Corruption on Turnbull’s watch widens and deepens

By | | comments |
(Image via malcolmturnbull.com.au)

If December and January were bad for corruption in Australia, February has been appalling. Alan Austin reports in what started as a monthly IA series but now looks like becoming fortnightly.

Read November’s instalment here, December’s here and January’s here.

CORRUPTION IN AUSTRALIA is getting worse, not better.

Already this month, ten disturbing issues have arisen.

1. Stuart Robert’s China dealings

The resignation of Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert, brings to 21 the number of state and federal Coalition ministers or MPs who in the last 33 months have lost their positions following allegations of misconduct. That compares with three from Labor.

In 2014, then assistant defence minister, Robert used his position to assist Liberal Party donor Paul Marks with his business in China. This was revealed when a media release came to light showing Robert’s role in a signing ceremony with Marks and Chinese executives.

It has been revealed since that Robert holds a financial interest in Marks’ companies.

This scandal raises more issues than simply one more corrupt senior Liberal forced to resign.

2. PM Turnbull’s judgment

John Howard did not need an investigation to know that 15 ministers had breached standards and had to go. Kevin Rudd did not need an inquiry before asking defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon to resign in 2009. Nor did Tony Abbott before sidelining Arthur Sinodinos in 2014.

What is wrong with Turnbull’s corruption compass that he had to ask a public servant to judge such an obvious matter? If this is the result of tensions between Abbott backers and Turnbull supporters, as reported, it is further evidence of cabinet dysfunction.

3. Ministerial complicity and cover-up

As David Donovan observed on Friday, the problem with this ignominy was not just Turnbull’s indecision but the active denial by others that Robert had behaved corruptly. These include now Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Senator Arthur Sinodinos.

4. Gifted Rolexes — fake or real

It also emerged this month, that during a dinner attended by ex-PM Tony Abbott and Liberal donor Paul Marks in 2013, Chinese businessman Li Ruipeng gave Coalition ministers, including Stuart Robert, expensive watches. The early defence by the Ministers when they admitted accepting the gifts – worth $250,000 – was they believed they were fakes and of little value. If they did not know that bringing fakes into Australia was a serious offence punishable by hefty fines and/or imprisonment, they should have.

5. Liberal Party pre-selection

Prominent Liberals openly admit internal pre-selection procedures are corrupt. Unelected factional powerbrokers are currently dictating who will be the candidates for the forthcoming federal election.

Former NSW Upper House member Charlie Lynn said last Tuesday:

“If the Liberal Party was a business I think it would be deregistered because of its conduct.”

Former Howard Government parliamentary secretary Ross Cameron agrees:

“It's a corrupt process, let's call it what it is."

6. Tax evasion highlighted

At last, action will be taken to reap taxes corruptly evaded by big businesses operating in Australia. But not by the Turnbull Government  which has shielded the big tax evaders, many of whom are donors to the Coalition parties.

Firm action was announced last Tuesday by Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan in a stern statement to a Senate hearing.

Jordan, who was appointed by the Gillard Government in 2013, specifically targeted “multinational enterprises” who, he said:

“... fail to be able to furnish us with basic reports showing their business structures, their profits, how much tax they've paid and where. Their clear tactic is to delay and obstruct. They game the system.”

Jordan’s efforts are hampered, however, by the Abbott Government having axed audit staff, a decision Turnbull has not reversed.

7. People smuggler payments

Indonesian authorities have provided credible evidence that Australia has corruptly paid people smugglers to ship their miserable human cargo elsewhere.

It emerged from Senate estimates hearings on 5 February that 23 boats have been forced outside Australian waters since Operation Sovereign Borders began. This refutes Government claims that boats have stopped setting out.

We now know details regarding payments to people smugglers and other methods used to block asylum seekers are deliberately withheld from the Senate and the Australian people on instructions from immigration minister Peter Dutton.

8. Corrupt refugee detention practices

Documents surfaced last Wednesday following Reuters’ freedom of information requests revealing a range of Coalition Government practices to subvert scrutiny of detention centres.

The documents reveal the lies and deceptions used to cover up corruption, human rights abuses and law-breaking on Nauru.

The released documents are heavily redacted, confirming the Australian and Nauruan governments are determined to hide many aspects of this tragic saga.

9. Freedom for Julian Assange

World-famous ex-pat Australian whistleblower Julian Assange was this month found by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to have been detained unlawfully in Britain.

This should be sufficient grounds for Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop and prime minister Turnbull to take decisive action to secure his freedom.

Tragically for Assange, they have done nothing. As was expected. Ecuador, yes, Turnbull’s Australia, no.

10. Corruption in Australia’s economy

Further confirmation from abroad of escalating corruption emerged this month in Heritage Foundation’s 2016 index of economic freedom. Australia’s score has dropped from 82.6 in 2013 to 82.0 in 2014, then to 81.4 in 2015 and now down to 80.3. Ranking has fallen from third in the world in 2013 – behind Singapore and Hong Kong – to fourth in 2015 and now fifth this year, behind New Zealand and Switzerland.

The score declined in four critical areas: business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom and, tellingly, freedom from corruption.

Finally, although not a direct example of Coalition corruption, ICAC’s findings last Thursday of corrupt political donations in NSW highlight the Government’s failure to maintain vigilance. The case for the establishment of a federal ICAC is now overwhelming.

A great opportunity was lost by the Abbott cabinet – or was it the Liberal Party’s dirty tricks unit? – when it allocated about $100 million to two political royal commissions. These failed to unearth widespread corruption in the unions or the Labor Party but succeeded in generating malicious electioneering TV ads.

That money could have funded an effective national anti-corruption body for several years.

And then this sorry series of summaries of sleaze might come to a welcome end.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Support independent journalism. Subscribe to IA for just $5.


Recent articles by Alan Austin
Australia’s renewed commitment to neighbourliness is saving lives

The Albanese Government has acted promptly to begin the process of restoring ...  
Jacinda calls time with the NZ economy performing among the world’s best

The legacy of retiring New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern must include sound ...  
Gaoling a president is a helluva challenge, but sometimes it has to be done

Safeguarding democracy worldwide looms as a major task for 2023, requiring global ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate