Morrison’s Moral Chasm – MarinaGate

22 Feb ’20 Herald silent but van Onselen has guts and values:

… it is incumbent on all of us not to let the matter rest because time since the rort happened continues to pass, which is the government’s entire political strategy to wash over this disgrace.

The point is, David Crowe says the PM is “proceeding effectively”.  Crowe, explain yourself,  are you invested or naive?  Journalists must take our future seriously.

13 FEB ’20 JACQUI LAMBERT IS A GENIUS AND A WONDER

PM MORRISON KICKED A BLACK CAT UNDER A LADDER, WHEN HE WAS 6, SUCH ARE THE MISHAPS HE AND HIS TIN SOLDIERS HAVE COOKED-UP UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE BLACK WITCH***

“I am getting to the point where [if] you can’t discipline your own and you can’t show integrity then maybe it’s time we put these talks on hold,” she told Sky News on Thursday morning.

“Why don’t you release the report? People in Australia are sick of it, they’ve had enough … If they can’t show integrity up here and do the right thing, why would I be voting for an Ensuring Integrity Bill?”

*** LAWFARE (13 Feb ’20) has a learned piece that explored a similar confusion of accountabilities, and the authors specifically warn against picking a culprit and then fitting the process and evidence to suit.

10 Feb ’20 – Gibbons blasts journos (c)

Journalistic standards are low in terms of empiricism, ethics and analysis.  Only van Onselen has shown an understanding of the systemic factors, the SMH’s Rob Harris has not.  Tony Abbott recently lauded Morrison’s bushfire performance which was hypocritical of him, but this is too, Abbott should be condemning Morrison’s theft of Labor’s special brand of political cronyism/gifting:

Feb 22 2011 then PM Abbott gave a major speech in Perth which included the following words:

In 2008, infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese said that all infrastructure decision making would be based on rigorous cost[benefit analysis to ensure the highest economic and social benefits to the nation over the long term”.

He had also declared that the government had a “commitment to transparency at all stages …” and that infrastructure Australia would routinely … ensure that “value for taxpayers’ dollars” was achieved.  Only a year later, the government failed to release cost/benefit analyses for any of the 15 big projects selected for funding in the 2009 Budget.   Some of them were not even on Infrastructure  Australia’s  even priority list.  A subsequent National Audit Office  report found that before Infrastructure Australia had come to any conclusions about the 28 “pipeline” projects that it had identified, the government had already announced funding for 10 of them.

The next day The Australian carried this:

By signing off on the commonwealth contribution to the construction of Epping-Parramatta, federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has removed any pretext of national infrastructure funding decisions being taken on the basis of economic analysis.  When Julia Gillard made the original announcement about funding the project in the federal campaign, not only had Infrastructure Australia not recommended spending even one cent on this project, it had not even been considered a strong enough proposal to form part of the NSW government submission seeking federal largesse.  The best that Albanese could come up with, when queried as to why he was ignoring his own process, was the lame declaration that he had been discussing the proposal with chairman Rod Eddington for a “long period of time”.

Panthers 1

9 Feb ’20 Do the names Baird & Ayres inspire confidence?  No way, the first and biggest rorts came from NSW as does everything Malenomic.  The SMH’s Nigel Gladstone has done an impeccable job:

  • A $24 million state and federal government grant that was supposed to fund “grassroots sport” in western Sydney will instead go towards a conference centre and an underground car park for the mammoth pokies-funded Panthers Group
  • Penrith MP Stuart Ayres, now the minister for jobs, tourism and western Sydney, stood at Penrith Panthers with then-premier Mike Baird four days before the 2015 state election to announce a half share in the $24 million grant to build “indoor sporting facilities like we’ve never seen before”
  • five years later, instead of “space for netball, futsal, wheelchair rugby and other indoor sports” and “a large gymnasium”, the Western Sydney Community and Sports Centre (WSCSC) became a conference centre after Panthers quietly made new plans that wiped out the sporting promises
  • The site, which is adjacent to Panthers Leagues Club in Penrith, will also contain a 150-room hotel as part of a redevelopment now estimated to cost $88 million in total.

