Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Cop it sweet
Now the subject of a police investigation, Angus Taylor must stand aside

Image of Angus Taylor

The long arm of the law may well be about to catch up with the minister for energy and emissions reductions, Angus Taylor, after Guardian Australia reported this afternoon that NSW Police will investigate allegations that his office supplied a doctored version of the City of Sydney’s annual report to The Daily Telegraph in September, in order to attack Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Taylor’s explanation for what happened, such as it is, does not hold water and his apology to Moore changed nothing. The doctrine of ministerial responsibility has all but collapsed under this government, but there will be no dodging a police investigation.

Australia can’t afford to have ministers’ offices forging documents – it’s that simple. It’s not just about the hapless Taylor – Labor’s best asset – it’s about the prime minister showing some leadership. The ministerial standards leave it to the PM to decide whether a minister subject to an official investigation of alleged, illegal or improper conduct should stand aside.

In parliament today, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese quoted the relevant clause to Scott Morrison, then added: “Prime minister, what are you gonna do to implement it?” With his back to the wall, Morrison played for time. “I don’t take the leader of the Opposition’s word for these matters, Mr Speaker,” he said. “I will speak directly to the NSW Police Force and understand the nature of what these reports are, and then, Mr Speaker, I will make the necessary assessments of that case at that time.” Morrison accused Albanese of “jumping the shark”, saying this was “just one of the many occasions upon which the Opposition have made these references, and they’ve ended up nowhere”, and that “just once, maybe, Mr Speaker, they might want to walk back from the breathless accusations that they’ve made”.

Then Morrison parried, trying to claim that Labor wanted to focus on Angus Taylor because the Senate today was debating the union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill, which will allow the Registered Organisations Commission to deregister a union or remove an elected official under a punitive system of demerit points that contrasts starkly with the rules that apply for politicians or corporations. It was an unfortunate segue, because today the Federal Court ruled that the ROC’s investigation of the Australian Workers’ Union was illegal. The investigation led to police raids on the AWU’s offices in 2017, which were tipped off to the media by a staffer for then minister Michaelia Cash. There was no accountability for that scandal either, except that the staffer was thrown under the bus and Cash returned to cabinet. 

ACTU president Michele O’Neil today said: “The Morrison government has been telling Senators that the ROC is an impartial body which can administer the extraordinary powers granted under EI [Ensuring Integrity]. The Federal Court has just found it conducted an illegal raid on a union office. Giving union-busters more power to drag unions into courts over minor paperwork breaches, some that would only cost a company an $80 fine, will cost members and the taxpayer millions in legal fees. This is before accounting for the cost of not being able to campaign for higher wages, better working conditions and safer workplaces.”

Meanwhile, who knows what will come of the NSW Police investigation into Taylor, whose office has blocked access to hundreds of emails relating to the doctored City of Sydney documents under Australia’s broken freedom of information laws. In Taylor’s one appearance at the despatch box, he said, “Of course, I’ll cooperate with any matter of this sort … [and] I reject absolutely the suggestion that I, or any members of my staff, altered the documents in question.”

By defending the indefensible, the prime minister is dragging the Australian parliament into the mud. Question Time slumped into genuine acrimony this afternoon as the government gagged debate on Taylor, a minister now subject of a criminal investigation. “What a joke!” Albanese shouted across the table at Attorney-General Christian Porter, accompanied by howls from the Labor benches. 


“Something is going on with the climate, and therefore we need to take that into account — we can’t just ignore it. We just can’t respond only by putting on more and more resources to put the fires out. We can’t do that. Because somewhere we’re going to find that we don’t have enough … If we’re not going to talk about it now, when it is happening, when on earth are we going to talk about it?”

Phil Koperberg, the founding commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, calls out government inaction on climate change in his first comments on the current fire season.

“For people in mainstream Australia going about their daily lives, this is not a major issue, so we don’t need to overcook this … This is not an Enron or Lehman Brothers.”

Former Westpac Bank chief executive Brian Hartzer, in comments at an internal meeting leaked to The Australian today, to which he added his sorrow to be calling off Westpac’s Christmas parties because “it will not look good if we have our staff whooping it up with alcohol”. He resigned soon afterwards.

Peter Ridd’s European adventure
A speaking tour of Europe has revealed the strategy behind Peter Ridd’s rejection of reef science: he believes that if people doubt the reef is dying, they will doubt climate change more broadly. Max Opray on the Australian physicist whose sacking became a cause célèbre.

The number of signatures on a petition organised by refugee advocates opposing repeal of the medevac laws, set to be debated in the Senate tomorrow.

“A handful of ‘greedy’ doctors charge their patients more than twice the official Medicare Benefits Schedule fee. Only about 7 per cent of all in-hospital medical services are billed at this rate, yet these bills account for almost 90 per cent of all out-of-pocket costs for private hospital patients – and patients are often not told of these costs in advance … The higher fees have nothing to do with the skill of the surgeon or the adequacy of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. The small minority of specialists who charged more than twice the schedule fee are simply greedy. If these high-charging specialists had imposed fees at 50 per cent more than the schedule fee but no more, patients would have saved more than $350 million in 2018–19.”

Grattan Institute health policy director Stephen Duckett gets to the heart of the problem with rising private health insurance costs.

The list

“Here’s one way to measure the momentous stakes involved as streaming video on demand redefines television: they made Rupert Murdoch blink … earlier this month Apple, so long predominantly a maker of hardware, moved into streaming with the worldwide launch of Apple TV+ and a suite of original programming, while last week Disney followed suit with Disney+, a streaming service that brings with it decade’s worth of the company’s creations.”

“We need to talk about fascism, particularly here in Australia. We need, as Australians, to talk about it because the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre grew up in this country – and the crimes he is being prosecuted for in New Zealand, killing 51 Muslims and injuring 49 others, continue to resonate around the world.”

“It was a dramatic opening act to the colonisation of Australia. Cook’s journal records that on April 29, 1770 two Gweagal warriors used spears in an attempt to stop the new arrivals coming ashore. One warrior was shot in the leg with a musket. When the warriors retreated, Cook’s party collected discarded spears and a shield to take back to Britain.”

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?


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