“They are trashing our democracy in the way they are dealing with this disgusting political cover-up,” Penny Wong [says] on Wednesday. “… This is all about protection of the prime minister, who is up to his neck in the sports rorts scandal. Well, I’ve got some news for the government: it’s too late. It’s too late for a cover-up when you’ve already been caught.”
Is it consternation or apoplectic rage? The shocked disbelief on Senator Erich Abetz’s typically saturnine features, Thursday, at a senate select committee on Administration of Sports Grants, or sports rorts sums up a disastrous fortnight for the Morrison-Gaetjens duumvirate that rules Australia when it’s not blaming the states, the COVID-19 Coronavirus, The Greens “creeping environmentalism” or Labor for its own failures.
“I seek to clarify, you did find that no ineligible project or application was funded?” leads the Tassie Liberal Party Czar who proceeds, in faux legalese, to verbal Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) boss, Brian Boyd, Friday 14 February, a joust sure to enter the lists of epic political failure as Eric’s Valentine’s Day self-massacre.
Seek to clarify? It’s a clumsily disingenuous attempt which even Samantha Maiden sees as Abetz’ bid to lob a Dorothy Dixer which will let him repeat the lie that all projects were eligible. It’s the PM’s favourite talking point. Albo reckons Scotty’s misled parliament by repeating this disinformation sixteen times in the house.
Government by spin spawns MPs who believe their own propaganda. Originally billed in a blizzard of press snow drops as “a reset” and a chance for our jelly-back PM to re-assert himself, the parliamentary fortnight ends in a debacle. Abetz is gob-smacked when he collides with reality at the sports rorts senate inquiry.
David Speers exposes ScoMo’s sophistry in ABC Insiders. The AG says, “no applications assessed as ineligible” received money. Morrison spins this into, “every single one of the projects that was approved was eligible”.
Morrison conveniently conflates application with project. It’s lie which Abetz discovers to his chagrin.
“No, Senator, that’s not what we found,” Boyd replies. “… around 43% of those which were awarded funding, by the time the funding agreement was signed were ineligible.”
Abetz, clearly, hasn’t bothered to read the report, a practice not uncommon amongst Coalition Senators. In 2015 Chair into the Forgotten Children report, Ian MacDonald, declared he hadn’t read Gillian Triggs report. Nor did he know what the Human Rights Commission was. April 2016, Triggs observed in The Saturday Paper that politicians were “usually seriously ill-informed” and had “lost any sense of the rule of law”.
For Samantha Maiden it’s a spectacular political own goal, “inadvertently demolishing the PM’s central sports rorts defence and revealing a stunning 43 per cent of projects that secured funding were ineligible.” Abetz’ stunt is nearly as inept as Mick-Mack’s dying duck in a thunderstorm performance on ABC Insiders Sunday.
Many projects were ticked off by Sport Australia as meeting the criteria, but 270 clubs over-eager to receive funds disqualified themselves by starting building works before the final paperwork was completed. Grants were restricted solely to clubs who were yet to begin works. A few others disqualified themselves by completing work before receiving funds or amending their applications or missing the application deadline.
In brief, Sport Australia got hundreds of applications from clubs. Some were eligible. Others were not.
In addition to the 100m scandal which has cost (then) Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie her place in the ministry, details of a $150m rort obtained, by Labor, through FOI, emerge this week.
Poorly entitled, the “female facilities and water safety stream program”, when it clearly was aimed at women, it was announced by the Coalition less than two months before the election. Funded in the 2019 budget for providing women’s change rooms and swimming pool upgrades, it was supposed to go to regional and remote communities.
In reality, only $10 million went to rural projects in four electorates held by National Party MPs. The bulk of the money – nearly $110 of the total four year fund was spent on projects in urban Liberal-held electorates
Pearce and Corangamite, two key marginal seats were given almost 40% of the total funding pool.
Women’s change rooms pose a particular problem. Scott Morrison and deputy Mick-Mack seem obsessed with evoking images of women changing behind trees and in cars. Why this fixation? No-one in his staff of fifty-odd boffins can stop the PM and his deputy? The scenario is insensitive, if not totally inappropriate.
And dishonest. Grants were rushed along or even stream-lined to protect women’s modesty, or so they seem to leer;
“because we didn’t want to see girls changing in cars or out the back of the sheds rather than having their own changing facilities”. The verb “see” puts the male gaze where it should not be. Try “make” or “have”.
The alacrity with which the claim is made suggests it may have been part of a focus group but when repeated, ad nauseam, the image evoked betrays a pre-occupation; almost a type of voyeurism on behalf of the PM and his Deputy – an attitude to women which not just women find repugnant. The claim is also based on a lie.
Sports rorts were not a flood of money to respect women’s needs to have their own change rooms. The PM dwells endlessly on women’s change rooms, in the hope that this issue will distract us from his vote-buying.
