Friday, August 30, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

From Richo to Albo… the ALP’s culture in NSW has to change

NSW Labor general secretary Kaila Murnain leaves the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. © Dean Lewins / AAP Image

The suspension of NSW Labor general secretary Kaila Murnain, following revelations about an allegedly illegal $100,000 donation from Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo, could yet trigger real change inside the party. Cleanskin NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay says her party is in a “terrible state” after eight years in the political wilderness, which were meant to be spent ridding the party of the culture of corruption that flourished under former minister Eddie Obeid. Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally says [$] the infamous state branch headquarters at Sussex Street in Chinatown should be vacated: “Sometimes to change culture, you have to change environment.” But instead of calling for reform inside the party, former Labor kingmaker and federal environment minister Graham Richardson – the godfather of “whatever it takes” – is today complaining [$] about ICAC being “awash with innocent blood”. Somehow Labor needs to cleave itself from the machine politics of the NSW Right, which, in the Hawke–Keating years, delivered its only real grasp on power since the Menzies era.

This is no small ask. Labor governs when it is “business friendly” – a model pioneered by former NSW premier Neville Wran. Never mind if things get a bit whiffy. When Wran was in power, things weren’t as bad as they had been under Liberal premier Sir Robert Askin. As Richardson writes, under Askin’s premiership: “You could buy anything from a knighthood to a planning decision or both if you were lucky, and there were some lucky people back then.”

Sussex Street is where generations of NSW Labor politicians have cut their teeth, including current federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who, as assistant secretary in the 1990s, was the lone left-winger in the office. In her biography Albanese: Telling it Straight, Karen Middleton writes that the hostility towards Albanese came to a head one month when he was overseas and the Right took the opportunity to board up his office, shunt him into a glass-walled room so they could watch his every move. Albanese and a few supporters went in with a wrench and a hammer and changed it all back. It was a turning point in his relationship with the Right. “From that point on they never tried again to say, ‘We’re in charge. You’re just the assistant secretary.’”

Yet the revelations this week of $100,000 turning up at Sussex Street in an Aldi shopping bag are appalling. Richardson describes Murnain as something of a fall guy: “Far from committing some heinous offence, the worst she has been accused of is being aware of a large cash donation allegedly sought and received by her predecessor, Jamie Clements.” But what’s most appalling is that all this took place barely a year after searing ICAC hearings that laid bare the rotten NSW Labor culture for all to see. Richardson, commendably, introduced public funding for elections. Why political parties don’t go the final step and ban all corporate political donations is unfathomable – do they really believe the extra cash, to pay for campaigns that nobody takes seriously, makes up for the decline of trust in politics that results from the inevitable drip-feed of scandals, year in, year out?

Jodi McKay, who took on the rotten Labor powerbrokers when she was member for Newcastle fighting off then billionaire Nathan Tinkler’s proposal for a giant new coal loader – and duly lost her seat after a developer-funded campaign against her – really could be the state leader to turn over a new leaf for the party. Albanese, who has remained silent so far, will have to help.


Paddy Manning is on assignment for the next six weeks, during which time The Monthly Today will be written by Elle Hardy and Russell Marks.

“We don’t need to rip a family out of their home in the middle of the night. We don’t need to put them in detention for a year. We don’t need to watch their children suffer health problems because of that detention, and we certainly don’t need to … separate them from their mother, and put them on a plane in the middle of the night and attempt to deport them. We are a better country than this, and the prime minister [has] an opportunity now – today – to bring this to an end.”

Shadow minister for home affairs Kristina Keneally calls for a halt to the deportation of a Tamil family from Biloela after the Federal Court in Melbourne extended an injunction for another five days.

“It does not create a positive right to freedom of religion, which is what religious leaders, experts and stakeholders have been calling for, and which falls into line with our international obligations … It is clear from my ongoing consultation and engagement with religious leaders that the bills are likely to fall far short of properly and fully addressing their requirements.”

NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells criticises the government’s draft religious freedom legislation this morning.

Timor bug, China spy
While Australia remains belligerent over the Witness K case, Canberra is standing up to Beijing over the imprisonment of Yang Hengjun.

The rise in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions over the year to March 2019, to 538.9 million tonnes, compared with the previous year, according to official figures that primarily attribute the rise to increased LNG exports.

“The Morrison Government today announced a consultation process for a review of the National Skills Needs List, which identifies trades experiencing a skills shortage [and] is used to determine eligibility to receive financial assistance to take on an apprentice or trainee, or up-skill current staff in occupations experiencing skills shortages.”

The employment minister prepares to make skills-shortage payments to businesses, as part of a $525 million skills package.

The list

Can you make it through without some jerk hogging the mic during the Q&A?

“There’s not exactly a surfeit of shows streaming on Netflix that call to mind Friedrich Nietzsche, but the serial-killer procedural Mindhunter is one exception. In 1886’s Beyond Good and Evil the German philosopher wrote, ‘He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster,’ and that dictum defines the underlying risk in this coolly coiled study of investigation, obsession and, eventually, identification.”

“Following the removal in April of 16 natural therapies from private health insurance rebates, it has become harder to implement programs and obtain grants to research these treatments, says Dr Jon Wardle, associate professor of public health at University of Technology Sydney. Therapies with a solid evidence base – such as naturopathy, tai chi and yoga – are excluded under the new provisions after the medical establishment-led review deemed their efficacy was not proved. Crystal healing, on the other hand, is still claimable.” 

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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