Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

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

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

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

It’s Labor’s turn to face the anti-corruption music, as Operation Watts causes major headaches for the Victorian Labor government, as well as the ALP’s federal branch. Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) has today continued its investigation into claims of widespread branch-stacking in Victorian Labor, in an inquiry that yesterday saw state government minister Luke Donnellan step down over allegations he had paid for other people’s party memberships, making him the fourth minister to resign over the scandal. Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, who yesterday admitted to the practice, has now wrapped up his explosive IBAC testimony, while Ellen Schreiber, the former assistant to factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek, has begun giving hers, revealing that up to 80 per cent of her work hours were spent doing factional work on the public dollar. (Somyurek himself has been heard but not seen, but IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich QC was forced to inform the former powerbroker’s lawyer that he could be heard “whispering instructions” from off screen during cross-examination.) Mastheads that were last week lamenting the unjust resignation of NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, claiming that the power-hungry state ICAC had gone “too far”, are now openly baying for blood. The Victorian Liberal Party is pushing for any minister or MP named by IBAC to stand down, something Premier Daniel Andrews described as ridiculous, while Sky News, which earlier hosted claims that ICAC public hearings unfairly destroyed people’s reputations, is now broadcasting the IBAC testimony live. It’s obvious, and long has been, that both major parties engage in grubby behaviour – just this week alone, the Coalition has faced further allegations of pork-barrelling when it comes to the already pork-barrelled Building Better Regions Fund. But support for anti-corruption initiatives shouldn’t rest on which side of politics is currently under investigation.

The IBAC hearings are not a great look for Victorian Labor, to say the least. But Byrne’s testimony has also implicated federal Labor, after the member for Holt admitted that he had authorised taxpayer-funded staff to engage in factional work. Labor leader Anthony Albanese has faced questions over Byrne’s conduct, saying he will not be ordering his MP to stand down or expel him from the party, for now. “It’s not appropriate to pre-empt their findings and those processes,” the Opposition leader said. But what kind of example does it set to allow Byrne to remain in the party while attempting to stand on an anti-corruption platform? The “wait-and-see” approach leaves Albanese open to criticism – albeit highly hypocritical criticism – from the federal government, which is suddenly up in arms about corruption. “What will he do about Anthony Byrne?” Education Minister Alan Tudge asked on Sky News this afternoon, claiming that the revelations exposed a “systematic abuse of Commonwealth funds”. It’s painfully rich coming from the minister behind the government’s shamelessly rorted commuter car park scheme. And yet it’s still a valid question.

Federal Labor has been calling for a stronger integrity commission than the one being put forward by the Coalition (though still not as strong as that being proposed by independent MP Helen Haines or the Greens, according to last week’s independent analysis). And, unlike the Coalition, federal Labor figures have used the embarrassing revelations from within their own party to bolster claims for a federal body, not weaken them. “Anybody who tells you this doesn’t happen at a federal level is just frankly naive,” frontbencher Jason Clare told Sky News. “It’s long past time that we set up a body with real teeth.” The revelations, said former leader Bill Shorten, were “shameful” and “humiliating”. “But at least IBAC’s looking at it,” he said. “That’s the power of having an anti-corruption commission.” But what’s the point of having an anti-corruption commission if you aren’t prepared to act decisively on its revelations? After all, there is no doubt that Byrne has misused taxpayer resources.

All of this is a far cry, however, from the Coalition’s standard reaction when it is the side facing corruption allegations (this ranges from pretending it’s all just politics to actively running away from questions). Pressed yesterday on the latest round of the heavily Coalition-skewed Building Better Regions Fund, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he didn’t care if the program was labelled pork-barrelling, an attitude reminiscent of his former NSW counterpart, John “Pork Barilaro”. “They can call it what they like,” Joyce said, insisting the government would push on with further funding.

Such comments make a mockery of the Coalition’s attempts to call out corruption in the federal Labor Party. But Albanese has a chance to show some consistency here. The IBAC commissioner today commended Byrne on giving evidence that went “against your best interests”. The same logic needs to apply to everyone else’s position on corruption.

“Is that what he says, does he? Mmm.”

Prince Charles was disappointed to learn that the Australian prime minister is considering skipping the Glasgow climate change talks. Government sources say Scott Morrison is now more likely to attend, but rejected the idea that he had been swayed by the heir apparent to the British throne.

“Net zero means higher energy prices for all.”

Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who last week said Australians should be willing to pay more on their mortgages to avoid a net-zero emissions target, is back to being worried about the average Australian’s hip pocket.

Why Scott Morrison is scared of an anti-corruption commission
In the lead-up to the last federal election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised a national anti-corruption commission, but the model he’s put forward has been criticised for being too weak. Today, Rachel Withers on the renewed calls for a national anti-corruption commission.

The approximate percentage of those who died during the NSW Delta outbreak who lived in western or south-western Sydney.

“The federal government’s mental health experts say Australia’s system for helping children is ‘fragmented’ and plagued by ‘inequity’, with Health Minister Greg Hunt to launch what is being called a world-first strategy to plug the holes and address troubling psychological trends in kids.”

Greg Hunt has launched Australia’s first ever children’s mental health strategy, placing a greater emphasis on early intervention and treatment for children experiencing mental illness.

The list

“The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe goes far beyond mere scientific curiosity. As astronomer Frank Drake expressed it, the search for life beyond Earth is really a search for ourselves, who we are and how we fit into the great cosmic scheme of things. In the absence of any reliable probability estimate, the best that scientists can do is look to see what’s out there.”

“If Australia was a fair-go country for First Peoples, Yuin nation elder Keith Nye, 64, might be a multi-millionaire looking forward to a comfortable retirement after decades of fishing for abalone in his traditional waters on the New South Wales South Coast. Instead, Nye is impoverished and looking down the barrel of a second jail term for trafficking them.”

“What really happened to SIEV X continues to be shrouded in secrecy. We know the boat sank in international waters – but inside the region that was the focus of Operation Relex, a Defence-led surveillance and disruption operation. Australia has no official maps of the place the boat sank. It did not send rescuers. This fact has always confounded advocates. The question has always been: Did the Howard government know the boat was there, and choose not to act?” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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