Liberal Party corruption stench grows

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It is now almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that using high office for personal gain is now a core value of Australia’s Liberal Party.

The recent record of failures of trust within that party is as great as in any current political party in the Westminster world.

There have not just been four or five isolated instances come to light in recent months — but between 40 and 50.

Only yesterday, we discovered Troy Buswell in Western Australia – the former Treasurer and Transport Minister – going straight into a job with a company involved with major road construction simply stinks to high heaven.

Buswell has sat in on state cabinet meetings for the last six years, made contacts at the highest level across Australia and beyond in those two portfolio areas. He will have an enormous amount of privileged information relevant to the future of transport in the West not available to others.

His former boss WA Premier Colin Barnett assures us all is well:

“If there is seen to be any potential conflict with his former role as minister, then the government will take responsibility for ensuring that it is not in any way misused. That scrutiny is the responsibility of government, not of Troy, so obviously within government there will be some caution about that.”

So, ‘trust us’ is the message. The problem, however, is that Barnett is a Liberal too.

The pursuit of naked self-interest by the Abbott Government began the day it was elected in September 2013. Steve Bracks’ position as consul-general in New York was immediately cancelled. The appointment announced the previous May had been due to take effect that week. Abbott had no-one else in mind. The position remained empty for six months until a Liberal needing a favour became available, in this case former MP and lobbyist Nick Minchin.

A 21-year old student is currently awaiting sentencing in the notorious ‘Frances-free ride’ whistleblower scandal. Freya Newman has pleaded guilty to accessing and making public ‘restricted data’ that showed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s daughter Frances had been awarded a furtive $60,000 scholarship to study at a design school.

Newman was prosecuted for revealing ‘secrets’ which plainly should never have been concealed.

In any other part of the civilised world the questions would be these:

  • Why was the availability of a valuable scholarship not publicly announced and applicants sought?
  • How is it conceivable that the daughter of one of the most privileged families in Australia is the deserving recipient?
  • And, now it is known that the college stood to gain favours from the Abbott Government, why is Newman awaiting sentence and not the directors of the college and the prime minister?

No fewer than 12 Liberal MPs are now in disgrace following findings of the ongoing Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigations in New South Wales. ICAC has exposed extensive flaunting of electoral and other laws in that state.

Those sin-binned so far are:

  1. ex-premier Barry O’Farrell;
  2. former police minister Mike Gallacher;
  3. former energy minister Chris Hartcher;
  4. Chris Spence;
  5. Darren Webber;
  6. Bart Bassett;
  7. Marie Ficarra;
  8. Tim Owen;
  9. Andrew Cornwell;
  10. Garry Edwards;
  11. Craig Baumann; plus
  12. former federal assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos.

Clearly, that is not the full extent of Liberal Party corruption. They are just the MPs caught — so far.

There are credible claims that Liberals are still fundraising millions via various clubs and forums which effectively subvert current electoral laws.

The list of Liberal favours to mates via other appointments to plum jobs, in many cases without requisite experience or competence, is now a long one.

An excellent summary at AIM Network this week titled ‘Trust, transparency and accountability or gimme gimme gimme?’ lists 25 dodgy appointments.

Vital institutions now burdened with Liberal mates installed at the top include the High Commission to the UK, the Human Rights Commission, the Commission of Audit, the Financial System Inquiry and the National Curriculum Review.

Other highly whiffy conduct by senior Liberals includes:

  • the $40 million Tourism Australia campaign spruiking a Sydney restaurant owned by tourism minister Andrew Robb;
  • using the Speaker’s position and offices for party fundraising;
  • treasurer Hockey ‘selling’ meetings for ‘donations’ of $22,000;
  • Hockey appointing as an advisor an English tax evader known as the ‘godfather of Tory donors’;
  • Abbott using an official event at the Adelaide RAAF base to promote the Liberals before the South Australian election;
  • a bizarre $20 million marriage counselling scheme advanced vigorously by the social services minister — whose wife just happens to work in the industry; and
  • countless personal trips at taxpayers’ expense.

Plus, of course, the notorious May budget which so blatantly took from the poor to give to the rich.

This is not to suggest the Nationals, Labor, the Greens, other minor parties and independents are entirely free of the whiff of corruption. There are some rotten apples in most large institutional barrels. But it does seem to be a particular characteristic of the Liberal Party in this generation.

The putrefaction appears to have begun during the dismal Howard years from 1996 onwards, with the rise to prominence of George Brandis, Arthur Sinodinos, Kevin Andrews, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott.

During the 11 years and 8 months of the former Howard Government, 12 Liberal ministers lost their positions because of integrity failures: Jim Short, Brian Gibson, Bob Woods , Geoff Prosser, David Jull, Warwick Parer, Peter Reith, Michael Wooldridge, Bill Heffernan, Ian Campbell, Wilson Tuckey and Santo Santoro.

Departures of six of these – Woods, Parer, Wooldridge, Reith, Heffernan and Tuckey – were pragmatically delayed, but were forced removals nonetheless.

At least another four ministers weren’t sacked but clearly should have been — Helen Coonan, Phillip Ruddock, De-Anne Kelly and Alexander Downer.

In contrast, the five years and nine months of the Rudd/Gillard governments saw just the one minister resign over ethical matters — Joel Fitzgibbon.

One reason there have been fewer departures under Abbott than under Howard is that some integrity rules have been relaxed. Conduct which was once out of order for Liberals is now acceptable. Indeed, it seems to be well on the way to becoming obligatory.

It was under Howard that the insidious practice blossomed of Liberal ministers going virtually straight from parliament to work for private companies, where their valuable insider knowledge would advantage their corporations over others.

Howard ministers to have done this include Michael Wooldridge, Alexander Downer, Nick Minchin, Helen Coonan, Phil Baressi, Gary Humphries, Peter Reith, Ian Campbell, Peter Costello, Santo Santoro and Richard Alston.

There are better ways forward.

A four-year ban on working in the for-profit sector would not be onerous. MPs have generous pensions, and there are plenty of opportunities for men and women with drive, talent and experience in the not-for-profit sectors.

Prominent Liberals to have done this include Brendan Nelson, John Herron and Malcolm Fraser.

If this discouraged those ambitious for personal enrichment from seeking parliamentary office, well, good.

Finally, a robust anti-corruption body for Federal politics along the lines of NSW’s ICAC is a must.

Until then, we will just have to get used to the smell.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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