In fact, as Christopher Knaus and Sarah Martin report for The Guardian the Coalition rejected Sport Australia recommendations. At least twelve proposed grants for women’s change rooms at local sport grounds were overturned by the minister, including one where women and girls are currently changing in tents.
Making stuff up, includes inventing new reasons to avoid any kind of scrutiny. Or gaslighting the nation that its approval of 290 ineligible sports grants, through Bridget McKenzie’s office is all OK. Phil Gaetjens says so.
Morrison’s former Minister for sport is not allowed to be a good sport. Rather than accept the National Audit Office umpire’s decision, her PM has a vested interest in arguing the toss. Now clear links emerge between McKenzie’s office and his office, Canute-like, he foolishly tries to countermand the ANAO.
Morrison’s own dodgy inquiry adds injury to injustice as he hand-balls to his pal, Phil Gaetjens, the task of being his alternative fact-finder in a secret inquiry. New sophistry, casuistry and specious argument don’t help.
Morrison and Gaetjens demean the PM’s office and the nation. Worst is “fixer” Phil Gaetjens’ straw man that McKenzie is exonerated by ignorance. She didn’t even see the colour-coded spreadsheet designed to guide her department fund projects, not on merit, but in areas where they might buy Coalition MPs a few more votes.
“Her Chief of Staff also told the Department of the Prime Minster and Cabinet that the Adviser had categorically stated she had not shown the spreadsheet to the Minister.”
Gaetjens’ claim is absurd. The former Morrison and former Costello chief of staff hopes to hoodwink us into thinking that the sports minister handles every piece of correspondence personally or that her former ministerial responsibility somehow excluded colour-coded spreadsheets which her staffers may have used.
Ministers “have large staffs of advisers, liaison officers and media people to handle their paperwork … the whole point is that, if you’re going to rort something, you make sure the minister doesn’t have direct oversight of it. Staff (who, conveniently, can’t be called before Senate committees) do it.” Writes Bernard Keane.
New lies abound. These include the lie that an inquiry into ministerial misconduct (a code of conduct said to embrace integrity, fairness and accountability) is automatically elevated into the status of a cabinet document and is thus protected by the pixie-dust of cabinet confidentiality – unless, as in Abbott’s case you leak the lot to damage then opposition leader Kevin Rudd over the pink batts affair, where four young installers lost their lives in a highly successful 1.1 million home insulation initiative which the Murdoch press mercilessly pilloried.
Morrison’s cover-up is a bit of shadow puppet theatre in which McKenzie gets sent back to the back bench for her gun club misdemeanour as part of his regime’s constant stream of disinformation, lies and secrecy.
Minister for Sports Rorts, Bridget McKenzie is found guilty of a breach of ministerial standards, but Morrison, unlike Trump, cannot prevent public servants from testifying at the senate inquiry. In his best SNAFU tradition, his Gaetjens’ fix serves only to highlight tell-tale signs that the $100m pork-barrel was run out of his office.
Clearly, Morrison should stand aside himself. But then, so, too should gorgeous Gussie Taylor Minister for Energy and Emissions reduction who has never satisfactorily explained his role in the uttering of forged documents, published in The Daily Telegraph to discredit Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore after Moore declared a climate emergency in 2019. An AFP investigation would up on 6 February
“The AFP assessment of this matter identified there is no evidence to indicate the minister for energy and emissions reduction was involved in falsifying information,” an AFP spokesman says.
“The low level of harm and the apology made by the [minister] to the Lord Mayor of Sydney, along with the significant level of resources required to investigate were also factored into the decision not to pursue this matter.”
Taylor has also failed to offer convincing explanations of his role in water buybacks to the total of eighty million dollars, which has yet to materialise. Then there’s his intervention in the clearing of protected native grasses on behalf of a constituent or so he claims but one which benefited a company in which his family holds a financial interest.
But with a quick application of lipstick, the Coalition government pig is transformed by a fabulous free trade deal with Indonesia. A Gamelan orchestra of Aussie spin-doctors begins gonging on endlessly. We hear them spin the usual inanities; how near, how big, how good is our is our trading neighbour? In the meantime, the highly protectionist Indonesians view Australia through narrowed eyes.
Gamelan derives from the Indonesian word to hammer, a perfect verb for the Coalition’s frantic attempts to ear-bash us into submission with talking-points, inane slogans and saturation media drops. Yet MPs insist their self-interested, self-deceiving indoctrination and propaganda campaign is a “national conversation”.
And how good is Jokowi, a human rights abuser who gets to travel to Canberra like some travelling saint of free trade? How good is an Indonesian free trade deal years in the making which is now re-announced? You’d swear the government were looking for a diversion. Megawati’s puppet, Joko Widodo fits the bill.
