“There are many “rules”, and none of them support making grant decisions based upon the location of recipients in targeted and marginal seats for party-political advantage. This is because the primary rule, as recognised by the High Court, is that Members of Parliament and Ministers are obliged to act at all times, in fulfilling their official duties, in the public interest.”
“There’s always a bit of heaven in a disaster area,” Hugh Wavy-Gravy Romney told Woodstock fans in 1969.
Expert in turning crisis into catastrophe, Aloha Scotty from marketing, an artisanal wool-puller, hand-crafts the most disastrous start to a parliamentary year in Australia’s political history. It’s quite an achievement. A catalogue of political failure.
Highlights include Scotty’s pissing off to Waikiki to keep the family happy while Australia burned in its worst bushfire crisis yet – something he says he can safely leave to the states – to his “Fuck Off Morrison” failed charm offensive on return.
Scotty’s empathy by-pass, his dud political judgement and leadership deficit disorder are all compounded by his government’s ignoring requests to support aerial fire-fighting which were made in 2017, a contempt echoed in Scotty’s eagerness to spurn expert advice on return, all dividends on his hefty investment in climate denialism multiplied by his breath-taking inability to even recognise, let alone respond to a crisis.
A wen of incompetence and corruption, the Morrison government begins 2020 mired in sports and sundry other rorts scandals. MPs spend as if there’s no tomorrow; dole out sports and other grants solely to buy marginal political seats. Buy-back, not fight-back is the PM’s brazen strategy.
Yet a strange elation stirs the nation. Cheers, cat-calls and shouts of unbridled joy erupt across our mega-fire-burnt land for Nationals’ favourite son, Barnaby Joyce, a fearless defender of the “Weatherboard Nine” and oppressed peoples in regional Australia everywhere. Joyce will step up to the top job, if his party asks him. Or not.
Raised in a world of privilege and entitlement, the Riverview old-boy and family-trust silvertail, Joyce is lightning-quick to announce his bid to recover his rightful role as Nationals’ leader for life. Its saviour. Perhaps he’s channelling Chris Kenny’s lickspittle piffle that Joyce is the “spiritual head” of the National Party.
Others buy Abbott’s “greatest retail politician” tag, which is just as preposterous, given Joyce and his party clearly alienated many voters in his electorate, especially women, when 2012 WA Rural Woman of the Year and Broome Councillor, Catherine Marriott’s sexual harassment accusations against Joyce were leaked to the press. Joyce has always denied all accusations. On ABC Radio this Tuesday he dismisses them as slander.
The Nationals NSW Branch was unable to make a finding “due to insufficient evidence” after a long delay. It’s not a problem that holds Jim Molan back. “I’m not relying on evidence for climate change” he tells Q&A, Monday.
Whilst Joyce may pose as a man of the people, it’s just retail politician bullshit. In reality he’s voted against issues such as increased support for childcare, marriage equality, a Royal Commission into violence against people with a disability, increasing funding for legal aid, increasing housing affordability.
He’s voted strongly against increasing the age pension and increasing trade union powers at work. He does not support public transport and he opposes public protest. Increasing the Newstart allowance? He abstains.
In fact, Joyce has a track record of being hostile to the battler. Yet he cosies up to big business. He has many close links with the mining lobby including prominent former Nationals leader, John Anderson. BJ’s a member of the pro-coal Monash Group along with Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly and George Christensen. Despite his populist rhetoric, Joyce is a well-heeled, big fan of big mining, who has spruiked for Santos on radio.
In December 2018, Joyce announced that he was selling up over 1000ha of marginal NSW farmland covered by a coal-seam gas exploration licence that he vowed to sell more than five years ago because of conflict-of-interest allegations. He has yet to allay those concerns. He told The Australian he was selling the land, with an asking price of $878,000, to free up cash for his divorce settlement with wife Natalie.
Joyce claims that he didn’t realise the blocks in the Pilliga region between Coonabarabran and Narrabri were subject to a petroleum exploration licence (PEL) when he bought them, despite his friendship with former Nationals leader, John Anderson. Anderson became chairman of Eastern Star Gas in 2007. Eastern Star co-owned explorations rights to a nearby area – PEL 428 – before the company was taken over by Santos.
Rohann Boehm, co-founder of Anyone But Nats a group which campaigned against Joyce last election, adds
“For the last 10 years the Nats have been very, very clearly in favour of coal seam gas. The Nats have been absolutely going really hard on supporting new mines and new gas fields, and the community has been universally against those proposals.”
