Monday, October 12, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Need to know
Gladys Berejiklian needs to go and Australia needs a federal ICAC

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian giving evidence at the ICAC inquiry this morning

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian gives evidence at the ICAC inquiry this morning. Image via ABC News

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is widely tipped to resign after this morning’s testimony before the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. Berejiklian confirmed that for five years she was in a relationship with former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, who is under investigation for taking bribes, after he previously admitted to having sought payment over a property deal. The issue is not the fact of the personal relationship per se, but rather the implication that Berejiklian’s exercise of her duties may have been (or perceived to have been) influenced by Maguire, given the substance of private texts and secret phone recordings aired at today’s hearing. Berejiklian and Maguire actually discussed one business deal under investigation, at which point the premier responded: “I don’t need to know about that bit.” Twitter is awash with calls for Berejiklian to stand down, and senior NSW Liberal sources have told The Australian’s Sharri Markson that the premier is finished (one unnamed source said: “You can’t be f***ing a guy involved in [alleged] high-level government corruption and survive it. She’s gone, for all money.”). The premier’s bombshell revelation is undoubtedly in the public interest, and it highlights exactly why we need a federal equivalent that can put serving politicians on the stand. 

There is no need to recap on coverage elsewhere, except to observe that Maguire clearly talked to Berejiklian obsessively about his financial situation and he clearly used his access to the premier to advance his business deals, including a fraudulent cash-for-visa scheme for Chinese national students and a $330 million sale of land owned by Louise Waterhouse to Chinese interests at Badgerys Creek. Berejiklian denied any knowledge of a potential Maguire appointment to export company United World Enterprises, then had to hear herself on tape discussing it. So Berejiklian can hardly plead ignorance, although for the record she insisted that there was “never, ever” a conflict of interest, and maintains she terminated their relationship in August when she realised she would be called before the inquiry.

Ultra-conservative treasurer Dominic Perrottet has told the media that he did not know about the relationship. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said he had no knowledge of the affair but declined to comment further: “I’m sure I will continue to [work] with Premier Berejiklian”. As many have observed today, including SMH state political editor Alexandra Smith, former premier Barry O’Farrell resigned after confessing to ICAC he had received a $3000 bottle of Grange as a gift. 

Berejiklian’s hitherto successful premiership in NSW has been a touchstone for the PM, who has frequently compared her favourably with the Labor premiers of Victoria and Queensland. She had just demonstrated the strength of her leadership by staring down an ill-considered revolt led by Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro, who is now on mental health leave. If she does go – and she should – Berejiklian’s resignation will underline a perception that the state Coalition is divided and arrogant.

Whichever way it pans out, Australia needs a federal ICAC. In his budget reply speech on Thursday night, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said: “Two years after announcing they would support a National Integrity Commission, the legislation is as visible as a Morrison government surplus.” And Albanese promised that a Labor government would “deliver a national anti-corruption commission to restore faith in our democracy”. 

Responsibility for finally introducing the legislation rests with Attorney-General Christian Porter, who says the government “remains committed to establishing the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) and will progress to the next steps with the release of draft legislation as soon as possible … The draft legislation to establish the CIC was ready for release before the global economic and health crisis caused by the coronavirus.”

The CIC bill, when it comes, should have “more teeth than Jaws” – as Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie memorably promised – and be able to hold public hearings, initiate its own investigations (including retrospective inquiries) and grill serving politicians. Nothing short of that will give the public confidence that a brake has been put on the rorting and scheming.    

“We’re bloody lucky we didn’t bury thousands of people. I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Andrew Constance, the NSW transport minister and member for Bega, says that last summer’s bushfires were predominantly caused by climate change.

“I was shocked when I was informed last night that this call had been made and that a detailed examination of his records had shown that.”

Premier Daniel Andrews comments on the circumstances surrounding the resignation of senior Victorian public servant Chris Eccles, who called the then police chief commissioner, Graham Ashton, in a key six-minute period on the day Victoria’s ill-fated hotel-quarantine program was established.

The school fighting to save its language
For decades, students in Footscray, in Melbourne’s West, have been taught in Vietnamese alongside English. But now the program is under threat. Today, André Dao on why we value some languages more than others, and what it says about where Australia sees its place in the world.

The number of signatures on Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary petition calling for a royal commission into News Corp’s domination of the Australian media landscape.

“Labor calls on the government to make transparency a priority at the upcoming Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ministerial meeting by pushing for the final treaty text to be publicly released before it is signed … Australians deserve to know the impact of all government policies on job opportunities and livelihoods.”

Shadow minister for trade Madeleine King calls on Trade Minister Simon Birmingham to release the final text of the RCEP agreement before it is signed in November.

The list

“In April, as students, parents and teachers settled into lockdown’s learning-from-home requirements, families at Footscray Primary received a newsletter announcing the ‘emotionally difficult decision’ to drop Vietnamese as the target language. To be successful, the school said it had to adopt a ‘commonly taught’ language. By July, the school council had made its decision. From 2021, Footscray Primary will be a bilingual Italian school, with next year’s foundation students learning 50 per cent of their curriculum in the second language. A 23-year history of bilingual Vietnamese education – the only one of its kind in Australia – has come to an end.”

“Following Mathias Cormann’s long and successful run in the provinces, Scott Morrison believes his retiring finance minister is ready to take on the world, nominating him for the prestigious role of secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is the big one: the OECD is where the real movers and shakers strut their stuff. So it would be a giant leap for a man who has never come higher than third in the hierarchy of Australia’s Liberal–National Coalition.”

“In a budget crisis – when money is no object, but speed is crucial – it can be instructive to see where and when the dollars flow, and who misses out. The spending graphs in Budget 2020 are skyscraper numbers that can obscure what’s being knocked down and not being built … But among the dizzying figures is spending that reveals the government’s priorities, and its possible election timetable.”

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.


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