In 2015, on the day of his inauguration, Jokowi, as he is known, sat in the front row, party chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, harangued him from the lectern. He owed the presidency to her, she said. He was to do as he’s told. Perhaps there’s a message in Jokowi’s visit for our National Party leader.
The free trade deal which is neither free nor about trade, has that nifty investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause to it which will help transnational companies sue our government should our laws imperil any of their profiteering. Sheer democratic genius.
The deal will also promote a flood of compliant temporary visa workers in 400 occupations who will be able to call Australia home, a move sure to cheer “chefs, nurses, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, tilers and many more workers who are already struggling to find enough work,” ACTU President Sharan O’Neil observes.
It’ll help put downward pressure on wages to use a favourite government slogan which is just what the economy and working families don’t need but employers and other wage thieves will be tickled pink.
Amnesty International Australia and Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman urges the Australian government to raise the human rights situation in West Papua during bilateral talks this week.
Koman’s has many concerns about the Indonesian government’s human rights abuses:
A joint military and police operation in Nduga regency of Papua province has taken place since early December 2018. As a result, according to a regency official, as many as 45,000 people, half of the regency’s population, are displaced in neighbouring areas.
The Humanitarian Volunteer Team, a local grassroots community, has been collecting data on the operation’s casualties and reported that as of 2 February 2020, 243 civilians have died due to violence by the security forces and hunger and illness from the displacement.
Fifty-six indigenous West Papuans and one Jakarta-based Indonesian were arrested merely for expressing their opinion during mass protests against racism and for the independence referendum in August and September 2019 and during commemoration of West Papua’s national day on 1 December 2019, Konan notes.
They are currently awaiting trial and face life imprisonment. Yet on 10 February the Indonesian leader gives a speech in our House of Representatives in which he urges
“We must continue to advocate the values of democracy, human rights, stop intolerance, stop xenophobia, stop radicalism and stop terrorism.” In a sign of the Morrisonian times, journalists could not ask questions.
Nor does anyone in Canberra talk about Pork’n ‘Ride. Car parks in the air. Michael West’s Jommy Tee, writes of a $500m Commuter Car Park Fund (CCPF) set up ostensibly to provide car parking at rail stations which turns out to be a brazen vote-buying gambit. Thirteen lucky winners are announced in the pre-election pork-fest. It’s big; $149 million worth of projects. All are Liberal-held seats with six in marginal NSW and QLD electorates.
Yet state governments and councils cannot say where exactly any of these mysterious new spaces will be.
A miracle of modern micro-targeting is at work. As Jommy Tee explains, micro-targeting is as simple as it is cynical. Ask a member or candidate to spot a public need. Develop a petition around that issue. Use the data collected (names and addresses of constituents). Mine that data accordingly, fund the project, and then promote the outcome to the petitioners. Generate publicity. NB: Labor seats along the tracks get nothing.
But Banks gets $15m, Dickson $11m , Petrie $4m, Robertson $35m. Everyone is told the value of the pork on their fork. But the parks just don’t seem to exist. Funds just go to swell local party campaign coffers.
The Age calls out Pork ‘N ‘Rides in Victoria. It’s got the ring of a Ponzi scheme to it – except that taxpayers pay.
“So sparse were details of exactly how these six parking lots would grow, neither the state government nor in large part local councils could say where the expansion would occur”.
Nor do experts ever suggest that busting urban congestion is ever achieved with car parking or road space alone. It’s about the quality of the public transport service; its quality and interconnectivity.
The rorty story is a gift that keeps on giving. Thursday, the ANAO makes it clear at the senate committee on the Administration of Sports Grants that the PM’s Office worked closely with the sports minister’s office over six months, between October 2018 and April 2019. Yet it’s Bridget McKenzie who is made the scapegoat.
Porkie pies fly in all directions once the pork-barrel is busted. Like his mentor Trump, Morrison just makes stuff up to cover his hide. Here are two of examples of his insidious disinformation.
“all we did was provide information based on the representations made to us, as every prime minister has always done”. It’s a lie. 290 projects, 43 per cent of all approved, were ineligible under program guidelines.
“the auditor-general found that there were no ineligible projects that were funded”.
Another lie which just re-hashes his notorious – “every project which was funded was eligible.”
Aloha Scotty, our fair weather PM, and his beleaguered crew’s legitimacy and credibility cop a hiding as reports of rorting and pork-barrelling confirm vote-buying is the Coalition’s sole campaign strategy.
Adding instability, is the Nationals’ failed DIY arsehole transplant, to apply former Minister for Digital Transformation, Michael Keenan’s parting shot at his “absolute arsehole” leader, Scott Morrison.
In other words, Barnaby Joyce’s abortive coup deals Mick-Mack’s leadership a mortal blow while three resignations and a spill put the skids under the Nats while Scotty’s numbers are looking crook. And it’s only February, two weeks into the parliamentary year, as brief as that may be under a Morrison government.
