Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Integrity sinks
Neither scandals nor evidence seem to matter in crony politics

Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Image via ABC News

In further confirmation that Australian politics is on a post-truth decline, it now seems easy-peasy for a minister of the Crown – in this case, Angus Taylor – to spout pompous rhetoric on the floor of the house during Question Time, at the same time as department officials are testifying in Senate estimates that he is (and long has been) talking utter nonsense. Today, when Taylor was asked a Dorothy Dixer about the government’s plans for a “gas-led recovery” from the pandemic, which would deliver “affordable, reliable energy”, he answered by saying that Australia “won’t have to choose between cutting emissions, lowering gas prices and jobs”. Yet it was only yesterday that Origin Energy chief executive Frank Calabria warned against unrealistic expectations for domestic gas prices. It was only yesterday that industry department officials confirmed that new, more accurate methods of measuring the climate damage from methane showed that Australia will emit approximately 150 million tonnes more climate pollution between 2021 and 2030 than previously estimated. So much for meeting and beating our 2030 emissions-reduction targets under the Paris Agreement “in a canter”.

The officials also confirmed that they had not factored in the government’s claimed 250 million tonnes of emissions associated with Taylor’s much-touted “Technology Roadmap”. When asked to explain this, minister Simon Birmingham (who was representing Taylor in estimates), said: “What we have in this Technology Roadmap are projections … don’t confuse commitments with projections.” 

So the nation’s biggest power company just told us that planned gas supply from the five new basins touted by the Morrison government won’t lower prices, while Taylor’s own department just told us that, firstly, the “gas-led recovery” is likely to blow out our emissions and, secondly, that their minister’s “Roadmap” is effectively meaningless – it makes no difference to the government’s policy settings except “by being there”. Yet this minister, without a shred of policy credibility, stands up straight in the house and acts the conviction politician so well that he deserves an Oscar.

He is very short on details, mind you. When the member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, asked Taylor a specific question about plans to drill for gas north of Sydney (between Newcastle and Manly, along a stretch of coast with a gross regional product of $50 billion, much of it from tourism), Taylor sat on the fence, saying: “Any gas project which meets stringent environmental procedures, both state and federal, should proceed.” Unfortunately, Taylor did not have to answer a pointed question from Opposition business manager Tony Burke, who referred to Taylor’s connection to previous scandals on water buybacks, critically endangered grasslands, a fake City of Sydney document and now an ICAC investigation about land near Western Sydney Airport, asking: “Can the minister please name which scandals for this government he has not been involved with?” Speaker Tony Smith ruled that one out of order. 

Question Time was dominated by questions about integrity. There were questions to the prime minister about the appointment of Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar’s old law firm, Ashurst, to investigate whether he’d misused taxpayer funds, and why Peter Crone, an economist and associate of former prime minister John Howard, had been given a lucrative contract with the National Bushfire Recovery Agency. In response, Scott Morrison attacked the Opposition for casting aspersions “on a well-respected legal firm”, and he defended the Crone appointment by saying: “If you are good at your job, you’ll get a job – that’s how it works!”

There were also a string of questions to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack about his dealings with the disgraced state MP Daryl Maguire, the former member for Wagga Wagga who is now the subject of an inquiry by the state’s ICAC. McCormack admitted discussing road funding with him, but denied discussing land deals, and did not have to answer a question about when he last met with Maguire. Sounds like fertile ground. 

Most importantly of all, the government was repeatedly questioned about the long delay in introducing its draft legislation to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which officials confirmed had been sitting with the attorney-general since December 2019. That delay is looking more and more deliberate, and with a government facing so many questions about corruption in its ranks, it is no wonder why. The flip side of crony capitalism is crony politics, and that’s where the Morrison government is now.

“Gough made it possible for countless women trapped in violent marriages to escape via no-fault divorce laws and criminalising rape in marriage. Then provided financial support for them and their children. What a great Australian.”

ABC TV news presenter Juanita Phillips remembers former prime minister Gough Whitlam, who died six years ago today.

“[A] cultural sickness [has] been brought about by the long march of the left through our institutions. There is no point in the LNP controlling the finances of our nation if Labor and the Greens control the minds of our kids.”

The LNP preselection frontrunner for Groom, David van Gend – who disputes global warming, opposes legal abortion and has advocated for gay conversion therapy – makes his stance clear in a letter to preselectors. He has been endorsed by senators Matt Canavan and Eric Abetz, former deputy PM John Anderson, and News Corp columnist Miranda Devine, who described him as “a happy warrior for all the right causes”.

Dutton’s new war on refugees
In recent weeks, refugees and asylum seekers living in Australia have received letters from the federal government stripping them of financial support and threatening them with deportation. Today, Rick Morton on the newest frontline in the government’s war on refugees.

The total cost of the NBN so far – almost double the Coalition’s original estimated cost for its multi-technology mix ($29.5 billion).

“It is unclear what the benefits of separating the [Greater Sydney Commission] from the balance of the planning system would be. Any transfer of administration of the GSC to a department other than [Planning] would have a significant impact in terms of the operations efficiency of the overall planning system in the Greater Sydney Region.”

From former NSW planning department secretary Carolyn McNally’s written advice, which argued against relocating the Greater Sydney Commission out of the state planning department. Premier Gladys Berejiklian overruled the advice, bringing the GSC under her personal ministerial control, after complaints from her then partner Daryl Maguire, who was frustrated by the commission.

The list

“We now cross to the / Press conference. Handily / Abridged in haiku.”

“Gladys and Daryl had gone to no small effort to keep their affair from their colleagues, and her family, who apparently learned of it only slightly before the rest of us did. So why is ICAC interested in it? In part, because if their relationship met the definition of ‘intimate personal relationship’ under the NSW Ministerial Code of Conduct, then she was under a legal obligation to make a declaration every time she took any action that ‘could reasonably be expected to confer a private benefit’ on Maguire. Awkwardly, the person she had to notify was the premier – herself – but she also had to place it on the Ministerial Register of Interests.”

“For José Roca, hype is not the same as significance. Art isn’t about the code of insiders, the journey from biennale to art fair to exhibition opening. It’s about the work itself … The celebrated Colombian curator believes novelty never determines the connection between art and the person who sees it. It doesn’t dictate the power of an artist’s work.”

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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