The Politics    Thursday, February 11, 2021

Another day, another disgrace

By Rachel Withers

Image of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Image via ABC News

Today’s Coalition scandal is brought to you by Peter Dutton

It seems we truly can’t go a week in politics without the Australian government finding itself mired in scandal – particularly when it comes to the increasing pool of misused ministerial grant funds. That elusive “government accountability”, which Labor senator Kristina Keneally recently called for, is still nowhere to be found, with ministers alternating between denials and attacks when confronted.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has gone for mostly the former, with a little of the latter thrown in for good measure, denying that his request to fast-track an $880,000 grant to the National Retailers Association was influenced by a donation to the LNP, in a disconcerting timeline revealed by the ABC’s 7.30. Documents show Dutton’s office asked for the one-off community safety grant to “be considered sooner”, eight days after the industry body made a $1500 political donation at a fundraising dinner held in his honour, and which he attended. In a written statement to 7.30, Dutton called the suggestion of influence “baseless”, counter-suggesting that the report was “highly defamatory”. 

7.30’s revelation was part of a cache of ministerial briefings, obtained under freedom of information laws, showing that the home affairs minister had disregarded his department’s “merit-based” community grant recommendations and instead made his own funding allocations. In a handwritten note, Dutton removed $5.59 million from across 19 of the highest-scoring applications, reallocating funding to lower-scoring projects, including a church within his electorate and the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland, ignoring a warning from the department that overruling the merit system could draw scrutiny from the Australian National Audit Office and the media. Director of the Centre for Public Integrity Geoffrey Watson SC told 7.30 that Dutton may have breached the 2018 ministerial standards. “We can’t see what was going through Mr Dutton’s mind,” he said. “Without further explanation, there’s a prima facie case for a breach of ministerial guidelines.” 

Dutton hasn’t yet spoken publicly about the allegations, but he responded in writing to questions from the ABC by throwing a few pot shots. “The suggestion that the government has done anything other than support projects worthy of support is nonsense,” wrote Dutton. “Partisan commentary from Labor-aligned councils and former Labor members is hardly reflective of impartial reporting,” he added. As his fellow minister Greg Hunt showed on News Breakfast yesterday, attacking the ABC’s independence is the best form of defence, at least in the Liberal playbook.

Keneally, Labor’s newly appointed shadow minister for government accountability, was back at it this morning, appearing on Breakfast to call for Dutton and Morrison to answer questions about the report, while suggesting it looks “on the face of it, worse than the sports rorts scandal that saw the resignation of then minister Bridget McKenzie”. Dutton chose to spend his morning on 2GB, where he wasn’t asked about the revelations at all. Funny that.

In other news, further details are emerging of how rules were changed in the lead-up to Crown Resorts’ Sydney casino being approved, and they don’t look so good for the Liberal Party either. In 2012, then premier Barry O’Farrell met with James Packer (at Alan Jones’s house, because of course) to discuss plans for the complex, advising him to use the government’s unsolicited proposal process. Not long after, O’Farrell removed the requirement for such proposals to be independently evaluated, allowing cabinet to sign off on stage one. Critics are calling for the NSW government to take responsibility for the “rushed and fast-tracked” process, which Premier Gladys Berejiklian has so far defended. How unlike her.

Meanwhile, Attorney-General Christian Porter already appears to be making things up about Labor’s newly announced industrial relations plan, arguing that it will cost businesses $20 billion annually – a claim Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson Tony Burke says is based on a policy Porter “invented”, before the plan was even announced. The skirmish is over a commitment from Labor to allow insecure workers to accumulate paid leave across multiple jobs, with Porter commissioning data to show the cost of paying sick, annual and long service leave to casual workers and contractors – “an extinction-level event for tens of thousands of Australian businesses,” he said. Taking to Twitter, Burke said that Labor was promising to consult about the portability of existing entitlements, while Porter was inventing new ones and adding them up. “There’s a lot going on inside of his head but none of it deals with anything we are announcing today,” Burke wrote. Brace yourself: there’s very likely much more of this to come.

Newly confrontational Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese leapt on the corruption theme today, inserting his new favourite catchphrase into a tweet about Dutton and Hunt. “As if you needed more proof that the Morrison government isn’t on your side,” he wrote. We’ll pay that one. Unless you’re a casino developer or a church in Peter Dutton’s electorate, it doesn’t really look like the government cares about you at all. 

“Murdoch is, by any objective measure, not a fit and proper person to control a media empire in Australia.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has accused News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch of attempting to “radicalise” Australians, in his submission to a Senate inquiry into media diversity.

“As each case is assessed on its merits, Australian defence export controls readily accommodate consideration of changing geostrategic circumstances and emerging risks.”

Australia will not ban arms sales to countries involved in the Yemeni Civil War, despite calls from human rights groups to follow in the footsteps of the United States.

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The number of years before the world’s population will be adequately vaccinated against COVID-19, with hygiene measures and masks to be part of life for years to come.

“Banking programs will be banned from [ACT] schools after the regulator found they were little more than marketing exercises by the institutions.”

The ACT has become the second state or territory to ban school banking programs, following a similar decision by the Victorian government in November last year.

The list

“Kylie avoids veering to extremes of seriousness or sexuality. In place of naked ambition, she maintains a strict focus on dance music that reads as pleasingly unaffected, and she has successfully incorporated camp into her performance style. In interviews she comes across as a mildly self-deprecating showgirl, and visually she is still the green fairy who twinkled her way through Moulin Rouge (2001) and beyond. At present, her standing in Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe is equivalent to that of Jennifer Lopez in the United States: a tabloid fixture turned beloved showbiz trouper, verging on iconic. Another decade or two might take her to Cher status.”

“Australia loves larrikins, as long as they are white, and polite, and display no flamboyance and voice no controversial opinions. Australia laments there is no colour in public life anymore, complains that sports-people show no personality in their interviews, and then punishes them the moment they do. Australia is willing to embrace Nick Kyrgios, as long as he becomes someone else.”

“Confession: a pile of nylon has touched my heart. The revelation came on a cold Saturday morning when a huge brown-and-grey patchwork of fabric was unrolled on a suburban school oval in the nation’s capital, after a dawn race across town trying to get ahead of the wind. A hot blast to the nether folds wafted the material off the grass and, while I watched it billow and fill, we were both transformed. It became a giant inflated creature, a massive ephemeral whimsy, mesmerising in its gentle weirdness, with a strangely calming smile and 10 absolutely enormous, drooping boobs. And I, ambivalent and barely awake at stupid-o’clock, suddenly laughed my head off and could not have loved it more.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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