Labor has now asked the Australian Electoral Commission to «urgently» investigate the group, including the absence of any authorisation on its website and Facebook page.
Company records show Defenders of Self-Funded Retirees Ltd is owned by Canberra-based lobbyist Andrew Higginson, Mr Gunning’s Gold Coast friend Robert «Bob» Harrison and a man called John Richard Evans.
Mr Gunning is a lifelong trucking industry lobbyist who headed the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association and the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association. He has said his proudest achievement was the abolition of Labor’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.
Mr Higginson founded the Australian Trucking Association (formerly the Road Transport Forum) and ran it for 11 years, later becoming executive director of the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association. He also runs a Canberra-based lobbying outfit called HGH Consultants, described by Prime Mover magazine as «the organisation behind both the LBCA and the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association».
Doug McMillan, who authorises some Defenders of Self-Funded Retirees’ campaign material, runs a trucking company in Albury with his wife Pam and is a former Trucking Association vice-chairman and was a trustee of the Transport Industry Superannuation Fund.
Mr McMillan and Mr Gunning were involved in the truck industry’s campaign against Julia Gillard’s climate policy, helping organise the Convoy of No Confidence in which truck drivers converged on Canberra. Mr McMillan also authorised flyers proclaiming: «I H8 Carbon Tax.»
Mr Gunning quit the LBCA to contest the 2016 election for the Liberals against Andrew Leigh in the Canberra seat of Fenner, one of the safest Labor electorates in the country. His role in Defenders of Self-Funded Retirees was revealed because his name appears beside the posts on the group’s Facebook page.
When The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age called the mobile number on the Defenders’ Facebook page, the man who answered the phone declined to identify himself but said a spokesman would call back.
The man who called back identified himself as retiree Arthur Smith, and confirmed the man who had refused to identify himself was Mr Gunning.
Mr Smith conceded he was not actually a spokesman for Defenders of Self-Funded Retirees.
«I know of a few of the guys there … and girls,» he said. «To be quite honest with you I’ve never looked at the website.»
Mr Smith said he was not a member of the Liberal Party but had handed out «brochures» for the Liberal candidate in the Longman byelection, Trevor Ruthenberg, alongside Mr Gunning and Mr Harrison.
Mr Harrison — a co-director of Defenders of Self-Funded Retirees Ltd — also campaigned for Mr Gunning in Canberra in 2016.
Mr McMillan — who authorised one of the Defenders’ flyers — acknowledged the association’s trucking industry connections. Asked if the group should disclose the involvement of Liberal Party figures, he said: «I don’t know. I don’t think it’s all that relevant.»
Neither Mr Gunning nor ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja responded to inquiries directly, but the ACT Liberals issued a statement on Mr Gunning’s behalf.
«Just like hundreds of thousands of Australians, I have been concerned about Labor’s $45 billion tax on retirees since the day it was announced,» the statement said.
«I am proud to have been involved in a grassroots organisation that is standing up for hard-working Australians who have done the right thing and saved for their retirement.»
Defenders of Self-Funded Retirees does not disclose its links to the Liberals or the trucking lobby in its public materials. It does, however, direct users to Liberal MP Tim Wilson’s partisan «Stop the Retirement Tax» website.
On Wednesday, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed Mr Wilson is an investor in funds run by a company, Wilson Asset Management, that is lobbying aggressively against Labor’s franking credits policy.
An audio recording showed the firm’s founder Geoff Wilson — who is related to Tim Wilson — boasted about using his political connections to arrange an inquiry into the policy timed with his own investor roadshow.
Labor subsequently called on Mr Wilson to resign as chair of the inquiry due to «scandalous and highly unethical» conduct.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.