More links are emerging between private ‘for profit’ colleges and the Liberal Party, amid growing concerns at Abbott Government reforms to higher education which will shift almost $1 billion of public funding into the private sector.
New Matilda’s ongoing investigation into the tertiary sector shake-up has revealed that the owner of a private Sydney college which has been a major donor to the Liberal Party attended an overseas business forum with a NSW Liberal MP last year.
The managing director of Group Colleges Australia (GCA), Alan Manly accompanied Liberal Member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee on a business trip to India in January 2013.
As reported by New Matilda last week, Mr Manly’s business Group Colleges Australia (GCA) – based in Redfern, Sydney - made $53,249 worth of donations to the NSW Liberal Party in the year before it was elected to government. More than $16,000 cannot be accounted for in published Liberal Party records.
Former chief Liberal Party fundraiser Paul Nicolaou, who is under investigation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for illegal political fundraising, is listed as one of three directors of GCA on its website, although a search of official company records lists no current or past involvement by Mr Nicolaou. Neither the company nor Mr Nicolaou have responded to questions about his role in the business.
Alan Manly and his wife, GCA General Manager Jenny McCarthy, have been active members of the NSW Liberal Party, and were publicly thanked in the valedictory speech of outgoing Baulkham Hills Liberal Wayne Merton. They were also thanked in the inaugural speech of his replacement, David Elliot, who was elected in 2011.
In addition to the GCA donations, Mr Manly and Ms McCarthy have also made personal donations to the Liberal Party. In Ms McCarthy’s case, public records show no personal donations to the Party for at least a decade. But shortly after former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell banned corporate donations to the NSW Liberals in 2012, at least $8,000 in personal donations are recorded from Ms McCarthy.
Dr Lee gave a speech about the India trip in the NSW Parliament in February 2013. He described Mr Manly and another Liberal party activist Alan Sexton, who also accompanied them on the trip, as ‘colleagues’.
Also on the trip was Sanjay Patel, who, according to Mr Lee’s pecuniary interest register, paid for Dr Lee’s travel costs.
Mr Patel is a co-owner of Patel Brothers which owns a chain of supermarkets as well as travel, real estate, beauty spa, export and import, restaurants and franchising businesses in Western Sydney. Patel Brothers also owns the Gujarat Times.
Dr Lee told parliament that one of his objectives in taking the trip was to visit Hindu temples associated with the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha [BAPS] community in his electorate. Photographs taken over the trip show that Alan Manly represented GCA during the trip.
While in India, Lee, Manly and Patel attended the Global Business Forum and were photographed meeting with Narendra Modi, the man elected Indian Prime Minister two weeks ago. Mr Patel is a supporter of Modi and according to his Facebook page, attended his inaugural ceremony in India last week.
GCA is planning an expansion of its education and other interests in Australia and elsewhere. In January 2013, Gerard Newcombe, a senior employee with GCA, travelled to Brunei where he told local media GCA was interested in a joint venture between Group Colleges and a local company he described as having “extensive property development and hotel purchases”.
Manly is a director of multiple companies, raising further questions about GCA’s business interests beyond education. Property developers are banned from making political donations in NSW.
Following last week’s story, federal Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon on Friday called for an expansion of the ongoing ICAC inquiry into political donations. She wrote to ICAC requesting it look at the involvement of GCA and Mr Nicolaou in Liberal Party fundraising.
Yesterday, Senator Rhiannon said that the GCA donations and a Reg Grundy donation of $200,000 paid through the Free Enterprise Foundation strengthened the case for a federal anti-corruption agency such as NSW’s ICAC.
The growing concern comes after the recent federal budget, when the Abbott Government announced the de-regulation of the higher education sector by axing caps for university fees, increasing interest rates on student loans and moving around $820 million from public education funding into the private sector.
The announcement, which will see university fees sky-rocket, came shortly before it was revealed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s daughter Frances was provided a secret $60,000 scholarship with another for profit college, the Whitehouse Institute of Design.
Dr Lee’s office told New Matilda he would only accept written questions. They have been submitted, but at the time of press, Dr Lee had not responded.
A receptionist at GCA said that Mr Manly was also not available for interview as he remains on vacation.
- Additional reporting by Max Chalmers.
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