The Politics    Monday, November 8, 2021

Branching out

By Rachel Withers

Image of Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

What a strange time for the Coalition to be pursuing an election strategy based on “trust”

Today’s events did not engender great confidence in the integrity of the major parties, as the Liberals responded to reports regarding Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar’s use of taxpayer funds for factional ends, and the Victorian corruption watchdog turned the spotlight back on Labor. Sukkar rejected Nine’s latest report (emails show that he was very much aware that his brother, best friend and allies were engaging in factional work on the public dollar), claiming that he had already been cleared by a finance department investigation (one he did not want released, and about which questions must now surely be asked). Sukkar’s federal colleagues have backed him, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison both pointing to the previous investigation and insisting the matter had been dealt with – as if new and incriminating emails had not just come to light. Labor is trying to capitalise on the Sukkar mess: leader Anthony Albanese revived his “only a Labor government will introduce a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission” subtweet, one that featured heavily during the resignation of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian. But it’s rather difficult to take the Opposition’s disapproval seriously, considering how seriously it took the revelations about federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, who last month admitted to branch-stacking. What an odd time to be gearing up for an election based on economic “trust”.

In coincidental timing, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigation that Byrne recently faced has just recommenced, and it’s disgraced former Victorian minister and alleged branch-stacking mastermind Adem Somyurek’s turn to give evidence. In today’s hearing, Somyurek admitted that he had hired factional operatives to work in his electorate office, and that he spent about $2000 a year buying people’s party memberships, while accusing other major Labor names of being equally involved in the dirty underside of politics. Somyurek’s factional enemy Daniel Andrews featured heavily in his testimony, with the former minister claiming that the premier had been the Socialist Left organiser in the late 1990s, and more recently that Andrews had dismissed concerns surrounding the “red shirts” affair. This is set to continue all week, with Somyurek giving evidence every day except Wednesday (when no hearings are scheduled), making it harder still for Labor to call out the Liberal branch-stacking issue.

Labor’s calls for a federal anti-corruption commission may carry less weight in the wake of the party’s light touch when it came to Byrne, but at least it is calling for one. One Nation leader Pauline Hanson – whom one might have expected, as an independent, to be milking this lack of faith in the major parties – has chosen today of all days to announce that she opposes a federal ICAC, after the “disgusting” treatment of Gladys Berejiklian before the NSW commission. “I’m not going to agree to a national crime and misconduct commission if it comes down to my vote,” she said, declaring that the former premier’s relationship with disgraced MP Daryl Maguire was “nobody’s business”. Asked about the Sukkar allegations, Hanson said there was “nothing to pursue”, also citing the investigation by the Department of Finance. So much for Hanson being the voice of the people, noted Guardian Australia’s Amy Remeikis. As usual, Hanson is mostly just a voice for herself – and she will even be voicing herself in her upcoming South Park–style cartoons, The Australian reports.

It is a strange time indeed for the Coalition to be pursuing an election strategy based on “trust”, as Karen Middleton reported in The Saturday Paper over the weekend – though Morrison is hoping to make it more about the economy than honesty. Expectations of a May election are growing firmer, with plans under way for a pre-election April budget, the AFR reports, while Frydenberg all but confirmed the trust plan in an op-ed in The Australian, boasting about the Coalition’s economic credentials. “Who can you trust to keep the economy strong?” he wrote, ahead of a marathon set of morning interviews (no ABC News Breakfast of course). “Keep taxes low? Keep creating jobs?” Not the Coalition, said shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers on Today, arguing that the treasurer was always there to take credit when the economy was going well, but never to take responsibility when it wasn’t. Morrison and Frydenberg are no doubt trusting that the strategy will work anyway.

“At the end of the day, they need to be given the opportunity and they haven’t been. [It was] one female, one, and Gladys.”

NSW Nationals deputy leader Bronnie Taylor, now the highest-ranking woman in the Perrottet government, says the Liberal Party needs to do more to promote women.

“Sounds like his Lordship’s got plenty of advice for the coalies. Well, I’ve got some advice for his Lordship: we need to stick to the facts.”

Resources Minister Keith Pitt rejects criticism from the UK Climate Change Committee chair, Lord John Deben, while insisting stronger action would “destroy” our economy.

Joe Biden’s honeymoon is over
Just one year after winning the election, US President Joe Biden is facing political obstruction from within his own party and plummeting approval ratings. After losing key election races last week, the Democrats could be annihilated at the midterms next year.

The tonnage of pollution that Australia could have prevented had the Coalition not abolished the carbon price in 2011, according to modelling by the Greens.

“The Opposition has expanded on its plan to offer higher childcare subsidies to more families to promise it will implement a cross-government early-years strategy if it wins next year’s election.”

Labor says it would bring responsibility for early-childhood policies into a single strategy, breaking down the silos between departments such as education, social services and health.

The list

“Often NGOs are faced with a difficult, ethical choice: they can either stick to their core functions or they can chase the funding dollar. I’ve spoken to employees of big NGOs who initially applied for policy or research positions, yet find themselves doing little more than putting together grant applications for new packets of funding – or even just reapplying for existing grants. Nobody is forcing NGOs to expand. But as a number of people in NGO head offices have told me, they often measure their ‘impact’ by the number of people they assist.”

“With a smart, straight-talking script, Total Control has plenty of moments that leave little aftershocks rumbling in their wake. If you like your humour sharp and with a sting in the tail, Total Control is an exhilarating ride.”

“Despite Berejiklian suggesting this kind of electoral bribery has always happened and that everyone does it, the reality is that it is happening on a far larger scale in recent times, and her side of politics is the worst offender. Case in point is the Morrison government at the last election.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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