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Dandy swords, diamond daggers – Governor-General David Hurley’s royal legacy unveiled

by Jommy Tee | Apr 30, 2024 | Government, Latest Posts

Gold swords and diamond encrusted daggers. New documents reveal the pomp behind outgoing Governor General David Hurley’s charity and royal regatta exploits. Jommy Tee with the story.

In 2119, a centennial will take place. As part of the ceremony a hand-written note will be taken out from a secret compartment in an engraved silver sword. No doubt the note – penned by Australia’s Governor-General, David Hurley – will be read aloud and historians will shake their heads trying to make sense of it all.

The note will be the century-long legacy of the G-G, instigated at the behest of Sydney businessman and Henley Royal Regatta and Leander Club member, Chris Hartley.

It will be immortalised moreover not only by the people of Australia but also the burghers of the UK’s Leander Club – the most prestigious and decorated rowing club in the world.

The close association between the G-G David Hurley and the Royal Family-connected Chris Hartley culminated in the 2019 King’s Cup military rowing extravaganza, held at the Henley Royal Regatta, and the subsequent and peculiar demise of the GG’s charity, the Australian Future Leaders Foundation.

Hurley’s term as G-G can be defined by his relationship with Hartley. One of secrecy, military vanity, and paying lip service to open and accountable administration.

The (dis)honour roll of the G-G’s controversies included not blinking an eye when appointing Scott Morrison to multiple ministries, starring in a promotional video for his builder, allowing Government House to be used a wedding reception venue for his daughter, as well as being a willing and powerful advocate to turn Chris Hartley’s pipe dreams into reality.

Before the G-G lobbied then Prime Minister Scott Morrison for $18 million of government funding for the ill-fated Australian Future Leaders Foundation, they had occasion to be involved with the 2019 King’s Cup military rowing. The grant was rescinded by the Albanese government after pressure from the cross-bench.

All the way with FOIA

An FOI – sourced from Australia’s closest ally the US – reveals a much more close relationship between the G-G and Chris Hartley than previously publicly claimed.

All of our previous attempts at obtaining documents associated with King’s Cup via FOI requests lodged with G-G’s Office have been knocked back.

The American FOI documents add considerable weight to previous evidence that Hurley and Hartley were very well acquainted and their association pre-dated Hurley’s advocacy for the Hartley-conceived Australian Future Leaders Foundation.

The relationship between the pair as part of the King’s Cup is worth revisiting. It highlights a case of the Hartley tail wagging the Hurley dog.

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“No existing relationship”

Chris Hartley’s name first sprung to prominence as the man behind the mysterious Australian Future Leaders Foundation and the scandalous $18 million grant it was awarded by the Morrison government.

David Hurley’s arms need a ruler: how the Governor-General’s favourite charity got “top of the pile” treatment

At the time, the GG’s chief bureaucrat, Paul Singer, released a statement.

“The Governor-General does not have a relationship with Mr Hartley (other than discussions about the Australian Future Leaders Program and briefly meeting in 2019 around the 100th anniversary of the Peace Rowing Regatta),”

Later, at Senate estimates, the G-G’s official secretary added:

“there is no existing relationship”.

The relationship was described as “tangential, peripheral” through the King’s Cup.

A pictorial “how-to” guide

The American FOI documents point to the G-G being used as a pictorial guinea pig in Hartley’s legacy experiment that would be revisited in 100 years’ time.

In an email entitled, Sealed message in Annapolis Sword, Hartley wrote to the US Naval Academy in February 2020 – several months after the King’s Cup event – seeking a handwritten note from the winning US King’s Cup crew, coaches and the military hierarchy which would be time-capsuled and opened in 2119.

The one-page set of instructions was accompanied by several photos of Australia’s G-G sitting at his desk, Australian and Commonwealth of Australian flags draped in the background, penning a similar note.

It is of course one thing for the G-G to write the note; it’s another thing to be photographed writing and signing it, and yet another thing to have the sealed note in its archival packaging laid upon on the G-G’s official letterhead.

It does strike us at MWM that Hartley’s capacity to organise and obtain access to the photos, taken in the G-G’s office as going well beyond the oft-stated “no relationship” status between the pair.

Hartley referred to the photos in his email simply as “See various photos below”, and wanted to collect similar proofs from the US hierarchy.

