Friday, February 14, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Scott free
The rorting revelations continue, but who will be held properly accountable?

Source: Twitter

We all knew it, but it took last night’s bombshell evidence from the Australian National Audit Office to confirm it: the prime minister’s office was right in the thick of the sports rorts affair, recommending grants to former sports minister Bridget McKenzie, and swapping the colour-coded spreadsheets that prove beyond reasonable doubt that the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program was nothing more than a political slush fund. The PM’s weasel words – which didn’t sound right when he was confronted about the program at the National Press Club – are now exposed for exactly what they are: porky-pies. Ditto those statements from everyone from the PM down, about how the auditor-general had found all projects funded were eligible.

The trending hashtags overnight tell the story of public opinion: #crimeminister and #liarfromtheshire join #ScottyFromMarketing. The credibility of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary, Philip Gaetjens – a supposed-to-be-impartial public service chief – has also taken a battering, even if we may never see the supposedly cabinet-in-confidence report he prepared, which gave a big tick to the administration of the program. The only problem is, who will be held accountable, beyond McKenzie’s belated step-down from cabinet for what was a minor technicality relative to the major scandal?

To recap: as the ABC reported last night, the ANAO told the Senate committee on Administration of Sports Grants that the PM’s office worked closely with the sports minister’s office over six months, between October 2018 and April 2019. Dozens of emails were sent, making suggestions about which applications should receive funding: “These ones, rather than those ones,” according to officer Brian Boyd.

Dozens of versions of the infamous colour-coded spreadsheets went back and forth. This directly contradicts the PM’s statement that “all we did was provide information based on the representations made to us, as every prime minister has always done”. Rubbish. In the end, some 290 projects, or 43 per cent of the total approved, were ineligible under the program guidelines. Again, the PM had insisted that “the auditor-general found that there were no ineligible projects that were funded”. Also rubbish. The most damning line? When Auditor-General Grant Hehir told the committee that, although he had not seen the Gaetjens report or its terms of reference, he stood by his own investigation: “Nothing’s come to my attention which would lead me to change the [audit office] report.”

The rorting revelations keep coming. Last night, Nine News reported that the auditor-general had been asked to investigate the Community Development Fund, administered by embattled Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, which handed out 99 grants in the six months leading up to the election, of which 84 went to Coalition seats or ones it was targeting. Of $222 million handed out, those seats received $187 million. Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said it looked like a slush fund, while Greens leader Adam Bandt described it as “rorts on steroids”. Guardian Australia reports this morning on Senate documents showing that then sports minister McKenzie chose to devote $150,000 of unspent funds from the health department’s sports participation and integrity program on a study into the benefits of recreational shooting, instead of supporting a major event for 1000 intellectually impaired athletes.

Nine Media’s political editor David Crowe writes today that there has been a clean-out of staffers in McKenzie’s office – although not the PMO – and argues it is past time that ministerial offices get held to account. Very true. But the bigger issue here is the legitimacy of the Morrison government itself, which we now know secured re-election last year based not so much on a miracle combination of daggy-dad persona and a pro-coal culture war, but on rorting one taxpayer-funded grant program after another, backed up by some choice untruths about Labor’s death taxes and an unprecedented $83 million anti-Labour campaign by Clive Palmer. The only thing that can cleanse the Morrison government of the taint of these rorting revelations is a federal integrity commission with teeth, and one that can act retrospectively.

“We want to develop a roadmap, with other expert advice and eminent Australians, to provide some clarity about how you get to a zero-emissions state … Because if we do love the country, as we do, and if we do care about it, as we do, then we can’t allow it to become a hothouse hell.”

The Midnight Oil frontman and former Labor environment minister at the first National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne this morning, calling for the creation of a “war committee” of cabinet to plan the transition to zero carbon.

“Albo has every right to be pissed off because the threat on his position is a massive beat up. It is about forming a coherent policy to help us win an election, not to again tear us apart.”

A member of the pro-coal “Otis Group”, explaining that members are only trying to help the Labor leader, “by pushing for a centrist policy” for climate and resources.

Llew ‘Who’ O’Brien and the National Party turducken
Why the chaos that installed Llew O’Brien as deputy speaker is really about Queensland state politics – and how it’s set the scene for nine months of dysfunction from the Coalition.

The value of the merged TPG and Vodafone, which will combine to take on Telstra and Optus in mobile and broadband following a successful Federal Court challenge to a ruling by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“[The World Health Organization] has repeatedly stressed that it does not recommend putting travel and trade restrictions on China. Only Australia and a small number of countries have taken such extreme measures, which are overreaction indeed. We urge the Australian side to assess objectively and rationally the prevention and control measures taken by the Chinese side and the actual risk faced by the Australian side, respect WHO’s professional recommendations, and lift the restrictions as early as possible.”

A statement from the Chinese embassy expresses “deep regret and dissatisfaction” over the Australian government’s announcement on Thursday of the week-long extension of travel restrictions on foreign nationals from mainland China.

The list

“Well, here we are. The year is 2020. Australia is on fire. A new deadly virus is spreading from China to the world. Fascism is coming back. Surveillance capitalism, online disinformation, amoral billionaires, drone strikes. Inequality rising everywhere and riots from Hong Kong to Chile. The future is getting real. So what to read? You could do worse than pick up Agency, the latest from American science-fiction sage William Gibson.The times are Gibsonian.”

“For the duration of the project, artist Lucienne Rickard stands in the foyer of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, drawing an extinct animal or plant, often at many times life-size. She is there at least five days a week, drawing with a 9B pencil for six hours a day. When each drawing is done, which usually takes days, she erases it and begins another on the same piece of paper, building up a palimpsest of almost invisible creatures.”

“When it comes to making decisions about which projects to take, Swinton says there is only one factor she considers. ‘People. That’s it. I only know that familial, collective thing,’ she says. ‘I know generally that very good actors will learn their lines and prepare alone and go to their trailer and turn up on set and shake everybody’s hands. I don’t know how to do that.’ She insists she is not a professional actor.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning 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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