Panthers’ former #1 ticket holder, Labor’s former Deputy Premier, Ron Mulock, would not be surprised, the rot had set in a long time ago.

Mind you, Andrew Constance mused in public that he might have to subsidise hotel developments in the Metro’s Central Station by “several billions” to make Berejiklian’s mad scheme work.

5 Feb ’20 Parliament resumes – PM gaga in Parliament, damn those who try to politicise my inability to face reality

6 Feb ’20  The Government did not oppose the establishment of a Senate inquiry into the disgraceful cascade of deceits – the PM still saying “Senator McKenzie … made decisions on eligible projects in line with her authority”

7 Feb ’20 – the Fin Review’s Tom Burton condemns Gaetjens – see Tom McIlroy’s Tweets.  The Tin Soldiers thread has not been picked up by SMH/AGE/AFR.

13 Fed ’20 David Crowe in the SMH summarised Audit Office testimony, that many projects became ineligible due to completed already, lapse of time, amended details and/or late (post receival deadline) – 43 per cent or 294 cases (paraphrased w/o changing meaning):

Audit officials have contradicted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s central claim in the defence of the government’s $100 million sports program, revealing that more than 40 per cent of the projects were ineligible when they received funding.  The Australian National Audit Office revealed the figures in new testimony that countered Mr Morrison’s repeated claim that “no ineligible projects” gained money under the scheme.

They could not see a “clear cause” for the funding of each project because there were 28 different versions of a colour-coded spreadsheet used in Senator McKenzie’s office to decide.  “So it’s not the assessment against the published merit criteria using the published assessment process that determines success or failure,”

When the audit officials asked ministerial advisers about these decisions, the responses included “couldn’t recall” and “no record made at the time”.

 

INSIDERS UPDATE – 2 Feb ’20

Treasurer Frydenberg descends into Farce, needing King Lear’s honest Fool before he becomes Caesar

What we’ll do is set up a parallel new funding scheme in the Budget context, meeting guidelines.

So the solution is, leave the foul mess and build waste and deceit into the backroomsThe next problem for Morrison to sanitise is the separate, bigger fund for sportswomen’s toilets, extinguishing Morrison’s PR crutch.

The Letters to the Editor quoted below make points that the SMH’s Rob Harris appears to have avoided.

4 Feb again – Van Onselen trumps the tardy and sometimes sleepy Fairfax coven

The hope from within the PM’s brains trust is that this quite separate issue to that of who knew what and when with respect to the substance of the sports rorts saga means that the political wound has been cauterised. There is nowhere else for this scandal to go, so the theory goes. The fall guy (or woman in this case) has been identified and dealt with. Case closed.  Wrong.

The role of the PM’s senior adviser for infrastructure and sport requires further answers. The role of a second PMO staffer, whose primary purpose at the time was as a campaign strategist — liaising with the Liberal Party’s federal secretariat — needs further answers. Just as the electoral entitlements scandal early in the life of the Howard government had tentacles which stretched all the way into John Howard’s office ...

Yes, let’s nail the cheating bastards who STEAL FROM ME – where the rot started in NSW, all the way to Point Piper and Kirrinulla.

Rob Harris – the delusions intact – 3 Fed ’20

Minister McKenzie has resigned, and Morrison and Frydenberg are smiling – there is no sign of real accountability, just a technical breach that is reminiscent of PM Howard’s clutch of travel entitlement sackings which he reversed in the quiet of the night.

There are ambiguities in his language, such as “government agency Sport Australia on which applications to approve, favouring marginal and targeted seats”, combining Sport Australia which did not, and Morrison/PMO/Lib HQ which did, so we’re clear.