“In three times in less than two years I’ve been endorsed” says McCormack, who gets votes because he’s not Barnaby. Yet Mick-Mack claims that Joyce and Canavan have said they will support him.
Do you believe them? “Speersy” asks. “I always believe country people when they look me in the eye and say something and you’ve got to take people on their word.”
“The fact is, I’m the leader and I’m going to lead the Nationals to the next election,” Mick-Mack says scotching all hope of his announcing his retirement in order to devote himself to his Elvis impersonations.
“I haven’t thought it, I haven’t said it, [stepping down] and I’m not quite sure why it was written in that way, he deftly ticks off the media whom everyone knows should only write what is first authorised by politicians.
It’s a direction of state known all too well to our ABC which learns from Justice Wendy Abraham of the Federal Court, Monday, that its legal challenge is dismissed. The ABC must now pay costs. An appeal is being considered. ABC careerist who worked his way up to news director, Gaven Morris ruminates
The decision is “really disappointing” and a blow to press freedom and the public’s right to know.
ABC Managing Director David Anderson goes to the heart of the matter in this part of his statement.
“When the AFP executed its search warrant here at the ABC last June 5th, its raid was seen – internationally – for exactly what it was: an attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their jobs.
Not just the journalists named on the search warrant, but all journalists.”
Back in Mick-Mack land, our deputy PM is on thin ice. For Wagga’s Elvis, “There’s a whole lotta shakin goin on.” Like Turnbull, he believes he can count on ScoMo.
“I have the prime minister’s full support.” But so did Bridget McCormack – and look at her now. Besides, the country can’t even count on the PM’s full attention when it’s on fire. Good luck with that, Mick-Mack.
Clive Palmer could make the same claim here now it’s clear from even the limited reporting by The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on 3 February.
Despite publishing too little, too late, of political campaign donations, it’s clear from the AEC just how much Morrison owes him. Via his flagship company Mineralogy, Palmer spent at least $83,681,442, much of which went to fund targeted social media publication of anti-Labor lies.
His propaganda was alarmist and untrue: Bill Shorten’s economic policy would make “four million older Australians homeless and destitute”.
Palmer helped defeat Labor through harvesting preferences for the Coalition. He says he decided to polarise the electorate to ensure a Coalition win. Palmer says his shift to attacking Shorten and Labor immediately “improved the government’s position” and that they won a majority on the back of his preferences.
“Ninety per cent of those preferences flowed to the Liberal party and they’ve won by about 2% so our vote has got them across the line.”
The authoritative Australian Election Study (AES) reports,
“Measured by first preference votes, there was a swing against both the Liberal-National Coalition (-0.6%) and Labor (-1.4%) in the election. The Coalition managed to secure a greater number of seats than in 2016, despite the lower primary vote. The Coalition won the election through preferences flowing from the minor parties;” specifically, UAP and One Nation, which won 6.5 per cent of the primary vote between them.
Is it a flying pig? A pork barrel bigger than our parliament itself? Or pig ignorance? Protecting government from being accountable, this week, is Pauline’s party of two performing its traditional back-flip with pike.
“What I’m concerned about is setting a precedent here in this chamber where a senator can be thrown out of the chamber by the majority,” blathers Hanson. What the senate motion seeks to do is beyond her ken. It’s an attempt to get the Coalition to release Phil Gaetjens’ report – if any such report exists.
“Senator Cormann is an elected member of this chamber,” La Hanson declares, in a desperate lunge at high-sounding principle; only to lapse into pious piffle. “He has a right to his place in this chamber. It is not up to us to take away that right that was given to him by the Australian people when they voted for him.”
No-one is taking away Cormann’s rights. One Nation’s two votes torpedo the Senate motion. A corrupt government escapes accountability for its brazen bribing of electors in marginal electorates or sports rorts.
Worse it gaslights the nation. We are to believe that the Auditor-General’s ten month report is inferior to something quickly whipped up by the PM’s former chief of staff, Phil Gaetjens; a secret report which somehow exonerates dishonesty and duplicity. And which earns Gaetjens a promotion. The Liberal Party apparatchik is Morrison’s captain’s pick to be the most politicised, least qualified Secretary of the Treasury in history.
At the end of his first two weeks, Scotty may shout a lot about how his government is honouring the promises it took to the people. But surely that’s irrelevant when you buy the election. Surely also, given its record of deception and ineptitude, any credibility the nation may have extended toward this government is now completely shot to pieces.
Above all, at every opportunity on parliament’s return, this Coalition of secrets and lies which rorted and bought its “miracle election” shuns all accountability.
Now as it suppresses and intimidates the press, Christian Porter announces legislation to further silence dissent. At each turn, this government is trashing our democracy.