It beggars belief the compliant Hurley so readily acquiesced to having these photos provided to Chris Hartley and then having Hartley use them as an embarrassing footnote to a how-to set of instructions. Perhaps this was the “tangential, peripheral” relationship the G-G’s Mandarin, Paul Singer, referred to at Senate estimates?

Message to the future

A message to the future

M Kingdom for a sword (or two, or three)

An earlier email – subject heading: The King’s Cup and POTUS – sent by Hartley in January 2020 alerts the Americans to the fact that Hartley had commissioned a “one-metre solid silver sword with a gold river on the side plus a diamond marking the location of Henley.”

The email lets slip there’s not one sword, no – not two, but in fact three swords.

Hartley also divulged the news of Australia’s vice-regal involvement with one of the swords:

“the Australian Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief has already agreed to present one to Leander Club and has written a message sealed in a secret compartment for the next one hundred years.”

The photos of the G-G signing his hand-written ode to the Leander Club subsequently became an appendage to the how-to-guide signing instructions for the Americans.

The email also details attempts to get Her Majesty The Queen to sign a similar note for sealing inside the sword designated to be presented to Henley Royal Regatta.

Her Majesty, however, would only write a note on the proviso that the President of the US (POTUS) also penned a similar note.

MWM has been unable to confirm whether the Queen and POTUS did write notes.

We can, however, say that Australia’s GG and Commander-in-Chief and Head of State, David Hurley, had no compunction and was the first, and perhaps only, Head of State to do so.

A dagger for the Commander-in-Chief

The email also let on that the countries that raced at the King’s Cup but did not win the event, would receive a “prize”.

Well, not quite the countries, but the respective Commander-in-Chiefs would receive a dagger fashioned by no less than the Royal Jewellers, Cleave & Co.

MWM has previously detailed how one of the King’s Cup daggers was presented to the New Zealand Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief, Cindy Kiro, in August 2023.

According to the Leander Club, which wrote a news update about the NZ presentation, the dagger was constructed of “silver, gold and diamond with hand-enamelled New Zealand colours”.

We await news from our own G-G about his very own dagger.

The Leander Club dinner

As MWM has previously exposed, the relationship was, in fact, much deeper and goes back to at least 2018 when Hurley was NSW Governor.

Over a slap-up dinner in March 2018 at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, organised by Chris Hartley, to honour the 200th anniversary of the UK’s Leander Club, the star guest was then NSW Governor David Hurley.

Hurley, who sat beside the host, Chris Hartley, other assembled Australian and international military top brass, and rowing and Leander Club officials announced to the world the “Australian Defence Force would defend their King’s Cup title at the 2019 Henley Royal Regatta.”

Apparently, the King’s Cup relationship between Hartley and Hurley was claimed to be non-existent, yet without the “tangential” interactions, one doubts the Hartley/Hurley team would get together again to promulgate the infamous fiasco of the Australian Future Leaders Foundation (AFLF).

This is serious, Ma’am

There is, of course, a serious side to the Hartley/Hurley relationship, and it goes to accountability and whether the G-G’s involvement with Hartley in the King’s Cup clouded his judgement regarding subsequent advocacy for the AFLF.

MWM put multiple questions to the G-G in relation to why the Australian public weren’t told about the pre-existing relationship when the Morrison government granted $18 million to the Australian Future Leaders Foundation.

Royal Favours: pipe and slippers time for David Hurley and Scott Morrison

Crikey previously reported on the conflict of interest aspects of the grant.  The G-G was ultimately in the position of signing into law two legislative amendments that had been passed specifically for the benefit of the AFLF. One to enable the payment of $18 million (with a guarantee of more) and the other for conferring Deductible Gift Recipient tax status.

Despite us posing the question, It is still unclear whether the G-G even divulged his relationship with Hartley through the King’s Cup to the Prime Minister when he sought Government support funding for the Foundation that was headed by Hartley.

It really points to the lack of an effective institutional mechanism to hold the G-G and his Office accountable.

In relation to the King’s Cup, everything has been brushed aside via disingenuous public statements from the G-G’s office, obfuscation at Senate estimates hearings, and refusal of FOI requests because of specific in-built exemptions in the FOI Act.

MWM has lodged several FOI requests with the G-G’s office and they have all been denied due to the section 6A provision in the Act.

