Bridget’s dreaming and broken democracy

It seems that anything a LNP politician did to keep the Bill Shorten out of The Lodge and the ALP out power prior to the 2019 election was ipso facto justified. It’s either that or there is no such thing as integrity left in this government’s modus operandi.

Paul Karp at The Guardian reports Mounting calls for Bridget McKenzie to resign over ‘extraordinary’ grant allocation. Labor, the Greens, Pauline Hanson and Zali Steggall have called for her resignation. Centre Alliance has joined them in supporting a senate inquiry.

Christopher Knaus’s explainer reminds us that Ros Kelly resigned because she was an embarrassment to the Labor Government. It seems this government has no shame.

Knaus explains that the law setting up the grant scheme specifies that the Sport Australia should approve the grants. They set up criteria and scored the applications. The cut-off score was 74 out of 100.

    Yet a staggering 417 projects, or 61% of the total approved projects, received money despite being assessed below this score.

    One of the projects that got the money received a score of 39. Scores that low were considered by Sport Australia to be “too low to fund without significant risk to the completion period and/or safe passage of the project”.

Then this:

    The approvals, the auditor found, were plagued by distributional bias and tended to go to electorates that were marginal, or that the Coalition was targeting in the upcoming election.

When the grants list was sent to the minister’s office to sign off on, McKenzie’s office borrowed Sport Autralia’s spreadsheet and basically started again.

Karp points out that Labor MP for Moreton, Graham Perrett, had helped local soccer club the Sunnybank Saints win $135,000 for a clubhouse upgrade. Yet he was excluded from the announcement and his opponent, Liberal candidate Angela Owen, got to hand over a big cheque for $135,000.

In February 2019 the same thing happened to Rebekha Sharkie when her Liberal opponent, Georgina Downer, got to hand over the big cheque to the Yankalilla bowling club featuring her face and Liberal party logos.

No-one could remember anything like it – ever – except Simon Birmingham:

    The trade minister, Simon Birmingham, defended the cheque presentation on Sky News and said it was the “type of self-promotional act is what members and candidates do right across the country all the time to help raise the awareness of the fact that they’re working and fighting for their local community”.

No-one can tell porkies without batting an eyelid like Simon Birmingham.

Back then Katharine Murphy wrote that At least some MPs see themselves as partisans with knuckledusters. She instanced a string of instances of irregular behaviour by Coalition members, including Michaelia Cash refusing to give evidence to federal police investigating the tip-off to the media about police raids on the Australian Workers Union. Police said that impeded their inquiries. Then:

    Perhaps, even more bizarrely, the minister who used to be responsible for the federal police, Michael Keenan, also declined to give a proper witness statement to assist them with their inquiries. Wrap your head around that fact for a minute then ask the question that automatically suggests itself to any rational person: should either of them still be ministers? Why, pray tell, are they still there?

Former judge, Stephen Charles QC, who set up Victoria’s anti-corruption body and is now a board member of the Centre for Public Integrity, told ABC RN’s PM program that in the case of Bridget McKenzie we are dealing with a clear case of corruption.

The AFR editorial on Thursday Bridget’s field of dreams said:

    The arms-length Sports Australia had already decided which 426 proposals could be funded. But the Australian National Audit Office found that the minister’s office then borrowed the spreadsheets and added a political filter of marginal or Coalition target seats, changing the distribution entirely.

    Ms McKenzie says that no unworthy project got funded, so what’s wrong? Just about everything. Why is a minister overriding a competent sports body?

It then goes on to ask another interesting question:

    Why is the federal government doling out such small-scale grants around the country at all?

    Weeks ago, Scott Morrison insisted that fighting bushfires was a state responsibility that the feds should stay out of. Other than wasting taxpayers’ money on trying to buy votes, how does that square with Canberra handing out local grants to pay for synthetic grass on country bowling greens or installing lights on suburban football fields?

On page 19 of today’s Courier Mail there is a short piece reporting that 300 athletes have signed a petition protesting cuts to sports, including athletics, sailing and volleyball in November 2018. Former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns and Olympic gold medallist Kim Brennan managed to meet with PM Morrison.

    “It was clear… the Morrison Government didn’t give two hoots really about sport unless it was going to advantage them,” Kearns said.

On the Bridget McKenzie affair, the article says their are four other programs that have been referred to the Auditor-General by Catherine King, Labor spokesperson on infrastructure. One, the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages program, has already been found by the AG to involve political interference, little accountability and almost no management of conflict of interest.

