Tony Abbott fails to declare daughter’s scholarship connected to donor

May 2014

Tony Abbott’s daughter Frances received a scholarship for a degree costing more than $60,000 from the Whitehouse Institute of Design. Its chairman, who recommended Frances for the scholarship, has donated more than $20,000 to the Liberal party.

Frances Abbott was awarded a chairman’s scholarship for a bachelor’s degree at the prestigious Sydney institute where a donor to the Liberal Party sits as chair of board of governors. The degree cost more than $60,000. According to Guardian Australia, Les Taylor, the chairman of the Whitehouse Institute of Design who personally recommended Frances Abbott to be only the second recipient of the “chairman’s scholarship”, has made donations of more than $20,000 to the Liberal party.

Members of parliament are required to disclose gifts above specified threshold limits with additional requirements for ministers where a gift is retained. The then prime minister Tony Abbott did not declare the scholarship on his register of interests.

A spokesperson for the then prime minister told New Matilda that scholarships were not required to be lodged with the Members’ Interests Register because they were won on merit, and “not a gift”. However, according to New Matilda, advice provided by the Australian Parliament’s Registrar of Members’ Interests, Claressa Surtees, was that the rules governing disclosure of members’ interests does not make a distinction between gifts, scholarships and awards based on merit.

Furthermore, section 2(n) of the rules states that members must declare “any other interests where a conflict of interest with the Member’s public duties could foreseeably arise, or be seen to arise.” As Whitehouse Institute is a privately owned facility, the Abbott government had the power to alter laws to benefit the institution.

According to New Matilda, the Institute declined to nominate any other occasion when the scholarship has been awarded.

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