If December and January were bad for corruption in Australia, February has been appalling. Alan Austin reports in what started as a monthly IA series but now looks like becoming fortnightly.
CORRUPTION IN AUSTRALIA is getting worse, not better.
Already this month, ten disturbing issues have arisen.
1. Stuart Robert’s China dealings
The resignation of Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert, brings to 21 the number of state and federal Coalition ministers or MPs who in the last 33 months have lost their positions following allegations of misconduct. That compares with three from Labor.
In 2014, then assistant defence minister, Robert used his position to assist Liberal Party donor Paul Marks with his business in China. This was revealed when a media release came to light showing Robert’s role in a signing ceremony with Marks and Chinese executives.
It has been revealed since that Robert holds a financial interest in Marks’ companies.
This scandal raises more issues than simply one more corrupt senior Liberal forced to resign.
2. PM Turnbull’s judgment
John Howard did not need an investigation to know that 15 ministers had breached standards and had to go. Kevin Rudd did not need an inquiry before asking defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon to resign in 2009. Nor did Tony Abbott before sidelining Arthur Sinodinos in 2014.
What is wrong with Turnbull’s corruption compass that he had to ask a public servant to judge such an obvious matter? If this is the result of tensions between Abbott backers and Turnbull supporters, as reported, it is further evidence of cabinet dysfunction.
3. Ministerial complicity and cover-up
As David Donovan observed on Friday, the problem with this ignominy was not just Turnbull’s indecision but the active denial by others that Robert had behaved corruptly. These include now Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Senator Arthur Sinodinos.
4. Gifted Rolexes — fake or real
It also emerged this month, that during a dinner attended by ex-PM Tony Abbott and Liberal donor Paul Marks in 2013, Chinese businessman Li Ruipeng gave Coalition ministers, including Stuart Robert, expensive watches. The early defence by the Ministers when they admitted accepting the gifts – worth $250,000 – was they believed they were fakes and of little value. If they did not know that bringing fakes into Australia was a serious offence punishable by hefty fines and/or imprisonment, they should have.
5. Liberal Party pre-selection
Prominent Liberals openly admit internal pre-selection procedures are corrupt. Unelected factional powerbrokers are currently dictating who will be the candidates for the forthcoming federal election.
Former NSW Upper House member Charlie Lynn said last Tuesday:
“If the Liberal Party was a business I think it would be deregistered because of its conduct.”
Former Howard Government parliamentary secretary Ross Cameron agrees:
“It’s a corrupt process, let’s call it what it is.”
6. Tax evasion highlighted
At last, action will be taken to reap taxes corruptly evaded by big businesses operating in Australia. But not by the Turnbull Government — which has shielded the big tax evaders, many of whom aredonors to the Coalition parties.
Jordan, who was appointed by the Gillard Government in 2013, specifically targeted “multinational enterprises” who, he said:
“… fail to be able to furnish us with basic reports showing their business structures, their profits, how much tax they’ve paid and where. Their clear tactic is to delay and obstruct. They game the system.”
Jordan’s efforts are hampered, however, by the Abbott Government having axed audit staff, a decision Turnbull has not reversed.
7. People smuggler payments
Indonesian authorities have provided credible evidence that Australia has corruptly paid people smugglers to ship their miserable human cargo elsewhere.
It emerged from Senate estimates hearings on 5 February that 23 boats have been forced outside Australian waters since Operation Sovereign Borders began. This refutes Government claims that boats have stopped setting out.
We now know details regarding payments to people smugglers and other methods used to block asylum seekers are deliberately withheld from the Senate and the Australian people on instructions from immigration minister Peter Dutton.
8. Corrupt refugee detention practices
The documents reveal the lies and deceptions used to cover up corruption, human rights abuses and law-breaking on Nauru.
The released documents are heavily redacted, confirming the Australian and Nauruan governments are determined to hide many aspects of this tragic saga.
9. Freedom for Julian Assange
This should be sufficient grounds for Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop and prime minister Turnbull to take decisive action to secure his freedom.
Tragically for Assange, they have done nothing. As was expected. Ecuador, yes, Turnbull’s Australia, no.
10. Corruption in Australia’s economy
Further confirmation from abroad of escalating corruption emerged this month in Heritage Foundation’s 2016 index of economic freedom. Australia’s score has dropped from 82.6 in 2013 to 82.0 in 2014, then to 81.4 in 2015 and now down to 80.3. Ranking has fallen from third in the world in 2013 – behind Singapore and Hong Kong – to fourth in 2015 and now fifth this year, behind New Zealand and Switzerland.
The score declined in four critical areas: business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom and, tellingly, freedom from corruption.
Finally, although not a direct example of Coalition corruption, ICAC’s findings last Thursday of corrupt political donations in NSW highlight the Government’s failure to maintain vigilance. The case for the establishment of a federal ICAC is now overwhelming.
A great opportunity was lost by the Abbott cabinet – or was it the Liberal Party’s dirty tricks unit? – when it allocated about $100 million to two political royal commissions. These failed to unearth widespread corruption in the unions or the Labor Party — but succeeded in generating malicious electioneering TV ads.
That money could have funded an effective national anti-corruption body for several years.
And then this sorry series of summaries of sleaze might come to a welcome end.