Soon, hopefully, we will have a federal election, and it will be one of the most important in recent decades. Why is this so? It is because the current government is one of the most dishonest, incompetent and corrupt in living memory, and if they win the federal election it will be largely because of secret donations from corporations, both Australian and foreign, by the misuse of public funds for government advertising and campaigning, and by dishonest journalism in the Murdoch media, both newspapers and television. If they are re-elected, this will be effectively the end of Australian democracy.
While it is impossible to detail all their depredations in a relatively short essay, I will list a few of them here. Lying, that was at least in part pathological, started prior to the 2013 election when then leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott simply lied all through the election campaign and subsequently, and has continued to do so despite being turfed out of the top job, whether it be about asylum-seekers, or same sex marriage1,2,3. The lying by the government has continued as they have little else in their armoury. They have lied about the Medevac Bill, saying it will weaken border controls, with all 1,080 inmates coming to Australia within weeks. For this reason they have said they will reopen Christmas Island Detention Centre at the cost of nearly $1 billion, so sick asylum seekers can be transferred there for medical treatment, allowing the government to ignore parliament. Christian Porter has received legal advice that the Medevac Bill has removed the government’s power to return asylum-seekers to offshore detention centres once their treatment is complete. However, the government rarely uses this power under the existing legislation. Home Affairs told Senate Estimates that 1,246 asylum-seekers have come to Australia for medical treatment and only 282 have been returned to offshore detention. Nearly 900 remain in Australia, with only one asylum-seeker returned to offshore detention in the whole of last year4. So, all this whining about weakening borders is just more lies.
Another example of the lies perpetrated by the government is the characterising of the Labor Party’s abolition of the franking credits refunds as a tax on retirees. They even wheeled out some poor punter saying that without this refund she might have to go on the government pension, laughably unaware that she is getting a handout from the government by way of the refund. This lie was exacerbated, if that was possible, by Tim Wilson who misused taxpayer funds to push this ‘retiree tax’ garbage in cahoots with a company with which he has investments5.
The government is also misusing taxpayer funds to advertise the supposed benefits of the assorted programs of the current federal government6. While I suspect that the rules have not been broken, it is the rules which are rotten in allowing such advertising in the lead up to an election. This is ‘legal’ corruption.
The government has also used $330,000 of taxpayer funds to pay for a show, hosted by Warren Mundine, on its mouthpiece, Sky News. This was at the suggestion of Mundine, who approached the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion. This was prior to Mundine being parachuted into the marginal seat of Gilmore to replace the already pre-selected Liberal candidate Grant Schultz7. This is just another case of taxpayer money being misused for party political purposes. This is also corruption.
Then there are all the cases of taxpayer funds being misused for parliamentarians to attend football games, polo matches, holidays, weddings, and sundry other activities not associated with their function as representatives of their electorate, as well as being used to make their sexual peccadillos a little more discreet. Some of the worst examples have been noted on this blog before. They include: Sussan Ley, for whom we paid to visit the Gold Coast numerous times to buy a unit8; Stuart Robert, for whom we paid to visit China to sign a mining deal from which he would benefit as a shareholder8, and for his exorbitant internet connection which it is suspected he uses for a business9,10; Stephen Irons, who we paid to attend his own wedding; Scott Morrison, who we paid to attend Irons’ wedding8; Barnaby Joyce who we paid to attend a friend’s wedding, and an overseas study allowance to attend a billionaire’s wedding in India with Gina Rinehart, and for 50 days accommodation in Canberra to keep his affair with his girlfriend quiet from his wife and daughters, while parliament was not sitting12, and for travelling numerous times to Armidale and Tamworth, well before his move from his Queensland senate seat to the seat of New England8; Julie Bishop, who we paid to attend that same Indian wedding8 and for her boyfriend to be flown all around Australia at her whim11; and Tony Abbott, who we paid to attend the weddings of Sophie Mirabella and Peter Slipper8. The fact that these parliamentarians claim many of this sort of thing as ‘electorate business’ or ‘study tours’ or ‘meetings with stakeholders’ simply demonstrates their entitled attitude. Never stand between a politician and a bag of money. This has to change, and kicking them out of parliament will be an excellent start to changing the rules under which they operate.
There are numerous other dodgy practices, the details of which will come out in future, and here, in the interests of brevity, it should suffice to list them: $444 million was given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation which they did not request, whose full-time staff consisted of 6 people and whose supporters include big time donors to political parties (BHP, Qantas, Rio Tinto and Orica)13; $423 million to little-known Paladin to provide refugee services on Manus Island after a closed tender process, which amounts to about $1600 per day per refugee (a comparable mining camp could do this for $100 per day)14; former federal treasurer, now Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey met, at short notice, a representative of Helloworld (in which Hockey is a major shareholder) which, according to a staff member of the company was because ‘Hockey owes’ the CEO of the company, Andrew Burnes, who happens to be the treasurer of the Liberal Party (Helloworld had its whole-of-government travel contract renewed in 2017)15; and someone in the offices of ministers Michaelia Cash or Michael Keenan informed the media of the up-coming raids on the Australian Workers Union offices, and despite federal prosecutors thinking there was evidence of a crime being committed, neither minister made formal witness statements, and now it seems that some evidence has been destroyed16. All of these arrangements reek of conflict of interest at best, and crimes at worst and should be the subject of a federal integrity commission investigation or a royal commission. These will only ever happen if this government are turfed out of office.
On top of all this, the federal coalition government has no sensible climate change policy. The Labor government of Gillard and Rudd instituted the Carbon Pricing Mechanism (CPM, aka ‘carbon tax’17) and that led to a significant decline in Australia’s carbon emissions, as polluters paid for the amount of greenhouse gases they produced. However, when the Tony Abbott led Coalition won the 2013 election the CPM was repealed and replaced by the laughably ineffective Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), where taxpayer funds were used to pay for companies to decrease or offset their emissions18. This has reversed the decrease of emissions begun by the CPM, so that now our emissions are climbing rapidly again19. As a consequence, Australia has little chance of reaching its Paris Agreement targets20, unless the government spends enormous amounts of taxpayer funds to somehow offset the increased emissions, a dubious process at best. More recently, the government attempted to develop some sort of energy reliability policy with some emissions trading thrown in, as the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). This was just a figleaf for the government to give the impression of having an energy and climate policy21. Despite the fact that it passed the vote in the party room, even though the emissions component of it had been severely watered down to appease the climate change deniers in the Coalition parties22, there was enough doubt about the reliability of some members of the government, that the policy was dumped23. They tried to develop a ‘big stick’ policy aimed at the energy companies to force them to bring down energy prices. However, that policy has now been delayed because of a suspected inability to convince all the government members or cross benchers to vote for it24. So now, not only doesn’t the government have a climate policy, they don’t even have an energy policy. This laughable shemozzle is all because the deluded recalcitrants in the government, such as Abbott, Abetz, Kelly, Taylor and others, believe they are better climate scientists than all the real climate scientists on the planet; a delusion if ever there was one.
All of this above is just the tip of the iceberg of malfeasance and stupidity from this government. I have been watching politics for 40 years and I have never seen any government that even comes close to this one in its venality, its incompetence, its corruption and the sense of entitlement of its members and senators. If they are not tossed out at the next federal election, then it will be the lies from both the Coalition members and their mouthpieces in the Murdoch media empire25, and the money shovelled to them by their secret donors26, that will have beaten Australian democracy, and the nation will all be the poorer for it, and it will be all but impossible to resurrect it.