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Politics Editorial

The Liberal Party redefines scrutiny: No questions asked

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

The Coalition seems to have a tenuous relationship with scrutiny.

On the one hand, Liberal Party politicians scream blue murder every time someone from the Labor or the Greens asks a question, demanding they be censured, made to apologise and, if possible, swiftly "hung, drawn and quartered" for their sheer effrontery. Yet on the other, they insist on a public inquiry every time someone from the opposite side of the chamber so much as sneezes in the wrong direction.

SCRUTINY FOR SCRUTINY'S SAKE

Consider this week’s attack – the latest in a perpetual stream of "one-armed" conflicts – mounted against long-suffering and currently invalided Victorian Premier Dan Andrews. As far as the LNP is concerned, Dan breathing is unacceptable, let alone sneezing.

Never mind that Andrews, after endless months of willingly facing scrutiny, via daily media conferences resembling witch trials from The Crucible, is recovering from a severe spinal injury — according to the Victorian chapter of the Liberal Party, his incapacitation is “proof” of a vast and insidious conspiracy.

According to Michael O’Brien – apparently the Victorian Opposition Leader for three years – the conspiracy is that Daniel Andrews’ injuries are part of some deep, dark and obviously undisclosed cover-up.

statement released by Victorian Shadow Treasurer Louise Staley demanded the following answers from the Premier to 'the long-suffering people of Victoria' about his injury:

  • What time did the incident occur?
  • Who was in the house at the time of the incident?
  • What is the address of the house where it occurred?
  • Who owns the property?
  • What time was an ambulance called?
  • Who called the ambulance?
  • What time did the ambulance arrive?
  • Which ambulance station was the ambulance dispatched from?
  • Who made the decision to take the Premier to Peninsula Private?
  • Were the police contacted?
  • Did the police attend?
  • Has Daniel Andrews been interviewed either formally or informally by the police in relation to anything that occurred over that long weekend?

Warming to her subject, Ms Staley further demanded that, apart from answering these incisive questions – upon which she had clearly spent many laborious and unaccustomed hours of thinking time over, but no research time – Mr Andrews should also be on half-pay.

Bizarre, you might think?

Not according to Federal Trade Minister "Dazzling" Dan Tehan, who weighed in ön ABC radio with this intellectual marvel:

"Questions implying a "cover up" over Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' injury without evidence are not 'grassy knoll conspiracies' but a sign of a healthy democracy…"

Nevertheless, this baseless scrutiny was answered, with the Premier giving Ambulance Victoria permission to provide the details of his personal injury (which would remain private for everyone else) to be released.

NO SCRUTINY ON FULL PAY

Now, for anyone who is up to date with the number of Federal Liberal Party MPs who have taken leave on full pay, often citing the “stress” they endured simply for facing – but never actually answering – questions, this may appear a little rich.

At last count, Federal Liberal Party MPs receiving full paid leave in recent months for questionable reasons include the following:

1. Former Attorney-General, now Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Christian Porter

Mr Porter went on mental health leave after he was questioned by the media and the Opposition over an alleged brutal rape, following the release of a letter from the victim who is subsequently believed to have taken her own life.

Mr Porter has never faced an inquiry of any kind. The letter has not been released into the public domain. The Prime Minister accepted Mr Porter’s denial as conclusive evidence and apparently, even Porter’s mobile phone records were accidentally deleted by his nine-year-old son.

No investigation into this alleged crime has been mounted by police.

Despite receiving mental health leave, due to the stress he endured over being not actuallynamed by ABC Four Corners, Porter somehow managed to find the strength during this time to mount a defamation lawsuit against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan. An action which was recently abandoned by Porter, with the ABC not required to pay damages, costs, issue an apology or even take down the episode, which is still available for streaming on the ABC website.

2. Former Minister for Defence, now NDIS MInister Linda Reynolds

Ms Reynolds, in whose office the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins occurred, also went on full paid leave. Her reason? Heart problems.

Whilst on sick leave, Ms Reynolds still somehow managed to summon the strength to describe alleged Liberal staffer rape victim Brittany Higgins as a "lying cow".

Ms Reynolds was subsequently questioned in Senate Estimates about what she knew, when she knew and why she covered up the allegations of Higgins' alleged rape in her Parliament House office, as well as why she chose to question Ms Higgins in the very same office the incident allegedly occurred.

More recently, Reynolds claimed the stress of facing the Opposition's questions over the Higgins case led to her being hospitalised.

