Travel and hospitality

Golf classified: Deputy PM won't budge on naming wealthy golf buddy

Despite our emails, phone calls, and now an FOI request to his office, Richard Marles just won't divulge who provided him with a free round of golf at an exclusive US golf club on the eve of AUKUS talks last year.

Sean Johnson
15 May 2023

Golf tragic Richard Marles and the 17th of Baltusrol's Lower course

What is Richard Marles hiding?

As we reported recently, in January the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister declared to the Register of Members’ Interests that in early December he’d enjoyed a free hit at New Jersey's Baltusrol Golf Club, one of the world's best and most expensive courses, without naming the club member who hosted him.

By doing so Marles failed to comply with the interests register, which require all MPs, even deputy prime ministers, to disclose the source of any hospitality or gift they receive so that the public can assess potential conflicts of interest. Consequently, he breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct, which requires compliance with the interests register.

So in April Open Politics emailed his office to ask for the name of the club member and to politely remind him of his obligations under the register rules and ministerial code of conduct to cough it up.

But his office never replied. Nor did they respond to our phone calls.

Freedom of information

Our next step was to lodge an FOI with his office and the Department of Defence. But as happens with most FOI requests in this country, this one didn’t free any information from the government’s clutches: Marles’ office decided on 11 May to refuse our FOI on the basis that no documents could be found matching the scope of the request.

Not one document?

The FOI decision maker, Marles’ senior adviser and long time Labor staffer Samantha Ferry, said in her decision on 11 May that “all reasonable steps” were taken to identify documents, including “thorough documents searches . . . by ministerial staff of all electronic systems including personal emails and folders.”

The name of the person couldn't be found in the minister’s diary entry of Sunday 4 December 2022, briefing documents, staff emails, or any other documents in the minister’s office.

We weren't surprised there was no name in the minister’s diary, but we were taken aback by the response that no relevant documents exist at all.

It’s standard practice for a minister to receive written meeting briefs with the names and backgrounds of meeting participants to facilitate discussions and prepare for any curly issues being raised.

A formal brief was probably not prepared by the department on this occasion as it was a social event, but it’s hard to believe Marles hit off from the first tee without receiving any written information about the identity and background of the club member from his ministerial staff or other sources.

This is normal political due diligence to ensure ministers are kept away from certain people - the corrupt, criminal, and kooks - and warned about the agendas of logrollers offering generous hospitality (like, say, a round of golf at Baltusrol with membership fees of US$150,000).

However, given the Prime Minister’s appearance the other week at shock jock Kyle Sandilands’ wedding, which was chock-a-block with crims and spivs, perhaps no one does this anymore.

Our sympathies to the Cubans

Let's hope not anyway as the minister with prime responsibility for national security and the procurement of nuclear subs worth $368 billion needs to be extra careful about whom he accepts hospitality from.

And when an elected official in this position of power accepts largesse from someone, the public really needs to know their name.

Open Politics has applied to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner for a review of Ferry's decision.

Do you know more? Email at or DM us via Twitter @openpoliticsAU for our Signal number.

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