Cormann ducks question as Parakeelia mystery deepens

Not ruling out tax-payer funded donations: Mathias Cormann. Photo: Andrew Meares Dumped Liberal MP for Tangney Dennis Jensen says the Liberal Party see the service more as an “electioneering” tool rather than a legitimate service for constituents. Photo: Andrew Meares

Election 2016: news, analysis and videoYourVote: Which party should you vote for?Sinodinos ‘doesn’t know’ if taxpayer cash goes to company

The Liberal campaign is resisting calls for greater transparency about its financial relationship with a voter monitoring company run by the party, as it can be revealed state MPs also use taxpayer money to pay it amounts likely exceeding $100,000 a year.

Parakeelia has transferred more than $1 million to the federal division of the Liberal party in the past three years, in growing amounts that recently made it the party’s second-largest single source of revenue last financial year.

Liberal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann did not rule out that this could include money originating from taxpayer-funded allowances when questioned by reporters on Thursday. Mr Cormann repeated that both parties receive allowances for software.

Federal Liberal MPs pay $2500 a year to use the company’s “Feedback” software, money that ultimately comes from taxpayer-funded allowances.

In a statement after Fairfax’s story was published on Wednesday, the party said “payments from federal parliamentarians” do not generate a profit for the company.

But MPs across Australia use taxpayer funds to buy the software.

Fairfax can reveal $70,000 was paid to the company by MPs from the South Australian lower house and all Western Australia parliamentarians in 2012-13.

Liberal NSW and Victorian MPs also use the service but representatives from both parliaments have previously refused to say how much money they spent doing so. Those parliaments are exempt from freedom-of-information legislation.

On Thursday night, Liberal Party defector Dennis Jensen claimed the service is predominantly an “electioneering tool” rather than a legitimate service for constituents.

Dr Jensen, who was dumped by the Liberals in the Western Australian seat of Tangney but is standing against the party as an independent, said it “wasn’t really optional” for elected Liberals to use Feedback.

“It was made very clear to members and senators that that this is what they would be using and no questions about it,” he said.

Dr Jensen said the tracking of correspondence with constituents was a “legitimate use” for Feedback because it allowed for issues for the electorate to be identified.

“However, the illegitimate use of it is when it is then used for data-mining for the Liberal Party for issues relating to trying to get votes, for fundraising and other reasons,” he said.

“The Liberal Party sees it as more important to use this as an electioneering tool rather than something for the constituents.”

He said there was an issue around privacy because it was unclear whether Liberal head office uses metadata collected or specific data.

“There’s some very, very serious issues that MPs deal with. In some cases, issues to relating to child abuse and so on. Those people would be horrified if they knew the Liberal Party was getting access to that,” he said.

Greens leader Richard di Natale called on Thursday for an investigation into the “flow of money from Liberal MPs to Parakeelia and from Parakeelia to the Liberal party”.

But the Liberal campaign would not directly say whether the company has generated money for the party from taxpayer funds or detail the reasons it was sending money to the party. Late on Thursday a spokeswoman said only that Parakeelia “has not run as a profit centre”.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister refused to clarify the meaning of “profit centre” on Thursday night.

It can also be revealed that MPs have been paying Parakeelia well over the $1500 to which they have been entitled for software purchases by the Finance Department.

Many MPs are understood to have been covering the $1000 difference by dipping into their electorate allowances.

The purpose of that allowance is, according to guidelines, to cover costs incurred “providing services to their constituents”.

Party insiders say the software is primarily used to gather data on voters’ political leanings to allow MPs to focus on communicating with swinging voters.

Data such as a voter’s marital status, profession and information gleaned from letters to the editor is entered into the software by MPs’ staffers.

The company is registered to Liberal headquarters in Canberra and its directors include the head of the Liberals’ federal division, Tony Nutt.

Labor pays a third party for its software, Magenta Linas, which has not donated money to the party. SA lower house MPs paid $60,000 to that company in 2012-13. Labor has confirmed it runs its software at a net cost to the party.

The Liberals have denied large transfers of cash from Parakeelia to the party’s federal division are “donations” but said they were “payments for services provided through the party”.

How much money Parakeelia receives and from which sources is masked by a $12,000 threshold for disclosing the source of political income. MPs’ individual contributions fall below that threshold.

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