Survival of the Witless: how a government so corrupt and incompetent clings to power

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Federal ICAC, Digital Media Bargaining Code, Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg
City of Pork. Image by Alex Anstey

Barnaby maggoted in Parliament, billionaires schmoozed, JobKeeper for Royal Sydney Golf Club. Unprecedented rorting of public money, abject failure on the Covid vaccinations and climate change. Michael West investigates how a government so corrupt and so incompetent manages to survive.

Do we need a Royal Commission into Australia?

A nation’s slide proceeds apace. Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s second in charge, on his half a million dollar public pay deal, off his chops in Parliament, yet tolerated by his peers and ignored by Canberra Bubble media. No story there. 

Meanwhile along the corridors of power, there was Josh Frydenberg furiously lobbying for the Coalition’s billionaire donors behind the scenes, the Treasurer working the numbers to save his party’s wealthiest mates from an amendment which requires them to obey the same rules as the rest of us.

Coverage only here, in independent media.

Who are they governing for this lot? While the Prime Minister’s office continues to fend off any inquiry into its involvement in the greatest misuse of public funds in this country’s history; the extravagant rorting of billions in public money for political gain, blatant pork-barreling, his government is busy screwing the poorest.

The Jobkeeper scheme furnished an array of Australia’s most profitable corporations with billions in subsidies which they neither needed nor needed to pay back. But jobless Australians in real need are forced to pay back their meagre Centrelink allowances.

How’s this for a national scorecard?

  • Pandemic out of control in Sydney after politicians favour advice from unknown business lobbyists over medical scientists.
  • Lags developed world in vaccine roll-out
  • Lags world on climate change
  • Leads the world in the development of new fossil fuel projects 
  • Lags developed world on broadband: ranks 57 on speed, 128 on cost.
  • Lags developed world on money-laundering, counter-terror financing action.
  • Inequality still rising: only nation in the world with franking credits, house prices close to highest in world, wages stagnant.
  • Bungled diplomacy with biggest export customer China. Now “beating the drums of war” with the world’s biggest military.
  • Human rights: exporting weapons to Saudis who are executing the worst human rights crisis (Yemen) in the world.
  • Among the highest subsidies to large corporations in the world.
  • Political corruption, rorts among highest in developed world.
  • Media concentration among the highest in the world.

How did it all go so wrong? 

The last item on the scorecard is telling: media. Besides lavishing cash subsidies on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Nine Entertainment and Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network. Besides their Jobkeeper, their grants, the protection of exclusive media licences, a subservient regulator, and enormous government advertising revenues, we have a government which has changed the laws twice to make them more profitable.

The Digital Media Bargaining Code, touted as a world-leading reform, did nothing to address surveillance capitalism, the power of Google and Facebook, and nothing to enhance competition or diversity. The opposite in fact. It compelled the digital giants to sling a bit of cash the way of media mates, Murdoch, Costello and Stokes, to reward them for their toadying.

They also changed the laws six years ago to allow Nine and Fairfax to merge, killing off competition in the process. A special favour returned in spades with favourable coverage. 

In return for corporate favours, the corporate media is allowing the government to get away with blue murder.

It should be stressed that this is hardly the fault of working journalists who mostly try to do their jobs, endeavour to break stories in the public interest. It is their compromised and venal leadership which places the stories, oversees the editorial direction, directs the headlines and the photos, decides what is newsworthy or not. 

The way it works is that, unless at least two out of the three largest players decide to pursue a story – make a song and dance about the flagrant corruption – there is no political response. And three out of the big three are aligned with the Coalition. 

So it is that we have a prime minister in Scott Morrison who is a prolific liar, even celebrated by Crikey in a dossier of lies and falsehoods, who apparently dares not sue them because they would clearly win on a defence of truth, despite the most draconian and plaintiff-friendly defamation laws in the world.

It is the heavy concentration of media ownership in Australia, which has allowed the political system to fail. These are the messengers, the media is supposed to hold politicians and special interest groups to account, and they have failed miserably.

Obsessed with politics over policy, compromised by corporate advertisers and government subsidies, diverted and manipulated by politicians’ PR people and lobbyists, they are captive.

So it is that another week of gross corruption and spin passes. After the worst pandemic days in NSW history, record new cases, people dying, a pandemic literally out of control; and Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian blathers on about China threats, “freedom protestors”, and clamours on with “Sack Dan Andrews” simply because he is their political opposition. 

Over at the other national daily, the Fin Review was running with a “Cash for Jabs” angle fresh out of the Prime Minister’s office. 

‘Cash for jabs’ risks reigniting concern about Labor waste

“Since the 2019 election, the party has done well to address the perception it’s the weaker economic manager, so its $6 billion proposal is a little strange.” No it’s not.

Is the AFR not aware that the RBA is printing $5b in new money a week, just short of the mooted $6b price tag for Labor’s cash for jabs idea? Are they not aware that Labor is in opposition, not government, and it’s the media’s role to hold government to account? Are they not aware that $40b in Jobkeeper payments went to large corporations which did not need the money, and that less than one per cent of it has been paid back?

These were just a few of the media highlights for the month but, in the circus of corruption and spin which parades as government and media in this country, there was one little story which really caught the eye.  

We must have missed it earlier, the story was a few weeks old, but it really enshrined the crisis in leadership in Australia’s high circles of politics and business.

The most elite and expensive club in the country, Royal Sydney Golf Club, had picked up JobKeeper too. Yes, there were other golf clubs who got the handouts, others who did not need it because they enjoy stable income from membership fees – and let’s face it, golf clubs are doing a roaring trade right now. You can’t “get on” for a game in Sydney right now. Too busy, at least in the Eastern suburbs.

What is poetic about the Royal Sydney hand-outs was that there is no more elite institution in the country. This is the quintessence of the elite sponging off the peasants.This is a club which didn’t let Catholics in as members until after the Second World War. They didn’t let Jews and women in until the 1980s, and still don’t encourage the former as the secretive nominations process culls those not deemed suitable.

This is a club where one is penalised if one’s shirt is not tucked in or one is caught using a mobile phone even in the carpark. Where “whites” are required for tennis and jeans are not permitted, even the $400 designer variety.

It’s all a bit quaint. But clearly, one of their members did the right thing, showed some ethics and leaked the club accounts to the Sydney Morning Herald. Ergo the Jobkeeper scoop.

The standard of ethics in the corporate world has surpassed ethics in government. There is no way Barnaby Joyce could get away with being as pissed at work if he were a chief executive, no way company funds could be deployed so corruptly as they are in government rorts, no way spending could be as lavish and lacking in transparency in corporations.

In most corporations, there is no way the treatment of women could be as systemically poor, no way science could be so blithely disregarded. 

It is rare for shareholders to be misled as routinely as voters, their capital abused as routinely as taxpayers’ funds.

And yet we are lucky. Economically, the government cheers itself on for “growth and jobs”. Yet the growth mainly comes from mining and agricultural riches, from geographical chance, from holes in the ground and the greatest commodities cycle in history, from multinational companies exporting.

Without taking the money out of politics, without an uncompromised media willing to report objectively, it is hard to envisage meaningful change any time soon. As for a Royal Commission into Australia, it won’t happen, but it’s not such a bad idea. An independent, judicial inquiry would surely recommend an anti-corruption commission. And that might help just a little to arrest the slide in public confidence and corruption which are crippling our democracy. 





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