The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has declined to investigate allegations centred around political donations to the NSW Liberal Party from a privately owned Sydney higher education college.
Group Colleges Australia, based in Redfern, is one of a number of privately owned higher education colleges. Political donations in the private higher education sector have come under scrutiny after the Abbott Government introduced legislation that will see more than $800 million of public education funding be made available to private colleges for the first time.
It followed public revelations the Prime Minister’s daughter, Frances Abbott, received a secret $60,000 scholarship to attend the Whitehouse Institute, a privately owned design college based in Sydney and Melbourne.
In June, NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon raised concerns about Group Colleges Australia’s donations to the NSW Liberals – more than $74,000 since 2009 – and the appointment last year of former chief NSW fundraiser Paul Nicolaou as a non-executive director to the company*.
Nicolaou – the former chief fundraiser for the NSW Liberal Party – was found by an ICAC inquiry to have illegally funneled donations to his party earlier this year.
Senator Rhiannon called on ICAC to expand its investigations to Group Colleges Australia, but yesterday, in a written statement, conceded ICAC had declined to investigate the matter.
“In May this year I wrote to ICAC requesting they investigate Mr Nicolaou’s involvement with GCA as a Non-Executive Director, because of donations linking senior managers of GCA to the Liberal Party,” Senator Rhiannon said.
“ICAC have referred my concerns to the NSW Election Funding Authority and I will now be taking this up with them.”
GCA has strongly refuted any wrong-doing.
Senator Rhiannon also called on Nicolaou to step down from his role with GCA.
"Group Colleges Australia could 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,” she said.
"If the Abbott government has its way, universities will be forced to compete with private for profit higher education companies for government funding.
"Considering the allegations surrounding Mr Nicolaou having used the Millennium Forum to help funnel illegal political donations, and the possibility that ICAC may still call him to testify, he should step aside until all investigations are completed.”
* New Matilda had previously incorrectly reported that the Australian Security Investment Commission had no listing of Mr Nicolaou as a director of Group Colleges Australia, however further company searches revealed he is listed as a director of one of the companies that owns GCA.