Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Scott Morrison defends the indefensible

There was no contrition or reflection in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s set-piece year-opener at the National Press Club today – on his holidays or the bushfire crisis or sports rorts or anything – so how can there possibly be a reboot of his government’s political fortunes? Instead, Morrison delivered a well-worn defence of his government’s record on economic management and climate change, and dodged hard questions about the role of his own office in administering the scandalous Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program, and even on the principle of whether a government should distribute public funds for personal political gain. Morrison’s answer on that last point was nonsense – “Do I believe the sun should come up tomorrow? Yes I do, and it will!” – and he slipped in a nasty dig at the public service, pretending that it’s only politicians who are accountable to their communities. So Australia starts 2020 exactly as it ended 2019, in all kinds of trouble with a prime minister in denial.

Morrison appears to believe that if he trots out a few motherhood statements – about girls getting change rooms, or the importance of sport in local communities – the quiet Australians will all nod back off to sleep. He is right to the extent that 34 per cent of Australians, according to Guardian Australia’s Essential poll today, have not been following the issue. (Combine those with the 15 per cent of diehards who continue to support embattled former sports minister Bridget McKenzie and… the government is certainly in business.) But for anyone paying more than the faintest of attention, those motherhood statements just rub salt in the wound: half a million dollars, ostensibly for a girls change room, went to an Adelaide sports club without a girls team; the importance of local sport is exactly why the communities behind meritorious applications that missed out because they were in the wrong electorate will be furious. If the PM thinks the wider community shares his view of the local government MP or Coalition candidate handing out taxpayers’ money to suit themselves, he is completely out of touch.

Let’s dig into what the PM really said today. On the involvement of his office in distributing the grants, what I heard was that Morrison’s staff were right in the thick of it and, furthermore, Morrison sees absolutely nothing wrong with that. Here’s what he said, verbatim: “What prime ministers have always done is supported their colleagues when matters are raised with them, and that has been done since time immemorial, for prime ministers to relay those positions on to the relevant ministers in those programs, and that’s the role that my office played. All we did is provide information based on the representations made to us, as every prime minister has always done.”

When the ABC’s political editor Andrew Probyn, holding up the colour-coded chart he revealed yesterday, asked the PM what he would say to those sporting clubs that applied in good faith but missed out for the wrong reasons, Morrison took a trip down memory lane, back to when he was minister for social services under Tony Abbott. He recalled leaving a bunch of funding decisions to his department, and was appalled to find that wonderful community organisations (read: religious ones, I’ll bet) which had been providing emergency cash relief and playgroups, were “all defunded … it was just stripped away from them”. So he went back and overrode the department. Morrison is telling us to just leave the decision-making to the politicians: “You know, politicians, ministers, members of parliament, we’re part of our community, we know what’s happening in our community, we’re in touch with our community, we know the things that can make a difference. And it’s important, because we’re accountable to those people in our communities for getting stuff done.”

Decoded, it’s yet more Joh-speak, straight out of the Moonlight State: “Don’t you worry about that.” The more we get to know this prime minister, the more radical it seems he is.

“We thank Greyhound for not throwing young people under a bus by continuing to help Adani build their climate-wrecking coalmine … It shows that we can push companies to be part of the solution to climate change and consider the impact of their actions.”

SchoolStrike4Climate’s Varsha Yajman welcomes a decision by Greyhound Australia to not extend its three-month contract with the Adani coalmine.

“The government voted against my amendments last year saying they were unworkable, but if they want to backflip I’d be happy to see it.”

Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie revives government hopes of passing its union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill.

Sports grants are the tip of the iceberg
As the government deals with the Bridget McKenzie scandal, questions are being asked about other larger grant programs. In this episode, Karen Middleton explains the flaws in the system and explores other programs that haven’t gained real attention.

Australia’s latest ranking for broadband speeds out of 177 nations surveyed by Ookla, down three spots, making it the fourth slowest in the OECD.

“Australian federal police accessed the metadata of journalists 20 times and obtained six journalist-information warrants to identify those journalists’ sources in the last financial year. The data is contained in the federal government’s report on law enforcement agencies’ use of telecommunications data for investigating crimes and surveillance … [which] also reveals, for the first time, how law enforcement agencies are using the government’s new anti-encryption legislation passed at the end of 2018.”

Guardian Australia reports on how government agencies surveilled the free press in 2018–19.

The list

“Mitchell’s goal with All Auras Touch is to display the aura portraits of 1023 Australians according to the 1023 jobs included in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations list. ‘It’s a hugely outward-facing work because its completion relies on the public participating in it,’ she says. She will need a slaughterer. A sex worker. A meat boner and slicer. A shearer, a shot firer, a magistrate, a gastroenterologist and a zookeeper. A yarn carding and spinning machine operator.”

“The charity faced a wave of criticism last week when it was revealed just a third of the $95 million of bushfire donations had been committed to help those affected with their immediate needs. The Saturday Paper spoke to seven past and current employees about how the charity behemoth handles vast sums of donations … Three of the former employees independently raised concerns about why the Red Cross would have launched a general appeal and nothing tied specifically to the bushfires, as has been its practice in the past."

“James Balcombe looked nothing like your classic crime don. He may have been wearing a black suit in court, but his dishevelled mien, like that of a man leaving work drinks at 3am, lent the garment the gravitas of a tracksuit. Nor did Balcombe – whose business supplied inflatable jumping castles for fetes and children’s parties – look overly concerned as people accused him of undercutting competitors, of threatening ‘to come after’ a witness if he worked for his competitors, and of orchestrating the firebombings of a string of rival bouncy-castle businesses.”

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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