he's baaaack .....
Tony Abbott's handpicked former parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi has apparently breached strict rules by failing to declare his ties to a right-wing, pro-tobacco group fighting gun controls.
The organisation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, was involved in a High Court challenge against the Gillard government last year and has financial ties with big tobacco.
The US-based council is working with the National Rifle Association to block President Barack Obama's guns crackdown after the Newtown school massacre. An ALEC member since 2009, Senator Bernardi was dumped as Mr Abbott's personal parliamentary secretary in September after he made a speech to Parliament that warned against legislating for gay marriage on the grounds it could open a legal path to bestiality and polygamy.
Mr Abbott's mini-election campaign aimed at emphasising his positive side kicks off in Sydney today ahead of a major address to the National Press Club on Thursday.
Senator Bernardi's apparent non-disclosure on his register of pecuniary interests comes as he has claimed his party's first pick on the South Australian Senate ticket at this year's election, virtually guaranteeing him another term.
The register aims to ensure the public understands politicians' financial interests and other benefits, including sponsored travel. Senator Bernardi is chairman of the Senate committee that polices declarations.
A senior Liberal source expressed "gross disappointment" at his ALEC links.
"Australia's gun law reforms are arguably John Howard's greatest legacy to this country and it is disgusting that a member of the Liberal Party would associate themselves with a lobby organisation that supports far right politics and is a financial partner to the NRA,'' the source said.
For more than three years Senator Bernardi has acted as an "international delegate" for ALEC and member of its International Relations Task Force.
The council lists the NRA among its corporate members. The New York Times this month published an editorial saying: ''Thanks to help from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative organisation of state lawmakers to which the NRA has contributed heavily, five states now allow campus guns. Only nine states prohibit guns at sporting events, and just 26 prohibit them where alcohol is served … The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council were behind the 'stand your ground' laws that allow people to shoot others if they believe they are in danger, which has led to hundreds of deaths while allowing killers to walk free.''
The council was also a major financial backer of the Tea Party during last year's US elections. It has spread its conservative agenda across the globe, especially on tobacco plain packaging. The chairwoman of the task force is Philip Morris International executive Brandie Davis, who drafted two letters sent to the Gillard government in 2010 and 2011, demanding Australia abandon its successful efforts to force all tobacco products to be sold in uniform drab packaging.
British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris, a major supporter of ALEC, last year launched an unsuccessful High Court challenge against the Australian laws.
A sister pro-tobacco lobbying organisation and corporate member of ALEC, the Heartland Institute, paid for Senator Bernardi's accommodation and travel to the US on four separate occasions in 2010 and 2011. The institute recently ran a two-day conference in the US entitled ''Can Tobacco Make You Healthier?''
One of Senator Bernardi's trips was just before the first ALEC letter was sent to the Gillard government, dated October 7. Senator Bernardi enjoyed Heartland's hospitality in Washington from September 30 to October 1.
Repeated requests for comment as to who paid for Senator Bernardi's overseas travel and accommodation to speak at an ultra-conservative convention in Britain last year remain unanswered.
A spokesperson for Senator Bernardi declined to comment on Saturday.