The week in politics was rocked by the disclosure that the NSW Liberal Party was, once more, in a spot of bother. Public-spirited to a fault, the Prime Minster then leapt nobly into the breach, diverting the nation’s attention from the Liberals’ deepening crisis and taking us all back to 1942, with a bizarre last-minute proposal that states levy their own income tax because they are clearly wasting federal funds on health and education. Luckily, it was one IPA proposal that Tony Abbott had overlooked.
Lobbed like a grenade into an already hostile COAG meeting of state premiers who, Colin Barnett aside, want him to return the $80 billion his predecessor cut from hospital and school funding, the proposal either blew up in his face or it was a cunning tactical move to paint the premiers as ingrates and nay-sayers – depending on your choice of spin doctor.
By Saturday Shorten had him on the back foot calling COAG a “humiliating farce” forcing Turnbull to snarl that state premiers could never ask federal government for any funds ever again. Having rejected his best offer, (made without a scrap of documentation), they are to stop snivelling about going broke and take whatever further cold cuts and other stale leftovers from the IPA menu are fed them in the May Budget.
Now it has his number on cut-throat competitive federalism, Labor has been quick to exploit both the mean spirit of the PM’s less than innovative proposal and the hasty manner in which it was made, an urgency, Mr Turnbull has explained which was brought on by the draft cabinet document being leaked the previous day.
Not only is his COAG leadership looking uninspiring, however, the PM’s anti-corruption-in-construction election plank is flimsy in the light of the evidence of corruption surfacing in the NSW ICAC into Liberal funding which suggests most of his party’s funds in that state came from prohibited donors.
Funding is big in the NSW Liberal Party HQ ending the careers of many state politicians including wine buff, former Premier Barry O’Farrell. The outfit not only runs our most populous, most powerful state, it is an incubator for those born to rule federal politics, such as Bronwyn Bishop, whose every waking moment is dedicated to keeping the streets of McKellar safe from ISIS.
Bronnie’s former mentor, local hero and darling of the NSW right wing, IPA apostle Tony Abbott soldiers on bravely juggling his valuable advisory work in Ukraine with his many international speaking engagements because of his need to “make a contribution”.
Tony’s contribution in Ukraine is a paid position on President Poroshenko’s International Advisory Council. Poroshenko assured him that all his council members are “an author of economic or democratic miracle in your countries.” Tony’s noble ideals surely would have commended him, too, had Poroshenko been pressed further.
Renowned for its pursuit of the noblest ideals of community service, public discourse and intellectual inquiry, the NSW Liberal party, suddenly, is struggling to account for $690, 000 of its own funds. Or access any of their $4.4 million war chest, until they can tell the NSW Electoral Commission who gave them the money.
The NSW Liberals seem to have overlooked or misunderstood the disclosure rules in the exchange of money for influence popularly known as fund-raising. As a result, its funds have been frozen by the Electoral Commission headed by Justice Keith Mason, a former president of the NSW Court of Appeal who is not all fazed by Arthur Sinodinos’ threats of legal action over its “flawed” report that has led to media outlets labelling him corrupt.
“A cherry on top of a compost heap” in Paul Keating’s recent assessment, whose “greatest risk is that turns into a sultana,” Malcolm Turnbull has rushed to his cabinet secretary’s defence with a form of words which Arthur must find vastly comforting.
“My understanding is that Arthur Sinodinos has said he was not aware [of the banned donations] and he has done so at the Icac hearings, which were some time ago.”
While $4.3 million may not be much personally to Turnbull or many other party members and small change to some of its bigger sponsors, it would be nice to have these funds on hand especially with a bit of an election coming up. Turnbull is peeved because the process is damaging to his rapidly weakening election prospects.
Not only does the banned donors scandal besmirch the pristine Liberal brand, along with the Mantach scandal, it casts a shadow over Arthur, “I don’t recall” Sinodinos who has made it clear, many times, that he knew nothing of his party’s arrangement to collect illegal donations. An aide will be employed to find his car in the carpark and to remember where he lives. He is unlikely, on the other hand, take Simon McInnes’ lead.
Simon McInnes, NSW Liberal Party financial director admitted to the ICAC that his party hid the identity of property developer donors and companies who “sought privacy”, by means of “The Free Enterprise Foundation,” a trust set up to receive such donations, but says he “thought it was legal”. McInnes has since resigned.
The ICAC has also been told by senior party fund raiser, Nick Nicolaou, that Arthur Sinodinos was present when the Free Enterprise Foundation was proposed as a way of accepting funds from banned donors. Natasha Maclaren-Jones, party state president, has testified to Icac that she asked Mark Neeham, party secretary, for a list of donors on November 9, 2010.
Neeham responded that, “Arthur went through the list today with key members of the finance committee”. The initials “AS” appear beside 36 potential leads which he was to follow up. Maclaren-Jones herself told ICAC, “I left the detail of fundraising and the contacting of donors to Arthur Sinodinos and Paul Nicolaou and others.”
Sadly for Arthur, his seven page letter to the Commission requesting his name be retracted has been spurned. Justice Mason refuses to retract reference to Sinodinos, even adding that the “arrangements” Sinodinos was involved in “provided the factual and legal matrix upon which non-requisite disclosure was made by the party”.
Also unaware of financial irregularities, albeit in his fiefdom the Tasmanian Liberal Party, former Workplace Relations minister, real estate zoning expert, Eric Abetz, knew nothing when it was revealed that its treasurer Damian Mantach had been fiddling the books. Abetz, was, however, on the ball when it came to Godwin Grech.
