Coalition corruption thrives under Turnbull: No shame whatsoever

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(Image via abc.net.au)

Hopes that political rorts might be curbed by a chastened PM after last year’s narrow election win have been dashed. Alan Austin updates the tawdry Coalition record.

Read instalments for November 2015 here, December 2015 here, January 2016 here, February 2016 here, March 2016 here and May 2016 here.

A REPORT on Australia’s black economy confirms Malcolm Turnbull has failed to curtail the corruption that has burgeoned since the 2013 election.

As the Coalition took office, new PM Tony Abbott opened the door to the black economy with “Australia is open for business (nudge nudge, wink wink)” and a more productive economy is a less-regulated one" (if you get my driftand “Australia is under new management" (say no more, say no more). 

Corners were then cut in industrial safety, leading to a spike in worker fatalities, corporate taxes were avoided on a massive scale, Transparency International lowered Australia’s corruption ranking and a spate of scandals led to multiple Coalition MP sackings. State and Federal Coalition ministers or speakers gone in disgrace now number 23.

In Parliament last year, Tony Abbott openly spruiked executive jobs for retired Coalition MPs as rewards for service to big business:

“The member for Groom Ian McFarlane was the resources minister who scrapped the mining tax ... It was a magnificent achievement ... and I hope that the sector will acknowledge and demonstrate their gratitude to him in his years of retirement from this place.”

Just shameless! Unfortunately, hopes for greater integrity when Turnbull replaced Abbott in 2015 have not been fulfilled.

One basis for hope was the Black Economy Taskforce, which Turnbull commissioned last December to expose tax evasion, corruption of the visa system, worker exploitation, zappers and other business fiddles.

Last month’s interim report confirms the problems are not being resolved. It put the cost of the cash economy to the budget – and to the Australian people – at about $25 billion. Since then, taskforce head Michael Andrew has revised that to $50 billion.

The government responded with the mealy-mouthed “accepted the recommendations” and “will continue to consult widely” but signalled no action. Until corrupt corporate operators and the politicians who enable them are routinely gaoled – as happens in countries genuinely committed to integrity – Turnbull is not fair dinkum.

Several issues have emerged since IA’s last corruption update — which brought the tally of issues of profound concern to 50.

The count continues:

51. Undisclosed interests

Last November, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash purchased another investment property but failed to list it on the pecuniary interests register until investigated.

Liberal MP Andrew Hastie apologised for not declaring an $870,000 house last year.

Federal Minister Paul Fletcher has refused to declare his spouse’s businesses and assets. This exploits the loose wording of the regulations.

Fletcher claims:

“I do not know if Manuela Zappacosta is a director of any other companies and I have not made inquiry.”

His wife is a Sydney jeweller, well-known to be a director and 50 per cent owner of Baba Management, a company registered in Albury. No action from the PM.

Former Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi bought an Adelaide property in 2015, which now headquarters his Australian Conservatives Party. That is not listed on the parliamentary register, although the company set up to buy it is.

If this complies with the letter of the law, as Bernardi asserts, it certainly violates the spirit. Again, no action from the PM.

Independent Queensland MP Bob Katter refuses to list his spouse’s vast assets and business dealings, declaring “she regards this as her private business”.

Liberal MP Jason Falinski says nine times on his register that he hasn't asked his solicitor wife about her interests.

Of course, these MPs do not have to disclose their family information if they want it kept private. But they should not then serve in the Australian Parliament. An obligation of that role under Westminster principles is transparency in all family finances. It’s one or the other. Their choice.

52. Ley’s apartment

The generous Liberal Party donor who sold his luxury apartment to disgraced former Health Minister Sussan Ley had been given a $109,977 grant for his daycare business when Ley was assistant education minister, responsible for childcare. Six months later, she bought his luxury apartment “on a whim” during a taxpayer-funded trip.

53. Abuse of the uniform

The Australian Army terminated the service of Liberal MP Andrew Hastie in the standby Reserve, after he refused orders to remove uniformed images from his political electioneering.

54. Election funding: associated entities

Turnbull has failed to act to curb these blatant rorts.

An example offered by independent ex-MP Tony Windsor is a wealthy donor paying $50,000 for tickets for a chook raffle: 

“The person who paid the $50,000 doesn’t show up in terms of a donation to a political party or a candidate.”

55. Election funding: Parakeelia

Federal Liberal politicians paid $2,550 from their taxpayer-funded office allowance to Parakeelia Pty Ltd to provide so-called "software services". Parakeelia, which is owned by the Liberal Party, paid a million dollars back to the party over three years. This was shown as “other receipts” in party accounts, making it the second-largest source of 2014-15 income.

An auditor general’s review found this did not breach electoral laws. Clearly, those laws need to be changed.

56. Taxpayer funds for Liberal advertising

The National Audit Office has criticised the Coalition Government, the Education Department and Treasury for serious failures in political advertising. The Government misled the public in a $10 million taxpayer-funded campaign promoting its education policies despite warnings that the ads were illegal.

57. Dirty tricks

Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis has admitted her party engaged in illegal and unethical activities in last year’s Federal election by removing rival party advertising material.

58. Bank royal commission

Bank executives admitted to the recent parliamentary economics committee to fraud, professional misconduct, overcharging, inappropriate financial advice and other illegal or unethical behaviour. 

Despite calls, the Government is refusing to deal with this appropriately via a royal commission.

59. Personal data released

In February, the Human Services Department under Minister Alan Tudge released personal information of a private citizen to a newspaper. This followed a comment piece in the Fairfax press detailing the author’s appalling treatment by Centrelink

Crikey’s Bernard Keane described the act as

'... an extraordinary breach of privacy purely for political ends.'

He described the department’s tawdry justification as

‘ ... a particularly obnoxious mix of bureaucratese and officious sanctimony of the kind you’d normally expect to hear from a Beijing state media outlet rather than the Australian public service.’

60. Jobs for the failures

The Turnbull Government awarded two Liberal MPs who lost their seats at the last election plum high-paid posts on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for the next seven years.

Tasmanian ex-MP Andrew Nikolic is now a senior member and NSW ex-MP Russell Matheson is a full-time member.

61. Jobs for the disgraced

Former minister Jamie Briggs, who resigned from the Turnbull ministry following alleged misconduct in a Hong Kong bar, is now on the board of the government-owned Moorebank Intermodal Company Limited.

62. Abuse of the public service — case 1

The forced removal of former Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson for political reasons shocked the legal and business community. Gleeson has since warned of the “excessive use of state power”.

63. Abuse of the public service — case 2

Dr Paul Stevenson, a trauma specialist and Order of Australia recipient who had been working with asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru, was terminated for raising concerns.

64. Abuse of the public service — case 3

Dr Lynn Simpson, an experienced live export veterinarian was terminated for speaking out.

65. Abuse of the public service — case 4

Finally, for former Industry Minister Ian McFarlane? Yes, he accepted his reward from the mining industry. He is now chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council.

They have no shame whatsoever.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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