People the world over are understandably alarmed by the recent eruption of a novel coronavirus (now named COVID-19) and its spread to countless countries, bringing in its wake widespread disruption, chaos, panic, illness and death. Previous coronavirus infections: SARS - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and MERS - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) haunt our memory. We fear how widespread this epidemic might become, what the final toll of illness and death will be, and how it might affect us personally. Although dismayed by the profound effects of this coronavirus, both personal and economic, we are somewhat reassured by the response to the virus, both in the field and in the laboratory. As Australians, we are proud of the contribution our doctors and scientists are making in developing a vaccine.
But are we as alarmed by the endemic nature of an old virus - corrupto-virus (2020+ CoV) - which continues to infect systems of governance the world over with flagrant corruption under our very noses? We ought to be. COVID-19 will eventually dissipate, but corrupto-virus is here to stay.
It has always been so. Reflect on the intrigue and backstabbing that characterised political behaviour as far back as the days of Ancient Rome. So little has changed over the years that it is too easy, too lazy to say ‘What’s new?’ and carry on as usual. That would ‘permit’ our leaders to believe that we, the people, have not noticed their behaviour, that we do not care, that they do not need to review how they conduct themselves, that they do not need to change.
Let’s review some contemporary examples of corrupto-virus.
Take the impeachment of Donald Trump. We all know, including the US congress and Senate, that Trump did just what he is accused of doing. He used his powerful position as US President to gain political advantage in the 2020 US Presidential election by attempting to bribe another nation to investigate alleged wrongdoing by an opponent, Joe Biden. By threatening to freeze millions of dollars of congressional approved aid to Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensky did as he insisted, Trump thought he had him over a barrel. There is no doubt about it. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton recently confirmed this in a book he’s writing
. But what did we see? The Republican dominated Senate, assigned the task of carrying out Trump’s impeachment ‘trial’, decided to not hear any witnesses at all! Have you ever heard of a trial where key witnesses were deliberately excluded?
Everyone knows the whole process was a cynical charade, but Trump got away with it because his Republican colleagues valued saving his skin and the political heft of the Republican Party more than justice, fairness and decency. Everyone knew Trump would be found ‘not guilty’. Prudently, he made no reference to his impeachment in his State of the Union address, but at a subsequent 'prayer breakfast' could not resist an exhibition of arrogant triumphalism
’ when, after brandishing the front page of The Washington Post: 'Trump Acquitted'
, took the opportunity to lambaste his opponents, sack several of them, and viciously demean all those who sought to convict him, reserving his most extreme vitriol for one of his own: Mitt Romney, who had the moral courage to call Trump out.
Looking further afield, we see overt corruption in the Soviet Union where President Vladimir Putin is engineering an indefinite role for himself as President
. Look at China where Xi Jinping is President without term limits
, a position he manoeuvred for himself.
Let’s not get too smug though. Reflect on our own political turmoil.
I won’t go over the details of the Bridget McKenzie ‘sports rort’ affair; details are to be found in Accountability in the Canberra Bubble
published here on 14 February, and anyway she’s already gone to the backbench. Suffice is it to say that she, her department, and the PM’s department too, carried out one on the most spectacular episodes of audacious pork-barrelling in Australian political history. Forget the rorting by the oft-quoted Ros Kelly. By comparison, she was an unsophisticated amateur. The best she could muster was a whiteboard! McKenzie and her entourage had a stylish spreadsheet. A professional rorter, nothing but the most elaborate colour coded display would do.
The ABC’s Andrew Probyn did a fine journalistic job in exposing, day after day, the depths to which the rorts descended. The subsequent parliamentary inquiry uncovered still more details of this monumental rort. Each new piece of evidence, each new rort uncovered astonished us, but apparently not our PM, who in response to questions about them, resorted to an old Turnbull stunt, labelling journalists’ pointed questions as ‘editorialising’, prefacing his answers with ‘I reject the premise of your question’, and old-fashioned lying. And like Basil Fawlty’s deflection of questions about the War, he probably thought ‘he got away with it’, so dangerously out of touch is he.
Are we as ordinary voters awake to the depth of corruption that we are seeing in contemporary Australian politics? Are we willing to ‘call it out’? Are we willing to pass judgement when next we get a vote? Or will we just drift along?
It’s so easy to become complacent, so easy to accept the corruption, let alone the sheer incompetence of the Morrison government, so easy to let our preoccupation with the cricket or the football or the golf distract us from how our nation is being governed, how poorly our government is addressing the crucial issues of climate change, inequality, and a stuttering economy, and how incompetent, dishonest and corrupt our politicians have become. As the image that heads this piece highlights, money, and with it power and influence, is at the heart of all corruption, as the recent 'sports rort' saga so strikingly demonstrates.
If we let our leaders off the hook, we will have only ourselves to blame.
So this piece is a heartfelt call to be aware of the peril we face while the Morrison government is in charge, an earnest call for the courage to speak up loudly, a plea to call out its corruption, its self-serving behaviour, and its incompetence. Otherwise we are doomed. The corrupto-virus epidemic will continue unchecked. Unless we can bring about a change, our beloved country will wither, and we with it.