The catch-phrase ‘keeping the bastards honest’ originally came from disaffected former Liberal member of Parliament, Don Chipp, who created the Australian Democrats in 1977, which he led as a senator from 1978 until he retired from parliament in 19861.
Like Don Chipp, Bill Stefaniak is a former Liberal, but was a member of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly from 1995 to 2008. He became the leader of the ACT Liberal Party in May 2006 when he ousted Brendan Smyth. In December 2007 he was replaced as leader by Zdenko ‘Zed’ Seselja, who is now a senator2.
In 2008, Stefaniak quit politics, but in 2020 came out of political retirement with his own party, the Belco (short for Belconnen, a district of Canberra) Party, supposedly like Chipp, to ‘keep the bastards honest’. He ran in the 2020 ACT election on a platform of being “fundamentally interested in Canberra getting good governance”. He, of course, added: “Over the last few years, I have been increasingly concerned that this Labor-Green Government has neglected large parts of Canberra, including Belconnen.”3 Many of the voters in the ACT disagreed with him, as he failed to get elected and the Labor-Green government was returned with an increased majority4.
Stefaniak’s latest foray into the political realm came in response to the resignation of the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian after it was revealed she was being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). He wrote a letter to the editor which was published in the free magazine, the Canberra Weekly on October 3rd. It began with: “I was saddened to see Gladys Berejiklian resign due to the totally unnecessary and mistimed announcement by the NSW ICAC that she was under further investigation. It was unnecessary at this time as we are in the middle of a pandemic and also as ICAC will, if true to form, investigate it at their leisure. ICAC could have waited.”5 One could ask Stefaniak if he understands what the word ‘Independent’ means in the title of the organisation, and if it is meaningless, then who gets to decide how long ICAC should wait until it investigates corruption. Would it be the government? The premier?
Stefaniak continued “Her resignation deprives the people of NSW, and indeed Australia, of a much respected, well liked and able leader at a crucial time in our history.” This is open to debate. Her reluctance to lock down Sydney when she should have, likely led to the dramatic increase in Covid-19 case numbers and deaths in that state, and facilitated its spread into Victoria and the ACT. This is only the most recent debacle. The previous debacle, the docking of the Ruby Princess in Sydney and allowing its passengers to disembark, spreading Covid-19 far and wide in 2020 was laid at the feet of the NSW government. At the time, it was estimated that in the first Covid-19 wave to hit Australia, passengers from the Ruby Princess and those infected by them formed 10% of the infections and deaths in Australia6.
Astoundingly, Stefaniak goes for the poor ‘wronged woman’ story, with: “Gladys fundamentally seems guilty at worst of making a bad choice in forming a relationship with Mr McGuire [sic] and on the information to date may well be cleared of any wrongdoing.” The ‘wronged woman’ is a desperate ploy that Gladys tried herself, and is something which may seem normal only in the bizarre 1950s attitudes of a conservative. As for Gladys being “cleared of any wrongdoing” the information to date makes it appear that Berejiklian intervened directly to have the grant to the Australian Clay Target Association reassessed after it initially failed the assessment process7. If Berejiklian was confident of being cleared, I suspect she would have stepped aside from the premiership temporarily. The fact that she not only resigned from the premiership, but also from parliament, indicates how seriously she takes this ICAC investigation.
Stefaniak then states “I am suspicious of ICAC and it has always worried me that Nick Greiner (himself an innocent victim of it) set up a star chamber answerable to no-one where people are presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence”. The use of the epithet ‘star chamber’ is a common trope used by those who fear being investigated in NSW and in the federal coalition. The allegations levelled at Greiner were that he misused his position as Liberal Party leader to secure independent MP Terry Metherell’s resignation from state parliament by offering him a government job; this was considered to have been done to achieve political advantage. This adverse finding was overturned on appeal. Despite this, Greiner still defends ICAC (he was premier when it was created)8.
Stefaniak takes it further by quoting federal MP Jason Falinski who told the Weekend Australian (who else?): “ICAC continues to perpetuate gross injustices. It is an organisation who openly threatened the parliament if it did not get a budget increase. It is an organisation that could not find any corruption in the Carr and Keneally government until they were voted out of office and then refused to investigate any activities going back two years.” Joe Tripodi, Ian Macdonald, Eric Roozendaal, Tony Kelly and Eddie Obeid, might disagree with this statement. All were members of the Carr, Rees and Keneally governments, and two of them have been sentence to gaol time9.
Stefaniak finishes off with asserting that ICAC is a ‘tarnished organisation’ which is politically biased, and that the NSW parliament should get rid of it. He also says that the AFP and state police forces should handle such cases of corruption. Given his statement above about failure to investigate past corruption, it is ironic that he states the federal parliament would be mad to create a federal ICAC. While there is no chance that the federal Coalition government would institute such a federal ICAC, a body like this was announced by Scott Morrison in late 2018 as a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. However, Morrison’s proposed integrity commission was to operate outside of public view, with the investigative body to make no public findings, hold no public hearings and would not be allowed to have retrospective investigations (i.e. would not be allowed to investigate any corrupt behaviour in the past). Morrison said “This is a real proposal, with real resources, real teeth.” Of course, even after three years, the body does not exist. It was just another Morrison announcement10.
Given that this federal government is the most corrupt in living memory, one can see why Morrison does not want any retrospectivity, and perhaps why many don’t want any sort of federal integrity commission. Apparently, the group of bastards that Stefaniak wants to keep honest, doesn’t include Liberal bastards.