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Is this the most corrupt federal government ever?

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From the editorIn this week's issue we take a look at just how corrupt the federal government is and
 

SundayFocus

March 1 · Issue #32 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In this week’s issue we take a look at just how corrupt the federal government is and what can be done to restore integrity and confidence to our politics. We also celebrate some good environmental news and take the media to task for its failure to support besieged journalist Julian Assange.
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Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, editor

Is this the most corrupt federal government ever?
by Guy Mosel
Has there ever been a story quite like the grants rorts scandal? With new revelations of dodgy handouts landing almost daily (I literally got a news alert about another one as I was writing this piece), it’s now pretty clear that this ostensibly frugal government is remarkably cash-happy when it comes to rewarding its mates and buttering up marginal electorates.
It’s also pretty clear from where the proverbial fish rots. The prime minister is deeply implicated, as the 160-plus emails that bounced back and forth between his office and Bridget McKenzie’s team attest to. As Paddy Manning writes, “It is hard to recall the last time a prime minister was so personally implicated in a scandal – the kerfuffle over Paul Keating’s interest in a piggery, perhaps, but there was no taxpayer money at stake or electoral gain involved there.”
As damaging as this scandal ought to be (it won’t be, of course, because we live in a Trumpian hellworld where truth means nothing), the rorts saga may not even be the worst example of this government’s corruption. In fact, it’s hard to know where to start.
How about the awarding of contracts? Like the Paladin affair, where a little known security outfit registered to a Kangaroo Island beach shack was awarded more than $400 million to run the Manus Island offshore processing facility. Or the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a tiny outfit with connections to former PM Malcolm Turnbull mysteriously given close to half a billion dollars. Or the awarding of the cashless debit card contract to Indue, a company with strong National Party connections.
How about the blatant nest-feathering and expenses rorting? Like the Watergate controversy, where a company associated with Angus Taylor made massive above-market profits from an $80 million water buyback. Or when Sussan Ley was caught out claiming personal travel expenses from the taxpayer, including a trip to the Gold Coast where she bought a luxury apartment “on impulse”. Or Stuart Robert claiming $38,000 in internet expenses last year after previously being demoted for helping a Liberal Party donor sign a deal in China from which he personally benefited. (Both Ley and Robert have been rehabilitated – it’s a miracle! – and are now back in the ministry.)
I won’t go on, although I could. The short version is this: it may not quite be at Howard government levels yet, but the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government is on track to being the most corrupt federal government in Australia’s history.
A loss of faith
Eighty-five per cent of Australians believe our politicians are corrupt, while Transparency International says there is a long-term trend of worsening perceptions of corruption in Australia (and many other developed western democracies for that matter).
So what’s happening? Is it that politicians of this generation just happen to be greedy, self-serving resume-padders who view higher office as a stepping stone to personal enrichment? Yes, but that’s an incomplete explanation.
The heart of the problem, as Dr Lindy Edwards argued in issue 26, is the malign influence of corporations in our political system, manifesting as donations, lobbying and the promise of sweet post-politics gigs in return for favourable legislation and meaty government contracts.
Christopher Pyne is the most recent, and egregious, example of the problem. In June last year, mere weeks after leaving his job as defence minister, Pyne joined consulting behemoth EY to help grow its defence business. In the four years prior to that EY had been awarded $148 million in contracts from the defence department. Sounds perfectly above board and normal! Pyne is now a registered lobbyist with GC Advisory, a firm that lobbies on behalf of two defence contractors.
The revolving door between Canberra and industry has been merrily spinning for years. Mark Arbib, Martin Ferguson, Nick Minchin, Peter Costello, Peter Reith and many more have sold off their insider knowledge and contacts to the highest bidder. Of the 591 lobbyists currently listed on the official register, 228 of them – about 40% – are former government representatives.
