Outgoing Federal Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon faces being found in contempt of parliament for failing to declare his new business on the mandatory register of members’ interests.
- Mr Fitzgibbon said the company, Fitzgibbon Advisory, had not undertaken any activity
- He told the ABC he had “no idea” whether he would use the company for lobbying or government relations.
- According to parliamentary rules, members must update the register of interests within 28 days of becoming a director or shareholder of a company
The MP for Hunter started a company called Fitzgibbon Advisory last October, less than a month after announcing he would not run in the next federal election.
Yet nearly six months into the business, Mr Fitzgibbon only decided to update the register after being contacted by the ABC.
Company records show that Mr Fitzgibbon is the sole director and shareholder of the entity, with his establishment listed as a residential property in the Hunter area of New South Wales.
According to parliamentary rules, members must update the register of interests within 28 days of becoming a director or shareholder of a company.
If the Register of Interests is not updated, a Member may be found in contempt of Parliament.
According to the Parliamentary Privileges Act, a conviction for contempt of a Member of Parliament can lead to penalties of up to six months in prison or a fine of $5,000.
Mr Fitzgibbon declined to do an interview and, in an exchange of text messages, initially played down his potential breach of the rules, saying the company had “no business”.
“He’s an uneventful mate. My accountant advised me to put something in place now in case I needed it. So what!”
But Mr Fitzgibbon then provided a statement apologizing to the House for the oversight.
“The Fitzgibbon Advisory was registered for possible use after I left Parliament. It was never activated and I do not intend to use it until I leave the House,” he said. stated in the press release.
“He has no assets, no liabilities, no income and no expenses. He has undertaken no business and has no relationships.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said he contacted the Clerk of the House of Representatives to update the register.
In 2018, former Liberal MP Bruce Billson was censured by parliament following revelations from the ABC that he had become director of a business lobby group while still in office.
When asked if Fitzgibbon Advisory would engage in lobbying or government relations activities, Mr. Fitzgibbon replied, “I have no idea.”
University of Queensland parliamentary law expert Graeme Orr said Mr Fitzgibbon’s omission underscored how even inactive or dormant businesses should be listed on the register of interests.
“Section 2 of the resolution which sets out the rules specifies that a member’s holdings and terms of office must be declared,” he said.
“There’s nothing that limits this to companies that are currently trading or have cash in the bank. Even a shell company is an asset, which can be quickly put into action.”
Professor Orr said the rules were written broadly to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest were made public.
“The purpose of the Register of Members’ Interests is to provide information and transparency so that members’ activities can be properly monitored,” he said.
“This may be considered a contempt of Parliament, but this matter will have to be resolved by the Standing Committee on Members’ Privileges and Interests.”
The ABC has asked House Leader Peter Dutton and Special Minister of State Ben Morton if they would refer the matter to the committee, which is investigating potential breaches of register rules.
Mr. Fitzgibbon himself is a member of the commission.
Mr. Dutton and Mr. Morton did not respond to requests for comment.