Questions: Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion is working to ensure compliance with the code of conduct.
Questions: Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion is working to ensure compliance with the code of conduct. Photo: Nigel Scullion's website

The Abbott government faces another conflict of interest
scandal after it was discovered that an adviser to the Indigenous
Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, held a majority financial stake in a
business that operated within the minister's portfolio.

Only months after the conflict of interest controversy that
forced the resignation of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash's chief
of staff, Alastair Furnival, Senator Scullion faces a similar problem in
his office.

Under the government's strict rules, ministerial advisers
– who have influence over government policies – must not be involved in
businesses that could profit from ministerial decisions. 

Nationals Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion.
Senator Nigel Scullion. Photo: Philip Gostelow

The minister's adviser, William "Smiley" Johnstone, is the
majority shareholder of Indigenous Development Corporation (IDC), a
property development business that is on two of the government's
"standing offer" lists of favoured suppliers. Both lists relate to
Senator Scullion's portfolio responsibilities.

Mr Johnstone is also the founder and leading executive of
Indigenous Corporate Partners (ICP), which helps clients lobby and
negotiate with government.

When Senator Scullion was alerted to these conflicts of
interest, a spokesman replied: "All staff are required to comply with
the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff.

Conflicting interest:   William "Smiley" Johnstone
Conflicting interest: William "Smiley" Johnstone Photo: Getty Images

"The minister will work with the staff member to ensure compliance with the code."

The government's ministerial standards require staff to
"divest themselves, or relinquish control, of interests in any private
company or business … involved in the area of their ministers' portfolio

Mr Johnstone did not respond to questions asking whether
Australian Investments and Securities Commission (ASIC) records that
showed he owned 70 per cent of IDC meant he was in breach of the

Illustration: Matt Golding.
Illustration: Matt Golding.

He also did not respond to questions about possible breaches
of other ministerial standards that require staffers to disclose and
take reasonable steps to avoid conflicts of interest, and to "have no
involvement in outside employment or in the daily work of any business".

While working as an adviser to the minister, Mr Johnstone
also promotes himself as the founder and leading executive of ICP, a
company that describes itself as "independent of government".

The company, which promises to "act in the best interests of
its clients" by helping them lobby and procure funding from government,
does not publicly disclose that its founder works for the minister.

"Indigenous Corporate Partners can assist your organisation
to identify grants and funding available through both government and
private enterprise," the company's website says.

ICP boasts of its "extensive experience in advocating for
Aboriginal organisations in both small and large-scale negotiations with
government". The company does not reveal its client list, but says its
clients include "health organisations, prescribed bodies corporate,
local Aboriginal land councils and private corporations".

Since joining Senator Scullion's office in late 2013, Mr
Johnstone retained his majority stake in IDC, described on the ICP
website as "a self-funded property development company that assists
Aboriginal land owners and communities".

It could not be established how much money – if any – IDC has made from work for the government.

Mr Johnstone holds his stake in IDC behind a company called Kimaka, ASIC records confirm.

He is a well-known figure in indigenous affairs. He was the
inaugural chairman of the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council, a
former director of the Indigenous Business Council of Australia and
former deputy chief executive of the Indigenous Land Corporation.

The conflict in Senator Scullion's office comes less than
three months after a similar scandal damaged the office of Senator Nash.

She was censured by the Senate – the most serious action
available to the upper house – after she employed Mr Furnival, a
lobbyist for the junk food and alcohol industries, as her chief of

As Senator Nash's chief of staff, Mr Furnival met health
representatives on his own and took actions – including ordering the
removal of a government healthy food rating website and stripping
funding from the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia – that
appeared to favour his company's clients at the expense of public

Prime Minister Tony Abbott resisted calls to demote Senator Nash.

with Fergus Hunter