Sports rorts show it’s time to clean things up

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How many other politicians will be caught out before there is agreement for a genuine effort to clean up federal politics,” wonders political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

“IF you have nothing to hide – you have nothing to worry about.” How many times has this sort of statement been heard from conservatives as they interfere with civil liberties to push a law-and-order agenda? 

Michael Moore.

I recall similar arguments being used with regard to “move-on powers”, the introduction of widespread use of CCTV cameras and a myriad of other attacks on personal liberty.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Once again the Greens introduced to federal parliament their ongoing demand for an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Once again the conservatives resisted the call. And yet, if they had nothing to hide, what would they be worried about?

“The Washington Post” reported President Trump making 15,413 false or misleading claims over 1055 days. Does Australia have to follow the US? Recent revelations demonstrate that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also guilty of false or misleading statements. 

Is the “sports rorts affair” just one example? 

How many other politicians will be caught out before there is agreement for a genuine effort to clean up federal politics.

In September, the Senate passed the Green’s bill to establish a federal anti-corruption commission on a vote of 35-32. The bill passed with the support of Labor, the Centre Alliance and Jacqui Lambie. 

Ironically, it was resisted by the full range of conservatives. One Nation senators abstained and Cory Bernardi sided with the government. What are they worried about?

At the time, Greens senator Larissa Waters pointed out that the Greens had “10 years of attempting to clean up politics”. She pointed out “now the pressure is on the government to back this bill in the House”. 

And this was before the “sports rorts affair” which forced then National Party Minister Bridget McKenzie to resign from cabinet. It was also before the prime minister’s office was implicated by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in the very same rorting of public money to provide political advantage. 

Apparently, the conservatives do have some serious issues to worry about. 

If they have nothing to hide, they should not worry. 

In the House of Representatives in the second week of February, debate on the bill was quashed on a vote of 72-70. Senator Waters reacted vigorously stating: “The prime minister has once again dodged scrutiny and integrity by gagging and delaying a vote on whether to have a strong federal corruption watchdog. 

“The prime minister now has a reputation for ignoring corruption and conflicts of interest that the pub test says breach ministerial standards –  and he’s now also the guy standing in the way of a corruption watchdog.”

The ANAO’s revelations came just days after the conservatives resisted the establishment of an ICAC. The sports minister’s and prime minister’s offices had been exchanging spreadsheets in a series of emails between October 2018 and April 2019. 

The rorts were carefully orchestrated in an unethical approach to using taxpayers’ money for their own political advantage. Despite the fact that more than 40 per cent of the projects were not even eligible for financial support, funding was provided as the applications fell in marginal electorates.

The ANAO shone some light on this saga. However, it does not have the power of an ICAC. The Senate inquiry heard attempts to justify the role of the PM’s office, suggesting Minister McKenzie was the final decision maker under the scheme. This sort of conjecture should be tested by an ICAC. Just how much influence does a prime minister and his office have over other ministers? Is it really the case that the PM can simply wash his hands in the manner of Pontius Pilate?

A key claim by Prime Minister Scott Morrison has now been shown to be untrue. Following a review by the head of his own department, Phil Gaetjens, he claimed there was no evidence that the allocation of grants was “unduly influenced by reference to marginal or targeted electorates”. It is not clear who said what. What was in the report? What was the extent of involvement of Mr Morrison personally? 

This is just one issue that has come to light through astute investigations and questions raised by Labor. How much more embedded is unethical, corrupt and immoral behaviour? We simply do not know. That is why it is time to take steps to restore trust in our political system. The first step is to pass the Greens’ ICAC bill.

 

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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