Another political scandal has erupted in Parliament with Energy Minister Angus Taylor centre stage and PM Scott Morrison phoning a friend for help, writes John Wren.
ANGUS TAYLOR. Everyone has a beef about Angus and with good reason. For many years, the benchmark for grubby self-interest and potential corruption was Queensland MP and former housemate of Scott Morrison, Stuart Robert. However, this year, NSW MP and Minister for Energy (read: coal), Angus Taylor has taken on the mantle.
There has been scandal after scandal after scandal — from Grassgate to Watergate and now Clovergate. He has even been linked to the criminal farmer in Victoria who was convicted of deliberate poisoning of protected wedge-tailed eagles. The scandals have all merged into one general term now: Angusgate.
Apart from the political scandals and (alleged) corruption, Taylor is simply not a very high performer at the best of times. Having said that, it would be genuinely difficult to do one’s actual job effectively if one is constantly on the look-out for dodgy side deals to enrich oneself and then working out ways to cover them up.
So, what unfolded? In the last sitting of Parliament, Taylor attacked Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore for her supposed outrageous travel costs and used a fraudulent document to justify his claim. Why he was having a go at city Mayor is a moot point. Most people would think that such issues should be beneath a Federal Cabinet Minister. They are the purview of the State Minister, if anything.
The document was a forgery. It would have been prepared by someone in Taylor’s office, possibly even himself. He knows who the culprit is. Taylor tabled the document in Parliament. A clearer misleading of Parliament I’ve yet to see.
Scott Morrison refused to uphold the normal Westminster standard which would be to ask Taylor to resign his cabinet position and move to the backbenches. This is where it all started to go wrong for Morrison, who seldom acts in the national interest or on behalf of Australians.
Morrison sees everything through the prism of win/lose partisan politics. Rather than act on Taylor’s behaviour appropriately and uphold the greater traditions of our parliamentary institution (as a real PM would do), he chose to see the situation as a Labor attack on his Libs and thus he wasn’t going to let them win. Like U.S. President Trump who has trashed the institution of the position of President, Morrison is now doing the same of the Australian PM position. In so doing, he has diminished our Parliament.
In the meantime, Labor had referred the matter to the NSW Police. Fake documents are fraud, after all, especially ones tabled in Parliament. This week, while Question Time was in progress it was announced that the NSW Police had looked at the allegations and decided that there was indeed enough substance in the complaint to warrant a formal police investigation.
This is an important point. The police do not waste resources on allegations without merit. All police forces receive hundreds of thousands of allegations on all matters routinely. All are reviewed but only a fraction formally investigated — those with a chance of a successful prosecution.
The announcement of the formation of a police task force to investigate Taylor, named Strike Force Garrad (someone in the NSW Police has a wonderful sense of humour — Garrad, Google it), was announced in Parliament and Morrison, again ignoring Westminster protocol, immediately announced he would be calling NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to find out directly what was going on.
Fuller and Morrison are allegedly old friends. They used to be neighbours and Morrison has previously joked about bringing Fuller's bins in for him. This phone call was immediately seen by everyone as an attempt to interfere with the police investigation. It is a prima facie case of “the game of mates” in action. It is Morrison seeing himself as being above the law and that his contacts and personal relationships somehow trump the law of the land. In most cases, it would be seen as corruption.
Once the public furore of the phone call became obvious, Morrison and Fuller both attempted to downplay it. They even tried to downplay their relationship with Fuller, clearly trying to defend his own now-compromised integrity, claiming that Morrison and he were not even friends and that all they had was a professional relationship. Fuller also claimed that there was nothing inappropriate discussed in the call regardless. Having said this, Fuller is on record from a few weeks earlier stating that strip-searching of underage girls was not inappropriate either. Read into that what you will.
To add insult to injury, while the Taylor omnishambles was playing out, the Government was furiously negotiating with Senate crossbenchers on their union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill. This bill, under the guise of ensuring the integrity of trade unions, is actually a bill designed to cripple the effectiveness of unions and in so doing give the Liberal Party’s corporate donors almost unfettered scope to degrade to pay and conditions of their employees. Westpac’s (another Liberal Party donor) CEO Brian Harzer also resigned over his mishandling of the bank’s conviction over 23 million cases of money laundering for paedophiles and terrorists.
In other words, while the Libs are doing their tediously normal union-bashing routine, they themselves and their donors are trashing their own integrity and the integrity of our Parliament. Where is the bill to ensure the integrity of the Libs and Parliament?
Next Tuesday, 3 December, is the 165th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion. The event was the culmination of months of frustration between a significantly-sized unrepresented body of citizens and a grossly unrepresentative Tory government with a tin-ear that refused to listen to the needs of its angry populace. Although the diggers lost the battle, they won the war. Victoria achieved the first representative democracy in Australia within the year with universal male suffrage for every resident aged 21 and over. Other states soon followed suit.
Eureka is a significant event in Australian history. With the current tin-eared Federal Tory government not listening to its populace on issues such as climate change, Newstart and treatment of refugees – indeed, with its own corruption now operating in plain sight – there are many similarities to 1854 Victoria.
Make sure you fly your Eureka flags high and proud on Tuesday. The flag was borne of a desire for fairness and equity. It is a symbol that still resonates with Australians to this day. We should remember the 60 or more diggers who died fighting for Australian democracy, especially while the current authoritarian Liberal regime threatens our democracy, the diggers’ legacy.
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