Jan 6, 2021






Honesty is a bit like justice – every time it is not applied consistently, it is diminished.


Yet when it comes to protecting the public purse and maintaining honesty in government, Scott Morrison is falling victim to double standards.


Over the past year the Prime Minister has routinely dismissed or even denied facts pointing toward waste of public money by his government.


But when someone else is in the cross hairs, he is the first to stand up for protecting the public purse.


The clearest example came last October when a Senate Budget Estimates committee heard that in 2018 the head of Australia Post, Christine Holgate, spent $20,000 buying Cartier watches to reward four executives for good work.


Given that Australia Post is owned by taxpayers, this spending was inappropriate.


It was widely criticised at the time, including by the Labor Party.


And when Ms Holgate later resigned, she conceded the spending did not pass “the pub test’’.


On the day the news broke, Mr Morrison was incandescent with rage. He used Question
Time to angrily denounce the purchase of the watches. “I was appalled and it is disgraceful and not on,’’


Mr Morrison said. “She’s (Ms Holgate) been instructed to stand aside and if she doesn’t do that, she can go.”


Mr Morrison knew Australians would be angry about the extravagance of the purchase.


He also knew that a show of indignation would dominate the evening television news bulletins.


The problem is that Mr Morrison’s indignation about waste is very selective.


On September 21 last year, the independent Australian National Audit Office revealed the Government spent $30 million buying a piece of land near the Western Sydney Airport that was actually valued at $3 million.


After avoiding the media for a few days, Mr Morrison dead-batted the issue. “These events are not things I’m happy about,’’ he said. “There is a review going on presently within the department and I understand why Australians would feel very disappointed. “I’m also disappointed in it and I don’t think it’s something that I would ever like to see repeated.”


So, for Mr Morrison, while the waste of $20,000 on Cartier watches is “disgraceful’’, the wastage of $27 million by his own government is merely disappointing.


This tells you something about his priorities.


His focus is politics, rather than probity.


The ANAO is independent.


Its job is to keep track of government spending and its reports are taken seriously.


Just like its report on the $100m Sports Rorts Scandal.


A year ago, the ANAO reported that prior to the 2019 election, Mr Morrison handed out $100 million in grants to sporting clubs in defiance of program guidelines.


The money was doled out to sporting clubs in electorates being targeted by the Coalition.


It later emerged that Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie, with the full knowledge of Mr Morrison’s office, used her ministerial discretion to allocate grants on the basis of colour-coded spreadsheets based on political considerations.


Last year we also learned Scott Morrison created a sham “Female Facilities and Water Safety Program’’ close to the 2019 election.


This time there were no guidelines.


The money was simply handed out in target electorates, most infamously to sporting organisations that had no women’s teams.


No-one has paid any genuine political price for any of these scandals.


In the case of the airport land deal, the minister in charge at the time, Paul Fletcher, says no-one told him about how much was being paid for the land.


His excuse, accepted by Mr Morrison, was that he had no idea what was going in his own department.


Senator McKenzie did quit the frontbench over the Sports Rorts program. But she resigned for not having declared that she was the member of a gun club which received a government grant – not for rorting the scheme for political reasons.


As for Mr Morrison, he continues to insist there was nothing wrong with sports rorts. There’s nothing to see here. What a contrast to his feigned indignation over the Cartier watches issue.


While Ms Holgate’s job at Australia Post ended over luxury watches, Mr Morrison’s squandering of public money continues.


It is little wonder there has been no progress on the National Integrity Commission that Scott Morrison promised more than two years ago.


Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.


This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 6 January 2021.