The Politics    Friday, March 6, 2020

This rorting life

By Nick Feik

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then minister for sport Bridget McKenzie in March 2019. © Paul Braven / AAP Image

The prime minister is up to his neck in it

At a press conference today, there was a question that Scott Morrison refused to answer. He refused because the latest development in the sports rorts affair reflects very, very badly on him and his government. Also, because there is no good answer.

What the prime minster did not want to talk about is that the former minister for sport, Senator Bridget McKenzie, this morning threw someone under a bus.

In her first statement in several weeks, McKenzie more or less demonstrated that she is no longer willing to have her name dragged through the mud over the continuing scandal. She would be entitled to feel that she did the honourable thing by resigning. For some reason (yet to be determined), she has now decided that someone else should share the blame.

In Senate Estimates this week, it was revealed that on April 11 changes were made to the final list of sports grants recipients. McKenzie today wrote that she did not make any changes after April 4. The reason that this is a major problem for the government is that at the time McKenzie was the minister responsible. And if she wasn’t making the decisions, who was?

She didn’t say.

“I did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019,” she wrote. “My expectation was that the brief would be processed in a timely and appropriate manner. Nevertheless, changes were made and administrative errors occurred in processing the brief.”

The issue now is not just that funds were allocated according to the political objectives of the government, or that the corrupted process involved the prime minister’s office. Or even that some of the projects were ineligible, according to grant guidelines. It has also moved beyond the fact that public monies were being spent according to these political objectives while the caretaker conventions were supposed to apply. The biggest issue now is that we have a minister admitting that while she was legally responsible, she had nothing to do with decisions that were made in her name.

If we accept McKenzie’s statement, the only possible explanations for what occurred on April 11 are these: that someone in her office was independently making changes in her name without her approval; or that the prime minister’s office was dictating these changes.

Morrison, it should be recalled, has regularly sought to distance himself and his office from the controversy, insisting that McKenzie was the sole decision-maker. But given that there were more than 100 emails between the prime minister’s office and McKenzie’s office (and who knows how many phone calls, text messages etc.); and that the prime minister’s office was coordinating the colour-coding of spreadsheets according to political objectives, Morrison’s assertion is, to put it mildly, unlikely to be absolutely truthful.

Given, too, that the PM’s office made direct requests to McKenzie’s office about which projects should be on the final list of grant recipients, on April 11, as Audit Office executive Brian Boyd told Senate Estimates, it’s safe to conclude that the person thrown under a bus by McKenzie this morning was… Scott Morrison.

The reason this is a major problem for Morrison, perhaps more so than everything else, is this: if the legal authority to disburse this Commonwealth money resided with McKenzie and Sport Australia, then another party dictating where this money was to be spent would, according to the relevant Act, be doing it unlawfully.

What’s more, the prime minister then recruited a public servant, the head of his own department, Philip Gaetjens, into an effort to cover it all up. (Gaetjens’ report, which unsurprisingly exonerated the prime minister, is yet to be made public.)

To be blunt, it’s likely that the prime minister’s office unlawfully directed the spending of millions of public dollars in a corrupted scheme to help boost his chances of re-election. Then tried to cover it up. It’s little wonder he doesn’t want to talk about it.


“Australian laws need to be improved to protect workers against ‘prevalent and pervasive’ sexual harassment.”

A landmark national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission has concluded the current legal system is “simply no longer fit for purpose”.

“The Commonwealth’s ability to respond to these proceedings may be prejudiced if the applicants or their solicitors are made aware of matters covered by this public interest immunity claim.”

The social services minister, Anne Ruston, thinks that giving a straight answer on how many debts had been calculated using the flawed “income averaging” method would potentially create legal problems when the government defends a robodebt class action.

My name’s Scott Morrison, and I have a truth problem
Scott Morrison has admitted he attempted to invite Hillsong founder Brian Houston to a White House dinner. But why did he deny it for so long? And is he telling the truth about his office’s involvement in the sports grants scandal?

61

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, which includes a Sydney high school student, a tourist [$] in the Northern Territory and composer Brett Dean.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new fund of up to $1 billion will be set up to help states with the public health response to COVID-19, of which half will be provided by the Commonwealth. His government will immediately put $100 million into the fund, and increase its contribution as needed.

The list
 

“Created by Cate Blanchett, Elise McCredie and Tony Ayres, Stateless doesn’t debate policy. Instead it accumulates details – often damning – about what such conditions do to the people, on either side of the razor wire, who have to navigate them.”

Dark Waters raises ideas about the limited nature of retribution when it comes to devastating corporate crimes. PFOA, found in the drinking water of West Virginia, is a ‘forever chemical’, meaning that it’s indestructible and nonbiodegradable. Traces have been found in oceans and in the blood of most living things, including 99 per cent of humans … Even after holding corporations and governments to account, when the damage is irreversible and inescapable, what then?”

“Labor MP Julian Hill was addressing parliament on Wednesday about Julian Assange’s legal fight against his extradition to the United States – an act Hill labelled as persecution for ‘exposing war crimes and the misuse of state power’ – when the lights went out … ‘We’ve had a power failure…’ he said, adding, in jest, ‘They’re silencing me! They’ve hacked the parliament!’” 

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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