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Who profits from our aid? An untold story


IF YOU ASK most Australians who delivers Australian aid overseas, they’ll most likely list big, well-known NGOs such as Oxfam, World Vision or Caritas.

Most would be surprised to know that for nearly a decade one of Australia’s most successful, although little-known, aid companies and its biggest casino operator were owned by the same company.

We’ve studied the records of one of Australia’s biggest foreign-aid companiesGRM International. Until December last year, GRM was fully owned by the Bahamas-based company Consolidated Press International Holdings, a key company in the private empire of one of Australian richest families, the Packers.

The central question at the heart of this web of complex company structuring is this: such set-ups for tax minimisation purposes are common in international company business, but is it acceptable for major recipients of Australian government contracts to operate in this way?

GRM International handles hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government contracts each year. Yet, according to its most recent financial statements, it doesn’t make a profit and hasn’t had any employees since 2005.

It’s just one of many surprises and inconsistencies that surround the company, which was sold by the Packer family to some of the company’s directors, managers and business associates last December.

GRM secured more than a billion dollars worth of AusAID contracts between 2001 and 2010, as well as income from its agribusiness activities.

A large amount of this money has been for “technical assistance” in the form of short-term contracts for expert advisers. This form of aid is more common in Australia than in other OECD countries and has been criticised by a recent review of Australian aid to PNG as often ineffective, wasteful and lacking in accountability.

GRM’s highest-profile jobs have been for managing the civilian end of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. It has received hundreds of millions of dollars to hire judges, magistrates, public servants, court officials, the Ombudsman and the RAMSI public relations team, advise on financial policy and manage the local prison.

Even the deputy managing director of GRM International, Darryn Purdy, who until the sale was its Asia-Pacific regional director, said he had no idea why GRM had filed accounts listing zero profit.

“Maybe ASIC data is not up to date,” said Purdy, and then suggested Consolidated Press should explain the anomaly…

AusAID’s contracts are managed according to the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines. For large contracts, AusAID says it requires contractors to provide information on their financial status, ultimate ownership and other related entities and the previous three years’ accounts. It hires accounting firms to assess these.

ACIJ asked AusAID when it was aware GRM International was owned by CPIH and if it was aware it was based in a tax haven and that it owned casinos. A spokesperson said: “AusAID has been aware for many years that Consolidated Press Holdings was GRM International’s ultimate owner.”

It did not respond to the question about the tax haven or the casinos other than to say: “AusAID has had no direct commercial relationship with CPH. AusAID’s contractual dealings have been with GRM International.” ACIJ has contacted AusAID to confirm that it was not aware of CPIH’s role but as yet has received no reply.

ACIJ also asked AusAID about the company records showing no employees, to which it replied: “AusAID has regular direct dealings with GRM personnel. How GRM reflects this in its reporting to ASIC is a matter for GRM and ASIC.”


* Wendy Bacon is the director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and Flint Duxfield has just completed a postgraduate journalism course at UTS. This investigation was a joint project between ACIJ and Link to the full Crikey story here.


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Mari Ellingson

Now they tell us! Good one Wendy and Flint. Sign of a mature aid relationship is when both parties come to the table clean - and I mean clean - with information that should sustain that relationship and it's impact on communities on both sides.

Effrey is right - different people have different views and levels of understanding of the aid program and hence one can have a good or rocky relationship.

I would still stress that what Wendy and Flint have revealed here is the result of bad management of the aid program.

Neither side understands the other well enough or feel comfortable enough with the other to lay all their cards on the table. The governance arrangements of the aid programme suck! Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk...

The aid program/relationship has, even after so many years, not one area where a benchmark can be set! Perhaps highlights here and there (albeit few and far between) thanks to the individual efforts of a handful of enlightened and no-nonsense technical advisers and national counterparts.

I'm glad that various aspects of the aid program continue to surface thanks to concerned people found on this site.

More information is becoming available to continue an informed debate that should result in synthesising good lessons and best practice on how aid is planned, granted, utilised, reported on and managed.

I'd venture further, and strongly recommend that officials be more robust especially on the PNG side so accountability in this area of bilateral relations is guaranteed and ensured.

Furthermore I suggest that management of the aid program be a joint undertaking that must unequivocally include strong representation from civil society/NGOs, and the private sector at the decision-making core.

Some thinking out of the box is in order - never too late.


Someone might want to check out the Australian Government tenders site.

It lists all the recent and upcoming contracts for AusAID in PNG. Everything from supplying marine diesel and tree management services for cemeteries to the high-end items like Targeted Training Facility and the Law and Justice programs.

I notice that one individual adviser gets over $1,000,000 (tax free of course) for two years worth of Management Advisory Services to Law and Justice.

Effrey Dademo

If you ask a Papua New Guinean villager 'who delivers aid to PNG', the first answer they'll give is AusAID. They know little about how Oxfam, World Vision or Caritas get the funding necessary to deliver on the ground.

It's interesting how understanding differs between donor and recipient countries. Thanks for that insight about GRA. It certainly is news to me..

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