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Wren's Week: Bridget McKenzie falls while Parliament reverts to the dark ages

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In the aftermath of the Bridget McKenzie scandal, we still have Religious Freedom and other bills to look forward to (Image by Dan Jensen)

While one scandal is almost over, the Government is still a thorn in our collective sides with more deceit and archaic ideals, writes John Wren.

SHE'S GONE. It took until Sunday evening for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to dump Bridget McKenzie, but not for the sports rorts corruption, but for awarding one of the grants to a Wangaratta gun club of which she had overlooked declaring her membership.

This distinction is important. Because the sports rorts debacle was instigated by his office, almost certainly by himself, Morrison could not terminate her for corruption without directly implicating himself. So, the issue is still live, much to Morrison’s dismay. Had he ended her Cabinet position weeks ago, he would not be in this position. Again, it’s a reflection of Morrison’s terrible political judgement that he thought he could tough it out.

Sports rorts has metastasised into a real monster for Morrison. The corruption is so overt, hundreds of professional journalists and amateur internet sleuths have been poring over documentation to see what else has been swept under the carpet. Most notable is the Regional Infrastructure Grants program overseen by Deputy PM Michael McCormack (“whats-his-name” to most people), where 94 per cent of grants went to coalition or marginal seats.

Other gems uncovered were a $500,000 grant to the St Georges Little Athletic Club in the marginal electorate of Banks (next to Morrison’s own electorate). The next biggest Little Athletic grant (of many) was for $22,000. We have also seen a video of Morrison’s PA at a yacht club in Morrison’s electorate vociferously thanking Morrison for the $8,000 barbecue that she had wrangled and urging members to vote for Morrison. Morrison is now perceived as being so corrupt, many have now started referring to him as “the white Mugabe” or “ScoMugabe”.

If a lawyer or accountant accessed their client’s trust fund for their own personal gain, they would be subject to criminal charges. The sports rorts fiasco is effectively the same thing. It’s an utter disgrace that the AFP has not been called in yet.

The dumping of McKenzie led to leadership ructions within The Nationals, as McKenzie could not remain as their Deputy Leader. Like a dormant herpes virus, Barnaby Joyce suddenly reactivated and decided it was also the time to challenge McCormack for his old job back. Resources Minister Senator Matt Canavan decided to back Joyce and resigned his portfolio. Joyce lost. I can only conclude that when Joyce was working his numbers, he saw double when counting his fingers. The loss of Canavan was an unforeseen bonus.

Parliament is also back. We saw Christian Porter repeatedly shut down debate in Question Time whenever the Opposition or an independent raised a question about sports rorts. The Government does not want scrutiny. They certainly don’t want to have to answer questions in Parliament where they could be accused of misleading Parliament when they lie as they do in public. Like so many things Morrison promised – transparency in government, being one of them – the opposite has occurred.

Speaking of transparency, a freedom of information request for the expense reports pertaining to Morrison’s Hawaii holiday was blocked by the PM’s office. As usual when such a thing happens, the question must be asked: what is he hiding?

There are many theories:

  1. that we taxpayers paid for his family holiday;
  2. that he (as was rumoured) went to New York prior to Hawaii to see Brian Houston’s new Hillsong pad; or
  3. both.

If there was nothing to hide, he should have released the information.

In the meantime, with the sports rorts debate being gagged in the Lower House, the Senate moved a motion to establish a full senate inquiry. This is going to see public servants, MPs and even sports club officials themselves dragged before a hostile Senate for interrogation. It will be compulsive viewing. It really is not over for Morrison. Now Parliament is sitting, the real pressure is going to be applied. The truth will come out.

While all this was going on, of course, Attorney-General Christian Porter was making plans to introduce his “Ensuring Integrity” union-busting bill to the Parliament. Let’s just pick that apart for a minute or two. In the midst of one of the biggest financial scandals in recent Australian political history, the Government is going after unions for an alleged “lack of integrity”.

Harking back to the blocked FOI request discussed above, under the proposed legislation, if a union were to block access to incriminating documentation as the Government has, they could be deregistered. Clearly, it’s not the unions that lack integrity, it’s the Government. Its Goebbelesque: “Accuse others of that which you are guilty of yourself”.

The closing date for submissions of Morrison’s pet Religious Freedom Bill also passed. This bill is simply not needed. It seeks to protect the rights of religious people to be bigots. It enshrines their right to discriminate based on their respective belief systems.

This is dark ages stuff. Organised religion is dying in Australia, as it is in most of the Western world. Giving legal protection to defunct religious beliefs will not save them. All it will do is embolden those faiths to become even more unpleasant and unwelcoming, further consigning them to the dustbin of history. For example, one must ask what sort of individual would be attracted to a church with values as offensive as Margaret Court’s? If a belief system needs legal protection, it’s obviously not worth much.

Interestingly, the recruitment industry and employers are already factoring in the legislation being passed. We have it on good authority that employers are actively discriminating against job candidates who are overtly religious. These employers fear these employees could try to proselytise fellow employees or customers or that they may try to claim religious discrimination if there are performance or disciplinary issues. They fear an Israel Folau scenario and, as such, are trying to select safer non-religious candidates.

This is the unintended consequence of Morrison’s legislation — religious people will either need to hide their faith to gain employment or they may not get hired at all. Surely this was not what Morrison intended.

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