Accountability in the Canberra bubble

The Australian Federal Police have dropped the investigation into the political ‘hit job’ Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor failed to execute on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. For those who came in late, we noted last December.

Morrison has also spent a considerable amount of political capital defending Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Apart from being implicated in a scheme when the government paid $80 million for water rights without receiving any water, meeting with the then Environment Minister to discuss why no action should be taken when 30 hectares of protected grasslands in the Monaro region of New South Wales was poisoned by a company in which Taylor has a beneficial interest and claiming an increase in carbon emissions over the past three years is good news, Taylor is also under investigation by the Parliament for an ongoing argument with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Taylor wrote to the Lord Mayor in his Energy Minister role suggesting $14million spent on international travel was inconsistent with the Mayor’s public position on emissions reduction, as well as leaking the letter to the media. It’s a pity the real figure was a somewhat more palatable $15893.29 (and $5308.88 on domestic travel). Taylor claims the fault wasn’t his; regardless Australia is still talking about it coming into December (a month later).
You could argue that Taylor has apologised to Moore, it was an honest mistake and everyone should move on, however you would be wrong. If it was an honest mistake, why was the letter leaked to a media outlet that has a history of dislike of the current Lord Mayor of Sydney and a track record of minimising or outright denial of the effects of climate change, despite the hollow claims of the octogenarian head of the company that owns the masthead? Sydney City Council metadata demonstrates that there was no evidence that the ‘incorrect data’ relied on by Taylor and his office in their explanation was ever loaded onto the Council’s website.

The same AFP is still investigating the ABC and News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst (including raids on ABC offices and Smethurst’s home last June) over the publication of what was claimed to be official secrets, namely
that the heads of the defence and home affairs ministries had discussed draconian new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australian citizens for the first time.

Under the mooted plan, spies would be allowed to secretly access emails, bank accounts and text messages with approval from the defence and home affairs ministers.

Under current laws the Australian federal police and domestic spy agency ASIO have the power to investigate Australians with a warrant and seek technical advice from ASD, which is not permitted to produce intelligence on Australians.
As Katherine Murphy observes in The Guardian
Sticking with the sliding scale of harm, it is true that nobody is ever going to lose any sleep over an issue as micro as the size of the Sydney City Council travel budget, and whether a commonwealth cabinet minister thinks it’s a good use of his time to pick a student politics fight with a local government official.

But I suspect a number of us do care if documents have been falsified and whether fake documents are being deployed in public debate.

That would seem to me to be quite harmful activity in an age where citizens in democracies don’t know who, or what, to trust in politics and public life, and are suspicious of institutions that once enjoyed significant levels of respect.

Not being able to determine what’s true, and people not being held accountable when falsehoods happen, is incredibly harmful. It’s more than harmful, actually. Corrosive is a better word.

In deciding not to investigate, the AFP also determined that getting to the bottom of the Taylor/Moore imbroglio would require a “significant” level of resources.
Taylor has not been vindicated here as Morrison says. The AFP have chosen, rightly or wrongly, not to investigate an apparent pitiful attempt at tipping a bucket on a political rival as it would consume too many resources.

At the same time, journalists have been ‘under investigation’ by the AFP for a considerable period, presumably using plenty of resources, for doing their job — accurately reporting information that should be in the public domain. Regardless of the opinion of the Government of the day or the AFP, we should be aware that even if you are not under investigation by law enforcement authorities, there are plans to allow a secretive government agency to be able to intercept your emails and phone calls if approved by government ministers who potentially have similar ethics to the one minister who has just resigned for pork barrelling vulnerable electorates, another under a cloud for allegedly using his influence to assist his personal business ventures and has the time to apparently play childish political games.

Most jurisdictions in Australia have an independent body that investigates apparent corruption in politics and government. The Federal Government doesn’t. Taylor has questions to answer over the water rights dealings noted above, as well as the apparent falsifying of data for political ends. McKenzie only ‘resigned’ once she became a political liability to Morrison.

Since McKenzie ‘resigned’, her fingerprints are all over another $150million that was granted to a number of organisations in marginal coalition seats for ‘female change rooms’ and ‘pools’. There were no guidelines or application process. Councils in NSW and Victoria found out about the grants in their local newspapers. In Queensland, a grant of $2million to build a pool at a school in Brisbane’s rapidly expanding northern suburbs has been refused by the State Government as the land is needed for classrooms. Yes, a pool is useful for students for around an hour a week, an accessible classroom building has far greater usage with apparently far less federal funding.

In addition, it is currently being reported that Infrastructure Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) McCormack awarded 94% of infrastructure grants to areas represented by the coalition political parties.

And they keep refusing to consider legislation for a ‘Federal ICAC’.

What do you think?

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