Developer doublethink: Turnbull bashes unions with the plank in his Party's eye

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Managing editor David Donovan wonders whether Malcolm Turnbull has really thought through his plan to hold a double dissolution election over the issue of building industry corruption.

It’s all very strange. Ironic, really.

That Malcolm Turnbull has started an elongated election campaign on, according to him, the

“… level of lawlessness and corruption and waste in the construction industry.”

Of course, Turnbull is talking about unions and workers, not the rich property developers who bankroll the Liberal Party. The very same developers who are now crying out plaintively for Turnbull to reinstate the ABCC — a quasi-judicial kangaroo court cum inspectorate tasked solely to police construction unions. The unions – such as the seemingly Voldemort-like CFMEU − need, according to the prime minister, a "tough cop on the beat" to keep them from offending. PM Abbott used to use exactly the same line...

Strangely, however, Malcolm never seems to talk about developers involvement in any "lawlessness and corruption". And yet property developers are so notorious for bribing and corrupting public officials, they are banned in NSW from making political donations. Indeed, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in NSW appears to do precious little else other than investigating dodgy developers and their shady links to crooked politicians — mostly Liberal politicians in recent years. Indeed, about a dozen Liberal MPs have lost their positions through having inappropriate connections to developers.

One of the Libs who lost their job over ICAC was Federal Liberal MP Arthur Sinodinos, who told the corruption body he had no idea that, in 2010-11, a $74,000 donation has been made to the NSW Liberal Party, where he was the Treasurer, from Australian Water Holdings, a company he chaired. A company, moreover, that was closely tied to allegedly corrupt former Labor Party powerbroker Eddie Obeid. Arthur lost his post as assistant treasurer over his apocalyptic appearance at ICAC, where he told inquisitors he couldn’t recall anything about anything much at all for six sweaty, repetitive, fidgety hours. It all went over my head, he dolefully offered at one point in his near-falsetto drone. If Arthur isn’t corrupt, people could be heard musing, then could it be that he is mentally deficient?

ICAC declined to make a corruption finding on forgetful Arthur over his AWH activities. Last year, Turnbull rewarded him for being his numbers man in bringing down former PM Tony Abbott by making him his “cabinet secretary” — a new position custom made for "Honest" John Howard's former chief of staff. The Liberals do like to look after their own.

Alas, Turnbull may live to regret elevating Artie, because no sooner had the PM announced his ABCC double dissolution stunt, then the poor man was being named by ICAC again over the same grubby affair. This time, the NSW Electoral Commission are refusing to pass on $4.4 million of electoral funding unless the Libs reveal the donors to a slush fund they had set up to, according to ICAC, allow prohibited developer donations to illegally wash through to the NSW Liberal Party. Losing more than $4 million would surely have a drastic impact on the Federal Liberal Party's capacity to campaign for re-election. Nevertheless, the NSW Liberal Executive are so desperate to conceal the identity of these donors they are reportedly prepared to forego the funding rather than reveal the names. Presumably, because the majority of the donations were from developers.

And so now we have a situation where the public are meant to believe that the most important issue facing the country is the re-establishment of a special body to police “corrupt” unions, when all they are seeing in the media are more examples of Liberal Party corruption — even, allegedly, among Turnbull’s inner circle. Of course, Turnbull refuses to establish a Federal ICAC at the same time as the ABCC, which some crossbenchers would support and may therefore enable the supposedly vital ABCC bill to pass through the Senate. The hypocrisy and self-interest is palpable.

Of course, the ABCC bill isn't vital at all — except as a ruse to manaufacture a double dissolution election. One that, with Arthur Sinodinos being smeared all over the media, will surely be dismissed with contempt by any savvy Australian voter. And with Abbott continuing his role as Rudd Wrecker Mk II, and with the polls tightening, who would want to be in Mal's finely tailored Italian leather shoes right now?

It feels now like it could all start to fall apart quite quickly for the Prince of Point Piper — like it did in 2009. And if you still think Turnbull couldn’t possibly lose the forthcoming election, I seem to recall him championing another apparently sure thing to an inglorious defeat in 1999.

Turnbull would have been wise to doublethink – or rather, think twice – about his double dissolution plans. People building big glass houses really shouldn't throw stones.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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