ANTHONY ALBANESE – OPINION PIECE – AUSTRALIA POST SCANDAL HIGHLIGHTS MORRISON HYPOCRISY – THURSDAY, 12 NOVEMBER 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
AUSTRALIA POST SCANDAL HIGHLIGHTS MORRISON HYPOCRISY
To be credible as a political leader, you must be consistent, particularly when it comes to issues of probity.
Scott Morrison lacks consistency. He is a man of double standards.
Last month, the Prime Minister portrayed himself as a guardian of the public purse when he criticised Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate for giving four executives Cartier watches to reward them for sealing a lucrative business deal.
Describing the $20,000 bill as a disgrace, Mr Morrison angrily told Parliament Ms Holgate should stand aside and that if she refused, “she can go’’.
Mr Morrison had realised the purchase of the watches did not pass the pub test. So he took to Parliament with a fiery speech calculated to appeal to popular opinion.
But his attack backfired.
Instead of demonstrating authority, Mr Morrison’s anger about the watches shone a spotlight on his inaction over a string of spending and probity scandals engulfing his government and its ministers.
Take the dodgy land deal at the new Badgerys Creek airport in western Sydney.
In September the Auditor-General revealed the government paid $30 million to acquire a parcel of land – the so-called Leppington Triangle – for the airport.
But the land was actually worth only $3 million. Its owners, who have donated to the Liberal Party, received a $27 million financial windfall.
Asked to respond to the report, Mr Morrison said he was “disappointed’’.
The relevant minister, Paul Fletcher, blamed bureaucrats. But, in defiance of Westminster conventions, he refused to take responsibility.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack celebrated the dodgy deal and said it would come to be seen as a bargain.
So, we have a Prime Minister who is disappointed about the waste of $27 million by his government, but incandescent with rage over $20,000 worth of Cartier watches.
It doesn’t add up. It’s a double standard.
This is not the only example in which Mr Morrison has failed to stand up for the public purse or to hold his ministers to proper standards of accountability.
In the Robodebt scandal thousands of Australians were hounded by the Department of Government Services for “debts’’ from alleged social security overpayments.
Most of these debts were inflated or non-existent, yet the relevant minister Stuart Robert spent months denying there was any problem, even as his department subjected vulnerable Australians to unreasonable levels of stress.
Ultimately Mr Robert admitted the debts were charged in error and agreed to repay at least $721 million to the victims of the debacle.
But Mr Robert, who is Mr Morrison’s close political supporter, has paid no political price. He has not been held to account for this mess.
At least former sports minister Bridget McKenzie fell on her sword over the sports rorts scandal, in which the government handed out more than $100 million in pre-election grants to sports clubs in marginal electorates.
However, there is clear evidence that Mr Morrison’s office was directly involved in awarding the grants with colour-coded spreadsheets identifying marginal electorates rather than merit.
He treats public money as though it is the Liberal Party’s money.
Emissions Reductions Minister Angus Taylor has also escaped censure despite failing to fully declare his financial interests to Parliament and using a forged document to attempt to discredit Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore over her spending on travel.
At the same time as Mr Morrison has run dead on accountability, he has been very busy rewarding his Liberal Party friends with plum government jobs.
Seventy members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal are connected to the Liberal or National parties, including more than a dozen former MPs.
Back at Australia Post Ms Holgate has quit but nothing has happened to the board of the organisation, which was aware of the purchase of the Cartier watches.
Four of the eight members of the board are Liberal Party mates – former John Howard staffer Tony Nutt, former LNP official Bruce McIver, former Victorian Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson and former Western Australian Liberal Party staffer Deidre Willmott.
Voters will have an opportunity to pass judgment on Mr Morrison’s record on probity and accountability at the next election.
But the more immediate concern is that the contagion of non-accountability is now leaking into the public service.
The head of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, James Shipton, recently stood aside over $118,000 in disputed expense claims. His deputy Daniel Crennan has resigned.
All of these revelations came through Parliamentary committees rather than the government choosing to be accountable.
And we know the government continues to prioritise marketing over serious policy leadership.
A former pollster from Crosby Textor, which conducts work for the Liberal Party, received $1.1 million to conduct polling that has not been made public but went direct to the Prime Minister’s office.
A further $15 million is being spent on advertisements that do nothing to promote public information but instead laud the government’s performance.
It is little wonder that Mr Morrison’s delayed plans to create a national integrity commission do not give the body the power to examine any of the scandals that have been revealed since government support for such a body was announced in 2018.
Anthony Albanese is the leader of the Australian Labor Party
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.