Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Oversight, out of mind
From JobKeeper to corruption, the Coalition abhors scrutiny

Image via Twitter

In news that will surprise no one, independent analysis has found that the federal government’s proposed integrity commission would be the weakest in the nation. Using a colour-coded spreadsheet (we know how the federal government loves those), the Centre for Public Integrity has revealed the specific ways in which the “Commonwealth Integrity Commission” proposal lags behind the state-based models, as well as those put forward by independent MP Helen Haines, Labor and the Greens. The independent group, comprising anti-corruption experts and former judges, has not been shy about criticising the draft model, as the federal government rails against the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. According to the independent analysis, the Commonwealth Integrity Commission would lack the power to investigate either sports rorts or the commuter car park scheme – two of the strongest recent arguments for having an integrity commission – and nor would it be able to look into claims that former cabinet ministers (such as Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne) engaged in lobbying that contravened the rules. (Analysis done in conjunction with Guardian Australia found the proposed model would only be able to investigate two out of 40 recent scandals.) It’s little wonder that the Coalition wouldn’t want these things investigated, especially when some of them reach right to the PM’s office. But surely it must know that no one else is going to stand for this.

The Coalition has this week been keen to use Gladys Berejiklian’s ICAC-induced resignation as an argument against watchdog overreach – though it has conveniently gone silent on its “who watches the watchdog?” rhetoric today, following a Nine report that Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) is examining the conduct of Daniel Andrews in particular deals. (State Liberal MP Tim Smith has already called for Andrews’ resignation, despite not knowing whether the premier was under investigation.) The Centre for Public Integrity’s spreadsheet confirms that NSW’s ICAC model is among the strongest in the nation, receiving ticks in every category, including the ability to launch its own investigations, hold public hearings, issue public findings and examine breaches of ministerial standards. (So, for that matter, does Queensland’s, along with federal proposals from Haines and Greens senator Larissa Waters.) Labor’s plan comes in second, mostly due to “unknowns” on whether it would be able to search public premises without a warrant, or receive anonymous complaints. But despite the government’s scaremongering, a strong watchdog isn’t regarded as a bad thing – not by anyone with an interest in exposing corruption, at least. The federal government’s fear of the NSW model is, of course, understandable: a large number of Morrison ministers would be in a federal ICAC’s sights, were it to be an effective watchdog.

But integrity commissions aren’t the only area in which the federal government has shown little interest in oversight lately. The Australian Financial Review has today continued its crusade against JobKeeper waste, with a report claiming that the program – “Australia’s single biggest public-spending program” – lacked an oversight body for five whole months. A dedicated “oversight committee” was only established after a recommendation from an independent audit by PwC, Michael Roddan reports. It comes after Roddan’s Tuesday report, revealing that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was warned by the ATO in July 2020 that applicants with large turnovers were recording revenue “significantly divergent” from their forecast downturns (payments were not restricted to firms that suffered an “actual” decline, rather than a forecast, until October 2020). Further reporting today shows that private schools reaped $750 million from the program, despite their revenues often not falling by the requisite 15 per cent. So much for responsible economic management.

In one small win for transparency and oversight, Bernard Collaery has successfully overturned a ruling requiring large parts of his upcoming trial – over his alleged role in exposing the Timor-Leste bugging scandal – to be held in secret. The ACT Court of Appeal today ruled that it was unlikely that an open hearing would present a “significant risk” to national security, as had been argued by then attorney-general Christian Porter, while a closed-door hearing would present “a very real risk” of damage to public confidence in the administration of justice. 

Someone please tell that to the federal government, whose weak corruption watchdog, as many have complained from the start, would not allow for public hearings. Public confidence, after all, is at stake.

“In Brittany, Australia has an incredible leader who is already having a profound impact.”

Julia Gillard praises former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, after she was appointed the inaugural visiting fellow of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, led by the former PM.

“This went beyond that, and it went against who I am, my beliefs.”

Former minister for immigration Peter Dutton – who once suggested rape victims on Nauru were “trying it on” as a ploy to come to Australia – argues that a tweet branding him a “rape apologist” went too far, in defamation proceedings against refugee advocate Shane Bazzi.

Everything you need to know about NSW’s new premier
On Tuesday, Dominic Perrottet won the support of his Liberal Party colleagues to become the 46th premier of NSW. But he’s already facing criticism for his socially conservative views on issues ranging from abortion to voluntary euthanasia.


The number of Australians aged over 16 who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccination rates for many of Australia’s most vulnerable groups remain far below this level.

“Australia will end offshore processing on Papua New Guinea by the end of the year, leaving Nauru as its sole regional processing centre.”

Once Australia ends offshore processing in Papua New Guinea, the 124 asylum seekers and refugees detained there will have the choice of transferring to Nauru or remaining in PNG with a pathway to citizenship.

The list

“Funding drama departments is the compound result of three different budgetary processes. Like the concentric circles of Dante’s Hell, each has a particular torment attached … In each circle, it can be argued that people elsewhere are making the decisions. Governments point to universities, which point to faculties, which point to universities, which point to governments, in a closed loop of endlessly deferred responsibility. In the end, there just seems no one to blame.”

“Once, while we were on the rocky banks on the island’s east side attempting to pull out ivy that hadn’t been touched since 1963, I realised that if I succeeded in getting rid of it all, I’d have nothing to stand on. The banks of the island are unpredictable; some are built from the rubble of former buildings. In the old garden beds we find bones, bits of metal, broken plates. The other day a gardener found a stone arrowhead, which was sent off for analysis.”

“There has been a lot of talk about the seismic cultural shifts we will behold in the wake of this once-in-a-century global event. I wonder if one of them will be a long overdue respect – among employers and employees alike, particularly in the healthcare sector – for the much-maligned sick day.” 

For all of our NSW readers, enter the draw for a chance to win a double pass to the 2021 Sydney Film Festival. Running from November 3–14, and showing in cinema, this year’s festival is showcasing the greatest, strangest and most exciting works that cinema has to offer.  


Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

Image of Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, leader Barnaby Joyce and leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie, June 21, 2021. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Fear and showboating

The Nationals are worried about a net-zero backlash of their own making

Composite image of Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (via ABC News) and News Corp presenter Andrew Bolt (via Sky News)

The little guys

A vocal minority that has for so long controlled the climate debate is now painting itself as marginalised

Image of federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, July 30, 2019. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

A tale of two commissions

Support for anti-corruption initiatives shouldn’t rest on which side of politics is under investigation

From the front page

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

Image of a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

The cult of Gladys Berejiklian

What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?

Cover image of ‘Bodies of Light’

‘Bodies of Light’ by Jennifer Down

The Australian author’s latest novel, dissecting trauma, fails to realise its epic ambitions