Friday, November 29, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Lacking integrity
The Morrison government only has itself to blame

Attorney-General Christian Porter and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The Coalition’s union-busting legislation was called the Ensuring Integrity Bill, but it’s the Morrison government’s evident lack of integrity that brought it undone last night, when Pauline Hanson torpedoed the bill on the floor of the Senate. The bill was a cynical ploy designed to beat up a couple of militant unions, most particularly the CFMMEU and its Victorian secretary, John Setka. That strategy would punish a lot of innocent union members and their elected officials forever, in pursuit of a narrow political advantage, which is no way to run the country.

The central proposition behind the bill was itself overblown – the RMIT ABC Fact Check unit today rubbished Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter’s claim that the CFMMEU is “the most unlawful organisation in the history of Australia’s industrial laws”. The absence of any real policy integrity was highlighted by the government’s hands-off response to Westpac’s 23 million breaches of money-laundering and counter-terror laws, its failure to introduce a long-promised bill to establish a national integrity commission, and the prime minister’s sloppy and unprincipled defence of scandal-plagued Energy Minister Angus Taylor, misleading parliament on multiple occasions along the way.

Why would anybody take this government’s word on integrity? Hanson clearly didn’t, and her stated reasons for the shock decision are interesting. She says she was taking into account the fact that union administration could be handed over to rapacious liquidators, and that this week the Registered Organisations Commission was itself found to have acted illegally in its investigation of the AWU. Most pointedly, however, it was the allegations against Westpac that undercut the government’s case for the Ensuring Integrity Bill. Why single out the union movement with laws that would impose a draconian demerit-points regime, allowing unions to be deregistered and elected officials removed? “Over recent weeks we have seen rampant white-collar crime exposed,” said Hanson, “involving tens of millions of breaches by Westpac, with no effort from the bank or this government to deal with their illegal actions … Let this be a warning shot across the bows to all union bosses to get their act together, and a second shot across government bows to clean up the white collar crime.”

On Perth radio today, Porter accused One Nation of siding with “the thugs from the CFMEU” and vowed to reintroduce the bill next week, dropping a hint that it could become a double-dissolution trigger. “Very often, you’ve got to bring those things to the Senate a couple of times before you succeed,” Porter said. “But this is just a critical piece of legislation that we won’t be giving up.” Asked whether Hanson had betrayed him, Porter was surprisingly frank: “I think it was the process that I had anticipated was in good faith, but I’m not so sure now.”

Meanwhile, and not for the first time, the broad left had cause to be grateful to Queensland’s lunar right. Last night it was Hanson holding the line against union-busting, by one vote. Five years ago it was Palmer United Party senator Glenn Lazarus who held the line against another bit of ill-thought-through policy, blocking former education minister Christopher Pyne’s plans for university fee deregulation and $100,000 degrees. Next it may be LNP backbencher Llew O’Brien, who recently renewed his threat to cross the floor over the government’s proposal for a toothless national integrity commission. 

The NSW Police investigation into Angus Taylor is reportedly going to be over and done with quickly. So it should be. On its face it’s an open-and-shut case, and it is very hard to believe the altered document that was apparently sent from the minister’s office was not altered by someone inside it. The NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission investigation into police commissioner Mick Fuller, referred by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, makes the whole affair even messier for the federal government. Both Morrison and Fuller must now rue that telephone conversation, which is going to leave a cloud over the government one way or the other. The prime minister bumbles on, refusing to answer questions and leaving anything awkward inside the Canberra bubble. His supporters, the quiet Australians, by definition remain quiet. But for anyone paying attention, the government looks like finishing the year on a very low note.

“I do not accept that we have been precluded from this question [of a constitutionally enshrined voice] by the Morrison government. If there is a pathway through this that can be articulated and fairly found, we will get to the destination. And the question might hinge on the meaning of enshrinement. No Indigenous advocate is talking about enshrining the voice in the manner of the High Court in the Constitution. We are talking about sufficient status in the Constitution to empower the parliament to legislate the creation of the voice that will not impede the parliamentary process. We will accept parliamentary supremacy in a way that provided the necessary status that would define recognition.”

Cape York Institute founder Noel Pearson told the Law Council’s annual dinner last night that he still believes the Morrison government can deliver an Indigenous voice to parliament.

“We will hopefully get the vote through with the support of Jacqui, but we are not going to compromise our position on border security.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton clings to the prospect that independent senator Jacqui Lambie will back a repeal of the medevac laws in next week’s final parliamentary sittings for 2019.

Defending Angus Taylor (the lone wolf and the albatross)
Scott Morrison has put himself in a difficult position, calling the NSW police commissioner to check on an investigation into his own minister. Paul Bongiorno on the questions that need to be answered.

The number of victims of the 2011 flooding in Ipswich and Brisbane who will share as much as a billion dollars in compensation from the Queensland government after they won a class action against Seqwater, Sunwater and the Queensland government today.

“Someone is tasked with providing an independent error-free audit of a big business. It’s a very important role. If that auditor is also performing services for the person they’re auditing, there may be a conflict of interest. They may be compromised because they want to continue providing those profitable services and that could be threatened with unfavourable audit.”

Former ACCC chair Allan Fels tells a parliamentary inquiry into audit quality that the solution to conflicts of interest would be to break up the big professional services firms – Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – into audit and non-audit businesses.

The list

“Deborah Levy entered the limelight after her 2011 breakthrough novel Swimming Home, a book celebrated for its formal inventiveness and cinematic movement. But these features were nothing new in the context of Levy’s oeuvre. Rather, they marked the advancement of an ambition present from the start. ‘I am always … trying to find new rules of form and structure,’ Levy claimed in a 2013 interview. ‘All my books are part of that investigation.’ Her new novel, The Man Who Saw Everything, develops this concern to electrifying effect.”

“Thirty summers on, we are no closer to knowing who killed Colin Winchester – the senior-most assassination in Australian history. The prosecution of David Eastman has now cost around $30 million. What do we do with doubt? Whatever the verdict, why has it taken 30 years? Undoubtedly, Eastman’s behaviour during the first trial didn’t help. But for such a murky crime, it seems to me there’s been a remarkable absence of doubt displayed by almost everyone involved.”

“There’s a flawed and sexist narrative that is telling female players that once you improve the quality of the game, the sponsors will come and we can pay you more. But in the meantime you’re not allowed to train more than nine hours a week, and we are only going to pay you a casual hourly rate. It just doesn’t fly. It’s a form of corporate gaslighting by the AFL.”

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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