Australia: Liberty Works owes $172,000 to government

The libertarian think tank Liberty Works has ignored several demands for a response about paying more than 172,000 dollars in legal fees incurred by the Australian federal government due to two unsuccessful cases over restrictions on Covid-19 and the foreign influence transparency register.

Liberty Works, chaired by the prominent “no” voice activist Warren Mundine, lost a case in 2020 that questioned the constitutionality of the register and whether it infringed on the freedom of political expression. Liberty Works argued that the register prevented people from freely communicating their political opinions.

Individuals or organisations who lobby, conduct communications activities, or make contributions on behalf of a foreign principal for the goal of political or governmental influence are required to register under the foreign influence scheme, which was introduced in December 2018.

Following an investigation by the department of the attorney general into whether Liberty Works and the former prime minister Tony Abbott should be required to register in association with the first Australian Conservative Political Action Conference (Cpac), which is linked to conservatives in the United States, the thinktank filed a challenge to the scheme in court.

In 2021, Liberty Works also brought a lawsuit against the federal government on the travel restrictions imposed by Covid-19, which prevented Australians from leaving the country. However, the lawsuit was unsuccessful.

In both of these lawsuits, Liberty Works was ordered to pay the Commonwealth’s legal fees, but they have not done so.

At the estimates hearing in June, in answer to questions on notice from Senator Helen Polley of the Labor Party, the Department of the Attorney General revealed that LibertyWorks had not responded to invoices or requests for payment.

According to the agency, in the matter involving Covid-19, the commonwealth attempted to negotiate a set price with Liberty Works but did not receive a response from them. After then, a bill of costs was delivered in February of the previous year, followed by a certificate of taxation for $172,000 delivered in May of 2022.

There was no response that was obtained. After that, the federal court issued a certificate of taxation, but they still did not receive any kind of response. After then, in March of 2023, an invoice was sent to Liberty Works with the request that payment be made by the 3rd of April. Midway through the month of July, there was still no response, and the debt had not been paid.

The health department stated that it was “giving further consideration to costs recovery” in that particular instance.

The attorney general’s department stated in the case before the top court that LibertyWorks did not reply to several requests from the government to enter into consent orders. According to the statement provided in the Senate estimates, the high court issued orders for payment; nevertheless, the think tank has not paid any of the associated fees.

The cost of the high court action was not broken down in detail, and the attorney general’s department did not provide a comment when asked about the total amount involved. However, the department did say that the problem was now being resolved through the taxation process of the court. It is common knowledge that the lawsuit will most likely go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars range given that it was prepared for the highest court in the land.

At the time that this article was written, the LibertyWorks website referred to Mundine in the role of chair. In addition to his role as president of LibertyWorks, Andrew Cooper, who is also the founder and executive director of Cpac Australia, holds the position of chair of that organization.

Commentary has been requested from LibertyWorks, Cpac, and Mundine at this time. Fair Australia, the organization led by Mundine that is opposed to the voice referendum plan, was also contacted by media for their take on the matter.

As chair of the Cpac, Mundine will serve as the featured speaker at the upcoming event to be held in Sydney later this month. In addition to Abbott, other speakers include Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Pauline Hanson, leader of One Nation, and Moira Deeming, a former member of the Victorian Liberal Party. The “platinum experience” ticket costs $7,000 and has a starting price of $119 for the two-day event. Ticket prices start at $119.

The official campaign literature for the no side in the referendum cites “the risk of legal appeals and delays means a risk of dysfunctional government” as one of the reasons why people should vote no in the referendum.

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