Joyce is a mate of Gina Rinehart’s. She’s presented him with two cheques, one for $50,000 in 2013, which he kept; one for $40,000 in 2017, which he returned. Should Adani, Rinehart’s G V K Hancock joint venture partner proceed, her firm will benefit from the rail which will allow her company to mine the Galilee Basin, an act of ecocide.
He’ll run on his record, Joyce declares of his bid to depose McCormack. Not his backing of Santos or Rinehart. Not just his silver-tongued oratory and debonair charm. Joyce points to “… huge changes (he’s) delivered.”
What changes? Well, the Inland rail boondoggle, Regional Investment Corporation pork-barrel, country of origin labelling, (after extensive lobbying as part of a CHOICE campaign initiative of CHOICE). Water rorts.
It’s a record that speaks for itself – and often has to – which brings us to BJ’s Drought Envoy gig where he racked up a record $675,000 in expenses – plus two staffers at $200,000 but spent less than three weeks on the (dry) ground. Joyce submitted no final report but says he sent an “awful lot of texts” to his PM, which, Scotty says, will be kept top secret along with Phil Gaetjens’ report exonerating Bridget McKenzie.
Also speaking volumes are several “prominent women” who beg the National Party not to reinstate Joyce because he has too many skeletons in his closet. Scandal could return to haunt the Nationals? Seriously?
Founder of Australian Women in Agriculture, Alana Johnson, says “the rehabilitation of the former deputy prime minister would send the wrong signal to regional communities, and particularly women.”
But Barney’s got himself a flash new RM Williams kit. It’s two years now since his former wife, Natalie, tipped his entire wardrobe out on the lawn and mowed down the louche Lothario’s best moleskins, shirts, brass-button blazers, fancy belts and men’s chinchilla-cognac boots with the ride-on mower.
It was Natalie’s considered response to news that Barnaby was expecting a baby with former staffer Vikki Campion.
Barney tells his pals at The Australian that he’ll stand for the leadership, if there’s a spill, Tuesday. Akubra-wearers throw their hats skyward while others punch the air, or knuckle each other, in sheer delight. Bernard Keane is left spluttering,
“On a day that was supposed to have been given over to the political class paying respects to the victims of the bushfire catastrophe, a significant section of the Nationals decided that a climate denialist and target of serious accusations of sexual harassment should be elevated to the second highest political office and restored to cabinet.”
Less generous critics see a PM grandstanding on grief, buying time before the hyper-partisan shouting and finger-pointing resumes. His government has a lot to answer for. But it’s not that type of government. To answer entails accepting responsibility.
Late Monday, Joyce’s former chief of staff, Matt Canavan whose brother John is MD of miner Winfield, announces he’s resigning from cabinet to back Barnaby’s bid to be leader. The plot thickens. But after Tuesday’s party room meeting, dynamic Michael McCormack retains the leadership by eleven votes to ten – not that these figures will be made public because the open and transparent Nationals never release spill figures.
It’s a stunning result for McCormack who now can refute critics who accuse him of being only half a leader with empirical evidence that he has fifty-two per cent of his parliamentary party solidly behind him.
If Canavan stays. Senator Canavan says he has referred himself to his PM over a possible conflict of interest having failed to disclose a membership. It slipped his mind that as a regional supporter of the North Queensland Cowboys, he’s entitled to a membership of its leagues club. Incredibly, only last November the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) gave a loan to the same club.
By what stretch of even the northern imagination is a football club a NAIF infrastructure project? Surely there are other grants for sport? Commercial sponsors? The club was granted a $20m loan for a community, training and high performance centre next to its Townsville stadium, on top of a $15m grant extended in March 2019.
The latest baroque twist in the tale of Barnaby’s comeback dovetails beautifully with the labyrinthine plot of the Morrison government’s sports rorts scandal. After Bridget McKenzie steps down as Agriculture Minister and Deputy PM, suddenly the Coalition is awash, if not drowning, in a slurry of slush fund scandals.
It’s clear that given the betting odds of a loss last election, the Coalition threw money around like confetti – and now at least four funds are implicated; exposed. Increasingly, Morrison’s win looks less miraculous and more like vote-buying, augmented by Clive Palmer’s anti-Labor $90 million negative advertising campaign. $165 million in donations to the Liberals in the year prior to the election, helped a tad also.
In the spotlight now is Building Better Regions (by buying votes) Fund, (BBR) another “regional infrastructure grants program” – nudge, nudge. Say no more. In a spooky coincidence, this pork barrel is run by Mr 52 per cent, Deputy PM Michael McCormack. Amazingly, Macca’s BBR awarded 94 per cent of its grants to electorates held or targeted by the Coalition in the months leading up to the federal election.
