Democracy Analysis

Dodgy governments, corrupt institutions and shadow states lurking beneath our democracy

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The Sofronoff shambles, Robodebt Royal Commission, hijacking of the Voice Referendum and permeation by PwC (among others) of the public service cannot recur, write Dave Donovan and Michelle Pini

IT'S GREAT to sit in Government.

To preside over the Treasury benches. To be able to allocate money however your political grouping sees fit. Within reason, of course! Because otherwise, getting into power would enable the party in control of the parliamentary numbers to, for example, provide lush emoluments for loyal servants, gift longstanding donors with tidy sinecures, remunerate longstanding party warhorses with generous perquisites, and, overall, dole out cash to the faithful, corporate and crony alike, with giddy, wastrel abandon.

Of course, there is no suggestion whatsoever that any of the two close political colleagues who hold power in Australia since … well … at least since Federation – the Liberal Party and the Labor Party – would ever abuse their honoured trust with the electorate. Their privileged role as the two parties preferred by our ever-so-democratic two-party preferred system, by favouring their mates or other similar acquaintances. Heaven forbid!

Independent Australia would note certain murmurings that have reached the pitch of a platoon of wailing banshees in recent times that have become difficult to ignore.

There are several.

LEHRMANN RAPE TRIAL

For one, there’s the Bruce Lehrmann/Brittany Higgins affair. Though can it truly be an affair when one party is, allegedly, asleep? 

After Lehrmann’s trial for the alleged rape was aborted due to jury misconduct, Walter Sofronoff KC was appointed to head an inquiry at the request of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold.

Before handing down his findings, Sofronoff first sent copies to journalists, the ABC's Elizabeth Byrne and The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen — though the findings were to remain embargoed until after the report was released. Obviously, The Australian, that model of public interest journalism excellence, released the findings, anyway — embargo, shambargo!

But Murdoch media misconduct aside, as Dr Jennifer Wilson wrote in IA:

That a KC would override inquiry protocol is in itself disturbing, but it is astounding that the man chosen by the A.C.T. Government to conduct an inquiry into an already extremely fraught and complex situation, should apparently not trust that government to fully and in a timely fashion relay his findings to the public, instead providing the report to two personally chosen journalists.

Though Sofronoff’s Inquiry found that Drumgold was right to have prosecuted Lehrmann, Janet Albrechtsen’s article chose to continue on her publication’s precedent of demonising the victim and pursuing the chief prosecutor with the following headline:

‘Trial treachery: the lies of unethical Drumgold’ 

Shane Drumgold has since resigned his position as DPP and, as Dr Wilson concluded:

‘What happens next in this story is anybody’s guess. One thing we can be sure of, there will be no justice afforded to Ms Higgins or the alleged rapist, Bruce Lehrmann.’

ROBODEBT WRONGS

Then there’s the Robodebt Royal Commission.

The conduct of responsible government ministers and high-level public servants evinced by the subsequent Royal Commission into Robodebt, which destroyed the lives of thousands of Australians and resulted in over 2,000 deaths, has been nothing short of egregious.

At the very least, the people responsible for this major breach of the law should face the hardest penalties imaginable.

Yet, Morrison, the architect of this evil scheme to send impoverished people into an additional spiral of debt, despair and suicide, had the audacity to label the findings of the subsequent Royal Commission a “witch hunt”. That’s a Royal Commission, from a steadfast monarchist.

IA imagines if the apocryphal god almighty were to make a rare public appearance, and denounce that Engadine malingerer, Scott Morrison would stand up at Hillsong and similarly denounce Jehovah’s comments as “mere editorial”.

Where’s a lightning strike when you need one?

THE RIGHT TO A VOICE

Then there’s the Voice Referendum. This is a Referendum for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution — the first step towards Reconciliation, as stated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Constitutional change, of course, can only be achieved via a referendum.

Peter Dutton, an established racist who likes to pass himself off as an Opposition Leader, suggests there will be horrifying ramifications if Indigenous Australians have any authority over the land they stewarded with remarkable skill for 60,000 years. Just go away, Dutton, like you did with alacrity, as soon as Kevin Rudd started reading out the Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008.

Peter Dutton, you should hang your head in shame. Though just a simple hanging would be sufficient.

PISSWEAKCONSULTING & CO

Now, there are the latest revelations about the links between the Big Four accounting firms and the Government. This shady world, dubbed the "shadow state" by ABC’s Four Corners, is where the big four accounting firms infiltrated the government, corrupted processes, took billions in taxpayer funds in the process and are likely to get off with a limp lettuce leaf slap over their collective dirty hands.

Some of those implicated in this complex world filled with accountants of no accountability are still comfortably ensconced within our highest echelons of government — such as the Australian Government Board of Taxation, which holds its meetings in the (admittedly) well-appointed offices of PwC.

Generally, Independent Australia tries to limit the entries into the accounting ledger of this publication. This somewhat cranky publisher is a qualified accountant, as it happens, and the post-traumatic stress of a couple of decades in that ghastly industry has left him a crippled and barely sensible wreck. Suffice to say, the deep and sinister links between the previous Government and the accounting industry will not aid his sensitive recuperation from the horror that constitutes his years in that awful trade.

But as Four Corners’ Angus Grigg put it:

‘This is not about a few consultants behaving badly it's about the systematic replacement of a once fearless public service with voracious private sector operators driven not by public good but by profit. The question is … is it too late to fix it?’

These are all major betrayals within our highest institutions and while these examples of incompetence and/or corruption involve the previous Coalition Government, things desperately need to change to ensure subsequent governments, whatever their persuasion, don’t follow suit.

The Sofronoff shambles, Robodebt Royal Commission, the hijacking of the Voice Referendum and the permeation of PwC (among others) of the public service cannot recur.  

In order for any modicum of public trust in our institutions to be restored, Australia needs systemic change, which may include the following:

  • an end to political donations; 
  • the establishment of an independent and fearless bureaucracy; 
  • protections for whistleblowers so malfeasance can be exposed;
  • and a reputable Fourth Estate that is held to account so that it can itself hold governments to account.

Finally, at the very least, the people responsible for hijacking our democracy should face the harshest penalties imaginable and we welcome the establishment of the NACC by the Albanese Government.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow, on Twitter, founder and publisher Dave Donovan @davrosz and managing editor Michelle Pini @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and Facebook HERE.

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