A Federal ICAC is pointless if conducted by a corrupt government

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An examination of political corruption is well overdue, but ultimately pointless if implemented by the very body under investigation, writes Noely Neate.

I WOULD LIKE a Federal corruption commission of some kind, specifically as oversight of Commonwealth employees, with politicians at the very centre of that scrutiny. I just don’t want this current mob anywhere near implementing one.

This current government has pretty much brought every so-called independent institution of government that we formerly respected down to their own very low level. They also brazen out any scandal with steadfast denial, refusing to answer questions or “within the rules” rubbish.

The above is a very good thread but doesn’t even go back to the Abbott days, so you could probably double it in length and – this is important – we are only talking about just over six years of government.

The stacking of boards or heads of departments is just one example, as we have seen with the sports rorts saga where it is patently clear, even if you don’t understand all the workings involved – which, admittedly, are complicated – that Senator Bridget McKenzie used a government grants program to “pork barrel” the scheme for political campaign purposes. A football club in South Australia received $500K for female change rooms and didn’t have a women’s team. Even the most disengaged punter at home is sitting back in their lounge seeing that on the news with a response of complete disbelief.

Yet, we are supposed to believe that Ms McKenzie has resigned her ministry because the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Philip Gaetjens, after a meeting with the Governance Committee of Cabinet found:

…that McKenzie had resigned not because of general maladministration but because she had failed to declare a conflict of interest by not disclosing that she was a member of a gun club that received funding in the program — which was a breach of Ministerial Standards.

The actual rorting of $100 million in taxpayer-funded grants, using pretty colour-coded spreadsheets was fine, but the gun club membership was a problem?

Now, this is where the problem comes in. If you listen to the likes of the ABC or, in fact, most mainstream media, you will hear a report of this issue along the lines of: “Embattled Deputy National Leader and Minister for Agriculture, Senator Bridget McKenzie, has handed in her resignation to the Prime Minister after an investigation by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Mr Philip Gaetjens, in consultation with the Governance Committee of Cabinet, who found she had breached Ministerial Standards.”

Sounds pretty legit, doesn’t it? The punter at home is thinking “good, she deserves to lose her job over this blatant rorting”. But what looks like “due process” is not even close.

Let us dissect that statement.

“Embattled” is the media letting the Government know that they will not give up talking about this scandal, so best find a scapegoat quick smart so that you can get back to work and draw a line under the saga. Which is exactly what the Government is hoping has happened with Ms McKenzie falling on her sword. It won’t work this time, as even they are jumping up and down about her not being found responsible for rorting — nor has anyone else.

Ms McKenzie has only resigned from her role as a minister and Deputy Nationals Leader; she had to do that as we assume that the Nats Deputy Leader has to be a minister as well because it is part of their Coalition agreement we are not allowed to know about. So, she has been benched to reserve grade and will be taking a pay cut until the public forgets and she can come back into the fold again, like Sussan Ley. If you worked for a large corporation and spent $100 million on your mates, you would be sacked and most likely criminally charged.

“…investigation by the Secretary of the Department of the PM&C, Mr Philip Gaetjens…” Now, he sounds like a very important man, correct? His name and title are always referred to in that “serious” tone when reporters mention him. Like most heads of departments now, they are not your career public servants who you can have pretty good faith are non-partisan having worked in public service all their lives with decades of institutional knowledge under various flavours of government politics. He is a political appointee.

Mr Gaetjens, one of ‘Australia’s ten most covertly powerful people’ according to the Australian Financial Review, is a former Chief of Staff to Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer – a “Liberal staffer” position – and also a Chief of Staff to Peter Costello back in the day when he was Treasurer. So we are not talking daggy old apolitical public service background here but closely linked to the Liberal Party. He could be a totally upright politician, but again, your punter at home would be concerned about those links and, to be frank, his finding that no rorting occurred is pretty much laughable.

Now we come to the important-sounding Governance Committee of Cabinet who ‘provide advice and oversight of governance and integrity issues, which include, but are not limited to, the Statement of Ministerial Standards and issues arising from the Lobbyist Code.’

Very important — I mean, we should trust ministers are doing the right thing and advising others in government, including Philip Gaetjens, in accordance with the law and good governance.

The Governance Committee is comprised of:

The vampires are in charge of the blood bank.

It doesn’t sound as good reporting something like “the Prime Minister and his top mates in government have decided no rules were broken”, because that is pretty much what happened, even though links have been found that the PM's own office had their fingerprints all over this sports rort.

Ministerial Standards”, well, they are pretty much a joke. They are set up by the Prime Minister and he decides if anyone has breached them, probably after some faux review by his Secretary of PM&C ally to pretend it is not the PM clearing his minister of any wrongdoing.

In a nutshell, they are pretty much saying, “don’t rip off the taxpayer, be honest about conflicts of interest and don’t be a dick”. Obviously “don’t be a dick” had to be extended by Malcolm Turnbull to “don’t use your dick at work” with his “bonk ban” addition. Not that it matters if you trash the standards, because the PM is not going to want to lose a minister — it's a bad look, so they are redundant as well.

Now, after the above example, you might be wondering why I don’t want a Federal ICAC since this one instance proves the need for it.

And you would be right — it does.

Except I have also shown how good governance and processes we have traditionally trusted have been corrupted. And this is only one example — there are many more throughout all departments of government and so-called independent bodies.

This current lot are more likely to just close loopholes in current law to make their rorting and lack of accountability legit under the guise of “strengthening integrity”.

Do you really think this mob will implement any form of corruption commission with any teeth that would hold them to account and prosecute wrongdoing?

If you do, I’ve got a slightly smoky smelling bridge in Sydney going cheap.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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