Wren's Week: Melbourne Cup and taking out the trash

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Vow and Declare takes out the Melbourne Cup, while the Government takes out the trash (Image by Dan Jensen)

This week saw the Melbourne Cup dwindling while more corruption emerged from the Liberal Party, writes John Wren.

THERE WAS A BIG horse race in Melbourne this week. The original namesake of this column’s author, John Wren, acquired his seed capital for his (illegal) off-track betting business via a large win made off the back of Carbine in the 1890 Melbourne Cup. He built substantially on that win over the subsequent decades, both via legal and not-so-legal enterprises.

Nevertheless, Wren remained a philanthropist throughout his life, dispersing significant amounts of his wealth throughout the local Collingwood community (then largely a slum), via the Labor Party, his Catholic Church and the Collingwood Football Club. Stories abound of desperate battlers mysteriously having their debts paid off, star footballers finding cash stuffed in their boots, funerals paid for and so on.

Wren remembered his roots and never forgot them. I look at the ostentatious wealth on display in the Birdcage at Flemington and can’t help but think Wren would be appalled. If only our current crop of robber-barons behaved as Wren did.

I digress. The numbers at the cup were down this year. Despite teeming with rain for the days prior, Cup Day was fine and sunny although the track was heavy due to the rain. The low attendance figures can only be put down to the poor publicity horse racing received in the weeks leading up to the race and punters having less money to spend due to Scott Morrison’s undeclared austerity.

Most Australians would have been unaware of the fate of most slow and/or old racehorses. The TV exposé also showed the sheer terror in the eyes of the horses who knew their fate was coming. Humans have a long bond with horses; we don’t like to see them maltreated (most of us don’t like to see any animal maltreated). It is a similar story with greyhounds and I can’t help but feel that the whole sad episode is a re-run of the scandals that plagued the greyhound industry a few years ago. The issues led to the banning of greyhound racing in some states.

Horse racing will survive the scandal because it is patronised by the rich and powerful. Greyhound racing has always been the realm of the “other classes” and so doesn’t have those natural allies and was thus easier to shut down.

One hour before the race that stops two nations was due to start on Tuesday, the Government took out some trash. “Taking out the trash” is a term used to describe releasing damaging reports at a time when the Government hopes the media won’t be watching. They hope the report will be buried under other news. 5 PM on Christmas Eve or the Thursday before the Easter long weekend are popular times, as is the Friday afternoon before the AFL Grand Final. An hour before the Melbourne Cup, though, is a new one.

But what did they release? They released an auditor’s report into a $220 million Regional Jobs Scheme. The scheme was promised in the lead up to the 2016 Election. In summary, the auditor reported the money had been used on schemes not recommended by the Board to pork-barrel Coalition electorates. There was little or no governance. It is doubtful the scheme created a single ongoing job for anyone. In fact, the only jobs it seems to have saved are those of Coalition ministers in the last election.

In effect, the Coalition (and it must be pointed out the main culprit is the junior Coalition member, the National Party) took money that was earmarked for the local communities they are meant to represent and effectively used it on pointless but PR-friendly projects that would lift the profile of the local MPs, thus helping them get re-elected. In other words, they took taxpayers’ money and spent it on themselves.

In any other government, there would have been mass resignations over this, however, this is not a normal government. It is a government utterly without morals or ethics, a government that will do anything to survive, led by a PM who has trodden on every parliamentary standard he can find. Morrison hasn’t just walked past breaches, he has stopped, stared at them and still ignored them.

We also learned that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had misled Parliament over the au pairs scandal. In the Westminster System of government that Australia follows, misleading Parliament is a serious offence. It is defined as knowingly presenting false information to Parliament. It’s equivalent to perjury in a court trial. It is normal practice for those who have misled the house to be sacked from cabinet positions if they have them. They are often expected to resign from Parliament as well. As expected, Dutton will not be demoted or asked to resign. In fact, nothing at all will happen because Morrison is too gutless to do it and probably doesn’t care anyway.

Standards. Who needs them anyway?

Lack of governance in institutions led by Scott Morrison, though, is a recurring theme, so the latest scandals are to be expected. Before entering Parliament, Morrison was sacked by both the New Zealand Tourist Board and its local equivalent, Tourism Australia. In both cases, it is strongly suggested that audit reports uncovered gross breaches of governance in the way he handled public monies, how contracts were awarded and to which companies. Sound familiar? It should. It seems he has learned nothing and the same reckless and possibly corrupt spending of other people’s money will inevitably bring him down again.

And finally, the Court of Disputed Returns is hearing the fake AEC signage case in Melbourne this week. For those not following the story, around polling booths in Glady Liu’s Chisholm seat and Josh Frydenberg’s neighbouring Kooyong seat, signs were placed around polling booths in Mandarin deliberately configured and coloured to look like official Australian Electoral Commission posters. These posters stated that the correct way to vote was to place a ‘1’ next to the Liberal Party candidate. It is clear electoral fraud.

Despite comments made leading up to the hearing, a Senior Liberal Party official stated in court that the posters were deliberately meant to mimic official AEC signage. Damning stuff. Again, from a party willing to do anything to remain in power. At the time of writing, there was no verdict. I suspect the court will rap the Libs over the knuckles and do nothing, meaning, of course, they got away with it. If the court has any integrity it will either declare the results void and force by-elections or even do a recount that eliminates the two Liberal candidates. Time will tell.

You can sign the petition to have John Wren reinstated on Twitter here.

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