So here we have it – Audit office blasts roll-out of Coalition’s $200m regional jobs and investment program:

    Ministers declined to fund 28% of grants recommended by officials, and approved 17% that had not been recommended to them

Michael McCormack and Darren Chester were up to their eyeballs in it. That 17% increased to 35% over time. They assembled panels of pollies to look at various phases of the grants, including Michaelia Cash, James McGrath, John McVeigh and Bridget McKenzie, it would seem to maximise self interest.

This goes back to 2017, when that bloke Malcolm Turnbull was PM. So we have to understand that what we are witnessing established practice for the Coalition government.

Last night I had the choice of listening to a serialised book reading about a nurse who delivered babies for 40 years or Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens talking with Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, about Can we overcome terminal disagreement in our politics and morality? I chose the latter.

    If the recent glut of “democracy in crisis” books is anything to go by, there is a sense that something has gone wrong in our common life. At the heart of it is not this or that ‘bad actor’ — such as Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg — but a breakdown of our capacity to speak to one another, to listen to one another, to accommodate one another, to be persuaded by one another. You could call this problem ‘terminal disagreement’ or ‘zero-sum disagreement’. And it is tearing the fabric of some of the world’s democratic cultures apart.

    Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has diagnosed the increasing ‘tribalism’ in and of our civic and political life particularly acutely, and he joins Waleed and Scott to discuss whether and how we might break free from its Manichean absolutism.

Seems we should listen to people who disagree with us, and find common ground if democratic discourse is to be retrieved, not just call them out and demand that they change their behaviour.

They didn’t contemplate the situation we now face, which is that the other mob are just wrong and incorrigible. There can be no respect; they need to be politically destroyed and removed from the political scene.

The most pungent criticism I’ve found is Michael Pascoe’s Minister McKenzie spits in the face of decency, ethics and every decent Australian.

Any sports person caught cheating would be dealt with. Here we have a corrupt umpire, and in effect different games are being played. One is called ‘community’, the other ‘self interest’.

He says:

    The first recommendation of the ex-Telstra chief David Thodey’s public service review to be dismissed out of hand by the government was that political advisers should have a code of conduct. You can guess why.

Then:

    We need a real Federal ICAC yesterday. There’s no way this government will allow one.

Integrity is simply incompatible with the way they work. This is approaching the standard Papua New Guinea became notorious for.

The next time I hear a lazy or intimidated ABC journalist say, “they all do it” or “both sides are the same” I will silently scream, as I did yesterday at Phillip Adams. No-one in the parliament outside the Coalition thinks this is how politicians should behave.

30 thoughts on “Bridget’s dreaming and broken democracy”

  1. I would say, “no one outside the Parties that have formed governments since 1945 tjinks this should occur.”

    Ros Kelly had to resign because records of the decision-making had not been kept. Even the journalists (then) could spot the blatancy of Ros’s list. Her excuse was that it had “all been done on a whiteboard.”

    Not good enough, Ros.
    She was ridiculed across the land.
    She went.
    Not even Bob Hawke could save her.

    The above isn’t to say “they all do it”; I recall that story because I’m naive enough to think that every Minister in Canberra should be aware of what Minister Ros Kelly did, and the consequences which ensued for Ros Kelly.

    Learn from the past….

    Ans: pure, selfish self-interest, can’t we hope that at the very least that might save the public from this kind of routine embarrassment? ?

    {And don’t you come in, whispering, “Whatever it takes!”, former Minister Graham Richardson. Be off, you shameless spiv!}

    Harrumph!!

    Mr A
    of High Dudgeon

  2. I’m sure there were shonks in the Menzies government but at least they attempted to maintain the appearance of having ethics. This mob doesn’t even try.
    Somehow ethics have morphed from “whatever it takes” to “whatever we can get away with” to “who gives a damn, we’ll just do it and stonewall”.
    Poor fella my country.

  3. The key question is would Labor have won if this corrupt supporting of grants in marginal seats and using Lib candidates to hand out cheques had not taken place and misleading Chinese language how to votes in AEC colours had not been used?
    If the answer is yes at least the successful candidates in the corrupted seats should face a bye election.

  4. The fundamental question is “ why is the Federal Government funding anything other than the National Teams ? “

    State and local sporting organisations should be funded by sponsorship, and bums on seats only.
    Supporter funded.

