Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Wilson’s franking credits inquiry unravels
The Coalition has overstepped the mark


From fake news to fake parliamentary inquiries – it may not seem a huge leap, but the Coalition’s readiness to treat a standing committee of the House of Representatives as a campaign tool is deeply troubling. It is one thing for the treasurer to ask the Standing Committee on Economics to inquire into the implications of Labor’s plan to abolish refundable franking credits, though this is itself unusual, because parliamentary inquiries usually investigate government policies and their impacts, not those of the Opposition. It is quite another thing to launch an associated and blatantly partisan website,, authorised under the Commonwealth coat of arms by Tim Wilson MP “Chair of Standing Committee on Economics”, which generates pre-written submissions to the inquiry he is chairing (and, presumably, data useful to the Liberal Party). We knew all that already. Today is the last straw. 

The revelation in the Nine newspapers that not only did Wilson fail to disclose in committee hearings that he has invested in funds managed by distant relative Geoff Wilson, who is campaigning against Labor’s policy, but that hearings of the committee were scheduled to coincide with his relative’s roadshow against the policy. A photo tweeted by The Guardian’s Nick Evershed shows Geoff Wilson handing out placards at a shareholder meeting. If this is not contempt, it is an insult to the parliament, and therefore to the people of Australia.

The deputy chair of the economics committee, Labor member for Kingsford Smith Matt Thistlethwaite, has today called on Wilson to resign as chair, a call Thistlethwaite has made previously, and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen has added that if Wilson won’t resign, the prime minister should sack him. Labor branded the inquiry “unethical” today, and Bowen went further, attacking “collusion in a taxpayer-funded roadshow for partisan purposes dressed up as a House of Representatives committee … This is a clear and fundamental breach of convention, of understanding, and frankly of standing orders.” In response, Wilson tweeted: “What’s unethical is you & @BillShorten trying to rig the law to smash retirees and steal their overpaid tax unless they join a Labor-linked union super fund stacked with your mates. At every point Labor has been doing the bidding of their mates against the Australian people.” Wilson told the ABC that no rules have been broken, but that will be up to the parliament to determine.

Thistlethwaite told me today that so far Labor had not referred its doubts over the inquiry to speaker Tony Smith, but was now seeking legal advice on any potential breach of standing orders. “Obviously when we sit next week the issue will come up … having a Liberal MP [member for Fisher Andrew Wallace] rock up to the committee hearings, give evidence, tell people in the room to join the Liberal National Party, then hand out membership forms, is a new low. I’ve never seen that happen before. Then you’ve got this website Tim Wilson has set up … Tim won’t disclose whether or not this is being funded by the taxpayer. The whole thing’s an abuse of the processes of the economics committee, and the reason it was established.”

And then there’s the $157 million the federal government spent promoting its programs last year. A staggering sum, and a shocking waste, but at least people know an ad when they see it. Blurring the lines of what constitutes a committee hearing, what constitutes a submission, and what will constitute a final report when the time comes – all the while generating free media coverage – is far more dangerous. Not only is the committee tainted, but so too the media coverage of its work. Did readers understand, when Nine ran Geoff Wilson’s op-ed slamming Labor yesterday, that the author was in cahoots with the Liberal chair of the inquiry? Likewise, when The Australian yesterday ran a story featuring self-funded retiree Jon Gaul, who attended a hearing on the NSW South Coast to complain about Labor’s policy, it was only after Guardian political editor Katharine Murphy tweeted that Gaul was a long time Liberal party operative (and a lovely bloke) that the story was updated [$].

Wilson should stand down but, equally importantly, his fake inquiry should serve as a warning. There is going to be a lot of misinformation this election, the first in this country in which political parties will be up to their necks in data mining and social media manipulation – dodgy websites, suspect authorisations. All of this will be less secure and more hackable than ever, as the Greens digital rights spokesperson, Jordan Steele-John, pointed out today. He described Australia as “wildly unprepared for election interference … We’ve literally just passed legislation that will make it easier for devices in Australia to be hacked just months before a Federal election; it’s astonishingly reckless.”


“The voters who will decide this election are not from the left, they are the disengaged centre for whom politics is an unwanted distraction rather than a source of passion … [T]hey support renewables but are not ready to kill coal, they want kids off Nauru but they don’t want open borders, they dislike privatisations but they don’t want the state to control their lives, or most of all their data.” the GUARDIAN

Essential executive director Peter Lewis highlights the political importance of the disengaged centre.


“One of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the Australian electorate this year will be the idea that so-called ‘indies’ are independents in the upcoming federal election … These fake indies, intent on unseating a handful of senior Liberals, may not be members of major parties but their script about climate change action and representing the sensible centre screams uniformity, not difference.”THE AUSTRALIAN [$]

Janet Albrechtsen, in The Australian, suspects Malcolm Turnbull is behind it all.

The Number

The profit made ploughing half a billion dollars into big bank shares ahead of the release of the Hayne royal commission report, according to the New Daily. READ on

The Policy

“Centrelink’s approach to estimating whether someone has been overpaid falls well short of what the law requires. The basic Australian Taxation Office information Centrelink uses and the crude calculations it does, do not provide a basis for assessing what a person actually earned, or whether they were overpaid. The legal argument is that a debt to Centrelink can’t lawfully be imposed based on such numbers and processes.” VICTORIA LEGAL AID

The list

“This drama, describing the disappearance of a couple’s baby from their car in a seaside Victorian town, has all the requisite elements: the shock of discovery, the parents’ ensuing panic, and the grim reality of the police hunt. But at each step there’s also a psychologically fraught examination of key relationships amid the corrosive force of guilt and responsibility.” The monthly


“As the title From My Heart and Mind implies, thinking and feeling are inseparable processes. Material culture, the natural environment and Aboriginal philosophy dissolve into and arise from each other. While Marawili’s work expresses the richness of meaning that the land and ocean at Yirrkala hold, it also presents the possibility for imagining and feeling the land differently in other places.” The monthly


“Paul Keating’s surprise 1993 defeat of John Hewson and the Liberal leader’s very detailed “Fightback!” package, centred on a goods and services tax, is forming a model of sorts for incumbent Scott Morrison’s 2019 campaign ... John Hewson thinks Morrison’s chances of victory are slim.” The SATURDAY PAPER

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

Six years and counting

There is no hope in sight for hundreds of people on Manus Island and Nauru

Rebuilding confidence

Re-regulation of the construction industry starts today

An unfair go

There’s taxpayer largesse for the wealthy, austerity for the poor

“Death spiral”

Who is private health insurance helping, exactly?

From the front page

Six years and counting

There is no hope in sight for hundreds of people on Manus Island and Nauru

The Djab Wurrung Birthing Tree

The highway construction causing irredeemable cultural and environmental damage

Detail of 'Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Two Eagles', by Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘The Transient Landscape’ and the Terracotta Warriors at the National Gallery of Victoria

The incendiary Chinese artist connects contemporary concerns with cultural history

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