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22 October 2020

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today called into question the appropriateness of former Foreign Minister and Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, taking a job as a consultant to the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.

"Mr Downer’s decision to become an adviser to a well-known international tax haven sets a dubious standard for the conduct of former Australian politicians, especially those who have had the great privilege of serving at the highest levels of Australian Government," Senator Patrick said.

"While former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent recruitment to the British Board of Trade drew much attention and criticism, Mr Downer’s low profile engagement with a jurisdiction that serves as an international tax haven and centre for online gambling deserves some scrutiny."

According to Mr Downer’s recent registration with Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme he is now a consultant ‘assisting the Government of Gibraltar in its free trade agreement negotiations with Australia.’

No other details of Mr Downer’s work are revealed, including whether or not he is engaged under contract and for what time frame.

At a Senate Estimates Committee hearing yesterday, officers of the Attorney-General’s Department avoided expressing a view as to whether Mr Downer’s single line registration entry was an adequate level of transparency.  

It is not clear whether Mr Downer has been in contact with Australian Government Ministers or officials as a consequence of his consultancy work for Gibraltar. He is not currently listed on the Australian Government's Register of Lobbyists; nor is his company Tenjin Consulting which highlights "FTA engagement and strategy" as a special area of expertise.  

Mr Downer was the first Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom to visit Gibraltar in December 2017, just four months before departing his London post.

The then Governor of Gibraltar, Lieutenant General Ed Davis, said that Mr Downer was visiting ‘to explore future partnership opportunities’. Mr Downer said Australia’s financial sector ‘could develop an interest’ in Gibraltar. He also noted Gibraltar’s large interest in online gambling and gaming and observed ‘I think our relationship with Gibraltar is going to be a very naturally easy, uncomplicated relationship.’

"Mr Downer went out of his way as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom to visit Gibraltar and he has now taken up a partnership opportunity," Senator Patrick observed. “His twitter feed shows he was in Gibraltar as recently as 6-8 October. " 

“The financial and taxation status of Gibraltar will be part of Australia’s free trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom post-Brexit. Mr Downer’s consultancy is presumably intended to give the Gibraltar tax haven an edge in advancing its interests in negotiations with Australia.”

“International corporate tax minimisation through profit shifting to offshore tax havens is a major problem that costs Australia billions of dollars each year – money that could otherwise be spent on schools, hospitals, infrastructure and national security.”

“One wonders whether Mr Downer consulted with his former colleagues Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne or Trade Minister Simon Birmingham before taking up this appointment, and If he did confer with them, what their response was?”

“It’s not a good look for a former Foreign Minister to make himself available to help a foreign tax haven negotiate a favourable financial and taxation deal against Australia”, Senator Patrick said.  “This doesn’t support Australia’s national interests.”