    And at the risk of having Brian silently scream, yes, they all absolutely do it. Targeting booth by booth.

  5. Jumpy, no they don’t all do it. You can’t blacken everyone’s name by simple assertion.

    Ambi, Ros Kelly was early 1994, and it was Keating who couldn’t save her. Wikipedia has a story. She left parliament about a year later. It says when the by-election came up there was a 16.1% swing and Labor lost the seat, recaptured at the following election by Bob McMullan in spite of the 1996 wipe-out that gave us john Howard as PM.

  6. John D, impossible to say, but the overall narrative of the election is that Morrison did the campaigning. Everyone else went back to their electorates to talk to the locals about the little things that had been done around the place. Tangible things.

    It certainly made a difference.

  7. That rings true Brian. I’m in Swan and our local (Liberal) member is forever trumpeting his achievements in what are essentially local council responsibilities (road repairs and improvements, policing, parks etc etc).
    But his winning margin has reduced over the years and if Scotty from marketing remains as disconnected and arrogant as he now is we may revert to an ALP member in 2022.

  8. Brian

    That 16.1% swing against Labor in the seat Ros resigned from, tells me the locals were just as angry as the nation’s political journalists. Apparently those voters didn’t generally feel there were events “inside a Canberra bubble” which weren’t their concern.

    The Ros Kelly pork was spread far and wide across the land, as I recall. Uncannily similar to the present case.

    It appears that spreadsheets allow the wide brown land spreading of the manure, just as the old whiteboard did.

    Money is like manure, good only if it is spread around

  9. Ambi, when I was digging around I read a contemporary AFR account I can’t now find, but from memory it said that the grants favoured Labor electorates 2:1.

    Apart from that the whiteboard had been wiped clean and there was no record on file for the auditor to see.

    At the time I didn’t actually object to using a whiteboard and columns. It depends on who you have in the room. Otherwise, as a reviewing body, if that is your function, you have probably 125 pages of printout and some numbers, but you can get no purchase on the subjectivities of the experts’ assignment of the numbers.

    However, there was one column that should not have been there.

    At the time there were whiteboards that could produce a photocopy. So Ros got 0/10 for accountability. She had to go, and did within a week of Howard raising the issue in Question Time.

    For Bridget, she had no reviewing role on the decisions as such. Most likely it would have been a general oversight that due process had been followed, and that the money was there.

    Jacqui Lambie today said, she texted Bridget. “Just go!” she said.

  10. The Wikipedia article on the “Ros Kelly sports rorts affair” says the Auditor-General’s report was referred to a House of Reps committee. After that committee reported, Peter Costello MHR said in an urgency debate:

    “This affair saw this minister, who had a two-year program of $30 million, blow the lot over a three-month period. She cleaned out the whole fund that was supposed to last until July 1994, in a desperate effort to shovel funds to marginal Labor electorates prior to the March 1993 election. She got rid of the $30 million by the end of January and the prime minister called the election on 7 February. She delved out $326,000, on average, to Labor marginal seats while Coalition marginal seats got exactly half.”

    This quote comes from an Alan Ramsey piece in the SMH, cited in the Wikipedia article.

    [Of course, Mr Costello later played senior roles in Liberal Governments, and absolutely prohibited any rorting by Liberal Ministers, then and into the future. Praise the Lord, and pass the brown paper bags.]

  11. Ambi, I have top say I don’t remember spectacular rorting under Costello, but I do remember Kim Beazley complaining of boondoggling.

    However, Wikipedia on Albanese says:

      The Labor Party had gone to the election criticising the previous government for ignoring “long-term nation building in favour of short-term political spending”.[24] One of Albanese’s first moves as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport was the establishment of an independent statutory body, Infrastructure Australia, to advise the Government on infrastructure priorities. Armed with advice from this independent body and his own persuasive skills in the Cabinet, he was able to argue for a doubling of the roads budget and a tenfold increase in rail investment.[25] The establishment of Infrastructure Australia was regarded by many as a success;…

    This changed with the Abbott government, which handed out infrastructure funds in contravension of Infrastructure Australia evaluations. One such was the Toowoomba bypass, which never added up in cost-benefit terms, but has just opened.

    In the Wikipedia article there is a gap in the narrative between the end of planning (2008) and the commencement of work (2015).

    OTOH the Turnbull government would never accede to IA’s evaluation of the Brisbane cross-river rail project, which the Palaszczuk Government is now going ahead with to their great cost.