The arch conservative Tasmanian senator, a paragon of modesty and commitment to public good who regularly reminds his PM publicly of the folly of trying to rule without himself or Tony Abbott back in cabinet, took time out from his gruelling crusade for reinstatement. In a recent Fairfax interview, Abetz bucketed his current Prime Minister with another timely reference to his poor judgement in the Godwin Grech affair. Ever the noble and loyal servant, Abetz claims to have taken the rap for Turnbull.
Luckily, the equally public-spirited Tony Abbott is busting a gut to get Mal re-elected, he says, or something similar, announcing his brilliant scheme to bus himself around the marginals, gifting his services to Liberal victory. The failed PM is clearly in it for the long haul, despite the Australia Institute’s polling that shows a majority of Australians want him to quit politics.
A gift that keeps on giving, Abbott has so far received a series of firm but polite refusals from the likes of Scott Morrison and Christopher Pyne who say they would prefer to do their own campaigning, especially on education funding which will be a key issue.
If you cut funding, you get better results according to the Education Minister pointing to recent data from Tasmanian schools. On this logic, the nation eagerly looks forward to the day when federal government will cut all funds to all schools entirely including private schools enabling all to lift their standards.
“We are not wedded to the full Gonski” claimed the PM tossing off another arresting phrase highlighting his unswerving commitment to equality of educational opportunity. He reassured private schools that they would continue to get their money as part of his government’s unswerving commitment to the needs of the elite.
“I suspect no federal government would retreat from funding and continuing to support the non-government school sector because there would be a concern that they would not get a fair go from state governments,” the Sydney Grammar School alumnus explained, clearing the matter up nicely.
Also clearer by the day is Turnbull’s sensible decision not to discuss too much with Scott Morrison who was out contradicting his PM by claiming states’ taxation power would not cause any overall increase in the tax base, because states would not be allowed to increase their income tax surcharge to meet higher health and education costs. Turnbull announced the opposite view, concluding that in the end, such discretion, goes to the central logic of the change which is to make states responsible politically for funding their own schools etc.
“I’m a cautious sort of fellow,” said Morrison in response to Leigh Sales’ question to him over the alarming rift between the two but stopping short of asking him who leaked the cabinet tax proposals to COAG on Thursday. Morrison’s caution is, of course, legendary as refugees on Manus and Nauru whose incarceration is officially part of a glacial paced processing already under way when he was Immigration Minister.
Rash acts of humanity and compassion could easily backfired on all us, according to Peter Dutton this week when he confirmed that Australia would not be rushing to process Syrian refugees in case they may in fact turn out to be terrorists.
Speaking at an international refugee meeting in Geneva, whose organisers were hoping might evoke offers from nations such as our own to open their doors and take more refugees, Dutton dashed hopes by declaring that governments need to tighten their borders and quickly send home migrants not in need of protection.
Whilst milking its act of compassion as evidence of its achievements, the Abbott Turnbull government is clearly dragging its feet when it comes to honouring its commitment to alleviate the suffering of those dispossessed by Assad’s regime. Only 29 refugees out of the much heralded intake of 12000 have been re-settled in Australia.
All of this means that Julie Bishop is exceptionally well placed at the moment to make a case for nations to open their doors and their hearts to the biggest humanitarian crisis currently facing our world. We expect to hear any moment of a compassion breakthrough despite all evidence to the contrary.
Ms Bishop is attending a meeting of fellow attention-seeking busybodies and a few others in Washington DC for the Nuclear Security Summit, where, in an attempt to divert us all from our real duty and responsibility to humanity, world leaders are discussing how to protect uranium and plutonium from falling into the hands of terrorists. There are fifty countries and four international organisations attending the summit who have managed to get the phrase dirty nuclear bomb into the news by raising the prospect that terrorists might make one.
Ms Bishop’s solution to both the challenge of our international responsibility and our contribution to security and its time and place is a stroke of genius. We will be selling plutonium to Ukraine. Making her announcement on April Fool’s Day, the month of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown Bishop also has the chutzpah to be attending what is supposed to be a nuclear security summit.
President of the nation which gave the world Chernobyl, Petro Poroshenko can’t stop laughing. Ignoring the Espoo Convention, an international framework agreement around what is termed “transboundary environmental impact assessment”, he is just a hands on kind of guy. Call it cutting corners if you like, he’s just doing what it takes to keep his reactors running and is clearly poster boy for our yellowcake cheer squad, the Minerals Council of Australia.
Of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, four are already past their use by date with six more to follow by 2020. Australia has suspended uranium sales to Russia but now sees fit to deal with Ukraine where two thirds of the nation’s nuclear reactors will be dangerously obsolete within five years.
None of this was mentioned by Ms Bishop who is also keeping quiet about her government’s ignoring of the UN Secretary-General’s call for Australia to have a dedicated risk analysis of the impacts of the uranium sector. Ignored also is our own Joint Standing Committee on Treaties which last year cautioned against the Turnbull government’s controversial deal to sell our uranium to India. Both deals reflect the extent to which the government is prepared to put it’s the interests of the Australian mining above all other considerations, including international stability and safety.
Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann speaking on ABC Insiders Sunday has blamed the Gillard government for the economic mess his government finds itself after 927 days in power.
A star jaw-boner, Cormann dazzled audiences with his references to policy levers, trajectories, fiscal gaps but no-one thought to ask him how a government flash as a rat with a gold tooth when it comes to economics jargon could have taken so long to put together a coherent policy package or fail so spectacularly to come to agreement over its taxation plans. Or be so short-sighted on matters of legality be it raising funds at home or its international obligations to refugees and nuclear safeguards.