Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Crown goes down
The casino is a law unto itself, Andrew Wilkie told parliament

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie. Source

Anyone who wants their faith in Australian democracy restored should read the speeches given from the crossbench in the House of Representatives today in favour of a motion for a joint parliamentary inquiry into Crown Casino – particularly those by Andrew Wilkie, who moved it, Rebekha Sharkie, who seconded it, and Adam Bandt, who spoke in support. The motion will be defeated, because Attorney-General Christian Porter has announced the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) will investigate the sensational allegations published in Nine and aired on 60 Minutes over the weekend and since, and Labor supports the government. But the push for an inquiry, due to be voted upon in parliament this afternoon, may yet succeed in the Senate … if the Opposition will reconsider.

In calling for a parliamentary inquiry, Wilkie lamented the failure of Victorian and Commonwealth regulators to follow up his own revelations about Crown in 2017, and said that only a federal inquiry could deal with a problem that was “multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency and multinational”. Wilkie made further revelations of his own, detailed to his office by a former driver for Crown. The driver told Wilkie’s staff that high rollers would disembark their private jets at Melbourne airport and come through the infamous “gate 24” with as many as 15 bags, all without checks; that they would be whisked straight off to a casino, often stopping only to pick up a sex worker, whom they would often assault; and that they would be offered everything from coke to MDMA. The driver told Wilkie’s office that “no one touches Crown”, and that for these people “there is no ‘no’’. Wilkie said Crown was known among police as “The Vatican – an independently governed state all of its own, where the laws of Victoria and the Commonwealth do not apply.”

Sharkie, seconding the motion, said she was astonished that the Opposition had not asked a single question on Crown yesterday, questioned whether Crown was a fit and proper company to hold a gaming licence, and asked MPs where their collective national security concerns were now. “The hypocrisy – that we have a border security regime and a government that wants to stop a handful of desperately ill men and women who have been found to be refugees from temporarily transferring to Australia for medical treatment on one hand, and [yet] they’re willing to roll out the welcome mat for those with deep pockets and potential connections to the triads – is unbelievable.” Neither major party had come to the issue with clean hands, she said, and voting against the motion would prove they were beholden to the gaming industry. Sharkie added: “Every day in this place, every single day, we are given yet another reason why we need a federal integrity commission now. One that is well funded, that is not kicked further down the road; we need it now.”

Christian Porter said that ACLEI was the right body to investigate the allegations against Crown, with its “significant investigatory powers, very significantly stronger than those of a parliamentary committee … including the ability to apply for search warrants, issue notices that attract a criminal penalty if not complied with”. He noted that “ACLEI also has the ability to hold hearings, exercise coercive powers and seize evidence.” A parliamentary inquiry would be totally ill-equipped to run such an investigation, Porter said, and, if it ran alongside any ACLEI probe, would be “significantly detrimental”. Porter was backed up by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, who said ACLEI had the powers of a standing royal commission.

There are two problems with this: firstly, notwithstanding Porter’s referral, the ACLEI investigation may not happen; secondly, it will only look at potential corruption in law enforcement, not by serving or former politicians – including ministers – who have allegedly pressured immigration officials to fast-track high rollers on Crown’s behalf. This was picked up by the Greens’ Adam Bandt, who accused the major parties of running a “protection racket” for ministers and ex-ministers, questioned whether the prime minister’s code of conduct meant anything at all, and asked who was going to look into the MPs. Then he brought it home: “Never again will I take a lesson from the government about the importance of stopping criminals coming into this country and the need to have tough border protection policies. Because what we hear from them is that if you’re fleeing war and persecution, we’ll lock you up, but if you come here with a bag of cash, we’ll open the gate for you so you can go and get on the drugs and gamble at the casino.”

Thank god for the crossbench.

“The government’s robodebt scheme is so seriously malfunctioning it must be scrapped. Revelations from a mourning mother that her disability-pensioner son continued to be hounded over an alleged debt even after his death should shame Government Services Minister Stuart Robert to finally act and address the problems at the heart of this scheme. We recognise the right of government to recoup legitimate debts that are owed. But robodebt is not that, it is a mess.”

Shadow minister for government services Bill Shorten responds to last night’s 7.30 report on the ABC.

“I will not engage in the unfunded empathy of the Labor Party.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejects calls to increase Newstart.

Cyber spy powers
Home Affairs is pushing for new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to embed in corporate computer systems – transforming the body into one that disrupts crime and other attacks. Karen Middleton on the changing face of cyber war.

The all-time record high hit by the benchmark ASX200 share market index this morning, finally eclipsing the previous pre-GFC intraday (6851.5) and closing (6828.7) highs set on November 1, 2007.

“Over the eight-year period from 2009 to 2017, average household income grew by only $3156, or 3.5 per cent, while the median in 2017 was $542 lower than 2009.”

The Melbourne Institute’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey for 2017 finds that median incomes have fallen since the global financial crisis.

The list

“The left, and particularly Labor, like to see Mark Latham as an outlier, a slip-up that will never be repeated. But that would be a mistake. Latham’s journey is significant not because it is unique, but because it is one every centre-left party in the English-speaking world has come dangerously close to following in recent years.”

“Fortunately there is absolutely no risk of either of them, or of any of their many predecessors and successors, suffering anything more than a mildly censorious mention in the socialist rags masquerading as the fourth estate. Martin Parkinson, the retiring head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, has already cleared them of impropriety. He asked them personally if they had breached any ministerial guidelines, and they assured him they hadn’t, and they should know.”

“Releasing the Deloitte Access Economics report, senior partner Chris Richardson – generally an advocate of fiscal discipline – called the failure to increase Newstart payments ‘our standout failure as a nation’ ... The country did not have a ‘dole bludger problem’, Richardson continued, ‘what we have is a society that is unnecessarily cruel’.”

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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