    Let’s just say that the Qld Government would contest the account given in the Wikipedia entry.

  12. Treasurer Costello was not dodgy in the Bridget style.

    Treasurer Costello gave a great big handout to

    1) many thousands of older Australians, and
    2) many thousands of persons due to pay Cap[ital Gains Tax.

    (1) Pensions (set up in accordance with Govt guidelines) derived from superannuation accounts, became TAX FREE

    (2) Capital Gains Tax was HALVED.

    The Gift (Treasurer) Who Keeps On Giving……

    Disclosure family members have benefitted from both of those changes.

    If these were “rorts”, I suppose you could call them Rorts Hiding In Plain Sight

    er, sorry, Reform Policy Necessary for the Advancement of the Nation.

  13. HOW GOOD CAN IT GET? Scott Morrison’s local soccer club boasted about funding weeks before grants announced. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-20/scott-morrison-sports-grants-lilli-pilli/11881578.
    Scott Morrison’s local soccer club embarked on a building project costing more than half a million dollars in October 2018, more than a month before sport grants were announced, without having enough funding to complete the project.
    Key points:
    Scott Morrison’s local soccer club started a construction project that was only partly funded more than a month before Community Sport Infrastructure grants were announced
    A club representative posted on Facebook that the final stage of funding was secured but they were still waiting to confirm when it would arrive
    Mr Morrison has previously appointed the president of the club, an online underwear entrepreneur, to a government board
    An administrator of the Lilli Pilli Football Club indicated in a Facebook post on October 31 that year the remaining funding was coming so that construction would be finished by the start of the following season — even though applicants in the scheme were being assessed at the time.
    The club announced $200,000 in funding from the scandal-plagued Community Sport Infrastructure grant program on December 22.
    Looks like Bridget isn’t the only one who should go.

  14. We can add to Costello’s boondoggles freezing the fuel excise which has cost us billions (that could have been used for emissions mitigation? – Nah! Never in a million years)

  15. Bridget’s dreaming of a …. long holiday …. what’s the point of being Trade Minister if you don’t go fact-finding at the EU and Britain??

    The article tendered on the other thread by learned friend zoot, exemplifies the adage:

    To attract Federal funds, elect an Independent MHR!!

  16. All deserved ridicule aside, McKenzies spot will have to be filled by a woman or the media and ALP/greens will go full retard over it. It really doesn’t matter to them who, they’ll bash her regardless.

    And I’d imagine the greens will do the same ( please, please please make it Sarah Hyper- Outragevictim. )

  17. Firstly, fuel excise rates aren’t frozen.

    I didn’t say they are (present tense).
    What I wrote was Costello froze them (past tense) which did cost Treasury billions, but it helped buy Howard another term as Prime minister, so I guess you think it was money well spent.

  18. “”…..so I guess you think it was money well spent.”””

    This is the stupidity we have to deal with.
    Zoot, not raising a tax isn’t spending.
    A smaller increase in Treasury receipts isn’t a cut.

    Could someone please sort this chap out, or at least not encourage it.

  19. For those that are interested these are the current Greens Senators. https://greens.org.au/mps. Clicking on the alternatives finds quite a few women and men who have made serious contributions/achievements outside of parliament, gained important awards and/or have held significant public positions.

  20. not raising a tax isn’t spending

    Sorry Mr Ricardo, while I tug my forelock please amend my statement to:
    so I guess you think it was worth forgoing that income
    Still doesn’t compensate for your lack of historical knowledge (or research).

  21. Media commentator wrote at 3.23pm

    “McKenzies spot will have to be filled by a woman or the media and ALP/greens will go full retard over it. ”

    Really?
    Have heard the names Littleproud, Chester and Joyce* mentioned. They are respectively David, Darren and Barnaby…. all self-identifying as male non-females.

    And what is “going full retard”?
    Sounds both quaint and derogatory.
    Surely a typo.?

    +++
    If I may add some explanations:

    Barnaby has Little to be Proud of;
    but is more of a Chest(er)beater than David;
    while Darren isn’t a Joke, Joyce.

  22. A 2008 comedy film by comedians for folk with a sense of humour.
    As opposed to all those other comedy films by comedians for folk without a sense of humour??

    (BTW Robert Downey Jr doesn’t identify as a comedian. As you have pointed out often and recently, accuracy matters.)

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