Harris has presented these points (square brackets [ ] indicate comments, italics indicates the contradictions of Morrison’s previous positions – the PM/Gaetjens “club” having worked out the details behind closed doors):

  • she had breached ministerial standards by failing to declare a conflict of interest [a real conflict or minor technicality? a sacking offence?  displacement of true responsibility?]
  • she understood the community expected parliamentarians to abide by the highest standards [all? – including PMs and Treasurers, backbenchers who make promises?]
  • “Elected representatives are responsible for public expenditure and take advice, not direction, from the public service and others …” [ignores Sports Commission Act: Minister can only issue directions after prior written advice and formal discussions + the Commission is – (c)  to develop and implement programs that promote equality of access to, and participation in, sport by all Australians
  • Gaetjens found: Senator McKenzie had not breached any other ministerial standards during the decision-making process despite a damning audit of the scheme released last month [only ministerial standards? – her alone?]
  • “What has been identified here through this process has been a lack of transparency and a lack of detail on the processes used by the minister and exercising discretion,” Mr Morrison said [and dissembling by him and brushing-out van Onselen]
  • “Minister McKenzie has shown a great respect for the statement of standards. She has honoured those …” [honoured what exactly?]
  • The review found the former sports minister had ignored without apparent legal authority before last year’s federal election recommendations by government agency Sport Australia on which applications to approve, (her) favouring marginal and targeted seats [ignored? without legal authority? – tell us more]

Frydenberg was evasive on ABC TV’s Insiders on 2 Feb regarding the mooted extra payments to unsuccessful applicants – but said the mischievous grants would stand – no repair as usual.  There is gulf between Harris’ standards and van Onselen’s, and neglect of the wider accountabilities as explained here.

Harris had explained that McKenzie was a loose cannon, with multiple questions about travel expenses and the like, but he did not mention the systemic manipulation outside and around her office.

Letters writers on 4 Feb were closer to the mark:

So, Bridget McKenzie takes the fall for what seems to be the least of the sins – not declaring membership of one beneficiary club (“McKenzie’s exit puts a strain on Coalition”, February 3). – Bill Irvine, Goulburn

In former times, when the PM referred a matter of dubious or questionable behaviour to the head of his or her department, it was being referred it to a long-serving senior member of an independent bureaucratic cadre and administrative body acknowledged by all, including the politicians, as the authoritative keeper of the rules and the custodian of proper practice. When Scott Morrrison referred McKenzie’s transgressions to Phil Gaetjens, this was not the case. Recently brought in, Gaetjens had previously served as Morrison’s political chief of staff. Whom do we trust to get it right, impartially? The Auditor-General or ScoMo’s hand-picked manager-fixer? – Clive Kessler, Randwick

Taxpayers have paid for the Gaetjens report. If we live in a transparent democracy as claimed by Scott Morrison, they have a right to see it. Or is this a matter of “Nationals’ security”? – Rufus Clarke, Kirribilli

So the findings of a publicly available report produced by the Auditor-General are rejected and overturned by a secret report produced by the PM’s former chief of staff – and this is supposed to put the matter to rest. This government. I shake my head. I really do. – Len Keating, Balmain

Hands up all those who think McKenzie’s politically biased allocation of sporting grants was directed and encouraged by others in the Coalition. Thought so. There is a lot more to see here. – Ted Hemmens, Dee Why

In 2018, McKenzie and her staff ran up $652,000 in official travel, the highest of all federal MPs. Had her apparent disregard for spending taxpayer funds attracted due scrutiny at the time, the sports rorts fiasco may not have eventuated. – Peter Mahoney, Oatley

Where to now? Sack the Auditor-General? – Max Fischer, Wollongong

How the haughty have fallen! – Meredith Williams, Dee Why

The editorial on the Prime Minister’s actions in relation to the sports rorts reinforces to this very ordinary, quiet Australian of the man’s inadequacies as a leader (“Sports grant scandal stain on PM’s tenure“, February 3). The concern for many is our diminishing lack of trust in our elected representatives. Trust is generated through predictability, consistency and transparency in process and decision-making. It’s not that difficult. Consult, listen, communicate, respond but don’t deceive. – Peter Snowden, Orange

