Did Governor-General David Hurley and his top bureaucrat Paul Singer break their own Covid protocols to meet with the head of the mysterious Future Leaders Foundation, Chris Hartley? Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt report.
Both Governor General David Hurley and his top bureaucrat Paul Singer had made the Governor-General’s Australian Future Leaders Program (GGAFLP or Gigaflop according to the spellchecker) their pet project since July 2020, and a secret top priority for the ensuing two years. They had been remarkably successful in convincing the Morrison government to part with $18 million to fund the foundation. The funding was subsequently rescinded by the Albanese government.
Many meetings between Hurley, Hartley and Singer took place to ensure resources could be won for the GGAFLP.
Thank god it’s Friday
One such meeting between the trio occurred at Government House on Friday, August 20, 2021 – when the ACT was in Covid lockdown. The meeting is listed in the Governor-General’s official diary.
The meeting is the only entry for that day, that week, the previous week and for the length of the two-month ACT lockdown (12 August to mid October 2021) that is not listed as being a virtual engagement.
According to the 2021-22 Annual Report of the Office of the Governor-General, Hurley and Mrs Hurley undertook 286 virtual engagements during the lockdown.
The virtual engagements included “constitutional and ceremonial responsibilities such as Federal Executive Council and receiving credentials from foreign Heads of Mission” – they were all “conducted digitally”.
It would be another appalling and concerning lack of judgement by Hurley and Singer if they chose to meet with Hartley about their pet project and top priority during the height of a Covid lockdown.
One that elevated a face-to-face meeting about winning of resources for the GGAFLP above the core constitutional functions of the Governor-General which at the time were all being conducted virtually.
A case of vice regal vanity usurping inconvenient protocols? *
The immediate aftermath of the meeting
The meeting between the trio was obviously important – important enough for Singer on the same day to email the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to update them about the briefing that he and Hurley had received from Chris Hartley.
Previously obtained FOI documents by Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt show Singer alerting PM&C that “to date, this has largely been achieved through good-will, leveraging existing relations and at personal cost”.
Singer added that the meeting with Hartley, prompted the Governor-General to ask for an update on funding and possible dates for a public launch of the GGAFLP”.
The email closed with “in the interim, can you please provide an update on funding (and DGR if possible?) that I can share with the Governor-General?”
PM&C responded a few days later that they were seeking Scott Morrison’s approval to release funding from the “Contingency Reserve” to PM&C, noting the funding was a decision “taken but not yet announced” at the 2020-21 MYEFO.
The GG’s Covid protocols
Through another FOI, MWM has been able to confirm the Covid pre-cautions and restrictions which were meant to apply to the Governor-General and his office on the day of the meeting.
The restrictions were in response to the ACT Government imposing a territory-wide Covid lockdown on 12 August – initially for seven days but then progressively extended until October 2021.
The FOI documents obtained by Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt show that the Governor-General’s Office moved to a “Level 4 – Isolation and Containment” phase of its Coronavirus Action Plan as at 5:00PM, 12 August, 2021.
An urgent office wide email to all staff was sent out by Paul Singer on that day.
Who will the protect their excellencies – the Covid protocols will
The Level 4 requirements meant amongst other things:
- protecting the “health of Their Excellencies”;
- only minimal staff on site at Government House and only with the approval of the Official Secretary, Paul Singer;
- digitising the Governor-General’s outreach; and
- prioritising constitutional and continuity of government responsibilities.
The following day (August 13), another email to staff was sent stating the highly transmissible Covid delta variant access to Government House would be strictly controlled with only a skeleton staff in place – “Times and reasons for coming on site will be limited”.
Then on the day of the meeting (August 20) between Hurley, Hartley, and Singer an early morning (7:38AM), all staff email was sent out reconfirming that “Level 4” restrictions continued to apply.
It would be extraordinary that during Covid lockdown the only engagement that Hurley apparently saw fit to hold in person was with the head of the Foundation that would be running a program that bore his name – the Governor-General’s Australian Future Leaders Program – which Hurley was particularly enamoured with.
Of course, we could be barking up the wrong tree and the entry in the Governor-General’s could be incorrect, but it does seem odd that it is the only one not labelled as a virtual engagement.
MWM has previously sought to confirm with the Governor-General’s Office the apparent face-to-face meeting at Yarralumla between the self-appointed triumvirate. No response has been forthcoming.
* Update 24 May: At a Senate’s estimate hearing on 23 May, Senator David Shoebridge asked Paul SInger about the August 20, 2020, meeting. Singer stated the meeting actually was a “virtual meeting.” However, he then denied it was a “Zoom meeting,” but gave no further explanation as to why the diary entry was incorrect and did not contain the words “virtual” or “video conference.”