A unity ticket to challenge the integrity vacuum in Canberra

Nov 25, 2021
parliament house canberra politics
(Image: Unsplash)

Two former political heavyweights from different sides have joined forces to combat the corruption and damaging inaction of the Morrison government. 

Former Liberal leader John Hewson and I have teamed up as joint patrons of the Truth and Integrity Project, a social media-focused advocacy campaign targeting Scott Morrison’s record on integrity matters and climate action in the lead-up to the federal election.

We are also patrons of Climate 200, an organisation driven by Simon Holmes à Court that is supporting candidates committed to strong action on increasing Australia’s commitment to mitigate climate change and embracing a post-carbon economy.

We are both board members of the Accountability Round Table (ART), chaired by Fiona McLeod, SC, which is devoted to the creation of a Commonwealth integrity commission with independent authority and power to call witnesses on matters involving corruption in the political process. This is in sharp contrast to the wretched model, programmed to fail, put up by then attorney-general Christian Porter and taken on by his successor Michaelia Cash. ART’s board includes retired judges, former politicians, public servants, lawyers and academics.

Both of us are troubled by the failure on courageous polities by both the Coalition parties and the Australian Labor Party (ALP). But the yawning abyss of Australia’s grossly inadequate and mendacious response to climate change and the unprecedented levels of corruption at a federal level are the responsibility of government, not opposition.

On climate change Morrison is wicked, Barnaby Joyce pretends to be crazy, while Labor is timid and fearful. Morrison and Anthony Albanese appear to be closer to each other on climate change than they are to Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and the New South Wales Coalition and Victorian Labor governments.

We would like to be proved wrong about this and hope for an effective rebuttal.

Advertisements by Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party shout at electors: “You can never trust Labor, the Liberals or the Greens.” Note the significant omission: voting for the Nationals, the back legs of the Coalition horse, would presumably be acceptable.

I had my difficulties with Bob Hawke but he took a very tough line about the mere perception of corruption or a conflict of interest, and this meant that able ministers, close to the prime minister personally, had to resign — Ros Kelly, Mick Young (over his wife’s failure to make a customs declaration about a Paddington bear) and John Brown.

When John Howard won government in 1996, seven of his ministers were soon despatched for minor infringements. Since Howard and Morrison are reputed to be close, I am baffled that Howard has not passed on his advice in this area. Of course, if he did Morrison’s front bench would be threadbare.

Morrison’s is the most corrupt Commonwealth government in our history, the most vindictive and the least accountable, far worse than Bob Askin’s government in New South Wales and Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s in Queensland. Of course some ALP ministers have been shockers — Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald — and one national president, Michael Wilkinson, but not governments, state or Commonwealth.

During the Covid pandemic $20 billion support was given by the Commonwealth to corporations which did not need it. Its electorally based rorting is now legendary and its preoccupation with the very short term means that winning the next election is always the priority, and that saving the planet and considering what this generation leaves behind it is virtually ignored.

Morrison is a very effective campaigner and cannot be underestimated. He certainly has spooked the opposition even though Newspoll puts Labor’s two-party preferred vote at 53 per cent. Morrison’s appeal incorporates what I call “the five rejections”, his opposition, both implicit and explicit, to:

  • complexity,
  • modernity,
  • multiculturalism,
  • science, and
  • expert opinion.

Since 1929, the ALP has won government from opposition at only three elections: in 1972 under Gough Whitlam, in 1983 under Hawke, and in 2007 under Kevin Rudd. (John Curtin came to power in 1941 after two independents shifted their allegiances in a hung Parliament). Every Labor victory followed strong advocacy on contentious issues.

Currently Labor is adopting a “small target”, even “tiny target”, approach and will only announce its policies in the last quarter of the game. It has never worked before and it’s hard to see why it would succeed in 2022. Since Morrison will determine the election date, we can only hazard a guess as to when the final siren will sound (to persist with the tortured sporting analogy).

With extraordinary generosity, Labor, in its anxiety about being “wedged”, has virtually allowed Morrison to set its own agenda. Morrison says, in effect: “I don’t want Labor to raise the issues of setting an emissions reduction target for 2030, setting a price for carbon, questioning AUKUS and asking when the submarines will arrive or where they will be made, or a more humane refugee policy, or restoring progressive taxation to meet the needs of an ageing population, phasing out negative gearing to make housing more affordable, or weakening the Commonwealth public service.”

Labor says: “We never thought of raising these subjects, because we are out of practice in arguing a case.” However Labor has, unusually, taken a strong position on a Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

Morrison is an unusually elusive target. Sean Kelly’s new book The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison (Black Inc, 2021) is outstanding, especially on Morrison’s relationship with truth, language and his astonishing capacity to pivot. He rationalises along these lines: “I am an honest person. Honest persons don’t tell lies. Therefore it’s impossible that I could ever lie.”

I regard Morrison’s use of language as purely transactional: “What is the issue I am asked about today? It doesn’t matter what I said yesterday. I don’t even remember what I said then, but right here and now this is the truth for me. It may be a different truth tomorrow.”

“Did it work? If it did, it must be true. If it didn’t, I’ll try something else.”

Morrison creates his own facts and just makes stuff up as he goes along. This is exactly Humpty Dumpty’s use of language. Lewis Carroll scored a hole in one.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

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