Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning


Corruption spreads
So where the bloody hell is our federal ICAC?

Image of Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Attorney-General Christian Porter. Image via ABC News.

The stench of corruption is once again hanging over the federal parliament, from the cash-for-visas scheme promoted by disgraced former NSW MP Daryl Maguire, to the $30 million Leppington Triangle land acquisition (now the subject of an investigation by the Australian Federal Police), to the response to independent Andrew Wilkie’s motion for a royal commission into criminal activities involving Crown Casino. The questions go right to the top: Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked whether his government had representations from Maguire about visas. He did not deny it, saying he received a lot of representations, “including on those which the member has referred to”. The PM was then asked about evidence given by the AFP in estimates today, indicating that it would engage with the NSW ICAC on whether Maguire was involved with the Leppington deal. Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack endured a barrage of questions from Labor’s shadow infrastructure minister, Catherine King, asking whether he still considered the Leppington deal a “bargain”, as he did in September. McCormack dissembled – admitting that the land was purchased for more than it was worth and was subject to police investigation – but said it was still a good thing that the purchase was going ahead since it would enable the development of Western Sydney Airport. “It will cost a lot more in the future,” McCormack said, in a feeble defence of the indefensible. Once again, the stench begs the question: where is the government up to with a federal integrity commission? Attorney-General Christian Porter today gave a detailed, but inadequate, answer to that question. 

It is not so surprising that the deep corruption exposed by the ICAC investigation into Daryl Maguire – who was, until recently, the long-time partner of the state premier, Gladys Berejiklian – might have federal implications. Maguire’s whole business model was blatantly corrupt (he’s admitted to “monetising” his position as an MP), and it would be surprising if he did not try every angle with every political connection he could muster, including in Canberra. It would make sense if those connections were strongest with federal Coalition MPs based in NSW, including Morrison (a former immigration minister) and McCormack, whose electoral office is in Wagga Wagga.

Maguire was already known to be angling for a sales commission on a land property deal near Western Sydney Airport on behalf of landowner Louise Waterhouse, who he once met in the lobby of Berejiklian’s office. Auditor-General Grant Hehir told Senate estimates that he had referred the Leppington purchase to the federal police – the first time he had done so in his five years at the Australian National Audit Office. The AFP’s deputy commissioner, Ian McCartney, told Senate estimates earlier today that police would be engaging with ICAC on both the Leppington deal – to see whether Maguire had any role – and the cash-for-visas scheme. 

Meanwhile, as the NSW probity hearings continue into whether Crown is fit to hold a gaming licence at its new Sydney casino, former Howard-era communications minister and Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan has conceded the company facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne casino. Yet when Wilkie moved for a suspension of standing orders to debate a proposed royal commission into Crown, both government and the Opposition opposed it. “Government and Opposition partially-owned subsidiaries of the gambling industry QED,” tweeted senior journalist, commentator and academic Tony Walker.    

So where the bloody hell is our federal ICAC? Independent MP Helen Haines asked the attorney-general today why there was such a lengthy delay in legislating a robust integrity commission, “when scandals like the Western Sydney Airport demand action on integrity, now”. Porter answered the question respectfully, and in detail, explaining that it was not appropriate to bring on the legislation while Victoria was in the middle of a second wave of COVID-19, and that the beefed-up Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity – which got a funding boost in the budget – would be operating from January 1. He also discussed the Coalition’s model for the new ICAC in more detail than he has lately:  

We’ve been very clear what our model for the integrity commission would look like. We’ve said quite clearly there’d be two divisions. There’d be a law-enforcement integrity division. There’d be a public-sector integrity division. Each of those divisions would have powers greater than a royal commission. The law-enforcement division would maintain discretionary capacity to conduct public hearings. The public-sector division would run compulsory private hearings to investigate matters and build a brief to form the basis of a prosecution. Each division would have its own powers. Both divisions would have powers to investigate a broad, existing suite of public sector offences. They could look at past conduct in that regard. The new commission would also be empowered to investigate with respect to newly created offences as well as existing ones. But the government’s view, not one shared universally, is there could not be retrospective application of new criminal laws or new standards of corruption.

It’s not good enough, but it at least shows that the government has made some progress with its bill. Now it just has to introduce it. Absolutely ASAP.


“I’m a full-termer; elections are too hard to win … We’ll do it for the time we said we would.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison tells his partyroom colleagues that an early election in 2021 is not part of his thinking.

“We continue to caution against arbitrary or unrealistic gas-price expectations, noting the cost of domestic gas must reflect the life cycle cost of production, and that gas producers, like any company, should be able to earn a return on the significant capital required to bring gas supply to market.”

Frank Calabria, the chief executive of Australia’s biggest energy retailer, Origin Energy, warns that new domestic gas supply (which the Morrison government wants to bring online as part of its gas-fired recovery strategy) will not lower domestic gas prices.

Public office with (alleged) benefits
A week after her secret relationship with a politician being investigated over corruption was first revealed, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is still facing questions over what she knew. Today, Mike Seccombe on what the premier’s connection to a disgraced MP means for her political future.

The average warming the world can expect under current climate pledges, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. (That means up to 4.4 degrees of warming in Australia.)

“Amendments to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) will protect the confidentiality of information given to [the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect & Exploitation of People with Disability]. This comes on top of existing mechanisms for the royal commission to protect information provided and the identity of witnesses, including through the use of private sessions or pseudonyms, or the making of do-not-publish orders.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter announces amendments to the disability royal commission.

The list
 

“It’s impossible not to read this novel in light of Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan Quartet’, with which The Lying Life of Adults shares a family resemblance. True to type, her characters are again driven by compulsions and impassioned urges, by the tensions of class. They are characters full of strong appetites and aversions.”

“There’s a population of Victorians – small, I hope – that can be identified by the hashtag #IStandWithDan, and is characterised by a near-religious devotion to their premier and a pronounced distaste for any journalist committed to his accountability. To which I say: government is not your friend, footy club or a replacement for God. It is not Bono or Paddington Bear. It is not a wrist bracelet or a yoga mat.”

“Around him was planted a battalion of small, plastic Australian flags. The flags represented the 791 Victorians who had died from COVID-19 – including, presumably, my mother … I know exactly what Margot would have said about this stunt.”

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.

 

The Monthly Today

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Game over

Premier Berejiklian’s position is untenable

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

Image of Government Services Minister Stuart Robert

Government dis-services

Stuart Robert is doing the PM’s dirty work


From the front page

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

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Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

In light of recent events

Shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!
Image of Earth from the Moon

Pale blue dot

The myth of the ‘overview effect’, and how it serves space industry entrepreneurs


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