The Politics    Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sham inquiries

By Rachel Withers

Sham inquiries

Prime Minister Scott Morrison © Parliament of Australia

Why are we even waiting on the Gaetjens report?

The Prime Minister’s Office has all but confirmed that the various internal investigations into how it managed the fallout from Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations are completely and utterly bogus, aimed at covering up everything it did wrong. It’s not as if we didn’t know this already, whether from the fact that the inquiries are taking months, or the fact that one of them was quietly suspended on the advice of police (advice that police had to be prompted into saying came from them, after they said it hadn’t). Or simply from the fact that the prime minister appointed his close allies to run these probes. But after yesterday – a day in which it was revealed there was no guarantee Phil Gaetjens’ report into “who knew what when” would be made public, and in which John Kunkel’s report that “exonerated” the PMO of backgrounding was made very public – it’s clear the reports are meaningless.

Today, Scott Morrison’s characterisation of the four-page Kunkel letter as finding “in the negative” has been blindly accepted and reported in many corners – despite it stating that corridor conversations did go on – while the rebuttal from Higgins’ partner, David Sharaz, which he gave in a statement to Guardian Australia this morning, has received little attention at all. Questions are still being asked about the Gaetjens report and the secrecy surrounding it, as Labor pushes for its release. But what chance is there of it finding or revealing anything that might make the PMO look bad when it’s being run by a Morrison loyalist, with any PMO denial taken as fact?

In his statement to Guardian Australia, Sharaz critically assessed the Kunkel investigation, which was unable to “make a finding” that the alleged backgrounding took place after talking to all senior staff. “The PM’s chief of staff undertakes an investigation into his own office and finds it’s functioning well,” Sharaz wrote. “How unexpected. Even the most cynical person would see this for what it is – PMO staffers protecting themselves.” Labor’s Tanya Plibersek tried to keep the questions surrounding the Kunkel findings alive in today’s extremely fiery Question Time. “Why did the report prepared by the prime minister’s chief of staff blame journalists for smearing Brittany Higgins’ loved ones?” she asked, in reference to the fact that it confirmed conversations had taken place but blamed journalists for initiating them. “Does he seriously expect this house to believe journalists – not his own office – were at fault?” He does, and in the murky world of the “Canberra bubble” he has created, he may just get his way. It’s shocking, considering the fact the report blames journalists, that so much of the media appears to have accepted its findings at face value.

They aren’t the only ones taking things at face value, with Kunkel seemingly more than happy to accept the denials of those he was supposedly investigating. Morrison’s chief of staff writes in his report that “all senior members of the media team rejected the allegation of backgrounding” and then moves on, even while acknowledging that conversations had transpired, happy to accept their accounts that gossiping was initiated by members of the press. He appears to have only interviewed a small handful of journalists, with one saying they had heard of instances of backgrounding by the PMO from another journalist, whom they declined to name. The names of the three staff members believed to be responsible for the backgrounding are well known (though have since been removed from articles, notes commentator Ronni Salt). But their denials were obviously more than enough for Kunkel – just as Porter’s was for the prime minister. Denials hold a lot of power in the Morrison government.

The Kunkel inquiry is apparently done and dusted, with the PM no doubt hoping the backgrounding allegations permanently sidelined. But attention remains fixed on Gaetjens’ more controversial who-what-when investigation, now due within “weeks”, which many hope will catch Morrison himself in a big lie over when he found out about the rape allegation. Labor MP Peta Murphy today raised questions about Gaetjens’ estimates non-answers on the ABC, noting that the head of the public service had “acted as though the Senate didn’t have any right to ask him questions”. “It’s an investigation into who in the prime minister’s office knew what, when, and who they told,” she went on. “It is not an investigation into whether people in the prime minister’s office have been abused or allegedly raped.” After seeing Kunkel’s report, it seems more likely Gaetjens’ will be an investigation into whatever staff in the prime minister’s office say they knew, and little else.

“[The Uluru Statement is a] clear and comprehensive agenda for healing and peace within our nation.”

Four years after it was presented, the Uluru Statement from the Heart has been awarded the 2021 Sydney Peace Prize, with the award coinciding with National Sorry Day.

“I’m going to sit back and watch and see how it goes, that’s my view … I’m the 31 per cent.”

Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick further undermines confidence in the vaccine, as an outbreak in Victoria worsens.

Why isn’t Labor cutting through?
As the major parties gear up for an impending federal election, which could be held this year, questions are being asked about whether Anthony Albanese is capable of securing Labor victory. Today, Chris Wallace on Labor’s election chances, and what they’ve learnt from the past two years.

The total cost to taxpayers of Attorney-General Michaelia Cash’s legal expenses in the AWU raid case.

“I stand with the cross bench, industry super funds, unions & employers in opposing the Federal Govt’s attempt in its ‘Your Super’ bill to give the Treasurer the power to veto investments by super funds.”

The Morrison government looks increasingly unlikely to pass its controversial superannuation reforms, with former Liberal MP Craig Kelly confirming he will stand with his crossbench colleagues in opposing them.

The list

“White Australia historically has defined what an Aboriginal person is. We must tick boxes and meet criteria of blood descent and community acceptance. I hate having to so definitively declare myself; it is not required of any other Australian. We are set a near-impossible task.”

A peek over the cartoonist’s shoulder reveals what Oslo doomscrolled, while waiting for a coffee…

“We had breakfast near the camping ground at a cafe cluttered with art, run by a small woman with big hair who asked questions. Edward ordered an espresso and eggs Benedict. He didn’t spill a single drop of hollandaise.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are seen in the centre of the frame, walking past each other.

The empty centre

From border security to tax, the hollow centrism of the two-party system is destructive to the national interest

Image of Chris Bowen

Spin of omission

What is the point of a ministerial climate update that doesn’t mention our emissions are still rising?

Image of Clare O’Neil speaking and gesturing with an index finger

Do the right thing

It is time for Labor to stop acting like LNP-lite on immigration detention

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are seen seated opposite each other in Question Time. Albanese is smiling. Dutton has his back turned.

Dirty deals damage democracy

There isn’t much time to stop a bipartisan deal that many believe would entrench the two-party system

From the front page

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction