Malcolm Turnbull’s re-election campaign started well. He tried out ‘continuity and change’ as a slogan when announcing the potential election date of July 2. While it might have been accidental, pinching the ‘meaningless’ election slogan from a US political satire could be seen as an indicator of the standard of the research and advice Turnbull is getting. When the star of the TV show tweets
and one of the show’s writers comments
maybe it’s time to suggest the execution of the plan lacked something!
While the comparison to Veep
and the US TV show House of Cards
Twitter account sending up Turnbull’s recall of parliament is pretty funny and certainly embarrassing on day one of the really long election campaign, there is a serious issue with the pseudo-electioneering and the rationale for the recall of parliament in April.
Turnbull’s rationale for the recall of parliament is that it is time to stop playing games and pass the ABCC and Registered Organisations Bill through the Senate. The ABCC legislation, if passed, will re-create the Howard era Building and Construction Commission that had the right under law to investigate alleged corruption in the building and related industries. Despite the demonstration of not asking the question until you know how it is going to be answered, the Heydon Royal Commission did find some issues of apparent concern in the building industry. It is also worth noting that the same Royal Commission found nothing against either current Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard (not that small details like that will stop the whispering campaign from the ultra-conservative elements of the media and politics).
In the words of Turnbull, the 2013 Senate election results were an embarrassment
. To ‘fix’ the problem, the Coalition and the Greens passed a bill through the parliament that (until they work out a way around the legislation) eliminates the ability of ‘preference whisperers’ to be elected through ‘back room deals’. Understandably, most of the crossbenchers in the Senate (who voted against the Senate voting bill by the way) object to the characterisation. Funnily enough, the same crossbench Senators are not all that interested in passing the ABCC legislation, because they claim, it has fundamental flaws. Fresh from working with the government to pass the Senate voting legislation, Greens leader Richard Di Natale claims Turnbull ‘is adopting the same tactics that people in the construction industry — he says — are using. That is, bullying tactics, that is using a piece of legislation to bludgeon his way through the Senate.’ The views of Di Natale and the other crossbench Senators can be read here
Apparently a lot of the concern from the crossbenchers isn’t around the actual prospect of an anti-corruption body ‘supervising’ the construction industry, but the lack of a federal corruption body across other areas of federal influence. Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus is quoted as saying ‘I said to Malcolm I’m happy to vote for the ABCC if he makes it an ICAC or equivalent’.
Actually, it’s a pretty good argument. The Coalition government wants to re-establish the ABCC to minimise the ill effects of corruption in the building industry (conservative political code for the building unions). Most if not all states in Australia have an ‘anti-corruption watchdog’ that will investigate alleged corruption across government, politics, workplaces and so on. The federal government doesn’t have a similar body.
What Turnbull is now saying (as Abbott was saying when he set up the Heydon Royal Commission) is that there is corruption in the building unions. Abbott was very careful with the powers he gave Dyson Heydon to ensure that the Commission didn’t stumble across another ‘bottom of the harbour
’ where the Costigan [building industry] Royal Commission in 1982 followed a paper trail and found a tax avoidance scheme that was estimated to have cost the country billion dollars in unpaid revenue. (By the way, a 1982 billion is worth a lot more than a 2016 billion dollars.)
We’ve seen above that Senator Lazarus for one will vote for the ABCC if the scope of the proposed anti-corruption powers is not limited to just the building industry. Turnbull’s not budging and Attorney General Brandis has stated the government wants to pass the legislation in its current form. The position is rather illogical. What Turnbull and Brandis are saying is that while they want to eliminate potential corruption in the building industry, there is no corruption (or even worse, no corruption they want to eliminate) in other areas of society where federal legislation rather than state legislation applies.
Claims of corruption do to an extent besmirch a reputation, regardless of the veracity of the claim. In the recent Queensland Local Government elections, a number of councillors (and potential councillors) were reported to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission. The Commission eventually warned political operatives that false reporting was wasting time and money as well as asking the Queensland parliament for a new criminal offence in regard to false reporting used to injure someone’s reputation. If there is nothing to hide, surely a prime minister would welcome an independent body to investigate and determine the accuracy of corruption claims.
In the same week that Turnbull made his ‘decisive’ call telling the crossbench it was his way or the highway, the NSW Electoral Commission released a report advising the NSW Liberal Party that it was not going to pay $4.4million in public funding until the Liberal Party disclosed who donated around $700,000 to the party via the use of a Trust Fund before the 2011 NSW state election.
The treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party at the time was Arthur Sinodinos, Turnbull’s current Cabinet Secretary, who claims that he had no personal knowledge of the donations. Sinodinos has also instructed his lawyers to write to the NSW Electoral Commission ‘inviting’ them to remove references to him from the report and publish a correction on their website. The ALP are calling for Sinodinos to stand aside again, (he was forced to do so as assistant treasurer when Abbott was prime minister over some allegations regarding his employment with Australian Water Holdings between stints in parliament), the Liberals are suggesting it’s time to move on. As they say in the classics, the matter is far from over.
The NSW Electoral Commission believes that the NSW Liberal Party is hiding the names of political donors. Regardless of who did or didn’t know about it, the danger in hiding political donations is that you or I don’t know if the legislation passed is the best outcome for the country rather than the best outcome for the specific interests of a donor to a trust that ends up in political party coffers prior to an election. This is no better than collusion on a building site. Turnbull could be arguing for the elimination of collusion on the building site but not the hiding of political donations, or dubious decisions made by federal politicians or employees. Glenn Lazarus is right — if the federal government is to have a corruption body, why limit it to a specific industry (that conservative governments have used as a whipping boy for generations)?
You would have to wonder if the strategy was put together by the same crew that decided ‘Continuity and Change’ was firstly meaningful and secondly hadn’t already been used by someone — and a satire no less. Apart from the reference to HBO series Veep
, which airs on Foxtel in Australia (and if Turnbull’s staff knew about it, did they think that no political journalist in Australia would watch a US political satire — really!), Continuity and Change
is also an academic peer reviewed historical journal published by Cambridge University Press. Turnbull was one of the Internet Company pioneers in Australia and you would think his staff would have the ability to search the internet as search is your friend.
Continuity and change was an explanation for Abbott’s claim from the other side of the world that of course he would support Turnbull — the policies are the same (and hasn’t he been doing a great job supporting him so far!). Maybe the Coalition looked at the ALP’s 2013 election campaign when Rudd didn’t mention anything done by that person with the ‘G’ name (Gillard), or the 2010 campaign when Gillard did the same thing with the ‘R’ name; and decided that this strategy effectively tied the ALP’s hands behind its back, as both Rudd and Gillard had made some valuable contributions to the financial and social wealth of Australia. So they decided to at least acknowledge Abbott’s existence. It is of course debatable if Abbott did do anything worthwhile while prime minister — we might go there another day.
The thing is that the Coalition voted twice on Abbott’s prime ministership. The first time in February 2015 when 39 out of the 100 MP’s and Senators decided that an empty chair was a better option as no one ran against Abbott in the leadership spill. The second time, Abbott was trounced (remembering he originally only won the leadership by one vote anyway). Turnbull is asking us to believe that he and the ultra-conservatives led by Abbott are on the same page, and the continuity is what we need; in which case why go through the hassle of replacing Abbott? We’re also supposed to believe that corruption in the building industry is rife; yet there is absolutely no corruption elsewhere in the federal sphere. Both arguments have holes large enough to drive the mythical Selina Meyer’s campaign bus through.