Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

“This is not normal”
The 45th parliament is sinking under a barrage of sleaze

Leaking (and misrepresenting) ASIO advice; refusing to cooperate with an AFP investigation and hiding from estimates; neglecting to pay for an airfare booked by a party mate and contractor; losing sight of half-billion-dollar contracts to obscure companies; compromising a standing committee … This is your federal government at work as the 45th parliament limps to the finish line. Bracketing it all as “the Canberra bubble” has become the perfect catch-all get-out clause for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose last claim to strength is that he is tough on sick people. The government can’t fall because it has already fallen, in a sense, having lost control of the parliament last week. #NoConfidence is trending on Twitter, but the crossbench won’t force an election. We are in limbo. At least Australian politics is not as broken as it is in the United Kingdom or the United States, but a shutdown at this point might be worth contemplating.

This morning’s report by The Age’s Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker revealed that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had family flights to Singapore, worth $2780, paid for by travel agency Helloworld, which is headed up by Liberal Party treasurer Andrew Burnes, whom Cormann called directly. A month later a Helloworld subsidiary won a billion-dollar finance department tender. Cormann yesterday repaid the money, put out a statement saying he had no idea he hadn’t paid, and this morning told Senate Estimates that “at no point did I influence or seek to influence the outcome of that tender process”. Cormann also told estimates that so much travel goes through his credit card, he didn’t notice that he hadn’t paid, a claim lampooned mercilessly by The Age’s Tony Wright. Even Chris Kenny was lacerating on Sky News, pointing out this is the sort of story that shows that the political class is out of touch with real people: “It’s a real problem for the government … whether it’s him or his staff, you’ve just got to do better than this, you’ve got to know whether you paid for your trip.” In a press conference today, Opposition leader Bill Shorten said: “This is not normal. The government and the prime minister have got questions to answer; this is not normal business.”

The rest of it is equally outrageous: ASIO chief Duncan Lewis pointed out in estimates yesterday that The Australian misrepresented the agency’s leaked advice on the medical evacuations bill, saying that “when reporting wrongly attributes advice from ASIO, or where our classified advice is leaked, it undermines all that we stand for”. Lewis said the leak did not come from ASIO. On the day of the leak, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said: “The agencies have told [Labor leader Bill Shorten] that this bill would be a disaster and it would restart the boats.” Not true.

In a doorstop today, Labor Senator Murray Watt asked why former employment minister Michaelia Cash was a no-show at estimates hearings to answer questions about the leaking of information about the 2017 AFP raids on the AWU – was she in the building, was she hiding under her desk? Cash and former justice minister Michael Keenan refused to cooperate with an AFP investigation into the matter.

Then there’s the $423 million Manus Island security contract given to the obscure Paladin Group, a contract that was of interest [$] to giant Toll Holdings. Watt told RN Breakfast this morning that Paladin had been hand-picked by the Department of Home Affairs, and effectively “won lotto” with the contract (like the Great Barrier Reef Foundation last year). Watt added: “We think there’s a very high possibility that Peter Dutton was made aware of this contract … and besides this I just don’t think that the Australian public accept that a minister can absolve themselves of any responsibility for contracts worth over $400 million.”

The government prefers to remain wilfully unaccountable. “This is not normal,” Opposition leader Bill Shorten said of today’s barrage of questionable behaviour, calling on the government to recall the “part-time parliament” before the May election to implement the recommendations of the banking royal commission. During Question Time, the Opposition hurled question after question at the government, which batted them away without blinking.

Meanwhile, the government has decided that medical treatment for asylum seekers will be provided on Christmas Island, rather than on the mainland, prompting Kerryn Phelps to tweet that the government is subverting the intention of the parliament when it passed the medivac bill last week. The Greens have gone further, declaring they will support a vote of no confidence and it was time to “kick this mob out”. The election can’t come soon enough.


“Australia is now unable to comply with its own laws. This could form the basis of a fresh constitutional challenge to offshore processing.” THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

National Justice Project lawyer George Newhouse, on news that Nauru would block medical transfers based on telemedicine.


“With the cyberspace being a highly virtual one, filled with multiple actors whose behavior is difficult to trace, one should present abundant evidence when investigating and determining the nature of a cyberspace activity instead of making baseless speculations and firing indiscriminate shots at others.”THE AUSTRALIAN [$]

Geng Shuang, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, calling on sections of the Australian media to stop blaming his country for the federal parliament hack.

The Number

The price Coles will continue to charge for milk, contra Woolworths’ decision earlier this week to raise the price to $1.10 and divert the extra 10c to farmers. READ ON

The Policy

“The fact that an organisation advocates an agenda on one side of the political spectrum does not mean it is ‘operating’ for the benefit of all registered political parties on that side of the spectrum. Some closer connection is required between the actions of an organisation and a party before one can say the organisation operates for the benefit of that party.” THE AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL COMMISSION

The list

“If ever there was a transformative moment in the career of Ben Quilty, who made his name with art about young male risk-taking – getting into fights and drinking, taking drugs and speeding in cars – it happened after a trip to Afghanistan, in 2011, where he was an official Australian war artist. Not when Quilty, who had grown up in a north-west Sydney suburb, was exploring the rugged terrain in Tarin Kowt and Kabul by Chinook and on foot, but in the anxious aftermath.” THE MONTHLY


“As parliament resumes for the year, the passage of the independents’ medivac bill with Labor’s support has seen the clearest battleline yet drawn between the opposition and the government ahead of the looming federal election. It has delivered Prime Minister Scott Morrison both what he fought to avoid and also what he most wants.” THE SATURDAY PAPER


“I think the secret to The Cure’s longevity, and the reason I can never quite consign them to the pile of has-beens, is that early on they began creating their own universe, a Cureverse, and have dwelt there ever since. Whenever you listen to them, you enter this place, where everything, including time, is unchanging. A sensation both eerie and seductive.” the MONTHLY

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

Image of RBA governor Philip Lowe

Bottoming out?

But the RBA governor Philip Lowe offers a glimpse of optimism

Image of Labor leader Anthony Albanese with Labor’s candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain.

Hard Labor

Being in Opposition but not in conflict is a tricky balance to strike

Accord 2.0

The PM’s JobMaker program deserves a chance to work


A $60 billion ‘error’ proves the wage subsidy has been weaponised

From the front page

Image of RBA governor Philip Lowe

Bottoming out?

But the RBA governor Philip Lowe offers a glimpse of optimism

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in

COVID-19 versus human rights

The virus is the latest excuse for governments to slash and burn the individual rights of prisoners

Image of Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

Road map to nowhere

Angus Taylor’s road map is anything but an emissions reduction strategy