Basically, the FOI Act only has a restricted application to the G-G’s Office, being relevant only in respect of requests for access to documents relating to “matters of an administrative nature.”

The G-G’s website adds,

The Act does not apply to requests for access to documents that relate to the Governor-General’s discharge of official functions conferred by the Constitution or an enactment.

MWM has long held the view the G-G’s Office categorises anything embarrassing as being exempt from FOI.

For instance, our request for all correspondence associated with King’s Cup – which we naively thought constituted an administrative matter – were ruled as being “a substantive power and function” of the G-G and hence exempt from FOI.

We also put direct questions in relation to the dagger to the G-G – whether he had received it, whether he would keep it and saw it has a perk of office or whether he would donate it to a national institution?

We also queried why the G-G’s handwritten note to the Leander Club and photoshoot were not diarised and publicised and whether correct protocol had been followed regarding the retention of documents under the Archives Act.

The National Archives informed MWM that “if a note is created in Governor-General’s official capacity, a copy should be created for their official records.” These will be managed in compliance with the Archives Act.

In the meantime, the silence of the G-G persists.

ADF minions

Having played and landed the G-G like one would lure a trophy trout, Hartley reached his bag limit by capturing various international military officers, defence attachés, and diplomats using the seductive lure of social engagements as bait.

The FOI documents expose in painstaking detail and, at times, comical fashion, the rarefied world of Sydney businessman Hartley, who ingratiated himself with the military top brass of the King’s Cup participants (Australia, UK, US, New Zealand, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Germany).

When the idea for the King’s Cup was still forming in Hartley’s mind, he was laying the groundwork for seeking high level government support, including in Australia’s case hosting the Australian defence minister in July 2018.

In one email to the American Navy’s rowing coach, Hartley recounts his time at the 2018 Henley Royal Regatta, stating:

“…France and the UK have formally confirmed. The Australian Defence Minister was my personal guest on Saturday, and the Kiwis flew over their coach for the recce.”

There was no mention of the hospitality listed in then-Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne’s register of interests. We do, however, note that the Defence Minister Payne had attended a Chris Hartley-organised event – the Gurkha Challenge – in Sydney the year prior.

The room with a view

In effort to entice countries to participate in the Kings Cup, and move it from concept to reality he organised a dinner in Sydney on October 19, 2018.

The venue for dining would be the Rothschild & Co Boardroom – a suitably prestigious location for the gathered military officers and officials. Rothschild & Co. is one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory groups.

In an email, Hartley described the venue as:

….34 floors above Sydney overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour, and I will raid the cellar.

MWM has never been to the Rothschild Boardroom, but we are reliably informed that it does have commanding views, and we can only assume that the top military brass enjoyed the magnificent views and top tipples.

The dinner would also double as a briefing session for the gathered senior military figures from around the world.

The gathered (male) military top brass would “collectively discuss the gender balance in the crews, review the trophies, be briefed on Regatta logistics and protocol, fund-raising and presentations, and watch a number of videos, including footage of Henley Royal Regatta and the 1919 crews and event.”

Hartley gathered and received acceptances from the UK Vice Chief of Defence Services, (VCDS), the Canadian VCDS, defence attachés from New Zealand and Italy. An Australian Major General and Air Vice Marshall accepted. Other invited guests included the Chief of the Australian Defence Forces, Angus Campbell, UK’s Major General  Ivan Jones and Air Vice Marshall Tunnicliffe.

It is believed the US embassy in Australia also sent a representative after Hartley had sent out his invitation to General Paul Selva too late.

In that email, Hartley also flagged that he would contact the US military in order to assist with his trip to Washington.

Hartley added, “I will brief the British and Australian defence attachés in Washington, not least as I want one of them to host a Kings Cup event for me.”

Diplomatic panel beating

The lead-up to King’s Cup and its post-event activities were a travelling circus of functions, events, and photo opportunities, all of which involved Hartley hobnobbing with the military’s finest and the diplomatic corp.

Nothing epitomises the sheer scale of the ludicrousness more than an event Hartley planned to curry favour with various London-based Ambassadors and High Commissioners from the competing King’s Cup countries.

The event would show off the trophies and sword Hartley had commissioned to the no doubt bedazzled throng he would invite.

