The view from Billinudgel

Failing the sniff test
The government’s handling of the Crown allegations further erodes trust in the system

Source: flickr

Shock, horror – there is a suspicion that Australia’s biggest and most profitable casinos may not be squeaky clean. And, by the way, there have been reports that the pope is a Catholic and that two plus two makes four.

Gambling, graft and crime – the link is inescapable. As natural as the connection between faith, hope and charity, as inevitable as death and taxes. And when gambling becomes an industry, the corruption becomes organised.

Most of the time we accept this as a fact of life and don’t worry too much about it. After all, the victims have made their own choice – if they want to piss away their money to crooks, they have the right to do so. And while gambling reaps huge profits, it also provides a swag of tax revenue.

But when the corruption goes over the top, even the most cynical realise that something has to be done. If criminal syndicates are welcomed into the country, and have avoided Australian law through the connivance of public officials and elected representatives, the government has to act. Except that, apparently, it doesn’t.

Last week’s investigations by Nine Media produced credible allegations that politicians, including two ministers, were involved in fast-tracking highly dubious characters past normal customs procedures and directly to Crown Casino, where they were supplied with anything they might want, including sex and drugs.

But when the Greens and crossbenchers demanded a public inquiry, Attorney-General Christian Porter, with the support of a supine Labor Party, knocked them back with an ineffective alternative that would shield the politicians from scrutiny.

This looks horribly like a stitch-up – an escalation of the corruption it was supposed to prevent. It doesn’t just fail the sniff test – it stinks to high heaven. And the fact that both major parties have received donations from Crown, and that at least two former ministers – the Liberals’ Helen Coonan and Labor’s Mark Arbib – have been given well-paid sinecures by the company, only compounds the stench.

Of course, if there was legislative oversight, much of this could have been avoided: a properly resourced federal integrity commission would have already been on the case. But it appears there is little chance of one in the foreseeable future.

The Coalition has reluctantly foreshadowed a version that has more loopholes than Morrison’s code of ministerial conduct, and although Labor has promised something more robust, the events of last week have made that pledge seem extremely dubious.

In any case it is probably already too little, too late. Trust in the system has been weakened to breaking point. This latest betrayal could easily make it terminal.

So, back to the bipartisan blather about the need for national security, border protection and the rest of the bullshit masquerading as policy. The politicians on both sides seem determined to destroy the foundations of the system of government in the pretence of saving it.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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