Clearly ministerial standards are not high enough – Susanna Gordon, North Ryde

While I have no particular affection for McKenzie, I can’t help feel she is being made a scapegoat. Are we seriously supposed to think that the PM’s office or the Treasurer or any other ministry didn’t know where the grants were going? – Ariel Johnson, Elizabeth Beach

McKenzie’s exit is no solution to the moral dilemmas this country faces, but I can think of a few things that would help: get rid of lobbyists, super-charge funding of the ABC, create a federal ICAC now with broad powers to rectify any corrupt conduct and embed ethics in the school curriculum (for the new generation of politicians and voters alike). – Marie Healy, Hurlstone Park

McKenzie, in her resignation statement, says she understands that the community expects parliamentarians to adhere to higher standards. I think she’s wrong. The community would be happy if they adhered to any standards at all. – Nick Hendel, Roseville

At least the so-called sports rort has taught us a couple of important lessons. It has shown us how lacking in integrity the PM is, as if we didn’t already know it, and it has demonstrated just how politicised the public service has become. Perhaps McKenzie has learned a lesson too: how dangerous guns can be. – Geoff Gordon, Cronulla

Jonathan Kearsley on 3 Feb ’10 posted a story on McCormack possibly rorting the Building Better Regions Fund, and journos will not remember

  • it took a real effort for me (with no help from journos I approached) to force Turnbull to commit $4 billion from the Snowy to regions, the NSW Nats having failed to keep Baird’s promise from poles and wires
  • Barilaro immediately tore Newcastle and Wollongong out of the pool even as he was saying Newcastle is an important part of ag export hub planning – I suggest the value of the proffered grants be assessed for value, that might be where one major problem sits

 

PM Morrison’s appearance at the National Press Club on 29 Jan ’20 reinforced the appearance of a death rattle (see red bulleted point):

  • the SMH’s Rob Harris says that the meritorious sports applications that were sidelined by the Tin Soldiers might be funded, sometime, maybe – leaving the corruption and culprits basking behind mirrors and smoke
  • he also says that Morrison wants a clear-cut outcome from Gaetgens but does not say that Morrison and Gaetgens came up with sidestepping terms of reference that hide the real accountabilities which go back into the Liberal secretariat and the PMO – add Stephen Kennedy, what role did Treasury have?
  • The Australian says “Scott Morrison has rebuffed calls to increase climate targets in the wake of the bushfires”, when that is irrelevant:  Australia is coming out of a very recent Ice Age and is warming, while the dominant model of fire risk reduction has been shown repeatedly to not work.

On 1 Feb Harris repeated his themes, without deeper analysis, but added that Gaetjens is due to present his “final draft”.  That means the report will not be “independent”, it has been through the Morrison spin cycle.  Van Onselen maintained his analytic quality, having revealed an email that linked Morrison’s office with the destructive changes to the Sports Commission’s priority list, despite the PM’s repeated denials of same:

(The Howard lessons that tight standards are too painful …) are all complicated political calculations, when doing the right thing is rather obvious and simple. McKenzie should be sacked, and not for the narrow reason she perhaps will be.  But unfortunately politics is rarely about doing the right thing these days.

His Weekend Australian update included

  • Gaetjens will not be answer enough
  • PM credibility tainted still further
  • Collegiate escapism, mute Party Room, backroom deals failing

This is not getting any better, the Morrison Government is still “behind closed doors” and wandering in circles, “darkness is the death of democracy” and “forward-thinking Liberals”  invisible, and the “truth” – fact-checking and professional journalism – has not replaced churnalism.

  •  A day later, the ABC’s David Speers tweeted: “This was a leader on the defensive and   unwilling to cede any ground to his critics“.  That is reflective of a codependency psychosis, the opposite of statemanship.  The SMH’s Rob Harris maintained the fiction that Gaetgens’ “inquiry”, which is almost a week overdue, would resolve the imbroglio – no it won’t.  There are signs it was derailed by the “extended accountabilities” argument – it will have no credibility if it is trivial and superficial.

