Parliament has been sitting again this week and, as usual, there are many issues to explore. The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, appeared at the Robodebt Royal Commission in Brisbane, and he seemed to be afflicted with the same amnesia that’s affected so many other people from the Liberal–National Party and public servants who implemented the Robodebt scheme – Turnbull couldn’t recall key details from that time and couldn’t outline who he thought might hold ultimate responsible for the scheme, which he previously described as one of the “biggest failures of public administration” in Australia’s history.
While the Robodebt Royal Commission was trying to uncover some semblance of truth, back in Canberra, the Liberal Party showed it is still prepared to die in a ditch over the Labor government’s proposal to raise the tax on superannuation accounts of over $3 million – and given that 64 per cent of the electorate supports this change, and only 29 per cent oppose – it seems to be a futile position they’ve adopted.
The week ended with even more pressure on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton – who is making no inroads at all, appears as a dour and depressing figure, is backing all the wrong proposals and seems to be a leader who’s there just for the sake of being there. Despite all these problems for the Liberal Party – and all the challenges facing not just the federal government, but the entire Australian community – the party decided to focus on the state of the Australian flag on top of Parliament House, which had been damaged due to strong winds and thunderstorms, and gave the Opposition to accuse the government of lacking national pride and leaving the Australian flag to wither away.
It appeared to be a foolish stunt, but there is some method to this madness: the Opposition wants to depict the federal government as chaotic, and suggest that everything has gone wrong ever since Labor returned to office, even the flag on top of Parliament House. This tactic worked for Tony Abbott between 2010–13, but at least there was some genuine chaos in the Labor government at that time.
But the Albanese government has learnt the lessons from that time and is a stable administration – so far – especially when compared with final years of the Morrison government. The Liberal Party will continue to persist with this strategy of claiming chaos in the government but it’s unlikely to work if there’s an absence of evidence.
The continuing corruption in NSW
During the week, it was revealed that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has assessed that there was no corruption to be found against the former leader of the NSW National Party, John Barilaro, when he somehow ended up with the lucrative position of NSW Trade Commissioner to the Americas.
It’s important to look at what’s happened here: while he was still the leader of the NSW National Party and sitting in NSW Parliament, Barilaro created the position of NSW Trade Commissioner to the Americas. Another highly credentialled person, Jenny West, was appointed to the position; John Barilaro resigned from politics – West’s appointment was rescinded, John Barilaro then applied for the position but didn’t make the shortlist – beefed up his resumé, misrepresented his credentials and achievements – the NSW Minister for Trade at the time, Stuart Ayres intervened, and John Barilaro ended up with the job and with it, a salary of $500,000.
Barilaro was pressured to not take up the position but this is beside the point. It is difficult to accept and understand how the NSW ICAC could not find any evidence of corruption, even taking into account the low standards of public propriety in New South Wales.
The NSW ICAC investigation was meant to adjudicate on whether any “public official breached public trust, or exercised their official functions dishonestly or partially” and their official response is “the investigation did not identify any evidence of corrupt conduct. As a result, the Commission has discontinued its investigation.”
Every part of this saga has breached public trust and, on face value, it appears a great deal of corruption was involved. There’s not even a report for the NSW ICAC to explain its decision or how it arrived at its decision, just a statement that the Commission will not be making further comment and that no further information can be revealed due to secrecy laws.
This is completely unacceptable – a ‘no corruption’ ruling made on the eve on an election in NSW; no report, no further comment – this has the hallmarks of the NSW ICAC being pressured to make a specific kind of decision to favour the government of that day.
A war with China? It’s highly unlikely
Apparently, Australia will need to prepare for war with China in three years’ time, and this was the assertion from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – both owned by Nine Media – and supported with more blustering and anti-China analysis from News Corporation.
It’s a part of Nine Media’s ‘Red Alert’ series – Red Alert is a five-person panel comprising former senior Defence Department official Peter Jennings, university lecturer in strategic studies and criminology, Lavina Lee, former federal chief scientist, Alan Finkel, the chair of the National Institute of Strategic Resilience, Lesley Seebeck, and retired Army major general, Mick Ryan. Red Alert has no official capacity, it’s just a collection of former officials – all white Anglo people, there’s no one on this panel of a Chinese background, or holding any notable expertise on the politics of China.
Essentially, the ‘Red Alert’ series is tabloid sensationalist garbage. The topic of conversation: ‘is Australia prepared for war with China’ – what does even mean? Australia will never be prepared for a war with China. And why is there even a speculative discussion about Australia engaging in a war with China?
Some of these people are hawks on the idea of war with China – Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute definitely is – and one of the journalists who co-authored the story – Peter Hartcher – has consistently had an unhinged anti-China perspective in his articles. But this would have to be the most irresponsible journalism that has appeared in a mainstream media for a long time.
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