The Australians Greens have asked a NSW corruption watchdog to launch a probe into claims aired on New Matilda a few hours ago that a prominent Liberal fundraiser already in the sights of investigators has links to a private Sydney college set to benefit substantially from federal government reforms to the higher education sector.
Earlier today, New Matilda broke details of the links between Paul Nicolaou – the former chief fundraiser for the NSW Liberals – to Group Colleges Australia, a private Sydney school based in Redfern.
Mr Nicolaou is already under investigation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption for his alleged involvement in illegal donations from property developers, and lobbying on behalf of Australian Water Holdings.
He was also previously the head of Liberal lobbyist firm Premier State, and later the chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association, which donated around $600,000 to the NSW Liberals and Nationals in 2010 shortly before laws banning industry donations came into effect.
In a written statement issued a short time ago, Greens Spokesperson for Democracy, Senator Lee Rhiannon revealed she has written to the ICAC this afternoon asking them to investigate the details aired by New Matilda, and financial information uncovered by staffers in her office.
“Our research reveals Group Colleges Australia has donated over $74,000 to the Liberal Party since 2009,” Senator Rhiannon said.
"Non-Executive Director Paul Nicolaou, Managing Director Alan Manly and General Manager Jenny McCarthy are all part of Group Colleges Australia according to the company’s website.
“Mr Nicolaou is a former chair of the Liberal fund-raising body, the Millennium Forum.
“Our research reveals Mr Manly and Ms McCarthy have both made private donations to the Liberals of just over $11,000.
Senator Rhiannon called on the Prime Minister and the federal Minister for Education to reveal whether or not they had been lobbied by officials from GCA, given the windfall the company will enjoy from higher education reforms.
"Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Education Minister Christopher Pyne should immediately disclose if they or anyone in the NSW Liberal Party were lobbied by Group Colleges Australia about policy changes to higher education,” she said.
"This company, Group Colleges Australia, is about to benefit from the Abbott Government’s radical reforms to higher education that will see millions of dollars of public money flow to private ‘for profit’ higher education companies.”
Senator Rhiannon also attacked the federal government’s plans to de-regulate the higher education sector, and gut the federal government regulator charged with maintaining national standards and accreditations of tertiary courses.
"If the Abbott government has its way, universities will be forced to compete with private for profit higher education companies for government funding.
“Legislation is also in place that will weaken [the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency], Australia's independent national regulator of the higher education sector, in ways which will benefit ‘for profit’ private higher education companies.
"Considering the seriousness of these allegations the federal government should, at a minimum, halt changes to the higher education sector until this matter is fully investigated,” Senator Rhiannon said.
New Matilda is awaiting comment from Mr Pyne’s office.
Senator Rhiannon is scheduled to hold a press conference at 3pm this afternoon outside NSW Parliament House. New Matilda will bring you details from the conference through live tweets (@newmatilda), with an update to follow on this site.
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