Lobbyist’s Trad link to gain top access
It took just 24 hours for Labor-linked lobbyist Evan Moorhead to secure access to Treasury officials via ex-Treasurer Jackie Trad's office for a millionaire hotel owner seeking a state bailout.
Emails released to The Courier-Mail through Right to Information laws reveal Mr Moorhead had secured a meeting with a top Treasury official for his client just 24 hours after an email introduction by Ms Trad's then chief-of-staff Mark Bellaver.
The client, Imperium Tourism Holdings, would later receive taxpayer-funded help in the form of a Queensland Treasury Corporation loan.
It shows the speedy introduction lobbyist of the hour and former Labor state secretary Evan Moorhead was able to secure to a high-ranking Treasury executive for a client of his lobbying firm Anacta Strategies.
A Treasury spokesman has rejected any favourable treatment, saying businesses had to meet specific criteria to receive financial support regardless of how it was approached and the approach was one of 3500 direct interactions with businesses seeking funds due to COVID.
"The way in which a business approaches Queensland Treasury when seeking financial support has no impact on these processes," a Treasury spokesman said.
Mr Moorhead is a close friend of Ms Trad, a fellow Left-faction member, with the pair spotted sharing a coffee on a park bench after she quit the Treasurer job amid controversy last year.
Soon before Ms Trad's exit, Mr Moorhead called on Mr Bellaver to arrange an "investor presentation" with Treasury for Imperium, which owns multiple tourism brands.
That includes WebsiteTravel - a booking platform for tourists connecting travel agents and tour operators, which had hit financial issues it blamed on the COVID-19 tourism crash.
At the time of Mr Moorhead's approach, local tourism operators were chasing debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars as the company froze payments while it raised capital.
One Tourism operator, Prosail Whitsundays Josh Wilde, said it was left waiting for months for $100,000 owed by WebsiteTravel for tours the company had run before the COVID shutdown.
"The financial pressure it created was unbelievable," he said.
An Imperium spokesman said all Queensland operators had been fully paid last September and the company had worked hard to resolve issues, changing its business model and setting up an agent and operators fund to segregate monies held.
"With the immediate closure of domestic and international borders, our business, like all tourism businesses, was negatively impacted literally overnight," he said.
"It has taken some time but we have worked extremely hard to positively resolve these issues." He refused to reveal the approval date, amount or terms of the state loans.
Emails reveal Mr Moorhead approached Mr Bellaver in April with a "commercial proposal for the Government" from Imperium, operated by Kiwi rich lister and former Melbourne Rebels rugby club owner Andrew Cox, whose travel empire spans from the backpacker market to luxury hotels.
Lobbying records show contact with the Minister's office by Anacta on April 16 and April 20.
Mr Bellaver emailed Queensland Treasury's Strategic Initiatives Group then-acting executive general manager Robert Fleming on April 28 last year about Imperium's request for an investor presentation.
"They have a commercial proposal for the Government to ensure payment of the operators, while providing a commercial return to Treasury," Mr Bellaver wrote.
"They are the only platform supporting tourism operators, meaning a collapse would mean operators out of pocket and with no booking service (sic).
Mr Moorhead followed with a "nice to meet you (by email!)" message moments later, asking Mr Fleming to make contact "as soon as possible".
The company believed the proposal had a "strong commercial basis" and "can ensure tourism operators are protected…" Mr Moorhead continued.
Mr Fleming responded the next day, ensuring he would "look to arrange a call with relevant reps as soon as can be arranged" and requesting Mr Cox's contact details and availability.
Imperium would secure a Queensland Treasury Corporation loan and a separate loan through a scheme run by the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority.
A spokesman for Anacta said Imperium was one of 7000 businesses that accessed a QRIDA loan between March and September 2020 and that the Treasury loan was "similarly available to businesses affected by COVID-19 related issues."
"The Government responded with the appropriate urgency as this issue coincided with the impact of COVID-19 on operators and customers in Queensland's important tourism sector."
Media reports weeks after the Treasury introduction stated that while the company had secured more than $1 million in loans through the Government's COVID-19 jobs support scheme, tourism operators were still owed money.
Local tourism operators say they have since been paid.
A spokesman for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there are rules about lobbyist engagement, including about the use of the publicly available lobbyist register, and the Premier expects those rules to be followed by ministers and staff.
Originally published as Lobbyist's Trad link to gain top access