If Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor were a Labor government minister, would we even be having a conversation about whether – given he is the subject of a criminal investigation – it is right for him to stand down?
If he was a Labor Party MP, would we be discussing whether or not it is appropriate for Scott Morrison to chat about a criminal investigation with the NSW Police?
And if the Energy Minister was in the Labor Party, would we now be on to the third such scandal involving the same minister, which, as Morrison has arrogantly but accurately indicated, is likely “to go nowhere”?
In politics, there are always controversies. It’s not as though the Coalition has a monopoly on those. The most recent scandal involving a Labor Party member concerned Sam Dastyari. Dastyari spectacularly stepped down amid continued jibes led by Scott Morrison (then only an “accidental” PM-in-waiting) that “Shanghai Sam” had to go.
But Angus Taylor is a Coalition Minister. And a Rhodes Scholar to boot — as we are constantly reminded by the mainstream media. This detail concerning Taylor's education seems to preface every news report on the current scandal, as though it should convince us all that he is either innocent of all allegations, or somehow above the lowbrow requirements of things such as Ministerial Standards or the law.
And in the current Australian political landscape – with the media barons and assorted mining magnates so clearly in charge, and with the rest of the mainstream media so intent on not putting a foot wrong, lest they be gagged or gaoled for eternity – Angus Taylor is likely to come off unscathed.
For those who may not realise what all the fuss is about, Taylor, while trying to discredit Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, cited an official document, allegedly falsified by a person or persons as yet unknown (but allegedly from within Taylor's Ministry). This is usually known as fraud. Taylor allegedly also presented this falsified document into Parliament. This is known as contempt of parliament. Taylor then allegedly presented the document as factual evidence, after being made aware that the document was false. This is known as deliberately misleading the parliament.
For non-Rhodes scholars, like myself, these actions are usually better known as lying and cheating.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
For his part, Scott Morrison has not only ignored his own Ministerial Standards – such as they are – to stand by his man Taylor, he has also had a word to his mate and former neighbour, who coincidentally also happens to be the NSW Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller, about the case. Some may say it’s somewhat unorthodox, if not downright fishy, for a prime minister to be discussing the progress of a criminal investigation, involving a member of his own cabinet, with the relevant police enforcement agency, but we digress.
Having made this call, Morrison is thus in a position – unlike the rest of us who are not privy to the details of the conversation that transpired between the PM and the Police Commissioner – to pre-empt the likely outcome.
His tone matter-of-fact and his posture confident, the PM announced in Parliament:
Just because the Opposition has referred matters to the New South Wales police and just because the Opposition have referred so many matters, on so many members – and they have all ended up going absolutely nowhere at the end of the day – forgive me for not leaping to the conclusions that the Leader of the Opposition has on this day; breathlessly coming to the dispatch box and making the allegations that he is making against the member and minister.
ALL IN THE 'FAMILY'
Naturally. Because the Government has form on such matters. Sussan Ley, Michaelia Cash, Peter Dutton and Stuart Robert spring to mind as recent examples of Coalition ministers who have been linked to wrongdoings and survived another day at the office — often even being promoted as thanks for a job well done.
But, of course, Taylor also has form. Prior scandals in which the Rhodes Scholar has been embroiled include #Watergate and #Grassgate, both over which the Minister and the Government have managed to ignore, obfuscate and dismiss all enquiry and public scrutiny.
The scandal dubbed “Watergate” involved an $80 million water buyback by Barnaby Joyce from a Cayman Islands company set up by Angus Taylor.
Then there’s the alleged wrongdoing known as “Grassgate”, in which illegal land clearing was linked to a company that just so happened to be owned by Taylor’s family.
THE PROTECTION RACKET
But there is no accountability for Coalition MPs under the Morrison Government. Media questions are ignored. And public service bureaucrats – seemingly corrupted by a Government that is more intent on spying on its own citizens than meeting its responsibilities to the Australian people – ensure FOI requests go unanswered.
There are, however, taxpayer-funded appointments for completely unqualified “mates” such as Tina Arena and Scott Cam — the details of which are not disclosed to the public. There are made-up jobs for disgraced government ministers like Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce, which insult the intelligence of scholars and non-scholars alike. There are promotions for rorting MPs such as Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert. And there are post-parliamentary cushy jobs in mining and other vested interests, for those whose parliamentary influence has benefitted said vested interests.
In place of real policies, more and more security measures – such as the 'Ensuring Integrity Bill ' and police raids on journalists – which stifle dissent and deflect prying eyes, ensure that critics think twice about exposing wrongdoings.
For the rare times in which ministers are investigated – such as in the case of Michaelia Cash, for example – there appears only emboldened conviction to forge ahead, rather than remorse for getting it so wrong.
If Scott Morrison had asked Angus Taylor to step aside while under police investigation, it would not only have been the right thing to do but it would indicate that the PM had a modicum of integrity. It would put to bed allegations that he is trying to run a protection racket for corrupt ministers. It would not only be right but correct parliamentary process. It would be legally correct. And it would indicate leadership.
And this is why it hasn’t happened. Because this Prime Minister does appear to be heading a protection racket. A racket where completely unqualified people are given plum tax-payer funded positions, in which the rorts and transgressions of those in the fold are above scrutiny, and where the mainstream media turn a blind eye.
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
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