- by Eileen Whitehead
- The Guardian
- Issue #1958
It must be something to do with our convict past: a country built upon shonky dealings, dog-eat-dog values, and capitalist ethics (that’s an oxymoron)! So, by 2021, our political representatives have made non-accountability into a fine art.
How long has it been since we heard a Coalition Minister mention principles of responsibility, voluntarily reveal facts, or release documents? Does anyone in this government ever admit fault, let alone resign when found out in anything unethical? This government has made sure that the offices and institutions set up to ensure accountability have been degraded to such an extent that they are now impotent.
Let’s look at the long list of ‘shonky’ dealings this government has been involved in so far:
The $423mil in contracts handed to Paladin, in 2017, for asylum-seeker security. What is Paladin? The company was registered to a beach shack on Kangaroo Island with just $50,000 in capital. Paladin received $1,600 per day for each asylum seeker, while guards were being paid $450 per month. The company was making $1.3mil profit per week. Although the company constantly breached its key performance indicators during its first year of operations, Home Affairs Minister Dutton had the government renew its contract several times.
In 2018, $444mil was given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – an organisation that, at the time, was just six staff and an annual revenue of about $10mil. No tender process, no plans, or specific objectives. Digging deeper, look at the companies supporting the foundation – BHP, Lendlease, Qantas, with connections to Rio Tinto, Shell, and Peabody Energy on its “Chairman’s Panel.” What could CSIRO, or the Australian Institute of Marine Science, or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (with 206 full-time staff), have done with this money?
Better still is the $80mil purchase of water entitlements in 2017. Michael West Media discovered that most of this money ended up with a Cayman Islands company, Eastern Australia Irrigation (EAI), established by Energy Minister Angus Taylor. He was the founder of the Caymans company and both a director and consultant to its Australian Associate EAA, well before the controversial $80mil sale.
In the same year, the government paid Webster Ltd. (an agribusiness giant) $78mil for water entitlements associated with Tandou station in the Lower Darling – more than twice the sum recommended in a valuation it had commissioned, having made no assessment of the availability of water under the licences. It’s highly likely there wasn’t any water.
It’s getting better! The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’ purchase of 12 hectares of land near the proposed Western Sydney Airport. $30mil for land valued at just $3million the year before. The Australian Federal Police are investigating! Case closed?
Then we have the Coalition’s enhanced “delegated legislation,” a mechanism whereby the government can allocate grants, bypass parliament, and obscure decisions from the public. In 2019 almost $2bil in grants across twenty programs were simply rubber-stamped. In 2020 and 2021, it became $5bil for each year. Hence:
The “Sports Rorts” affair, where public funds for sporting facilities went to electorates to suit Coalition preferences during an election year. I didn’t see much in the mainstream media!
This imaginative funding in favour of the Coalition could be seen in the $3bil spent in the Urban Congestion Fund, where eighty-three per cent went into Coalition or marginal Labor seats. Seventy-five per cent of the $3bil spent via the Community Development Grants program, went to Coalition seats.
Eighty per cent of the $150mil Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream program (for women’s changing rooms) became ear-marked for swimming pools in eleven Liberal and National Party seats. Before the election, the Coalition made forty-one promises, which virtually exhausted the four-year program’s funding – all with no tenders, no application processes, and certainly no guidelines.
Then we have funds, such as the Safer Communities – administered “at the discretion” of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton – and many more, all to the benefit of the Coalition and its mates.
Much of this despicable behaviour can be put down to the fact that any discernible line between government and big business has disappeared. Policies become PR slogans. There is little to no action into the climate emergency because politicians – both Liberal and Labor – receive large donations from the mining corporations. The donations from defence companies has recently seen Morrison declare that Australia will begin to produce its own guided missiles under a $1bil plan to establish a new weapons facility with a global arms manufacturer. The private monopolies in areas such as electricity, roads, and water infrastructure and industries such as property development, gambling, and financial services – all big lobbyists and donors – rely on a friendly regulatory environment provided by their mates in Canberra. Big agricultural firms linked closely to National Party Ministers are defining water policy. We see our Environmental Protection Authority constantly weakened to appease the mining behemoths.
Our democracy and freedoms are being eroded while we become a nation of oligopolies. What is happening in our name is not in our interest. Scott Morrison has made secrecy the cornerstone of executive government: freedom of information has become almost impossible to obtain because the government has relentlessly cut funding to the Australian National Audit Office and to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner by $14mil in the 2021 budget. Morrison’s new Cabinet Office Policy Committee – with him as the only permanent member – is protected by cabinet confidentiality.
We badly need a new and independent national anti-corruption watchdog if we are to have any hope of knowing what is being done in our name. Morrison has stalled because it’s the last thing he wants. Senator Jacqui Lambie, commenting – in her inimitable fashion on the proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission – stated, “It isn’t a watchdog. What the government has come up with is ‘a lapdog with dentures.’”
The “scandals” listed here are just a few that we know about because the national audit office is badly under-resourced, independent media is underfunded, and the Freedom of Information system has been deliberately weakened. Unfortunately, we’re becoming unshockable and apathetic instead of outraged. However, we can’t let this attitude set in. We must remain vigilant and expose these shady actions of the government and win the working class in helping us take down these reactionary governments.