One of the entertaining things about living in Australia is that there's always a scandal of some sort or other running in the newspapers. You can monitor the unfolding of these political, economic, criminal, domestic or whatever dramas the way you would watch a soap opera. You're just part of the audience, you're not involved ... unless you are.

Yesterday a story broke about Federal Treasurer Peter Costello's most recent appointment to the board of the Reserve Bank, Adelaide businessman Robert Gerard. Gerard was under investigation by the Tax Office when the appointment was made and evidently, subsequently, had to pay back a very large amount of tax - perhaps as much as $150 million - he had tried to avoid by claiming credits on money given by his family companies to an overseas insurer. The overseas company was in fact his own, registered in the Netherlands Antilles, and the money soon made its way back to him. Eventually, a confidential settlement was arrived at, where an undisclosed sum was paid on the basis that no allegations made by the Tax Office were admitted.

Gerard is a big contributor to the Federal Liberal Party - $1.1 million so far - but has never given a skerrick to Labor. He's a mate of John Howard's and was on the guest list when Little Johnny put on a barbecue for George W Shrub back in 2003, the same year Gerard joined the Reserve Bank Board.

The Gerard fortune - in 2004 he was said to be the 49th richest person in Australia - was made as Robert diversified Clipsal, an electrical accessories business founded by his grandfather, into a multinational empire, as they say. Gerard Industries, the business holding the family's interest in Clipsal, was sold to a French owned multinational towards the end of 2003, allegedly to pay the tax debt. Gerard retains ownership of Gerard Corporation, amongst whose interests is Adelaide publisher East Street. Yes, the same who are bringing out Luca Antara next year.

I knew about Gerard's Empire before I signed the deal in August, though I didn't know he was fiddling his tax, nor that he was on the board of the Reserve Bank, nor that he was a mate of Little Johnny's. If I had would it have made any difference? I don't know. Probably not. There was that advance, kept me solvent from September to November. Nevertheless, or consequently, I feel ... strange. Complicit. I think that's the word.

No comments: