Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Gag politics
The defence of Angus Taylor has tarnished the parliament

Energy Minister Angus Taylor. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Australian politics is right back in the sewer. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s defence of Energy Minister Angus Taylor, who is the subject of an investigation by NSW Police, and his own questionable phone call to NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, today led to a toxic tit for tat that even dredged up ancient allegations against former Labor leaders Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard. It was impossible to watch Question Time today without losing respect for the parliament, as an institution, and just about everyone in it.

The day began with debate about the prime minister’s decision to call Commissioner Fuller about the investigation into whether any crimes were committed when Taylor’s office provided a doctored copy of the City of Sydney’s annual report to The Daily Telegraph. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull kicked that along in an interview with Sky News Australia, saying: “It would have been much better if [that call] had not been made, because it is … vitally important that that inquiry that is being conducted by the NSW police – like every inquiry they undertake – is seen to be conducted entirely free of political influence. Being blunt about it, it is a call I would not have made.”

Fuller, who lives in Morrison’s electorate, has previously joked in an interview with 2GB’s Ben Fordham that he was a mate of the PM, saying that Morrison used to bring his bins in on rubbish night. He later gave his own media conference, declaring that the bit about the rubbish bins was a joke, and saying that in their short call yesterday “the prime minister … didn’t ask for anything that was inappropriate and I’m comfortable with the discussion that we had over a few minutes.”

Just about every question Labor leader Anthony Albanese asked today was directed to the prime minister, underlining that this whole affair is no longer about the integrity of Angus Taylor but the integrity of Scott Morrison. Morrison dug in, explaining: “The purpose of my call was to fulfil my undertaking to the House and discharge my responsibility under the statement of Ministerial Standards to inform myself of the nature, substance and instigation of the investigation under way.” That prompted a flurry of new questions, because it suggests a more substantive conversation than Fuller may have let on.

Morrison dug in deeper, saying: “[Fuller] said, ‘To be honest with you, these types of investigations can consume an enormous amount of resources from NSW Police and they are a great diverter of my time.’” It sounded pretty chummy. That impression was deepened by another rhetorical flourish from the PM, who at one point shouted at Albanese: “He’s the one who comes into this place with trumped-up claims, because at the end of the day, he’s got nothing.” Along the way the PM threw dirt back at Labor, harking back to police investigations into Shorten and Gillard, which both came to nothing. Ultimately the government resorted to gagging debate, just like yesterday, except this time it was to defend the PM. In all this, it’s the public that’s left gagging.

Whatever the fate of Taylor – and Sky News Australia host Laura Jayes tipped that he was likely to be the Morrison government’s “first scalp” – the political system is the loser. The most important question, briefly popping the Canberra bubble, was from independent MP Zali Steggall, who said: “Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, and it is dipping day by day. It is our responsibility to fix it. Parliament is paralysed by these allegations that need to be investigated by an independent body. Could you inform the House when the government’s bill on a national integrity commission be introduced, and will it include powers to investigate parliamentarians and their staff?” Murmurs of that being a good question echoed around the halls. There was no good answer.

The government’s catchphrase all week has been stability and certainty, but the only certainty is that today’s new low standard for ministerial responsibility will be matched and exceeded in the future. It’s difficult to watch our representatives laughing at their own jokes while failing to meet basic standards of decency and accountability. The only person who didn’t appear entertained by today’s hilarious proceedings was Angus Taylor, who sat po-faced throughout Question Time, as though he was in the naughty corner.

“Jacqui Lambie talked about humanity and said making these sorts of decisions when humanity is involved is really difficult, but I don’t think it is difficult; I think if you want to show humanity when someone is sick, you let doctors decide, not politicians.”

David Isaacs from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, speaking on behalf of more than 5000 doctors supporting the medevac laws, adds to the pressure on Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie.

“It is no wonder the ABC is increasingly being seen as the un-Australian broadcaster rather than the national broadcaster. The problem with the ABC is that it’s become this giant groupthink, this giant blancmange, this left-wing jelly of just progressive views … The ABC, which is funded by the taxpayers … should reflect the views of those taxpayers, not those latte-lickers in those inner-city suburbs.”

Queensland Liberal senator James McGrath unveils his plan to save the ABC, which includes considering whether it should broadcast advertising, as well as selling off headquarters in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The politicians fighting to bring Assange home
As Julian Assange fights against extradition to the United States, an unlikely group of politicians is working to have him returned to Australia. Rick Morton on the question of law that underpins his case.

The amount by which global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall each year, between now and 2030, to stay within the 1.5C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences.

“The Government has lost a significant legal challenge to its automated debt recovery system, known as robodebt, with the Federal Court ruling that the debt was unlawful. Victoria Legal Aid brought forward the challenge on behalf of a 33 year-old woman who had a debt of more than $2900 raised against her by the Department of Human Services, which runs Centrelink. Justice Davies ruled that the court ‘could not have been satisfied that a debt was owed in the amount of the alleged debt’. He ruled that the Commonwealth must reimburse her interest of $92.06, and pay her legal fees.”

As the federal government feared, the Victoria Legal Aid test case against the robodebt program has succeeded today.

The list

“Despite the flagrant social disregard exhibited by its business, Cambridge Analytica is not a glitch in an otherwise orderly capitalist system. The attempt to position it as such, by this documentary and surrounding deluge of media (at the height of the scandal, 35,000 articles about it were being published each day), points to an inability to reckon with what this moment truly represents.”

“Corporate culture is ultimately the main problem. The worst that is likely to happen to Hartzer, Maxsted and the rest of Westpac’s executive will be that they lose their current roles, though the managers will receive generous golden handshakes. This is despite the fact that this executive team has exposed its company entirely unnecessarily to potentially the biggest corporate penalty in Australian history.”

“Over the past few months, Charleene Mundine and her children have been caught in an administrative maze that demonstrates some of the ongoing problems with the NDIS rollout. She is just one of many encountering inexplicable and highly concerning problems with the system.”

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?


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