How good are colour-coded spread-sheets? But let’s get sports rorts, NAIF pork-barrel and BBR into perspective. May 17, one day before the 2019 federal election, the Morrison Government gave over $15 million to a major political donor. The funding had been set aside to alleviate grinding Aboriginal poverty.
The grant is made through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), the Morrison government’s controversial main Aboriginal affairs funding pool. Just three months prior, its recipient– Wesfarmers, one of the wealthiest corporation in Australia – announced a record half-yearly profit of $4.5 billion.
The nation’s largest private employer in 2018, with over 222,000 staff including, it claimed, over 5,200 Indigenous staff. An IAS “funding stream” the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet calls the ‘Employment Parity Initiative’, means governments grant large corporations funds to employ Indigenous people.
Does it work? An Australian National Audit Office report shows the IAS lacks any effective framework to evaluate outcomes. Yet it’s spent $5 billion over five years, Chris Graham reports in New Matilda. A great hue and cry is raised over $100m of sports rorts but where’s the outcry over rorting $5 bn sensitively ear-marked for “Indigenous Advancement” and supposedly intended for our Indigenous peoples’ benefit?
Senator Pat Dodson says the IAS has ‘basically folded up Aboriginal controlled organizations’ and set out competitive tenders for people to fight for funding amongst private business and non-government organisations. It is the result of Tony Abbott’s scandalous 2014 budget captain’s call which collapsed over 150 programs into five funding streams, without consultation and cut $500 million from indigenous spending.
Could Macca be in the gun? And if Bridget McKenzie has to resign, why not Angus Taylor? And Matt Canavan?
Phil Gaetjens bones Bridget McKenzie. It’s announced Sunday.
Incredibly, Scotty’s mate – and former Chief of Staff – Gaetjens’ secret report finds no wrongdoing in the way grants were distributed, overruling Auditor-General, Grant Hehir, who finds McKenzie handed out $100m in sports grants before last year’s election without apparent legal authority, favouring marginal seats.
“Triply outrageous” fumes The Monthly’s Paddy Manning. How can partisan piss-ant Phil Gaetjens, OK a $100 million Community Sports Infrastructure grants program in a report that will remain secret?
Doubly outrageous, is PM and Deputy PM McCormack’s Trumpist love song of duplicity duet: McKenzie exercised her ministerial discretion over the scheme? Nothing wrong with that. Liberal Phil Gaetjens says so.
Grant Hehir, clearly condemns it? Scotty’s alternative expert – Attorney-General Christian Porter simply says the Auditor-General is wrong. As Groucho says, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
However, constitutional expert, Anne Twomey, cites a series of clear legal constraints to the exercise of ministerial discretion, all of which McKenzie has ignored.
It is triply outrageous for Scotty to preach high ministerial standards and keep Energy and Emissions grifter Angus Taylor in cabinet. It seems to upset even the Nats.
Peter Van Onselen tweets. “Nationals MP to me: if McCormack is prepared to let the PM throw Bridget under a bus for something his office was part of, yet protect Angus Taylor, it’s time our party stops being a lap dog to the Libs.”
You came to Casablanca for the waters? Taylor forgot to let on about his ties with a Cayman Islands company that benefited hugely from the Commonwealth in a miraculous waterless, water buyback scam.
Also slipping Gussie’s memory is Taylor’s duty to disclose his interest in Jam Land a company that stood to benefit from removal of restrictions on grass clearing that he was lobbying for.
Add the hilarious Keystone Cops ruse where Gus Taylor could be subject of an AFP Flying Pig Squad investigation into who gave the forged documents to The Daily Telegraph in a bid to put Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s weights up. Is there one rule for McKenzie, but no rules at all for Taylor?
Since its inception in 1979, the AFP has never made any investigation that embarrassed a sitting government.
Piss-ant Phil, a Liberal staffer, becomes Australia’s most politicised head of Treasury, overnight, for services rendered. We’re teetering on the edge of recession so a party hack at Treasury’s helm could be just the ticket.
Josh Frydenberg take a bow. It hasn’t been easy, but his government has now taken Australia’s federal net and gross debt to record levels. The Coalition has added 52% of all debt accumulated by the nation since 1854.
The “Flash Bit of Kit” as suave, sophisticated icon of urbanity and wit, Barney, a hard pooch to keep on the porch, once publicly praised McKenzie in a late night sitting – has proved a flash in the pan.