To date, no actual answers have materialised from the internal government inquiry into the Higgins matter and no criminal inquiry has been ordered.

3. Liberal Member for Bowman Andrew Laming

After a nasty scandal, Federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming was obliged to go on full paid leave to get specialist training in how not to perv on women and be a complete sleazeball. Laming, who was found to have perved on people, taking upskirt photographs of his victims and then harassing them on social media, is believed to still be receiving these so-called “empathy classes”.

These classes are apparently distinct from the empathy classes the whole of the Morrison Government spent $190,000 on for... well, to learn how to be a decent person.

Mr Laming is still a member of the Morrison Government backbench.

4. Former Immigration now Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention David Coleman

Morrison Cabinet Minister David Coleman took leave on full pay in December 2019 for undisclosed “personal” reasons.

He appears to have quietly returned sometime during 2021, with no fanfare or media attention. Mr Coleman has steadfastly refused to answer any questions about why he needed this leave and, to date, the reasons for his prolonged, fully paid departure remain unknown.

SCRUTINY BE DAMNED

All the above Coalition MPs refused to answer questions and some even blamed the questions as the reason their leave – on full pay – was required at all.

Perhaps Mr Tehan should be questioned as to whether he sees any of these instances as signs of a not so well-functioning democracy?

In further examples of our deteriorating democracy, the Morrison Government now holds the record for the most instances of gagging their opponents.

According to Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke

Never before have we had a government so determined to shut down an Opposition...A staggering 233 [divisions] have occurred to prevent Opposition MPs giving speeches.That means government MPs have voted more times to silence their political opponents than they have to make laws — by a factor of 13. On 30 occasions, the Government has prevented Anthony Albanese from speaking.

 

As manager of Opposition business, I am now the most “closed down” member in the history of the Parliament. I’ve been gagged 90 times.

This Federal Government, more so than any other government since Federation, repeatedly refuses to answer questions during Question Time or allow debates on Matters of Public Importance.

Morrison Government ministers and their staff also refuse to answer questions during Senate Estimates, taking most questions "on notice". Indeed, the most recent Estimates questions into the internal Higgins Inquiry resembled a parody, as ministers and staffers all appeared to know absolutely nothing, taking every question on notice. These were the questions that apparently so upset the delicate sensibilities of Linda Reynolds (of the "lying cow" comments) that she had to be hospitalised.

To avoid scrutiny from the Fourth Estate, the Morrison Government bullies journalists, takes out defamation lawsuits against them and their organisations, publicly belittles them, and even instigates Federal Police searches of their office and homes. In the case of the publicly funded ABC, the Federal Government goes as far as monitoring journalists' Twitter feeds and creates such intense pressure, the broadcaster is bullied into pulling stories and leading to journalists, such as Emma Alberici, losing their jobs.

Its famous failure in the Porter defamation case did not stop the Morrison Government from continuing its attempts to silence scrutiny from the national broadcaster, either.

The latest saga involves another Four Corners episode, this time featuring the Prime Minister's alleged ties to the QAnon conspiracy group. While the details are still sketchy, the episode was apparently not aired as had been scheduled because the PM refused to answer questions on the issue. 

Head Liberal and current PM Scott Morrison has been turning the shutting down of debate and scrutiny into artform since his days as Immigration Minister. That period of his career saw the creation of "on-water matters" — a conveniently conjured up excuse to avoid answering questions about the ill-treatment of asylum seekers — a facile tactic he continues to use to this day.

Morrison rushes out of press conferences, singles out journalists and belittles them, obfuscates and just refuses to answer questions, in general. When things got too difficult, he has even shut down Parliament. 

Of course, much of the above is facilitated by the compliant mainstream media, who are either ideologically onside, as in the Murdoch rags, or bullied into submission, like the public broadcaster. 

The punishment for refusing to back down is often swift, even when litigation fails, as in the case of Louise Milligan. Milligan survived the Porter defamation case, but the Murdoch media will not be letting her off so lightly, as demonstrated by its latest egregious example of bullying.

Today’s Federal Coalition and assorted state Liberals and Nationals are leading the charge against a well-functioning democracy. But don’t expect Mr Tehan, Ms Staley, the PM or anyone in the Morrison Government to face any scrutiny about it.

This is an abridged version of an editorial originally published in the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. The full version of these articles are only available to Independent Australia subscribers. They may be read online in the IA members-only area.

Follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9, and follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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