Tony Abbott promised a government that would be transparent and accountable. Malcolm Turnbull promised to respect the intelligence of the electorate. But increasingly, we are seeing a government who is a law unto themselves, a government who seems to view Treasury as their private piggy bank to use as they see fit, a government that showers largesse on their supporters at our expense, a government who thinks we have no right to know what they are doing as they strip away our privacy rights in the name of national security.
The latest example is the gifting of almost half a billion dollars to ‘save the reef’ to a charity who, last year, spent (or promised to spend) $5.9 million on “science investments” whilst spending $1.44 million on “employee benefits” and another $1.7 million on various administrative expenses. They have six full-time employees and a further five part-time employees who have “roles relating to science, marketing, communications and accounting.”
This gift was made without any tender process or any consultation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority who have 206 full-time equivalent employees.
Very similar to the $30 million gift given to Fox Sports to cover “niche” women’s sports on pay tv. Whilst the government has refused freedom of information requests about correspondence relating to the gift, as it coincided with licence fee cuts for free-to-air channels, it seems obvious this was about keeping in good with Rupert.
Another hot topic where the government is stonewalling is why, on two separate occasions, Peter Dutton personally interceded to grant working visas to two young women who arrived on tourist visas but had the intention of working as au pairs. All it took was a phone call from someone to Dutton’s office and hey presto, he overrules the immigration authorities and laws. Mike Pezzullo, refused to answer any questions at senate estimates, taking them on notice even though others sitting with him at the table may have been able to provide the requested information.
Michaelia Cash has adopted a different approach in refusing to answer questions about her involvement in tipping off the media about a raid on union headquarters about a donation that was made over a decade ago and appropriately declared at the time. As it is under police investigation, she can’t comment. Surprisingly she has had no such hesitation in commenting on investigations into union activity, declaring people thugs and criminals only to, on countless occasions, have the prosecution case abandoned before it begins.
One such case was the recent dropping of blackmail charges against John Setka and Shaun Reardon. When it turned out that Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz had met with executives from Boral who then changed their story, the prosecution beat a very hasty retreat, a move the magistrate said was “a very sensible decision”.
One thing the government prides itself on is stopping the boats. But we never did get to the bottom of the story about whether, as overwhelming evidence suggests, they have been paying people smugglers to take the boats elsewhere, making it someone else’s problem. The fact that that is illegal seems to have slipped by.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) representative in Indonesia, Thomas Vargas, said “To turn around and smuggle people to another country — that is illegal. So whoever does it, an individual or a country or a government, it doesn’t matter, it is illegal.”
In 2016, an interim Senate inquiry report found if the 2015 incident occurred as reported, “it potentially involved serious breaches of both Australian and international law” but ” these are unlikely to be dealt with through court action either in Australia or Indonesia.”
Another power that the government has used with relish is its chance to appoint people to boards, tribunals, and statutory bodies, the most egregious example being the sacking of disability commissioner Graeme Innes from the AHRC to gift Tim Wilson a high-paying job with an organisation that he had called for to be dismantled. The job was not advertised and Tim did not have to submit an application or go through an interview process. George Brandis just rang him up and said have I got a deal for you!
As Tim had no qualifications or experience in anything really, other than scribbling for the IPA and constant appearances on the ABC, they had to make a new position for him. It didn’t really matter what because it was just so he would get lots of government money (I thought he was a libertarian?) and have something to put on his resume as he filled in a couple of years waiting for preselection in a safe Liberal seat.
I sometimes wonder if Tim feels any guilt about the price people with disabilities paid for his leg up onto the stage he so coveted.
Somehow I doubt it ever entered his mind because, as we can see from these few examples among countless others, honesty, integrity, accountability and acting in the best interests of the country are not considered important by a government who does as it pleases and feels no obligation to answer to anyone.