Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Integrity wobbles
A key backbencher puts the government on notice

Coalition backbencher Llew O’Brien. Source: Facebook

Nationals backbencher Llew O’Brien has spoken out against the Morrison government’s proposed model for a Commonwealth integrity commission. This holds out the prospect that there may yet be a parliamentary majority for a strengthened anti-corruption body with teeth. Guardian Australia this morning reported on a speech O’Brien gave at a recent Griffith University event, in which he criticised the “diminished” powers of the proposed integrity commission to investigate government corruption. That will give confidence to crossbenchers such as Senator Jacqui Lambie, who last month said she wanted a federal anti-corruption body to have “more teeth than Jaws”. The Morrison government has a one-seat majority in the lower house, making its legislative agenda extremely vulnerable to a single government member wishing to cross the floor. It is surprising to see such rumblings so early in the Coalition’s third term, even if it is unsurprising that the trouble might come from … where else but Queensland?

Last November, O’Brien threatened to cross the floor to back a bill for a federal ICAC introduced by former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan. In a speech to parliament days later, O’Brien lamented that there were more than 11 fragmented Commonwealth agencies responsible for investigating allegations of corruption and misconduct by the public service, public officials, parliamentary and ministerial staff and political parties, and called for a single, independent body, overseen by a bipartisan parliamentary committee, with the power to investigate those suspected of acting corruptly. “As a former Queensland police officer, I’ve seen the environment created by the former Criminal Justice Commission, the Crime and Misconduct Commission and now the Crime and Corruption Commission,” said O’Brien. “The Fitzgerald inquiry and the robust anti-corruption legislation machinery and policies that were implemented in its wake have dramatically changed the culture, nature and landscape of public administration in Queensland for the better … If an appropriate bill is presented to the parliament, which will give the public full confidence that corruption will be exposed, I will vote for it. Unlike the states, as it stands today the bulk of our constituents have no idea who fights corruption at a federal level and whether they are doing an effective job. To restore confidence in our federal system, this must change.”

In his speech at Griffith University last month, O’Brien reiterated that politicians and public servants should be subject to scrutiny by a body with the same powers as the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which can hold public hearings and take referrals from the public (and which was recently referred an investigation into the allegations against Crown Casino). “We should be held to that highest standard,” said O’Brien, “and I think there’s a very strong argument to have members of parliament – not necessarily staffers of members of parliament – but members of parliament and the Commonwealth judiciary in there.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter is drafting a Commonwealth integrity commission bill to form the basis of public consultation, and expects to finalise legislation by the end of the year. In response to recent criticisms of the government’s proposed model, Porter confirmed the public sector integrity division will not have the power to make public findings of corruption. “Instead, it will be tasked with investigating and referring potential criminal conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions at which point those findings would become public. This approach ensures that it is the courts that make findings of criminally corrupt conduct.”

That is unlikely to be enough to satisfy the demands coming from Labor, the Greens, most of the crossbench and perhaps, it seems, certain members of the government’s own back bench. O’Brien is no pushover, having defied [$] pressure from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to force the appointment of the banking royal commission – a stand that was vindicated in spades. Watch this space.

“On the same day a court heard graphic descriptions of the strangling murder of Eurydice Dixon, Alan Jones used his radio show to angrily rage against the Prime Minister of New Zealand. He suggested Scott Morrison should ‘shove a sock down [her] throat’ and give her ‘a few backhanders’. While I would never suggest the two were linked, there is a dark synchronicity to the real-life violence inflicted on one woman’s life and the ‘flippant’ comments made by men who don’t, in my opinion, properly consider the impact of the sexist words they say.”

As advertisers abandon 2GB, Clementine Ford writes that “between socks and backhanders, this has to be the end of Alan Jones”.

“Barnaby Joyce here. I’m calling on behalf of the Foundation for Human Development about the abortion bill in the NSW parliament. This allows sex-selective abortions. It legalises abortions for any reason right up until the day of birth.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce voices robocalls on the imminent decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales.

Is China a threat?
As Xi Jinping increases his power and ambition, there is tension over the influence China has in Australia. Progressive critics finds themselves aligned with right-wing voices.


The amount by which the cost of government-administered or government-controlled goods and services – such as postage, education, childcare and healthcare – have increased since the final quarter of 2013, according to analysis by Nine Media, which far exceeded inflation (10.4 per cent) and wage growth (13.4 per cent).

“Everyone has a right to conduct a peaceful protest. But the activities of some are not peaceful, they’re not right, and I’m not going to let that continue. Blocking roads is dangerous, it’s reckless, it’s irresponsible, it’s selfish and it’s stupid. You can tell yourself your cause is worth gluing yourself to a road, but you’ll never explain to a grieving family why your politics are worth stopping an ambulance from reaching a hospital. Police have made dozens of arrests using existing laws, but I now believe we need new ones.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palazsczuk introduces new laws to crack down on anti-Adani and anti-farming protesters, and groups like Extinction Rebellion.

The list

“Years ago, while holidaying in Sydney, Dianne McGrath got a phone call from the fire brigade in her home town of Melbourne to say her apartment had burnt down. ‘An electrical fault in my new fridge,’ she says. What was salvaged fit into the back of her car. It was an unlikely event, but McGrath is in the game of unlikely events, and in the latest her odds are getting lower: she’s one of 100 people shortlisted from an initial pool of 200,000 to be part of Mars One, a venture to establish civilisation on Mars.”

“There is a fundamental difference between the day-to-day power that Jones’s gift for on-air bullying allows him to exercise and true political influence. He may well be able to embarrass the roads minister into erecting new traffic lights at a school crossing by tomorrow, but the shaping of substantial, long-term public policy is beyond him.”

“While Victoria finds itself in crisis, problems with waste management and recycling are widespread across Australia. As Pete Shmigel, chief executive of the Australian Council of Recycling, says: ‘Is there pressure on the systems in other states? Absolutely.’”

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


It’s not just Morrison – his whole government has deserted the nation

It’s broke – fix it!

A former public service chief unloads

Unfair COP25

Australia plays wrecker on the world climate stage

Federal water minister David Littleproud

River dance

The Murray–Darling Basin Plan remains on life support

From the front page

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller

The prevention state: Part four

In the face of widespread criticism of strip-searches, NSW Police offers a candid defence of preventative policing: You are meant to fear us.

Image of Scott Morrison

A national disaster

On the PM’s catastrophically inept response to Australia’s unprecedented bushfires

Image of Scott Morrison

A Pentecostal PM and climate change

Does a belief in the End Times inform Scott Morrison’s response to the bushfire crisis?

Police NSW festival

The prevention state: Part three

As authorities try to prevent crimes that haven’t happened, legislation is increasingly targeting people for whom it was not intended.