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Branch stacking scandals highlight the media's double standards

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Federal Liberal Minister Michael Sukkar has faced no consequences for his alleged role in branch stacking (image via YouTube)

Australia is a nation of double standards. It should come as no surprise to see our politicians and our media brazenly wearing them like badges of honour.

As a country, we criticise China at every available opportunity for any whiff of foreign interference, though we turn a blind eye to blatant interference coming from Israel. As many on the right say: "China has a woeful record on human rights",  as if Palestine didn’t exist.

The media talked up "historic" peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. People hear the words "Middle East peace deal" and think of Israel and Palestine, yet the media have neglected to sufficiently inform the public that this dud deal that is already in jeopardy. It has not brought about peace, in fact, Gaza has seen Israel bomb their men, women and children every night for two weeks.

Australia panics about the possible vandalism of a statue of a dubious historical figure from a couple of hundred years ago, while shrugging off a mining giant’s total destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred Indigenous site of immense historical significance.

It is the same double standard that has seen journalists unite to support a News Corp reporter’s right to badger Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at press conferences, while completely ignoring the plight of Emma Alberici as she is thrown under the bus.

We’re still waiting for the day our media badger Prime Minister Scott Morrison or NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian with the same ferocity over any of their multitude of failings.

We have come to expect double standards from politicians, but the media is supposed to hold politicians to account no matter what colour their corflutes are, come campaign time.

This week brought yet another opportunity for the media to show that they could apply the same standards to all political parties and once again they have surprised nobody with the failure.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran an exposé on allegations of branch stacking in the Liberal Party that included allegations of the illegal misuse of taxpayers funds by two Federal Liberal MPs: Kevin Andrews and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar.

A few months earlier, a similar story was aired about Labor State MPs in Victoria. In perhaps another show of double standards, Channel 9 dedicated an entire episode to the allegations of Labor in Victoria, while only half an episode was dedicated to allegations regarding the Liberal Party. This is in spite of the fact that the Liberal Party story concerned Federal MPs and 60 Minutes is a program that airs nationally.

Does the board at Nine Entertainment think someone in rural WA cares more about a politician they’ve never heard of in Victorian Parliament than they do about a member of the Federal government misusing their tax dollars?

After the segment on the Victorian Labor Party, action was swift and decisive from the Labor Party. The next working, day one Labor minister demoted while another was expelled from the party altogether.

Daniel Andrews detailed his response at a press conference where he announced he would be referring the matter to Victoria Police himself.

These actions were what the public expect from a responsible government and what the media demands. Although for some in the media, it was still not enough.

Have these standards been applied to the Liberal Party for the allegations aired on Sunday? 

Nobody has been fired, demoted, punished, or gained a single grey hair. Former Victorian Liberal Party Vice-President Marcus Bastiaan resigned the day after 60 Minutes aired, but rest assured, he’ll be back. Just like after the last controversy over his racist rants and text messages in 2018.

Scott Morrison’s comment that it is a matter for the Victorian State Branch is a weak response to corruption allegations from a weak prime minister.

Why is the press accepting this? Why are the allegations of illegal use of taxpayer funds being looked into by bean counters in the Department of Finance, not the Victorian Police?

This misuse of taxpayer funds is a serious issue and is a criminal act. Daniel Andrews knows it: that’s why he referred the matter concerning Labor to Victoria Police. The media know it too. That’s why the issue dominated the press for so long when it was Labor in the spotlight.

Those living in Victoria will no doubt be familiar with the "red shirts scandal" that haunted Labor for endless months and how much media time was dedicated to it.

In fact, the allegations aired on Sunday may have come to light a lot sooner had the Victorian Greens not done a shady backroom deal with the Liberals to ensure that neither party would face the Ombudsman’s investigation into their own use of taxpayer expenditure as Labor did.

Rarely has a protection racket been so blatant. But alas, the Greens have different standards for their own behaviour.

Victoria Police investigated the "red shirts scandal". They investigated and cleared Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten and even Craig Thomson over different allegations. They are currently investigating Adem Somyurek.

Yet for some reason, Liberal Party members get a free pass.

Using taxpayer funds to pay for staff for campaigning or branch stacking is illegal. It is theft. It is stealing taxpayer money. Money that should be spent on schools and hospitals is instead being spent on party operatives to seek out phoney memberships for factional purposes or to win party preselections.

However, you wouldn’t know that this week reading the News Corp press or watching television.

In a month these allegations against Kevin Andrews and Michael Sukkar will likely be forgotten. A month later, Marcus Bastiaan will be back as a Liberal Party member and carrying on with his racist rhetoric which seems so popular in his Party. Daniel Andrews will also be targeted for not looking both ways when he crossed a road or something of similar ilk.

Many of us will continue to seek news coverage from sources other than the major television networks or the two big print media conglomerates.

Of course when I write "many of us", I mean those of us with standards.

Peter Wicks is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Federal Labor Party staffer. You can follow him on Twitter @MadWixxy.

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