THERE was never stronger evidence or greater need for a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) than in the wake of the Wentworth by-election.
There is a stench, as revealed in Senate Estimates, when a government takes no (frank and fearless) advice from its own departments and changes a major international policy in a matter of days.
The decision flagging a move of the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was not in the interest of the general community. It was simply designed to win support from a particular socio-economic group for Liberal candidate Dave Sharma. Nothing more. The decision was pork barrelling.
And pork barrelling is unacceptable. The term is simply a softer version of corruption. It gilds the lily on poor practice, puts our democracy at risk and ignores the general good.
It has become clear that the Prime Minister and key cabinet ministers were also being shonky to win votes. Following their failure at the Wentworth by-election, the government has been strongly emphasising that this is “just a review”, which is a different impression to that created while trying to get specific voters on side. Was it ever their intention to seriously move on such a stupid strategy?
Attorney-General Christian Porter has argued that there is no tangible reason for a Federal ICAC. Is he blind – or just toeing the party line? The Greens have pushed for an ICAC for some time and their senator, Larissa Waters, argues that a motion would now pass the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The newly elected Member for Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps, supports such a motion – consolidating the numbers in the lower house. Why wouldn’t she? She saw the government’s corrupt behaviour first hand. All members of the cross bench in the House of Representatives had their view reinforced by Wentworth and favour an ICAC.
Any residual doubts must have vanished during the Senate Estimates Committee that illustrated the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and trade, Frances Adamson, knew nothing of the Israel embassy decision until lunchtime the day before the announcement. The move was first discussed on the morning before the announcement and agreed by the government’s leadership team of Prime Minister Morrison, Treasurer Frydenberg, Finance Minister Cormann and Defence Minister Pyne.
Climate change policy at the Wentworth by-election also highlights another form of corruption. The Prime Minister remains steadfastly supportive of the fossil-fuel industry. The most glaring example is the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland that is seeking government support in the billions. The impact it will have on the Great Barrier Reef, on consumption of water and on climate change are simply dismissed by the government.
Subsidies continue for the fossil-fuel industry while there is negligible support for renewable sources of energy. What is the role of donations to political parties? Lack of transparency makes it nigh on impossible to ascertain the extent of such influence. One vote, one value is simply destroyed by the disproportionate influence garnered by large corporate donations.
An ICAC would provide yet another insight into the need for transparency and control of such donations and the most effective way to remove this cancer from our democratic system.
John Locke, a political philosopher writing in the late 1600s, identified that responsible government meant “and all this only for the public good”. Recent government actions had nothing to do with the public good and everything to do with self-interest and their own electoral advantage. Pork barrelling is unacceptable, it is corruption. It is high time there was a Federal ICAC.