Retired Victorian Supreme Court judge Justice Stephen Charles said the lobbying of federal ministers was “out of control”. “There is little or no control of lobbying in the federal area,” Justice Charles said. “Ethical lobbying is a perfectly normal part of any democracy but there are few rules, and those that exist appear never to be enforced. Hundreds of lobbyists walk the halls of Parliament without scrutiny.”
So what to do? Well for one thing we should overhaul the rules around lobbying by broadening the definition of a lobbyist and extend the cooling off period for former parliamentarians and government representatives. I think we should also ban all corporate donations and move towards a public funding model for election campaigns.
We also need a federal Icac, ministerial standards that are enforceable and more safeguards for whistleblowers to call out corruption when they see it.
It also falls to us – voters – to stop rewarding shitty behaviour. The decline in standards and probity is the work of both major parties, not just the Coalition. We don’t have to hold our noses and vote for one or the other. In fact, many people clearly don’t anymore, as evidenced by falling primary votes for both major parties and increased support for the likes of The Greens and One Nation.
Punish them where it hurts. That’s how we get change.
The week in review
👍🏽 Support for Newstart increase grows
In the wake of recent data showing that one in eight Australians are living in poverty, Nationals MP Pat Conaghan has joined Barnaby Joyce and John Howard (and the BCA, and the IPA, and Deloitte) in calling for a $75-a-week increase in the Newstart allowance. Conaghan, the member for Cowper, one of the country’s most disadvantaged electorates, said it was time for a “real discussion”. “Forty-one per cent of kids under 15 in both Kempsey and Nambucca are under the poverty line,” he said.
The cost of this extravagant largesse? About $3.3 billion. That’s slightly more than a half of one percent of total planned expenditure by the federal government in 2019/20. Or to put it another way, less than the cost of one new SEA 1000 attack-class submarine.
👎🏽 Mainstream media abandons Assange
With Julian Assange’s extradition hearing underway you might think that media outlets around the world would be campaigning for his release. After all, this isn’t just one journalist facing life in prison, this is an attack on journalism writ large and the public’s right to truth. But as Guy Rundle in Crikey notes, those very same organisations that have benefited from the risks Assange and Wikileaks have taken are all but silent on his plight: “The lack of a concerted response is all the more bewildering, given what is being revealed day-by-day in the hearing/trial as to the intent of the US as regards the criminalisation of journalism.”
👍🏽 Re-radicalising Mardi Gras
ANZ, Woolworths, Amazon, Qantas – is this a sample of Mardi Gras sponsors or a list of corporations with terrible track records of worker exploitation, tax evasion and price gouging? It’s both! In this piece in Overland, two members of left-wing activist group Pride in Protest explain why the corporatisation of the Mardi Gras is a betrayal of the event’s activist roots: “Activists rightfully point out the unethical human rights violations by many corporate sponsors … seeing this as a negation of the principles of Pride – that is an opposition to discrimination and oppression for all those who experience it, and an opposition to the police, corporations and political parties that enact and allow this discrimination to occur.”
👎🏽 ABC lets AFP off the hook
The ABC has decided not to appeal a decision by the Federal Court that upheld the validity of the raid on its Sydney offices by the Australian Federal Police in June last year. The ABC challenged the validity of the warrant, which permitted the AFP to search for leaked Defence Department documents related to the so-called “Afghan files”, on the grounds that it was “legally unreasonable”. ABC news director Gaven Morris said the decision should “send a chill down all our citizens’ spines”.
👍🏽 The Bight is saved (for now)
Plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight have been abandoned with Norwegian resources giant Equinor calling the project “not commercially competitive”. It’s a huge win for environmental campaigners who have been fighting to protect the Bight over fears of ecological damage like catastrophic oil spills.
Newly anointed pro-coal, pro-nuclear resources minister Keith Pitt described the decision as “disappointing” and said the Coalition remained “committed to encouraging the safe development of Australia’s offshore petroleum resources”. Welcome back to the front bench, Keith!
Longreads
You’re likely to get the coronavirus
Russia isn’t dividing us – our leaders are
For your bookshelf
Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
Food or War, by Julian Cribb
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