Thursday, December 3, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Game over
Premier Berejiklian’s position is untenable

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News

It was never plausible that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian would emerge untainted from a years-long, clandestine, close personal relationship with the corrupt former MP Daryl Maguire. And, sure enough, she hasn’t. Her already-shaky position has become completely untenable, after revelations by the ABC’s 7.30 that a fund she controlled as treasurer in 2017, when she was in a relationship with Maguire, gave a whopping $5.5 million to the Australian Clay Target Association for its clubhouse and convention centre in Wagga Wagga – a grant that Maguire’s lobbying business G8-Way International pushed for, and sought to charge a commission for, according to evidence given to the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. Senior Liberal figure John Larter, the former president of the party’s Wagga Wagga branch, called on Berejiklian to stand down, saying that “trust is paramount when you’re the premier of the state … and to me that confidence is gone. It’s been eroded.” Further revelations are inevitable given ICAC’s inquiry is ongoing, and Berejiklian’s defence – that somehow she wasn’t paying attention when Maguire prattled on about his corrupt deals – never held water, and has now sunk completely. Berejiklian insisted she had done nothing wrong throughout her relationship with Maguire, but that is now beyond belief. The only question is when she will go, not if. 

Today’s revelations come after a series of shockingly bad judgement calls by the premier, from her decision to continue working at parliament while she waited for the result of a COVID-19 test (ignoring NSW Health guidelines), to her office’s direct involvement in the allocation of $140 million in local grants under the Stronger Communities Fund ahead of the 2019 election – which was only confirmed after documents she ordered to be shredded were recovered through a forensic investigation.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is leading a parliamentary inquiry into the grants scheme, said the recovered documents prove that Berejiklian directly approved the expenditure. “We’ve had the premier all year ducking and weaving, trying to deny her role in approving these projects,” he said. “We now have it in black and white that the premier was approving project after project after project.” 

After that news, the premier tried to defend the indefensible, saying that such pork-barrelling was not illegal: “Governments in all positions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour. I think that’s part of the political process whether we like it or not. It’s not something that I know that the community is comfortable with and if [pork-barrelling] is the accusation made on this occasion … well then I’m happy to accept that commentary.” And the response of her government to the revelations coming out of ICAC? Cut the body’s funding – just as the Morrison government has cut the funding of the Australian National Audit Office in the wake of the uncannily similar “sports rorts” inquiry. 

Unfortunately, what may be the last straw in terms of public patience for Berejiklian comes as the laggard NSW is finally catching up on climate action, after nine years of Coalition rule, with Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean’s landmark legislation passing through parliament last week. As well, Attorney-General Mark Speakman has been flagging moves toward decriminalising possession of small quantities of illicit drugs – a breakthrough in a state that has allowed coppers to strip-search teenagers for kicks and giggles. Suddenly Berejiklian, furiously back-pedalling on decriminalisation today, faces an eruption on her right flank, with the cabinet-splitting 2GB presenter Ben Fordham declaring: “Police are filthy about this … I can tell you there’s a major blow-up brewing. If [Berejiklian] signs off on this policy that allows people to carry ice, she’ll be finished – it will be game over.”

“The rule of law, I learned from my years in Cambridge, has been more securely protected there than it is in Australia, and I’m deeply grateful that the award has come from Britain, a country my father died, as an Australian, protecting.”

Witness K’s lawyer and former ACT attorney-general Bernard Collaery, who is being prosecuted by the Australian government and faces jail, has won a prestigious international free speech prize.

“[The post involved] the use of words, pictures, videos [that would] incite, mislead, and violate objective facts, fabricating social hot topics, distorting historical events, and confusing the public.”

A statement from social media site WeChat, which blocked a post by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in which he was critical of an inflammatory tweet posted by a Chinese foreign ministry official on Monday.

The climate threat to Australia’s leaders
Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are caught between a global shift towards more serious climate action and pro-coal members of their respective parties. Today, Karen Middleton on how Australia’s political leaders are grappling with climate policy.

The cost to stranded Australians for a 14-day stay in hotel quarantine in Darwin. Some travellers were told their stay would be free if they booked flights before July 13, but the government now says they are liable after those flights were cancelled.

“It’s claimed the cashless debit card program is delivering significant benefits in the communities in which the trial has operated … There is just not enough evidence that supports the view that this program is a game-changer for these communities and the individuals placed on it to justify the associated harm that it causes.”

Bridget Archer, Liberal member for the northern Tasmanian seat of Bass, speaks against the government’s bill to extend the cashless welfare debit card – but indicates she will vote for it.

The list

“Certainly, seeing Earth from space once satellites and astronauts began to send back images is credited with initiating a shift in environmental consciousness in the 1960s. But the iconic images of ‘Spaceship Earth’ – Earthrise, the Blue Marble, the Pale Blue Dot – may have set us on the wrong path in how we think of our planet in relation to outer space: as cut off from the rest of the universe, not connected to it, a self-sustaining ark in the middle of a blank wilderness ripe for exploitation. Those images also encourage us to romanticise who we might be in space (and what we might philosophise about while up there) and ignore the fact that space is already a militarised and commercialised zone.”

“Running the two exhibitions together makes perfect sense. Nixon was a close friend and informal mentor to Bram, who is roughly a generation younger in art terms and part of a loose cohort of Australian abstract artists that for Nixon embodied the tenets of radical modernism, minimalism and related conceptual forms that guided his own work … Nixon’s work displays the current of joy that clearly sustained his constant activity in the studio. Single works might not move you, but you’d hard pressed not to respond to the bright song of the whole show.”

“There’s been an invisible baton relay happening across the world for years, but it took a pandemic for most of us to finally notice it – and how fragile it is. Once the science and development of a drug has been hashed out, rationally you could assume that the manufacturing side of pharmaceuticals should be pretty straightforward: get the ingredients, put them together, package them up. But in reality, the journey from raw materials through to final product is an international effort with many moving parts and, as a result, many vulnerabilities.”

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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


The Monthly Today

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a cabinet reshuffle today.

Shuffling the deckchairs

In time for summer, Morrison announces his new cabinet

Image of Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass.

The coronavirus hangover

Better economic forecasts still leave a fraught recovery

Image of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time last week.

Bad investments

What will it take for the Coalition to give up its fossil-fuel addiction?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking in Tasmania today.

Perfect storm brewing

Australia’s export industries are being smashed, and not just by China

From the front page

Image showing installation view of Refik Anadol’s Quantum memories, 2020

NGV Triennial 2020

With a mix of eye-catching works, the second NGV Triennial blends the avant-garde with the populist

Bangarra’s Spirit. Photo © Lisa Tomasetti

Healing story

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s ‘Spirit’ pays tribute to collaborators

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller