Thursday, March 1, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Enough Cash already
Ministerial standards are now way too low

What Michaelia Cash said in Senate estimates yesterday was bad, but what’s even worse is the fact that she is still a minister at all. Her continuation in office, despite having misled parliament, is a serious degradation of standards of ministerial accountability, which is a linchpin of the Westminster system.

A bit of history shows how far standards have deteriorated. In 1992, Ted Pickering was police minister in John Fahey’s Coalition government in New South Wales. He was asked in parliament about the case of teenager Angus Rigg, who had allegedly attempted suicide by hanging himself in the cells of Milton Police Station. The story had appeared on A Current Affair the previous evening, and in the Legislative Council Pickering said that the first he’d heard of it was when he was told the story was going to air “last night”. Months later, it emerged that in fact a daily press briefing, summarising all of the day’s police-related stories, and including a brief mention of the Rigg case (but with no further comment or advice from the police), had in fact been faxed to his office. Pickering had even apparently affixed a blue “sticky” note to the relevant page, although the arrow drawn on it pointed to a different news item. It was hardly a briefing at all, but when he was presented with the faxed document Pickering decided that, however unwittingly, he had misled the House, and resigned immediately, on the spot. He made no excuse or attempt to wriggle out of it – for example, by explaining that he had not read or had forgotten about the briefing at the time he made the statement (and indeed he was on holidays at the time).

That was a quarter of a century ago. Contrast Michaelia Cash. During estimates hearings in October last year, she misled the Senate five times about whether her own staff had tipped off the media ahead of a raid by the federal police on the offices of the AWU. After the dinner break, during which Cash read Alice Workman’s story on BuzzFeed that reported the media had in fact been tipped off by staff in Cash’s office, the minister came back in and made a brief statement:

“Chair, during the dinner break I sought further assurances from my staff. I have just been advised that, without my knowledge, one staff member in my office, in the course of discussions with journalists, indicated that he had received information – indicated that he had received information that a raid may take place. I am advised that this information came from a media source. I was not aware of it at the time and was not aware of it earlier today in estimates. This took place without my knowledge and was not authorised by me. As previously indicated, I was not notified of the raids until I watched them unfold on the television. My staff member has resigned.”

Cash simply denied she had ever misled the Senate and has remained in office, despite a blizzard of negative headlines and calls for her resignation. As New Matilda’s Ben Eltham wrote: “no one resigns for misleading parliament anymore. It’s just another example of the declining standards of political integrity in this country.”

In the short time since, in the wake of Barnaby Joyce’s resignation, standards appear to have slipped further. Now, Cash has been forced to withdraw threats to name female staffers in Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office whom she claimed to have heard rumours about. In the face of a wave of condemnation, the prime minister today defended the indefensible, saying she was “bullied and provoked”. Peter Dutton has complained [$]: “We’ve sat here taking a morals lecture from Bill Shorten in relation to Barnaby Joyce over the last few weeks and people know that there’s a history of problems in Bill Shorten’s personal life, Tony Burke’s personal life. And to be lectured by the Labor Party really sticks in the craw.” And it has emerged [$] that since 2015 Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has claimed $32,000 in taxpayer-funded family travel for her long-term property developer boyfriend David Panton, despite not having disclosed his financial interests on the parliamentary register because she has not classified him as her spouse or de facto partner.

Ministerial accountability is shot, parliamentary entitlements are being abused, and we seem about to be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of sleaze. Introducing a national ICAC is the very least we can do.

since this morning

BuzzFeed reports that the Department of Home Affairs has been ordered to release documents that will reveal whether Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg disclosed his alleged romantic relationship with a staff member to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Quaedvlieg has received close to $500,000 during his time on forced leave since May 2017.

The ABC reports that some 57,324 firearms were handed in during the federal government’s gun amnesty last year, including 2500 fully automatic or semi-automatic guns that were previously unaccounted for, and 2900 handguns.

Clive Palmer has told the AFR [$] that he plans to proceed with his $6.5 billion Waratah Coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin later this year, whether Indian energy giant Adani secures funding for its controversial $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine or not.

in case you missed it

The Australian [$] reports that Bill Shorten accepted a $17,000 private green-funded tour of the Great Barrier Reef and charter flight over the Adani coalmine, during which he pledged to environmentalists that a Labor government would seek to use federal laws to revoke the licence of the Indian mining giant.

Actuary and transport expert Ian Bell writes for about how Sydney’s WestConnex has gone from four toll roads to 10, and that tolls may rise 40–50 per cent.

by Kate Holden
Taking stock of #MeToo
How do we make sense of such a complex movement?

by Shane Danielsen
Treasures buried at the Berlin International Film Festival
A lacklustre line-up concealed the beautiful and the beguiling

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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