The Politics    Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Money spinners

By Rachel Withers

Composite image of Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud and former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian. Images via Twitter / ABC News

Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud and former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian. Images via Twitter / ABC News

From the Nationals’ mercenary tactics to Gladys Berejiklian’s “sweetheart deal”, sometimes you gotta say WTF

It’s been an abysmal 24 hours for transparency and integrity, although the Coalition’s egregious disrespect for open and fair processes has been on full display. Closed-door negotiations between the Nationals and the Liberals over adopting a net-zero carbon emissions target remain ongoing, and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce has revealed he established an advisory group to collate a list of “concerns” (read: demands) to take to the prime minister. Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud, a member of the four-person team, put it bluntly when asked whether it would be about money for the regions. “Money makes the world go around, mate,” he told the ABC’s News Breakfast, though he denied that the Nationals were holding the PM “hostage” over the target. (Fellow advisory group member Bridget McKenzie nonetheless warned in the Senate that things would get “ugly” if the PM adopted the target without them.) Money does indeed make the world go round, as the Coalition well knows. Yesterday’s damning auditor-general report revealed that $25 billion worth of federal grants awarded between late 2017 and mid 2021 were allocated through closed, non-competitive processes, while $624 million in grants earmarked for regional Australia were actually awarded to cities. So much for the Nationals standing up for the regions. In today’s Question Time (in which Labor fired almost all of its questions at the “minister for regional development”, Barnaby Joyce), Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain asked why the government had approved funding for a North Sydney pool but rejected funding for the Bega War Memorial Pool. “We look forward to the Labor Party putting forward their views on what they intend to do with the Building Better Regions Fund,” Joyce said of the heavily pork-barrelled fund, to loud jeers from the Opposition benches.

There’s little wonder the federal Coalition doesn’t want a serious or public-facing federal integrity commission. In NSW, the Independent Commission Against Corruption was hearing extraordinary evidence regarding the process of awarding a grant in disgraced MP Daryl Maguire’s Wagga Wagga electorate, as part of ICAC’s investigation into former premier Gladys Berejiklian (whose legal defence is costing taxpayers more than $10,000 per day, news.com.au reports). Today’s hearing heard from Nigel Blunden, former strategy director to then premier Mike Baird, as well as Baird himself. In 2016, Blunden advised his boss that the multimillion-dollar proposal should be delayed, due to an “inadequate” business case – only for it to be returned to the cabinet agenda by then treasurer Berejiklian. In an email tabled at ICAC, Blunden suggested there must have been “a sweetheart deal with Daryl”, because the grant “goes against all of the principles of sound economic management”. “Sometimes you gotta say WTF,” he added. Blunden’s additional note to Baird – saying that they should at least target marginal seats with questionable grants, not one of their safest – really says it all.

Speaking of not wanting a federal corruption watchdog: Attorney-General Michaelia Cash this morning announced that the government was “refining” its proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission, in response to feedback on the draft bill, claiming that it still intends to introduce the bill to parliament by the end of the year. Considering how little the proposal has changed in the face of expert criticism of its earlier discussion paper, there’s little hope of it changing too much now. The crossbench, however, is clearly fed up with the Coalition’s extreme delays and pathetic efforts. Independent senator Rex Patrick has confirmed he will introduce Indi MP Helen Haines’ Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill in the Senate – making it a cross-chamber, crossbencher push, Guardian Australia notes. “Whether it’s sports rorts, car park rorts, dodgy water purchases, jobs for the boys, JobKeeper rorts – the government’s track record on integrity is a disgrace,” Patrick proclaimed. Patrick has been notching up wins in his campaign for transparency lately. Last night, he won support for a motion to initiate an inquiry into whether the taxation commissioner had “disobeyed a lawful order of the Senate” by declining to release information about JobKeeper payments, as ordered. Labor, meanwhile, opted to block the government’s COAG reform bill in the Senate if the section extending secrecy to national cabinet was not removed – another win for Patrick.

Those aren’t the only battles over secrecy going on in the Senate today. Labor has voted down the Coalition’s latest attempt to further strengthen its visa cancellation powers – something critics have suggested would install a “regime of alarming secrecy”, allowing Australia to cancel migrants’ visas without them knowing why or on what evidence decisions were based. Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally accused Immigration Minister Alex Hawke of reneging on a deal struck yesterday to delay the bill until the November parliamentary sittings and work with her on amendments, to ensure “low-level offending” was not captured in the deportation powers.

The Coalition is now gearing up to wedge Labor over its refusal to support the bill, and for being weak on national security. As a spokesperson from the PM’s office said in response to allegations the government had reneged: “Labor want to vote down protections that would keep stalkers, domestic violence abusers and sexual assault offenders from having their visa canceled or refused. Time’s up for Labor.” We know that money makes the world go around. And money, plus fear, is what the Coalition uses to power its election campaigns.


“If net zero creates more jobs, wouldn’t we want to get there sooner rather than later?”

Nationals senator Matt Canavan makes an unintentionally good point about the government’s secretive net-zero modelling, as Atlassian chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes jokes that he may have “misjudged” the coal-loving senator.

“Despite the billions of dollars governments invest in changing the lives of proles, their number increases. Their birth rates far outstrip those of professional couples.”

Former NSW minister for social housing Pru Goward calls for Australia to better “harness” the “damaged” “underclass”, in a disturbing op-ed in the nation’s main business paper.

The new Cold War over the origins of COVID-19
The Wuhan lab leak theory has recently been given new prominence thanks to a controversial book written by Australian journalist and Sky News commentator Sharri Markson. Today, writer Linda Jaivin examines the credibility of Markson’s claims.

The OECD’s forecast for Australia’s 2018–2030 per capita GDP, downgraded from 1.4 per cent, as it warns of worsening living standards and an ageing population.

“On Wednesday, the federal government will split its own critical infrastructure bill, delaying some elements that businesses have complained would impose ‘red tape’.”

The government plans to delay certain elements of its proposed cyber-attack reporting legislation, in the hope that it can get the less contentious elements through parliament before Christmas.

The list

“[Powers’] novels are dense, knotted and ambitious, populated with large casts moving across grand stretches of time, wrestling with intricate intellectual concepts, making the personal historical and vice versa. It’s with some irony then that Bewilderment (William Heinemann), his newest novel, might be the simplest and most elegant he’s published in over 35 years of writing. Something of an unofficial sequel to The Overstory, it returns to that book’s environmental concerns with a streamlined cast and a narrower, more personal focus.”

“Like the political predilection for being photographed wearing hardhats and hi-vis, pretending that people have a choice between jobs and the environment is a very old, and usually very effective, piece of political messaging. As a bumper sticker reportedly seen in Townsville read, ‘Don’t take my job and I won’t take your soy latte.’”

“The story of how Craig Kelly came to leave the Liberal Party and join forces with Clive Palmer is long and convoluted but ultimately traces back to Donald Trump and a crackpot doctor in the United States … Palmer approached Kelly and offered him money to help spread the word on hydroxychloroquine. Soon after, Kelly left the Liberal Party. Eight months later, they lead what they claim to be the largest political party, by membership numbers, in Australia.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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