Dashed are the hopes of those awaiting the gun-toting, straight-shooting Senator for Elwood to also do some plain speaking. She could name staffers in Scotty’s office who appear to have been closely involved in the Sports Rorts Scandal and whether or not the sports pork-barrel was part of Scotty’s miracle election-winning strategy.
At the National Press Club, Wednesday, Morrison’s government by rort turns up in force to help Scotty from marketing make his pitch. Old wine in new bottles. A babble of righteous indignation and self-entitled arrogance. Why can’t Coalition MPs fund gun-clubs and phantom women’s rugby clubs in marginal seats?
Pork-barrelling is all about buying votes. Perfectly legal. MPs know where the money should go; why should Sport Australia put its oar in? Does it matter to the modern neoliberal? Ian McAuley offers this explanation.
“If you believe that nothing of value comes from the public sector, it doesn’t matter how public money is spent. A grant to a gun club, a new railway, Medicare… it’s all waste, and may as well be spent in order to maximise the government’s chances in the next election.”
It’s part of political economy theory dubbed “public choice,” a theory that arose in the US in the late twentieth century but which, he notes, took off in our universities in the 1980s. Or is it superseded in the post-fact era?
The Auditor General got it wrong, Attorney-General Christian Porter snorts. But no-one’s allowed to look at his reasons. If he has any. No laws were broken; every application had merit, Morrison bullshits.
In fact, the Senator for Elwood presented Sport Australia with a list of 236 projects for funding. Only 73 of these met the original merit-based criteria in Round Two according to independent analysis.
But hark! It’s a RESET, chorus spin doctors and media minions. Flashback to Wednesday’s rally at the Canberra Press Club and witness the miracle of a Morrison government reset which looks and sounds exactly like the old set. Cheerleader Scotty from Fossil fuel and Climate Science Denial Marketing suddenly appears, swinging his pom-poms, punching up and doing the high V.
The crowd goes wild. How good’s Scotty’s “2020 Opening Address”? Stacking the gathering with his professional Liberal claque helps. So, too the blizzard of press drops from his office. Climate Action Now (CAN) is Scotty 2020’s brand-new Orwellian slogan. But only the slogan is new. Morrison has no intention of curbing emissions or easing back on cooking the globe. He’s full of bullshit about mitigation and adaption. And gas. It’s more dangerous than coal when it leaks methane during mining.
“… there is no credible energy transition plan, for an economy like Australia in particular, that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel … ” Morrison bullshits.
But look over there! How good is Scotty’s calling out of ADF reserves? True, one MRH-90 helicopter did cause Canberra’s most serious bushfire since 2003, by setting fire to grass in the Namadgi National Park while landing with lights on to help visibility in smoky conditions. But it’s our first bushfire lit by a copter landing light. Another first!
There are other firsts to follow. Morrison’s government will fast-track new law to make it easier for him to call out troops to disaster areas or help quell anti-mining demonstrations or extinction rebellion protests. It’s hard, unglamorous work but police states don’t just happen by themselves, you know.
During question evasion time at the end of Scotty’s embarrassing failure to come up with any vision while embracing all the old lies, Morrison’s bullshit is briefly slowed by The Guardian’s Sarah Martin who asks if it is wrong to misappropriate public funds.
Does he think it wrong, “as a matter of principle”, Martin asks, for public funds to be spent on party political pork-barrelling? Morrison gaslights. “That is not what the government has done,” he lies.
It’s precisely what Scotty’s government has been doing. It doesn’t think it’s wrong. Morrison’s government continues to abuse its elected authority; betray the public’s trust that it will act in the public interest.
“I am asking as a matter of principle, if you accept that,” Martin asks.
“It is — of course. That is like, do I believe the sun should rise tomorrow? Yes I do, and it will,” he smirks.
Climate action? Scotty’s climate science denial and his government’s inept handling of our bushfire crisis won Australia First Fossil of the Day from the Climate Action network of 1300 nations, COP25 in December. Nothing has changed. Nor will it. Ministerial responsibility? We’ll refer Angus Taylor to an AFP that will take forever to do nothing. Bridget McKenzie? An icon of integrity for upholding ministerial standards by resigning.
This is not a Prime Minister who merely lacks credibility. Nor one who just breeds cynicism, distrust and denialism, although he excels at all of these. This is a hollow man; an utterly vacuous man with neither policy, practicality, real plan nor moral compass, a smirking, spinning, vortex of self-righteous egotism.
Sarah Martin raises a matter of principle. It’s clear that the Prime Minister has no idea what she’s talking about. For Morrison and his MPs the notion holds no meaning.