Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Hastie blows up
The backbencher has made the case for a federal ICAC stronger


Were their watches synchronised? Just as we found out via the attorney-general, Christian Porter, that the Turnbull government sees no need for a national independent commission against corruption, government backbencher Andrew Hastie, chair of the powerful intelligence committee, with almost military precision, reveals exactly why we do. A key person in the dark was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who today confessed he had no notice that Hastie was about to lob his grenade, although in a string of questions this afternoon Labor suggested that the media was told. It hardly makes sense. It’s almost as though … as though … the government is being undermined from within.

In an exclusive this morning, The Guardian reported that the attorney-general had written to his Opposition counterpart, Mark Dreyfus, on May 10 to indicate that the Coalition had not ruled out a national integrity commission, but saw no “persuasive evidence indicating an insufficiency in the current multi-faceted approach to combating corruption”. At a pinch, I’d say nobody – not one soul – beyond the political and media class would agree with the attorney-general on that point. Twitter this morning erupted with dodgy examples from VET FEE HELP to Securency. Just yesterday we were writing about a suspiciously sudden $444 million grant without tender, or even a plan, to an unprepared Great Barrier Reef Foundation, whose members are heavy political donors or have links to the fossil fuels industry, and who described it as “like winning lotto”. And today The Australian reports [$] that Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten, and all state and territory leaders have endorsed a gala dinner to be held in Sydney’s Town Hall on Sunday to commemorate 200 years of Chinese immigration to Australia. The event is organised by developer Yuhu Group’s Huang Xiangmo, the former political donor whose dealings with former Labor senator Sam Dastyari led to his resignation from parliament.

Why the government might believe it is clever politics in 2018 to defy the overwhelming support for a federal ICAC is a mystery, but, as many have pointed out today, this is the same Coalition who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to appoint a royal commission into the banks, and opposed a royal commission into child sexual abuse.

If the Turnbull government wants to argue against a federal ICAC, however, the last thing it needed was last night’s dramatic intervention by former SAS commander Andrew Hastie. Hastie used sensitive information from an FBI investigation, which he gained as chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, to identify under parliamentary privilege the billionaire developer Chau Chak Wing in relation to funding the bribery of a senior United Nations official. Chau Chak Wing is a major donor to both sides of politics.

The timing could hardly be worse. Not only do Hastie’s allegations undermine the arguments against a federal ICAC, and jeopardise the China–Australia relationship, they are impossible to respond to, as a case following a joint Fairfax and Four Corners investigation last year, which also identified Wing, is now before the courts.

The Monthly Today asked Hastie’s office about his choice of timing, but did not receive a response by deadline. Here is one theory kicking around: it’s almost as though a senior cabinet minister with an abiding interest in national security – let’s call him Peter Dutton – wants Malcolm Turnbull’s job.

since this morning

Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson, who is facing up to two years in jail for covering up child sexual abuse, says he will stand aside from his duties, but will not resign unless it becomes “necessary or appropriate”.

The Turnbull government has lodged a second series of complaints to the ABC about the network’s chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, this time over her reporting on innovation spending.

in case you missed it

The Registered Organisations Commission has launched civil proceedings [$] against Bill Shorten’s Australian Workers Union protégé, Cesar Melhem, over allegations of corrupt behaviour concerning the inflation of membership numbers and kickbacks paid by employers. This follows an investigation into allegations that were unearthed during the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. 

The Salvation Army says that it is “simply inhumane” to give corporations a tax cut while failing to lift Newstart, which amounts to just $17 a day after housing costs.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has called for [$] procurement rules to be radically rewritten to force governments to “buy Australian”. As part of a sweeping wish list of measures designed to tackle job insecurity, the ACTU outlines new criteria to take into account a company’s number of Indigenous employees, corporate tax record and efforts to bridge the gender pay gap.

The AFR’s Matthew Stevens writes [$] that former Leightons chief Wal King, backed by John Singleton, has re-emerged as chair of junior miner TerraCom. TerraCom is proposing a new coal project, Hughendon, at the northern Galilee Basin, that will use existing rail from Mt Isa to Townsville, as prices boom.

Pauline Hanson has told [$] Malcolm Turnbull to accept defeat on his company tax cuts as the prime minister came under pressure from Labor to ditch the package and reveal the contents of a now defunct “secret deal” with One Nation to secure its support.

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
Down on K Street
As the swamp floods, even lobbyists are drowning their sorrows

by Shane Danielsen
Cannes Film Festival 2018 (part two)
Despite an off-key start, this year’s event ended on a high

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

“Death spiral”

Who is private health insurance helping, exactly?

Climate insecurity

The real threat is staring us in the face

Wyatt’s voice

It is untenable for the Coalition to reject the Uluru statement twice

Fletcher won’t blink

The game of chicken between the NBN and the telcos continues

From the front page

“Death spiral”

Who is private health insurance helping, exactly?

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and CFMEU Victoria secretary John Setka

Judge stymies Albanese’s plans to expel Setka from ALP

A protracted battle is the last thing the Opposition needs

Image of Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum: A true journalistic believer

Celebrating the contribution of an Australian media legend

Cover image of ‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami

‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami

An accidental death in a tale of immigrant generations highlights fractures in the promise of America