Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning


Where’s the integrity?
Despite the scandals, a corruption watchdog remains elusive

Close, but not close enough. Government numbers in the lower house held firm against a motion to bring on debate over the Greens’ National Integrity Commission Bill. Labor and all of the crossbench backed the motion, but it fell two votes short – 70 to 72 – with no government members crossing the floor. Even maverick LNP backbencher Llew O’Brien, who months ago signalled he would support a proper anti-corruption agency with teeth, and was elected deputy speaker against the government’s wishes yesterday afternoon, voted against the motion. A spokesperson said that O’Brien was waiting to see the exposure draft of the government’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission legislation, and would not pre-empt it by supporting any alternative proposition. There is still no indication as to when that legislation might finally surface – Attorney-General Christian Porter has already conceded the government has missed its end-of-2019 deadline, and his office would only say it would be out “soon”. Meanwhile, fresh allegations of rorting emerge on a daily, almost hourly basis.

In shades of Choppergate, The Australian reports [$] on O’Brien’s concerns that a National Party meeting was convened near Melbourne at the end of last year, to coincide with the race that stops the nation. O’Brien raised this at the time with leader Michael McCormack, and after some apparently heated argument the travel rules were complied with. The dispute helped propel O’Brien to quit the Nationals party room on Sunday. Meanwhile, Guardian Australia reports that a political donor to the LNP, Nolan Meats, was given a $5.5 million grant to double processing capacity at its abattoir, under the $200 million regional jobs and investment package, even though it was a registered training organisation and therefore ineligible for funding.

The Greens’ motion to force debate on its national integrity commission legislation was supported by the entire crossbench in both houses – including conservative-leaning One Nation in the Senate and Bob Katter in the lower house. In a statement today, the Greens deputy leader and democracy spokesperson, Larissa Waters, said: “The government did not even allow any debate on the motion, just gag and delay so they can continue the dodgy conduct of their ministers without any independent body to hold them to account. The procedural games can’t conceal that this government is running away from integrity and transparency as fast as new corruption scandals emerge.”

There has been no accountability for sports rorts – and today’s Essential poll suggests many voters think the resignation of Bridget McKenzie should be the end of it. Former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Michael Keating wrote last week that the report into sports rorts offered by serving PM&C chief Phil Gaetjens was difficult to reconcile with the scathing audit-office findings, and should have been released. Lawyer Michael Bradley writes [$] in Crikey today that “the government is shattering the rule of law”, following the lead of Donald Trump’s Republicans. Independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie ripped into the government yesterday, saying that the sports rorts affair “reeks of a cover-up”. Given her vote could be crucial on the anti-corruption agency, that should worry both Porter and government business manager in the Senate Mathias Cormann. The Senate inquiry into sports rorts begins on Thursday. 

In a recent interview, Porter told Perth radio that the draft legislation, now running to more than 300 pages, was “very close”, but would not hazard a guess as to when it might be established, given it had to run the gauntlet of the Senate. Given the present run-rate of scandals under the Morrison government, one suspects that by the time it comes to a vote there will be overwhelming support inside and outside the parliament for a proper federal anti-corruption agency – whether the government wants one or not.

 

“It is like appeasing a child who has a tantrum. This is what we have been doing for four years. The more they don’t get their way, the bigger the tantrum is.”

A moderate Liberal MP expresses frustration after being warned “not to heighten tensions” with pro-coal Nationals if they speak up about climate-change policy in the Coalition joint partyroom meeting.

“The government has been very clear that the co-design process for an Indigenous voice to government would not consider constitutional recognition; this will be a separate process undertaken by the government. Members are allowed to express their views regarding constitutional recognition, however, they will not form part of the government’s consideration on an Indigenous voice to government. While some in the Indigenous community have called for a Makarrata Commission, the government has made it clear that this won’t be considered. No one has expressed views to the minister that they are being silenced as part of this process.”

A spokesperson for Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt defends leaked terms of reference for the peak advisory group on a voice for First Australians, which block consideration of constitutional reform or a truth-telling Makarrata Commission.

From the point of view of his failed candidates, Clive Palmer’s campaign was a success. So what does $84 million buy you at an election? In this episode, Mike Seccombe speaks to Palmer’s candidates and explains why our donations system needs reform.

3

The number of countries that met a February 9 deadline under the Paris Agreement to lodge new plans for boosting action on climate change.

“The Justices forming the majority held that it is not open to the Parliament to treat an Aboriginal Australian as an ‘alien’ because the constitutional term does not extend to a person who could not possibly answer the description of ‘alien’ according to the ordinary understanding of the word. Aboriginal Australians have a special cultural, historical and spiritual connection with the territory of Australia, which is central to their traditional laws and customs and which is recognised by the common law. The existence of that connection is inconsistent with holding that an Aboriginal Australian is an alien within the meaning of s 51(xix) of the Constitution.”

In the cases of Love v Commonwealth of Australia and Thoms v Commonwealth of Australia, the High Court ruled that anyone of Aboriginal Australian descent cannot be deemed an alien and thereby deported, regardless of where they were born.

The list
 

“Bernard Collaery is offering me an olive branch. You might think he’d be a worthier recipient: the lawyer, alongside his former client Witness K, stands accused of revealing a spying operation against Timor-Leste, a charge that could land the two men in jail. But there’s a fine Olea europaea already growing in Collaery’s front garden, and I get the impression he offers to take a cutting for anyone who compliments it.”

“In his new series, Australian comic actor and writer Josh Thomas plays a young man who agrees to replace his dying father as the guardian of his two teenage half-sisters. As the idiosyncratic entomologist Nicholas, Thomas plays a millennial who finds himself inhabiting a luxury Californian home, trying to make sense of his unexpected responsibilities and opportunities. As a creator, Thomas is in a similar relationship with the classic American sitcom: he’s an outsider placed in charge.”

“There’s an old Chinese saying that says you can have 100 stars, but they’ll never equal the light of the moon. That’s the best way to describe her,” inaugural coach of the Crows Bec Goddard says. “Because there’s only going to be one Erin Phillips … She has an awareness of time and space that not many other athletes [possess].” 

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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