Here is the list of accusations put to Morrison, Frydenberg and others, including the media, before (as well as after) that speech, for the record:

Today’s speech is another mark in history where you

    • continued to hurt children who are in slavery and misery
    • continued to suppress the rollout of my 10 national demonstration fireproof houses
    • prevented support to Men of League, Police Legacy, the Mark Hughes Foundation, and indigenous NRLW etc
    • continued to impede my honouring Tim and other forgotten heroes in all States and Territories
    • deliberately continued waste, stupidity and graft in urban and regional infrastructure
    • continued to debase the “spirit of Menzies”, and
    • cruelly extended the pernicious effects on my family and me of your and others in your camp through plagiarism – theft of my citizen’s rights.

Resumes

The Morrison Government has barricaded itself into a locked vault which has no handle on the inside.

The crisis exploded with the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt MP, saying the allocation of $100 million in sports and related grants was all above board – and then being ambushed with a video of him, himself, glorying in the gift he was able to deliver to his local yachting club, down on the bottom of the Mornington Peninsula.  Add a gift to the pony club!

Then the media revealed that the Deputy PM, Michael McCormack, well-known dissembler, had a conflict of interest with his gun clubs, as did the Deputy’s deputy Senator Brigid McKenzie, who was the GIFTER at the centre of the process.  Boom – the net was thrown over many Coalition MPs.

Except then it was revealed that the farce had been hatched in the PM’s Office and that is why Morrison was defending McKenzie so strongly.

An example quoted by Jacqueline Maley illustrates the absurdity of turning an independent process into a reality of 73% of cases NOT being on the legitimate list:

The stories of dubious grant-giving to sports clubs have been dropping all week, and while there are too many to enumerate here, some highlights include the grant of $500,000 to a rugby club in the seat of Sturt in Adelaide, a seat formerly held by Christopher Pyne and retained for the Liberal party last year by Pyne protege James Stevens. The money was apparently to build female changing-rooms, with the only glitch being that the club hasn’t fielded a women’s team since 2018, according to a report in The Guardian.

A spokesperson for the PM is reported by Peter von Onselen on 25 January ’20 as saying “it was possible to be within the rules but breach the guidelines”.  Yes, Peter, straight out of Yes Minister.

It turns out Sport Australia complained that its independence was being compromised.  (The new Sport Minister, Senator Colbeck, immediately set up a leak inquiry instead of showing political nous – he had form under PM Turnbull, having wrecked the revival campaign in the Blue Mountains.)

So Morrison set up an inquiry – under his own Tin Soldier, his former chief of staff, Secretary of the PM’s Department, Phil Gaetjens, who is so close to Morrison that osmosis was the least relevant connection during that farce phase “within the PM’s Office”.  WAS HE THERE PRESENT?

Ministers Dutton and the Deputy PM came in with their size 15s with

Mr McCormack said … many things about the issue in the media were “quite frankly untrue” and hit out at colleagues who would not put their name to unattributed comments in the media.  “Bridget McKenzie has declared her memberships, as she was required to do. Bridget McKenzie has followed the process, as she was required to do,” Mr McCormack said.  “And let me tell you, this process that she followed was way and above more transparent and more accountable than the processes the previous Labor government has put into place.”  Mr McCormack said the process should take its “natural course” and “we’ll see what happens after that”.  Mr Dutton said Senator McKenzie became a member of the club only after the grant had been approved – an issue the review is now examining”.

 

By the way, if he means that all she had to do was “to declare”, and that membership coming after the gifting was fine, then his judgement has taken last place to logic.

