The more we learn about the sports rorts controversy the more it becomes apparent how deeply embroiled in it the Prime Minister is.
It’s not just about sports grants, of course – though there is no longer any doubt these were deliberately used by the Coalition as an election tool – it is about repeatedly pulling the veils over our democracy. It’s about using the privilege of government for personal gain.
Certainly, the Morrison Government has made sport of the very serious role of governing with which it has been entrusted, treated it as a bit of a lark, cheated with its own rules and then lied about it. It has also deliberately and systematically manipulated, obfuscated and ignored any attempt to question its behaviour.
It has, in fact, embraced the concept of "It is only a rort if you are not in it...", as the sports grants were described by the president of one of the clubs that benefitted.
As with any sporting team, the culture starts at the top, with the coach or the manager and in this case, of course, the manager is none other than Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Perhaps the moniker of Scotty from Marketing may better suit him here, though most marketing managers worth their salt only present the facts in a positive light — they seldom sell deliberate lies, as these are too hard to maintain. People soon know when the game is up.
And in the case of the sports rorts scandal, that’s where the marketing metaphor ends, for the game is finally up — though not through any attempt to set the record straight on the part of Scotty from Marketing. On the contrary, the PM has attempted to blindside any attempt to question his behaviour, to maintain the secrecy of his self-dubbed “Canberra bubble” and keep it well away from prying eyes.
And this is the crux of the problem.
While the media and the Opposition flay around from rort to rort and scandal to fiasco, trying to deal with each, the overall pattern of behaviour has been set. The rules of the game were already determined and they have been rigged from the beginning.
We now know, that despite only Bridget McKenzie taking the “fall” for this scandal, the Prime Minister was not only aware of it but directly involved. Evidence has come to light that while he insisted to the media and misled the Parliament that all the decisions had been made by the time the election was called, this is untrue. The sports grants decisions were, in fact, changed after the caretaker period — a direct breach of the rule of law.
But in the game for which Morrison and his cronies make the rules, not surprisingly, the PM has not even made a show of regret over this scenario.
Just like when he was holidaying in Hawaii as the nation burned and his office was busily telling people he wasn’t — until photos of him sunning himself emerged.
Just like the time he flatly refused to answer inquiries as to why his mega-church evangelical pastor was put forward as a suitable attendee at a White House State dinner. Now, many months on, apparently because people have stopped asking questions, Morrison has deigned to address it. He has admitted that Houston was invited to an event at which world leaders would be in attendance, at the PM’s request. A man who represents an extreme religious sect, founded by his father, a disgraced paedophile, was deemed appropriate to accompany the leader of a secular nation. A move that can only be described as completely inappropriate and one that should be scrutinised. Yet in this new game, this is perfectly acceptable.
Just like the time when Angus Taylor (unlike Bridget, apparently a PM favourite) was involved in "watergate". And "grassgate". And Angusgate. Morrison told us repeatedly there was nothing to see here. In the latter fiasco, the AFP didn’t even bother to question either Taylor or the alleged victim of fraud, Clover Moore, because this Government has become expert at avoiding any and all scrutiny. Case closed.
And just like the one-man committee, set up and attended by only one man, head coach Scott Morrison, any and all questionable activities by this Government remain protected by cabinet confidentiality. In this genius move designed to completely evade accountability, Morrison has managed to take advantage of a freedom of information loophole, in which cabinet committees are not subject to freedom of information requests. This essentially allows Morrison to make decisions and not have to explain himself.
Or, in simple terms, the Government’s rorts, lies and cover-ups constitute a flagrant abuse of power.
Finally, as we learnt from the Attorney General’s repeated avoidance on the question of whether his proposed integrity commission would be able to deal with the sports rorts issue, such an organisation will have no teeth. Because, of course, why would this Government – the one that turned the business of rorts into a fun sport and stacked the rules in its favour – wish to tamper with a good thing?
Any integrity commission set up by this Morrison Government – the master of evasion – will only provide a cul-de-sac of distraction for those who dare to seek clarity on government activities, but a path through which any accountability will inevitably come to a dead end.
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.
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