Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Under administration
Labor’s branch woes aren’t contained to Victoria – and the PM knows it

Image of Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews.

Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews. Image © Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews has responded forcefully to the 60 Minutes revelations of branch-stacking by ensuring the Victorian branch of the ALP has been placed under administration. And, in doing so, he has vanquished a factional rival and may even be able to limit the damage to his government’s standing at the next state election. Perhaps, Andrews will emerge stronger. How the investigations now underway will impact the standing of the federal Opposition is completely unpredictable, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Attorney-General Christian Porter and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg taking turns to goad Labor over the messy fallout from the Victorian branch. In Question Time, Porter needled Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese about his performance in an interview with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell this morning, in which Albanese seemed to be hedging on the question of when exactly he realised that some of the most damaging 60 Minutes footage was secretly filmed in the electoral office of federal Labor backbencher Anthony Byrne, a factional ally of sacked state minister Adem Somyurek. Byrne is now reportedly “cooperating with authorities”, as the saying goes. 

Both Victoria Police and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) are investigating the affair, and Byrne told The Age there was “misinformation circulating” about his role. “I want to make clear that I take the matters raised recently seriously and have been in touch with authorities to offer my full assistance,” said Byrne. “I welcome investigations into corruption, which has no place in the party I love.” It is easy to see how the investigations now underway could draw in other federal Labor MPs. 

The measures announced by Labor’s national executive yesterday, at Premier Andrews’s urging, are drastic. Auditing every party member and putting the entire party under administration until 2023 is about as tough as it gets. It remains to be seen whether the decision to send two Victorians in to administer the Victorian branch is the right one, although former deputy Labor leader Jenny Macklin and former premier Steve Bracks are both highly regarded, and it is hard to think which other branch might be able to help. The problem for Labor is that the issue in Victoria is cultural as much as anything – former federal Labor minister Craig Emerson told the ABC as much today – and the culture is national. At the broadest level, as politics lecturer Geoffrey Robinson writes in Guardian Australia, the outsize power of factional warlords is a function of the iron laws of arithmetic: rank-and-file membership is so anemic almost anyone can stack a branch or division and control preselections. 

The problem for the rest of us is that Australia needs a strong opposition to the Morrison government in the federal parliament right now, while the foundations of our recovery from this pandemic-induced recession are being laid. As a nation, we can hardly afford for Labor to sink back into the mire of infighting that rendered them unelectable between 2010–13, and the potential for exactly that was underlined today in the spat between Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan over the coming celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Julia Gillard’s coup. The lid is still on, for now, but the toxic brew underneath is bubbling away ferociously. 

Zali Steggall, the independent member for Warringah, nailed the fundamental problem with this government in this question to the PM: “State governments have led the way with prohibitions on industry donations and anti-corruption watchdogs. In contrast, at federal level, we still have no national integrity and anti-corruption watchdog and no prohibition on political donations from property development, mining tobacco or gambling industries. This is the virus corrupting our democracy. Rather than introducing legislation to bring federal donations laws up to scratch and protect our democracy, your government has introduced legislation to get around stronger state government laws. Why?” 

Morrison waffled on about old times on the joint standing committee for electoral matters, while Porter dissembled, trying to school Steggall on some spurious difference between state and federal donations laws and giving no clue as to when the government’s own national integrity commission legislation might see the light of day. Both the PM and attorney-general took the opportunity to get stuck into the Opposition, with Porter trumpeting extra funding for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, and Morrison closing his comments with a dig. “I would be very surprised if those opposite in the Labor Party would be asking questions about integrity today,” said Morrison. 

When Labor lets itself down, it lets the Coalition off the hook. 

“We were able to make a visit to the detention centre today and to engage in a video conference to have that visit. That is a very important thing and I’m very pleased that has been conveyed back to his family.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne takes up the cause of Karm Gilespie, who is being detained in China on drug charges and is facing the death penalty.

“It is totally unnecessary for the Andrews government to rush into this ill-conceived venture.”

Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter signals a possible constitutional challenge after Victoria’s parliament became the first to criminalise wage theft.

How we organised Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance had five days to organise a huge Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne. Under threat of fines and sustained criticism in the press, they coordinated one of the largest protests the city has seen. This is the story of how it was done.

The usual monthly stipend provided to Catholic priests in the Parramatta diocese, who have had their income almost doubled under JobKeeper. The church has asked priests to donate nearly half of the JobKeeper payment back to the Catholic Church.

“Australians want advertising to be truthful and transparent. They expect the media to self-regulate, and want laws that would penalise misleading and deceptive political ads with fines, forced retractions or losing public funding. The lack of truth in political advertising regulation is leading to declining public trust in government, politicians and parliament.”

From an open letter published by the Australia Institute, signed by 29 prominent political and legal figures, and supported by 89 per cent of Australians according to recent polling.

The list

“Wright started work on this novel several years ago, intending it to be a cautionary tale. Interviewed in April, he said that, as a journalist, he’s faced dangerous situations but what most terrifies him is a deadly virus such as Ebola. The bravest people, he believes, are public-health officials, the selfless investigators in the thick of it. The End of October (Bantam Press) is about them and dedicated to them. Mid genuine pandemic, we read with an acute sense of being in the novel, wanting to learn, wanting to understand and yearning for a solution. Wright delivers.”

“The importance of traditional law is often underlined in the Mystery Road project, but it is also debated and challenged, particularly in the way that polygamy and customary corporal punishment are approached in the show’s second season. When customary law and the justice system clash, Davis’s authoritative response is, ‘It’s not our culture, that’s murder!’ … That all of this and much more has been broached within the genre of a TV police procedural – albeit one that’s a spin-off from two more expansive films – augurs well for Australian screen culture.”

“During their seven years on Nauru, Salah and Mustafa have each held on to a singular focus to help them survive. For Mustafa, it’s training. He spends two hours each day doing rigorously planned workouts. He compares it to growing a flower: you have to keep watering it so it grows, and if you stop it will die. He started lifting weights when a gym opened at the Nauru camp in 2014. He’s only stopped twice, when he was sick. ‘I love it because it makes me so strong: mentally, physically, emotionally,’ he says. ‘This sport is not just about lifting weights, it makes your mind strong.’ Salah’s devotion, by comparison, is to his son.”

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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