Hartley stated:

“…and will outline the diplomatic engagements, including permission to use Henry VIII’s wine cellar (underneath Ministry of Defence HQ in London) to bring the cup and sword to manufacture. This will allow the Ambassadors/High Commissioners to physically contribute (a little bit) to the manufacturing process and wield a hammer or two.”

If anyone has photos of the diplomatic corp, ditching their finery and livery, for a spot of trophy panel beating and sheet metal work please forward them to us.

It is unclear whether the intended guest had to BYO Tudor goblets.

As a footnote, the trophies were constructed from molten-down military memorabilia, including from the Australian War Memorial – a topic MWM previously covered in-depth.

GG David Hurley and his beloved foundation, a secret priority yet at ‘arms length’?

Weapons manufacturers sponsorship

The funding from the King’s Cup extravaganza was to be underwritten by sponsorship from the defence industry.

The FOI material shows that a key objective of the King’s Cup media strategy was

to generate publicity to support fund-raising for the event.”

Hartley took every opportunity to press his military contacts for the names of potential sponsors as significant funding was required.

“Within the constraints of Henley Royal Regatta and all eight military organisations, we continue to vigorously pursue funding from likely supporters. Your leads and contacts are appreciated, and time is of the essence. Where direct contact with potential supporters is to be avoided, consider nominating a Defence Industry Association lead. Please contact me for further detail.”

Hartley added that his structure corporate package would provide:

“Exceptional exclusive access and impact in return for support of all eight nations starts at approximately the cost of a single Javelin missile or one Back Hornet UAV.”

Helpfully, Hartley directed sponsors to

channel funding through their Australian subsidiaries to derive tax advantages.

“Financial support will flow through a registered charitable entity, audited and partnered by an Australian Federal Government organisation. This has the added incentive of tax deductibility if funds flow through an Australian subsidiary”.

At the official launch of the King’s Cup held in New Zealand House in London – the launch was originally slated for Australia House but could not be accommodated due to logistical reasons – Hartley was given a platform to:

“…cover the inevitable costs involved, charitable status and government audit assurance as well as critical dates, political and diplomatic invitations, and opportunities for involvement and media”.

A reminder that the King’s Cup was run through a charity registered in Australia – the King’s Cup Organising Committee – which was controlled by Chris Hartley. The charity advised the charity regulator that its the program location was Government House, Dunrossil Drive, Yarralumla.

ADF resource (th)rowing

The newly released documents also identify the previously unknown strong hand the Australian Defence Force played in assisting Hartley in organising the King’s Cup, including having defence personnel involved in the event’s logistics, public relations, and media output.

The resources the ADF threw at the event included having a Commander operating out of Australia House in London and providing logistical support with regard to sourcing boats. The contact point for the Commander was via a @kingscup.org email address.

Hartley advised in an email about the staffing arrangement:

…running this exercises out of Australia House in London by kind permission of the ADF chain of command…

That would be the same structural ADF chain of command that had little knowledge of war crimes committed under its watch but was quite prepared to sufficiently inform themselves to delegate resources to a boat race.

Additionally, the ADF made available a Flight Officer and Sergeant to the King’s Cup media team from late June 2019 through to the conclusion of the event. The role of the ADF personnel was to provide photographic pool coverage of the event and its lead-up and to develop content (including video) for inclusion on the King’s Cup web page.

We asked the ADF a number of questions in relation to the extent of resources dedicated to the King’s Cup and who in the chain of command gave approval. They did not respond.

The G-G, the Leander Club and the Royal Jewellers (Cleave & Co) also did not respond to our questions.

The King’s Cup charity, run by Chris Hartley, no longer exists, having voluntarily revoked its charity status in 2022.  Previously submitted questions to both the charity and Chris Hartley remain unanswered.

The AFLF, a registered charity again run by Hartley, and the pet project of the G-G David Hurley disappeared off the charity register on 1 February 2024.

The Hartley/Hurley relationship should have been openly declared by the G-G rather than being swept under the Axminster carpet. It is a case study of how not to handle a real conflict of interest and really should have seen the G-G dismissed.

Soon, the G-G will leave Government House, having dutifully served the Australian people and, in particular, the interests of Chris Hartley.

All the King’s Horses: GG’s mysterious Australian Leaders’ charity vanishes like the King’s Cup itself

Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir.

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