That had all became clear before he and Dutton opined, when former Auditor-General of  NSW, Tony Harris, on 20 January, made these points

  • If the Government believes that picking less meritorious applications at the cost of meritorious applications is a good thing, then they have a set of values that most Australians wouldn’t agree with
  •  I’m saying that if the Minister believes, that if it’s accepted that she was the decision maker, there was no basis in law for her to be a decision maker — thus, she acted unlawfully.
  • Why is it corruption? Because the Government has acted for political purposes. They have eliminated more meritorious applicants in order to gain a party-political advantage… (Interviewer: We, of course, don’t have such a body at the federal level) No, we don’t; we don’t have one in the Commonwealth and perhaps for good reason, because they know that their actions would come under greater scrutiny and they would be circumscribed.
  • This, in my view, is a worse case than the Ros Kelly whiteboard matter, because the Minister overrode the views of an independent statutory authority which was given the power by the Parliament to allocate these grants… I think they’re making this defence for their own benefit, and that is a sorry state for the Government to fall into.
  • The Prime Minister’s defence is just unfathomable. It suggests that he doesn’t understand what ethical behaviour is or he doesn’t have the power to impose an ethical format on his own government.
  • The Australian Sports Commission ought to have resisted the Minister. They have the power to resist the Minister; they were given their power by the Parliament.  Parliament said they are acting independently.  Only if the Minister issues directions, lawful directions, must they agree with the Minister.  So they should have just gone ahead with their own view, which was, of course, the superior view, and done what they believed to be the right thing.  The fact that they acquiesced in doing the wrong thing suggests to me that they should also resign.

This mess did not come out of an ostrich egg, it had been brewing as part of the degradation of due process under Bairdijiklian Malenomics, which, in general, the media have glossed over.  Jack Waterford in the Canberra Times is a reliable sharp-shooter at cronyism, which this case is part of, while Jake Saulwick penned these words in 2016:

Gladys Berejiklian’s claim that the cost of Sydney’s CBD tram line grew by half a billion dollars because trams and stops would be larger and better never made any sense. And, finally, no one needs to pretend that it does. Thanks to NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford, the Treasurer and former transport minister’s claim can be dismissed for what it always was: probably a lie, perhaps wilful ignorance, possibly mere incompetence.

Crawford’s report into Berejiklian and Transport for NSW’s early mismanagement of the light rail line places the Auditor-General within a recent NSW tradition. State governments redistribute taxes towards schools and hospitals, roads and railways. For some reason, they feel the need for cloak-and-dagger secrecy in doing so. The work of auditors-general has become one of the main tools by which government obfuscation has been rubbed against the grain. The accountants reveal the ragged truth.

The final, possibly fatal, error of judgement was to give Gaetjens limited terms of reference.  It is bad enough that “justice cannot be seen to be done”, through his associations;  but to base absolution on a technicality is to deliberately obfuscate the national interest.  Morrison has “fouled his own nest”.

It was revealed on 31 Jan ’20 that aid to bushfire victims was still at a trickle.  The hapless NSW Transport Minister was quoted as saying ”

“The big problem is the middle-tier bureaucracy doesn’t get [the urgency],” Mr Constance told ABC’s RN Breakfast on Thursday. “The charities haven’t got this.”  He added that it was his “screaming plea” that the bureaucracy changed its approach, and took into account the scale of the issues needed to be tackled across the “length and breadth” of NSW.

The even more hapless NSW Nats leader’s spokeswoman’s idiocy in reply was, “other efforts by the government were ‘very difficult to put a price on'”.  Premier Berejiklian also cannot do infrastructure arithmetic.

THE CITADEL OF GREED

On 26 January ’20 I responded to Peter Van Onselen’s article in The Australian by asking the Federal Director of the Liberal Party to respond to the following points:

Andrew

It is alleged in The Australian that

  • you and/or your Office, including Nick one wonders, packaged the sports grants outcome and presented it to Minister McKenzie.This ties in with Mr Harris’s points.*
  • that you worked with staffers in the PMO, and I have asked if Gaetjens was also involved, given his closeness to the PM and others.You are charged with achieving electoral credibility.

You have failed to reply to me on ethical and professional concerns of great moment, all properly documented.

I ask if the allegations are true and if you want to defend yourself, given the appearance of corrupting Government processes?

I regard this as being extremely serious and ask you do the same.  Time is of the essence.

As at 31 Jan ’20, he had not replied.