking points prepared soon after the announcement advised that, if asked, the department should say that it had no knowledge of Bishop’s appointment before it was announced.

The talking points also advise the government to say there was no noticeable increase to Palladium’s share of Australia’s foreign aid program under Bishop’s watch. They also advised the government to say that Bishop would not give Palladium any advantage in bidding for future work, and that she did not have direct influence on procurement in her former role as minister.

Bishop has consistently denied any suggestion she breached ministerial standards, saying she knows her obligations and will comply with them fully.

The current federal ministerial standards require that ministers do not lobby, advocate for or have business meetings with government, parliamentarians or the defence force on “any matters on which they have had official dealings” in the past 18 months. The standards also say that ministers should not use information they have obtained in office for private gain.

The controversy involving Bishop and Christopher Pyne, a former defence minister who went to work for consulting giant EY, prompted a Senate inquiry that held hearings earlier this month.

Palladium has been a huge recipient of work through Australia’s foreign aid program. In 2016/17 alone, about one-quarter of Australia’s aid program was outsourced to private firms.

A large proportion of that work was handed out to 10 foreign aid contractors, one of which was Palladium. Palladium won 53 aid contracts worth $99m, or roughly 2.8% of Australia’s aid spend. It won the third-highest number of aid contracts of any private firm.

Bishop ceased to be foreign affairs minister in August last year.



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