Monday, January 27, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Bad sport
The PM’s upset election win looks very different now

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then sports minister Bridget McKenzie in 2019. © Paul Braven / AAP Image

The stench of corruption is again wafting around the Morrison government, adding to the acrid bushfire smoke. The sports rorts affair, which is reaching up to the prime minister’s own office, is especially odious, given that $100 million in pork-barrelling surely helped Scott Morrison’s upset, narrow win last year. Why else did they do it? It’s not just former sports and current agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie, it’s not just a couple of prime ministerial staffers, it’s the legitimacy of the Morrison government that is undermined here, at least in terms of public perception. The auditor-general has called foul on the Community Sport Infrastructure grants program, and a looming Senate inquiry is going to replay the whole thing frame-by-frame, in lurid detail. The Coalition cheated at last year’s election, pure and simple, and the lessons of its victory in May are very different now.

If it was a climate election won on a platform of doing nothing versus Labor’s so-called economy-wrecking targets, then that debate has been turned on its head. Bill Shorten half-joked over the holidays, as he toured ravaged firegrounds, that he doesn’t get questions about the cost of climate action anymore. It’s the costs of inaction that are piling sky-high around us. Alternatively, if it was an election about economic management, the thinning budget surplus and ongoing stagnation as drought and bushfire take a toll through 2020 could well undermine the Coalition’s claim to fame. Nothing that happens overseas – trade peace, a Trump win – will make up for malaise felt at home, if it continues. Or, if the last election was a culture war, well Scotty from Marketing has wasted his five minutes of cultural sunshine, sitting on a Hawaiian beach while his country burned.

The Australian’s Peter van Onselen revealed [$] on Saturday that two of Morrison’s staffers were closely involved in handling funding applications under the community sports program. As Michael Pascoe writes in The New Daily today, the PM’s language when questioned on this is strange. When asked by 3AW’s Neil Mitchell whether Liberal Party officials were involved, he replied, “Not that I can speak of.” Lynton Crosby’s observations [$] that Morrison’s critics are simply doubling down because his victory confounded them are hardly convincing. There is much more at stake here. As The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan wrote last week, there are some obvious parallels with the 1993 election, an upset victory for Labor’s true believers that turned sour very quickly.

Crikey’s William Bowe wrote [$] last week that the program was “transparently tailored to boost the Coalition’s electoral prospects”, but argued that it made no difference to the election result, which was won at the macro level rather than at the micro level of individual marginal seats. Maybe, but consider the counter-factual: just say the Liberals’ Nicolle Flint, who won the South Australian seat of Boothby by a few thousand votes and is sitting on a margin of 1.4 per cent, had not had $1.7 million to hand out and had fallen short? Instead of a one-seat working majority in the lower house, the government could be relying on the support of the crossbench, vulnerable to threats from every potential floor-crosser.

In any case, it’s beside the point. When the Australian Cricket team is busted ball-tampering, nobody cares whether it won them any wickets. It’s foul play, which should be, or used to be, un-Australian. Don’t buy the cynical line that just because Labor’s Ros Kelly did the same thing in 1993, rorts have been happening on both sides forever and it’s all par for the course. Kelly paid the price, stepping down from the ministry, and her subsequent resignation from the parliament dealt a hammer-blow to the Keating government in the Canberra byelection of 1995.

It is already disappointing that the Morrison government last year missed its own end-of-2019 deadline to introduce legislation for a national integrity commission. It is already remarkable that scandal-prone ministers like Angus Taylor and Michaelia Cash have hung on to their jobs. The public couldn’t give a hoot whether Bridget McKenzie’s position as deputy Nationals leader makes it difficult for Morrison to sack her, or presents factional difficulties for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Her position as a cabinet minister is untenable and – following this afternoon’s Sky News Australia report that concerns were raised within her own office – weakening on a daily basis. If the upshot of the review due this week by the PM’s departmental secretary, Phil Gaetjens, is that there are no consequences for such flagrant rorting – as Barnaby Joyce is today tipping [$] – then it will be the final nail in the coffin for the integrity of the Morrison government.

“I was completely shocked and then I was quite dismayed … I couldn’t help but wonder how it could be that somebody has been rewarded for work … that actually pits men against women.”

Former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty expresses her dismay at a decision to award an Australia Day honour to controversial author and sex therapist Bettina Arndt.

“It’s an elegant expression of what it takes to be a good citizen – of the rights we hold and the responsibilities we owe.”

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek defends her proposal for schoolchildren to pledge allegiance to Australia.

Fighting fire with... what?
In a terrible summer, the bushfire season still has months to run. The volunteers fighting the fires are exhausted and under-resourced. Rick Morton on whether we can meet the next bushfire crisis without radical changes.

The number of Australian children reportedly stuck in Wuhan, China, now in lockdown as the coronavirus epidemic worsens.

“In order to reduce sugar, we have agreed on a 20 per cent reduction in beverages by 2025, a 10 per cent reduction by 2020 … This is driving forward at a very fast pace, including what’s called ‘reformulation’ as part of those beverages.”

Federal health minister Greg Hunt rejects a sugar tax proposed by the 2020 Australian of the Year, Dr James Muecke.

The list

“He approaches everything from the men’s tour to the video game Call of Duty with the same obsessional thirst for competition, and has done ever since he was an overweight, asthmatic kid playing juniors in Canberra. This trait is unexceptional for a tennis player, possibly even a requirement, but in Kyrgios it is extreme, and sits uncomfortably with the rest of his personality, which is surprisingly collegiate, fair, funny and empathetic. (You might miss these features on a tennis court.)”

“In recent months the federal government’s position on climate change has shifted. Not in policy terms: the change has been restricted to its rhetoric. It has a new strategy to avoid responsibility. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has become adept at evading questions on climate change and its links to bushfires, and judging by his satisfied expression as he fronted up for ABC’s 7.30 recently, he remains confident he has a form of words that, like armour, journalists will be unable to penetrate. To date, he has been largely proved right."

“The recent discovery of water-ice on the Moon was the starting gun going off for a new space race … Suddenly, interest in Moon exploration, mining and settlement was revived. Water means the possibility of human habitation, and it can also be split into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. A permanent Moon base became the first step in any plans to extract resources or launch missions elsewhere, especially to Mars.”

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?


The Monthly Today


All in this together, or in danger of turning on each other?

Snap back

The PM thinks the economy will rebound, but that’s not likely

Back in the red

Coalition governments have protected their own. Australia can’t afford it any longer

Image of Tony Burke

Above politics

The JobKeeper package proves the Opposition is being constructive

From the front page


All in this together, or in danger of turning on each other?

Northern exposure

COVID-19 is turning Indigenous communities into a tinderbox

Three disasters, a wedding and a funeral

Reckoning with family in times of drought, fire and flood

Image of Julian Assange

Viral injustice

Julian Assange’s extradition trial continues as an attack on journalism