Coalition corruption: They are not even embarrassed about it

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The Panama Papers, media investigations and Turnbull Government members themselves reveal corruption is endemic. And becoming more brazen. Alan Austin reports. Again.

Read November’s instalment here, December’s here, January’s here, February's here and March’s here.

EX-PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott openly admits that Coalition ministers serve first and foremost the corporate sector — and expect to be rewarded for it.

In a speech to the Parliament last week, he said:

“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.”

There is a long history of state and Federal ministers going into well-paid jobs after politics. In some cases, soon after. And often in the industry they previously regulated — or deregulated. But never has this been so blatantly spruiked.

This prompted an urgent Greens motion in the NSW Parliament demanding a federal anti-corruption body. But it caused barely a ripple in the mainstream media.

Barrie Cassidy on Insiders last Sunday queried it briefly: 

“Is that how politics works? You look after them when you’re in office, they look after you when you leave office.”

But neither he nor any other panellist made further comment.

In any other democracy, Abbott would have been sacked or, failing that, Turnbull called to resign.

The rationale for generous pensions for MPs is that they can engage in public service – as Malcolm Fraser did chairing an overseas aid agency – and thus avoid the temptation of corporate payoffs.

Panama Papers and the PM

Turnbull’s authority in dealing with corruption suffered yet another blow this week when the Panama Papers revealed that, in the 1990s, he was a director of a mining company set up in the British Virgin Islands.

Let’s be clear. The reasons companies are incorporated there – as the expression "tax haven" implies – are to avoid paying normal taxes, to dodge regulations applicable elsewhere and to escape routine audits. It is not possible for a leader to claim to be vigilant and proactive regarding tax evasion and compliance with the law when he uses these rorts himself.

When confronted over this, Turnbull insisted – laughing and smiling throughout – that he had done nothing wrong. But that is the point. What is unlawful in Australia is not unlawful in the Cayman or Virgin Islands.

ABC fact check funding

Those dismayed at the astonishing weakness of the ABC’s fact check unit got their explanation in last week’s budget.

Independent Australia and other watchdogs have listed more than 85 broken promises and 65 direct lies from Tony Abbott in recent years. Each has been carefully documented with the source of the statement and proof of outcome.

Yet the ABC fact checkers with their full-time staff and abundant resources have managed to identify only 19 broken promises and six statements that were “incorrect” or “wrong”. They identified claims which they described as “misleading”, “not the full story” and “doesn’t check out” — two of each. And they found one statement in each of these categories: “oversimplified”, “spin”, “exaggerated”, “hot air”, “overstated”, “gaffe”, “questionable”, “overreach”,speculation” and “unsubstantiated”.

But why so coy about identifying multiple blatant lies when that is clearly what they are? And why not count all broken commitments? Answers emerged in reports on ABC finances confirming that the fact check unit receives "special funding". It is not funded from general ABC revenue and is not a permanent unit. Hence it relies on the approval of the government of the day. It all becomes clear.

Liberal National Party paid bogus independents

It has been long suspected, but hard to prove. Now we know disgraced Liberal National ex-minister Stuart Robert used party funds to bankroll so-called “independents” in council elections in his electorate. 

Internal party calls for his removal as local MP show there are still glimmers of integrity in the party. The fact that these calls were ignored shows corruption remains acceptable to the majority.

Minister bullied Aboriginal council

Yet another Turnbull minister is alleged to have abused his power in a dispute over the contents of the Indigenous Land Corporation’s annual report. According to FOI documents obtained by The Mandarin, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion pressured the council’s board to falsify a section of its report. Unsuccessfully.

Disturbingly, the minister denies the account and refuses to answer questions. True to form, Turnbull has taken no corrective or disciplinary action.

AFP can’t investigate bribery

The Australian Federal Police cannot adequately investigate corruption by Australian companies overseas, according to recent testimony at the Senate foreign bribery inquiry. This follows claims by former Leighton executive Stephen Sasse of the alleged theft of up to $14 million by other Leighton executives. Sasse told the Senate the AFP did not have the resources to deal with foreign bribery cases.

Bank fraud ignored

Australia’s banks routinely engage in corrupt practices, according to submissions to the Senate inquiry on white collar crime. Common fraudulent activity, according to whistleblower Jeff Morris, includes banks falsifying borrowers' income and assets in order to approve loans.

The issues here are not just that banks are corrupt but that authorities are not enforcing the law and the Turnbull Government appears unconcerned.

Hospitals for Coalition electorates

Finally, since the last corruption update, Liberal candidate and ex-member for Indi Sophie Mirabella has openly admitted that the Coalition uses taxpayer funds – in the tens of millions – to reward electorates which vote for them and punish those who don’t.

This update brings to an even 50 the number of separate corruption issues that have arisen in the eight months Turnbull has been PM. This must be a record for Australia, if not the Western world.

If the multiple scandals adding to the tally in the last month do not surprise, the brazenness certainly should.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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