Sentient lobsters boil at 200°C, screaming in pain, just so billionaires can slurp them up. Consider this the lobsters’ revenge on the Victorian Opposition Leader. Matthew "tough on crime” Guy was boiled and cooked red after having a sit-down lobster and donations dinner with mobsters.
“Mobster-lobstergate” is reminiscent of a Sopranos plotline. At an exclusive beach restaurant, Guy sought a donation from Liberal supporter Frank Lamattina and his cousin, alleged Melbourne Mafia boss Tony Madafferi. Special investigations by the ABC and Fairfax revealed a cozy lobster and Grange meeting, where there was talk of slicing huge donations into smaller chunks that come under the $13,000 disclosure threshold.
Diners reported the lobster dinner to ABC and Fairfax investigative journalists, who were already in a two-year-long probe, and set off a chain of startling events.
By the end of the week, key underworld figures threatened defamation action against the Deputy Premier James Merlino. “This is not some 1930s Chicago,” he said. “I will continue to speak up.”
Then again, infamous mobster Al Capone did say: “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”
Mobster-lobstergate follows Green Left Weekly’s investigation into Liberal Party corruption, embezzlement and the jailing of the party’s president. It also follows NSW Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell’s fall over a $3000 bottle of 1959 Grange. It comes after a multimillion-dollar government payout to Guy’s developer friends (now ex-friends.) Just weeks earlier, Liberal figures accepted donations from underworld figures in the seaside suburb of Hastings.
Guy is aware that Madafferi is “hot” enough that in June Victoria Police enforced a ban on the alleged mobster entering casinos. When the story broke, and when “tough on crime” election posters appeared around Melbourne, Guy denied knowingly meeting underworld figures. Guy said he thought he was meeting an unknown “cousin Tony” of longtime Liberal supporter Lamattina. The repudiation sounded like a New York mob deal gone wrong.
By the next day, leaked phone interceptions became a “gotcha” moment. Guy was aware. And it was senior Liberals who had organised the meeting.
Liberal fundraising guru Barrie Macmillan can be heard in the tape saying: “It was all kept very private, but I'm not saying Matthew [Guy] didn't know. Matthew knew exactly who was coming to that thing.
"You can't associate Matthew with money, and I would have to be the intermediary. But I'm talking about a swag of money that they're prepared to give for [Guy’s election].’’
The recorded conversations referenced taking limousines to the dinner, secret back doors and bags of money.
"Now, whether we have to do it in $13,000 lots, or how it comes, I'm not going to involve Matthew in handling any money, any cheques," Macmillan said. "I'll do that as a separate exercise, but I will tell Deb [Guy's personal assistant] what's happening so that she can relate that to Matthew.”
Confronted by the evidence and questioned about why he did not leave when he shook hands with mobsters, Guy once more resorted to a Godfather-esque defence: once “you are there [in the room], you are there.” Guy’s mentor Jeff Kennett stepped in saying he would have taken the meeting.
Make no mistake about it, the recordings underlie the deep underbelly of Australian politics.
Mobster-lobstergate appears after a 2016 GLW investigation into the Liberal Party. To recap: the president is in jail for embezzlement of state funds; the state Liberal Party is effectively broke and the Federal Liberal Party has had to bail it out; and $7.7 million in micro donations, which are under the donations threshold, are unaccounted for.
An internal audit last year, sought to clean up the books. The Liberal Party is aware the police were watching their donations. Secret recordings underlie this: "We have to be extremely careful there,” one recording revealed. “Frank's no fool. He knows that there's the [Australian Electoral Commission] follow up and all these things." Recordings also refer to ABC and Fairfax journalists watching the donations.
Guy and senior Liberal Party figures were palpably aware that for at least four years the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had repeatedly warned all political figures to not take mafia “donations". The Italian authorities have said: “Australia is not a target nation anymore; it’s now like a state of Italy from a criminal perspective.”
Long-time connections between the Liberal Party and mobsters have managed to survive. AFP documents and Liberal Party photos reveal Madafferi and his associates meeting John Howard, Robert Doyle and Greg Hunt. Many of their own fundraising images, easily viewed online, feature Australia’s most powerful Liberals shaking hands with mobsters.
In 2008, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull discussed an energy-efficient light bulb contract with underworld figures. Remarkably Turnbull admitted he met underworld fixer and lawyer Joe Acquaro. Acquaro, who admitted giving $100,000 in donations to the Liberal Party, was gunned down in 2015.
One of the most infamous cases of Mafia dealings is then-immigration minister Amanda Vanstone’s 2005 decision to not deport “Mad” Frank Madafferi. The cancellation, on humanitarian grounds, coincided with Frank’s brother Tony Madafferi donating tens of thousands of dollars to the Millennium Forum, a now-defunct fundraising body connected to the Liberal Party.
The AFP and Italian police warned the government not to cancel the deportation. Frank is now serving a lengthy jail term for drug trafficking. Much to the chagrin of Italian police, Prime Minister John Howard appointed Vanstone Italian Ambassador in 2007.
Fascinatingly, in the mobster-lobster recordings Howard is used as a negotiating medium: "The promise is, you know, John Howard used to keep all his promises. Is there a problem?" It was after that Howard reference that Guy apparently chose to attend the lobster meeting.
Even the police are flabbergasted that the meetings and back door donations continue. Police Minister Lisa Neville said: “I don’t think there is an acceptable reason to be associating with people that Victoria Police and the AFP consider to be a significant risk to the state.”
Still actively brokering relationships is key player federal Liberal MP Russell Broadbent. Broadbent organised a fundraiser at a reception centre owned by mafia figures in Docklands in 2013. In attendance was Matthew Guy.
Like many political leaders, this is not the first time Guy has courted donation controversies. Soon after developers donated to the Liberal Party, then-planning minister Guy doubled the size of the Melbourne CBD by rezoning and raising the building height limit.
Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer’s investigation into the rezoning of Phillip Island slammed Guy for the decision and for the Liberal Party members who bought up Island land. Developers sued the taxpayer for $3 million.
Resignation pressure on Guy has intensified and he has referred himself to Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC). If the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is anything to go by, any inquiry is set to be brutal and lengthy.
ICAC’s Operation Spicer investigated allegations that, during the lead up to the 2011 NSW state election, the NSW Liberal Party used the Free Enterprise Foundation to disguise the true identity of donors and evade the prohibition on receiving political donations from property developers. Operation Spicer’s 168-page report concluded that nine Liberal politicians evaded donation laws while developer donations besmirched the state.