You would think after a month or two, Senator McKenzie’s ‘own goal’ in the allotment of sporting grants would have subsided. If anything, the stench is now worse than when McKenzie’s largess to shore up political positions first came to light. In Senate hearings, an executive of the Australian Audit Office, Brian Boyd, restated the Audit Office findings on the record in the middle of February (thanks to Tasmanian Senator and cultural warrior Eric Abetz asking the question when he really didn’t want the honest response).
The 290 ineligible projects that were funded included:
- 272 projects that had started work by the time agreements were signed;
- eight that had completed work before the agreement was signed;
- five late applications that were accepted; and
- four applications that were amended after they were assessed.
“The guidelines’ eligibility requirements don’t end just when you’ve lodged the application — this is common across many grants programs,” Boyd said.
There is also some evidence of the now infamous colour coded spreadsheets going through the Prime Minister’s Office.
Deputy Prime Minister, Infrastructure Minister and recent victor over Barnaby Joyce apparently also has questions to answer about equity and fairness, with Nine Media reporting that McCormack awarded 94% of the value of some infrastructure grants to Coalition marginal seats in the period just prior to the last election.
There is a certain cynicism and contempt that allows behaviour demonstrated by McKenzie, McCormack and others to be considered acceptable. When former Liberal Leader and Prime Ministerial hopeful John Hewson writes the following in Nine Media’s papers, you really have a problem (if you hadn’t guessed it already).
Scott Morrison read selectively from the report by Phil Gaetjens, his former fixer and now secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, on the sports grants affair. Gaetjens found — no surprise –– that the then sports minister, Bridget McKenzie, had a clear conflict of interest in failing to declare her membership of a clay-shooting club to which she made a grant.
McKenzie went down like a clay pigeon but when it came to the rest of the grants, the Gaetjens report simply “disagreed” with the Auditor-General that the whole business was crook –– that these grants were being distributed to buy votes in marginal seats. No, it said, the grants were “eligible”. Nothing to see here.
We’ll see about that. There will still be a parliamentary inquiry into this and other grants schemes.
Voters, certainly, are sick to death of it. The National Party carries on, seeing such programs as slush funds for the Nationals’ interest, not the national interest, blithely disregarding the erosion of their standing in regional Australia. On they go, pushing for the government to fund a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland in defiance of all logic: there is no net demand for electricity in North Queensland; banks won’t fund it; insurers won’t insure it; renewables are cheaper and have significant export potential.
Hewson goes on to suggest a six-stage plan to bring some accountability and honour back to the political system. It’s well worth a read (and yes, it does include a ‘Federal ICAC’).
You can also understand why there isn’t a line of community organisations trying to hand the money back. Certainly in some cases the executives of the organisations would have known exactly what was going on, there are certainly also those community organisations where the midnight oil was burnt trying to justify a government grant in a few hundred words and just happened to be geographically in an area where McKenzie wished to influence. Their good fortune will most certainly assist the individual organisations to provide services to our community.
Influence is where the real problem is. There seems to be a groupthink in political parties that justifies the end — retention of power — over the means — acceptance of the rules and actually doing their job, which is the representation of the views and needs of the communities that represent them.
Former Minister in the Newman Queensland LNP Government and member for Currumbin in the Queensland state Parliament Jan Stuckey announced some time ago that she would not be standing for re-election in the scheduled October 2020 state election. At the time, Stuckey claimed that she had been in Parliament for a considerable period of time and it was time to go. More recently, Stuckey announced a change of plans and announced an immediate retirement due to her ongoing clinical depression.
According to Stuckey, who would have a better idea than anyone else, one of the causes of her depression was the vilification by her colleagues in the LNP after voting in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion in Parliament during 2019. Stuckey was one of three LNP Queensland Members of Parliament to support the legislation in an allegedly ‘free vote’. Arguably, Stuckey would have consulted with some in her electorate as well as her local party members prior to the vote, so she was doing her job. Those who vilified her in contrast were allowing groupthink to outweigh a politician’s responsibility to those that elected them and accepting that others have a different viewpoint.
On 17 January 2020, The Canberra Times published an open letter to Prime Minister Morrison written by a resident of Malua Bay on the New South Wales South Coast discussing the total contempt with which Morrison and his colleagues have treated anyone that raised concerns about climate change in the years preceding the recent catastrophic bushfires. One of the observations in the letter is:
I paddled onto Newcastle Harbour, the largest coal port in the world, with hundreds of kayakers in a symbolic closure of the port for one day. I sat down on the floor of Parliament House as part of the People’s Parliament for action on climate change. Your party chose to trivialise the issue and to brand me as a criminal who needed to be handed increased penalties, including prison sentences.
Like Stuckey’s experience, it seems that alternative opinions to the groupthink are ridiculed and those expressing the differing opinions vilified.
There are plenty of examples around that would suggest that there are plenty of alternate views to the groupthink, should politicians venture outside the ‘Canberra bubble’. This site could be one of them, another could be the groups of ‘quiet Australians’ of various ages and past histories that are concerned about the Morrison Government’s lack of real and genuine action on climate change.
Most of us react badly to the groupthink. Let’s face it there is only a small group of people that even consider putting their hand up to be members of political parties, let alone the representatives of those parties in Parliament. While all politicians in theory represent their electorates, we all know the reality is frequently different. Conversely, there have been good results when the promotion of collaborative behaviours and just being kind to others are implemented. Some scientists are promoting a theory where kindness to others has beneficial results to society as a whole
“We can change society, and can change it for the better,” argues evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University in the US.
He says experiments using his particular brand of evolutionary theory have shown encouraging kindness and collaboration in schools can help students on the cusp of dropping out, to thrive.
If it was applied to political life it can’t be worse that the currently accepted norms of bullying, vilification and groupthink, can it?
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword.
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