The Politics    Friday, November 27, 2020

No, ex-minister

By Paddy Manning

Image of Mathias Cormann

Via Twitter

Mathias Cormann’s taxpayer-funded job application is a nose-pincher

It’s not so much the cost to taxpayers that rankles with Mathias Cormann’s bid for the top job at the OECD, it’s the multiple layers of hypocrisy. The cost is surprisingly high – I don’t remember another ex-minister being given an RAAF Falcon to treat like a private jet, or a staff of eight officials working full-time – but it is not going to send the country broke. There might be a notional return on investment if Cormann gets the gig, in the form of Australia-friendly policy such as an OECD-wide policy on multinational tax evasion, as an op-ed in the Nine newspapers argues today. But making the case for Cormann is a nose-pinching exercise, given everything else that’s going on. Ordinarily it would be a no-brainer for the Australian government to support a credible, prominent Australian candidate bidding for an important national institution, but the Coalition blew up all that when, against official advice and against the national interest, it failed to back Kevin Rudd’s bid for the more important job of secretary-general of the United Nations.

Secondly, the taxpayer funds suddenly being showered on Cormann again highlights the government’s selective austerity. There’s no problem finding $10 million to give to News Corp without even a plan to spend it, for example. Or $79 million to buy some overvalued water rights from a company linked to Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars for pork-barrelling Coalition electorates, from sports rorts onwards. But when it comes to sooling debt collectors onto welfare recipients to recover fake, illegally raised debts, at the risk of tipping people over the edge, suddenly every taxpayer dollar counts. Ditto when it comes to funding the ABC and SBS, or when it comes to supporting the arts through the pandemic. Or when withdrawing the Jobseeker supplement. All are eminently affordable, but to these the Morrison government says no.

Thirdly, there is an unsettling contrast between the urgent lobbying in support of Cormann’s job application, and the apparent neglect of Australia’s relationship with China, where it seems a big ask to even get an Australian minister to pick up the phone. Exporters are paying the price for this attitude, including the wine industry, which today learnt it is the latest Australian sector to suffer an import tariff. Fourthly, it sticks in the craw that Mathias Cormann – as we wrote here yesterday, the world’s first and only finance minister to abolish a functioning carbon price, and who has plumped for the Coalition’s denialist wing in every toxic leadership contest – is now touting his “green recovery” credentials and supporting “net zero emissions as soon as possible”. Sorry, you don’t get to argue against climate action in Australia for seven years and then jet off at taxpayer expense and say exactly the opposite.

Lastly, and this is most jarring of all, how is it okay for Scott Morrison to throw in a taxpayer jet to support Cormann’s tilt at a prestigious foreign posting – and to say this is necessary so that Cormann can avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus – at the same time as nearly 37,000 Australians, many equally at risk of getting infected, are trying to get back to Australia for Christmas? Today, the PM conceded it might not be possible for them to return by then, trying to put the blame back onto the states, in what shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally called a broken promise. Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong was equally damning on ABC Adelaide this morning: “Let’s remember the federal government got one of their former departmental secretaries, Jane Halton, to do a very detailed report on quarantine some time ago. She made some very clear recommendations, which have not been acted on. She said the feds can run quarantine under federal legislation, they can do it safely, and she recommended the government should stand up a federal quarantine facility for surge capacity. That’s the recommendation that has not been acted on by Scott Morrison – instead he’s just choosing to blame the states.” Apparently, the Morrison government has got more important things to do – such as looking out for Mathias Cormann.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“The medivacced refugees must be freed. As long as they are in detention they cannot recover. Their physical and mental health is deteriorating by the day. There is obvious political discrimination … Over the past two weeks, 20 refugees brought from Nauru in September have been released into community detention, yet refugees brought under the medivac laws are still in detention after two years.”

Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, after a 32-year-old Iranian man who was medivacced here 17 months ago, following seven years on Manus Island, was forcibly moved by Serco and Queensland police from a Brisbane hotel to immigration detention amid protests.

“Frankly, the commonwealth has ignored everything negotiated by officials, and this does not provide a credible pathway … [We will be] left with no option but to withdraw.”

An internal email, leaked to The Australian ahead of today’s critical meeting of the Murray–Darling Basin ministerial council, shows the Commonwealth and NSW remain at loggerheads over $4 billion in infrastructure upgrades to deliver water back to the Murray–Darling river system.

How to lose a trade ally in 14 ways
Australia’s relationship with China is at its lowest point in decades. Trade boycotts are impacting local businesses, and now the Chinese government has issued a 14-point list of grievances it has with Australia.


The number of Australia’s largest and best-known listed companies that have policies addressing workplace relationships (out of 56 responses to the 107 surveyed by The Sydney Morning Herald). Another eight companies have no policy.

“It is the stand down that operates to mean that an employee is not required to present for work. Such an employee cannot be said to take leave or be absent because the stand down is in operation and there is no obligation to present for work from which leave may be taken or absence may be authorised.”

Federal Court judges Steven Rares and Craig Colvin, in a joint decision, dismiss an appeal by a consortium of unions that would have forced Qantas to pay sick and carer’s leave to 25,000 workers stood down during the pandemic

The list

“If the talk happens to turn serious – towards international space law, or the ethics of corporations or rich nations prospecting for off-Earth minerals – many people tune out, assuming that anything to do with outer space is speculative, eons away from becoming a reality and not yet worthy of concern. Those with the most to gain from turning space into a realm of “finders keepers” hope that the public remains blind to the war currently being waged between competing visions for space. And the first site for this conflict? The Moon.”

“For a group focused on what can be heard, COVID-19 silences raise an interesting spectre: what is it to memorialise and record erased sound? A number of contributors voiced their discomfort at the curating of an absence that represents so much loss. Carol Ann Weaver addressed this in a response that acknowledged what we must accept about this moment in time: ‘I like the idea that silence also includes a vast sense of unknowing. Possibly, when we have nothing to record or listen to, we are hearing our lives most profoundly. Brave living to all of us!’”

“Native title has never really meant anything in Western Australia, and is meaning ever less elsewhere in the country, says Senator Pat Dodson. He says that “piecemeal” legislative changes that give governments ever more power to direct the operation of Indigenous land corporations, as well as smart lawyers for big miners and pastoralists, have “whittled away” at the fundamental concept of native title.” 

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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