Thursday, February 6, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

In the first sitting week of 2020, parliament hit rock bottom again

Question Time, February 6, 2020

Labor’s Jason Clare was today forced to withdraw his comment that there was a stench of corruption around the Morrison government, on the grounds that it reflected on members and lowered the tone of parliamentary debate. To the outside observer, however, there is no other conclusion. There will now be a Senate inquiry into the sports rorts affair, thankfully, and the list of scandals swept under the carpet continues to grow. “Rorts! Rorts!” the Opposition shouted during Question Time, but the government is unmoved. On the theory that the best form of defence is attack, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg launched the first serious counterstrike on Labor: reminding the parliament of earlier scathing reports by the Australian National Audit Office, including a $550 million infrastructure program administered by Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, which was found to have disproportionately favoured ALP seats. The key point? It would be impossible to lower the tone of debate in this parliament: we are at rock bottom.

Last night the ABC’s 7.30 revealed that under another grants program, Stronger Communities, the Cronulla Sailing Club – in the PM’s electorate – was awarded $8000 for a new barbecue, and a staffer was seen telling the members to “vote Liberal for ScoMo”. This morning Guardian Australia reported on an apparently mistaken $165,000 donation to the Liberal Party by Southern Strategy, a company run by Scott Briggs, a close confidant of the PM who is vying for the $1 billion visa privatisation contract. This afternoon we learn that the federal police will not investigate falsification of documents supplied to The Daily Telegraph in an attack on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore by Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, who has retained his cabinet position in today’s reshuffle despite an egregious list of scandals. At least he was smiling for the first time in a while.

At a press conference today the Greens sought to pressure the government over its failure to release its bill for a National Integrity Commission, which was promised by 2019, and got stuck into the mistaken donation by Southern Strategy. Deputy leader and democracy spokesperson Larissa Waters said: “It just goes to show how much we need donations reform and a federal corruption watchdog. First, there was a donation made by a mate that was wanting a favour, to get a contract. Then a couple of days later, ‘Oh no, there was no donation.’ What’s the story here? And why are people able to make donations when they are applying for government approval or government contracts? Clean up the system!”

Hear, hear. Today’s ultra-minimal reshuffle shows that the prime minister and his deputy, Nationals leader Michael McCormack, plan to keep going the way they’ve been going. David Littleproud regains agriculture, and there are already suggestions that Bridget McKenzie will be back sooner rather than later. Darren Chester retains veterans’ affairs but is elevated into cabinet – a welcome move. Matt Canavan is replaced as resources minister by another Queenslander, Keith Pitt, who is equally as extreme in his ideological positions on energy and climate: he has just chaired an inquiry into nuclear power, and wanted Australia to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Shadow energy minister Mark Butler called Pitt’s appointment “another signal that Scott Morrison is walking even further away from action on climate change. Keith Pitt’s opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement is so deep that in 2018 he resigned from the assistant ministry in protest against Australia’s participation in global action on climate change.”

Scott Morrison’s third ministry is much like the second and the first. What will be the next scandal? Will Barnaby Joyce launch another challenge? Will the government eke out a surplus? Will cashless welfare cards replace robodebt in the savage war on the poor? Will the government continue to do nothing on climate change? If the first week of parliamentary sittings is anything to go by, 2020 is going to be a long year.

“Excuse my language, but what a bloody insult to me and every other person relying on Centrelink payments. We are not poor because we have trouble managing money. We are poor because payments are so low on Centrelink it requires financial gymnastics to survive.”

Adelaide student Nijole Naujokas on the mooted national expansion of Indue’s cashless welfare card.

“[The Department of Social Services] have advised you that they have received legal advice that debts based solely upon DSS own income averaging of ATO annual tax data are not lawful debts (‘robodebts’). They have also suspended the raising and recovery of robodebts as of today … In view of that legal advice … it appears that ‘robodebts’ are not debts due to the commonwealth.”

A November 19 email from the Australian Taxation Office’s general counsel, Jonathan Todd, to the ATO commissioner, Chris Jordan, advises that debts raised under the robodebt scheme were unlawful.

The fine given to Indian mining company Adani today in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, for giving the Queensland government false or misleading information about land clearing, a criminal offence for which the company pleaded guilty.

“We have looked at what has actually happened to wages and superannuation savings since the current government froze the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) rate in 2014, on the promise that the money saved would result in higher take home wages for workers … We find that, on any objective measure, workers have suffered a significant loss in net income, calculated as changes to wages and forgone superannuation contributions combined, over the five-year life of the SG rate freeze.”

Think tank Per Capita finds that a full-time worker on the median wage has lost $5424.99 in superannuation and take-home pay as a result of the government’s 2014 decision not to increase the Superannuation Guarantee to 12 per cent.

The list

“The climactic shootout at Glenrowan is rendered by Kurzel in starkly expressionistic terms: a line of troopers arrayed in what looks like phosphorescent robes, negative figures in inky blackness, punching beams of white light into the shack in which Kelly and the remnants of his gang cower. It’s powerful and arresting, and one of the few moments I can recall in recent Australian filmmaking where I felt struck by the presence of something actually, undeniably cinematic.”

“Former sport minister Bridget McKenzie authorised a $2.5 million bailout grant for Netball Australia in 2018, bypassing the board of federal funding agency Sport Australia and enraging its chairman. The Saturday Paper has confirmed that McKenzie, an avowed netball fan and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Netball, authorised the one-off payment to be made through the Health Department at a time when netball’s peak national body was struggling financially.”

“Somewhere on the storm-battered coast of Nova Scotia, between the late 18th century and a time of ancient myth, two men disembark at a lonely lighthouse. The surrounding rocks are menaced by waves and chattering seagulls, while a foghorn blares on a loop like a laugh-track from hell, coolly indifferent to the fates of those in its jurisdiction. As the men prepare to bunk down in their quarters, the first human sound we hear is a fart.”

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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