On Dec 2, 2019 the Australian Parliament voted on a motion to create a federal Anti-Corruption Commission. The motion was put forward by Andrew Wilkie, an Independent from Tasmania. The motion failed, because a majority of federal parliamentarians was against the creation of such a body. The votes were cast along party lines, with no deviations.
The text of the motion commenced with the following:
(a) over a long time now the behaviour of both major parties has made it abundantly clear that Parliament cannot deal with matters of ministerial integrity, and Australia urgently needs a Federal Integrity Commission;
(c) the scope of this integrity commission must extend beyond criminal offences to a range of corrupt and unethical behaviour including donation-fuelled favouritism, cronyism and the rorting of parliamentary entitlements;
Recently Senator Bridget McKenzie, a National Party member, and Deputy Leader of the party, was found by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) to have acted outside the spirit of a $100 million sports grant program, overseen by McKenzie while she was the Minister for Sport, in the lead-up to the 2019 Australian federal election.
The ANAO stated that it “was administered in a way that was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice”, and sporting organisations in marginal seats that the Coalition needed to win were favoured with grants.
Although there are a myriad of such priceless moments in Australian parliamentary history, it is disheartening to once again encounter such shamelessness in a senior minister, and indeed in every member of the Coalition. Bridget McKenzie has refused to resign, and ridicules the very notion that she should. Her defence has been varied, from describing it as “reverse pork-barrelling” to “no rules were broken”. Such brazenness is breathtaking, but not a surprise.
Andrew Wilkie’s motion could not have been more appropriate, and on the money, had he been a psychic, or a fortune teller. Bridget McKenzie has clearly engaged in behaviour which falls into the area anticipated by “extends beyond criminal offences to a range of corrupt and unethical behaviour including donation-fuelled favouritism and cronyism.”
We can credibly throw in cronyism as well, because she threw buckets of money at sporting clubs in Scott Morrison’s electorate, in Tony Abbott’s (lost) electorate, and the Attorney-General, Christian Porter’s, electorate. Her ‘throw’ to Josh Frydenburg’s Kooyong is staggeringly inappropriate, if you see this as a ‘needs-based’ programme, which it is. Kooyong sits in Melbourne’s ‘dress circle’, where there are more tiaras than headbands.
In Mr Frydenberg’s economically well-endowed seat of Kooyong, the Guardian reported grants were given to Camberwell Hockey Club ($38,000), East Camberwell Tennis Club ($90,000), Kew Little Athletics ($92,450), Grace Park Hawthorn Club ($25,000) and Hawthorn Malvern Hockey Centre ($500,000). These grants all occurred in the second and third rounds, as the election approached and when it seemed that the Liberal Deputy Leader might have been in a spot of bother, electorally speaking.
There is considerable doubt in my mind as to whether these sporting clubs’ applications were completed by volunteers working into the night.
I cannot be sure if rorting of parliamentary entitlements is on her CV, but she once took a 1,700km direct charter flight to Melbourne from Rockhampton, so she could watch the Melbourne Mustangs ice hockey team. The cost to taxpayers was $19,942, plus $500 for the Comcar from the airport to the game, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority data showed. A week earlier she spent $14,000 flying via charter to Cairns to watch a basketball game. She sat two seats from Prince Charles. You have to hope it was worth it. There were commercial flights available in both instances, but busy is busy!
But enough enjoyment from the cheap seats, concentrating on only one member of the Government. It is equally interesting to look at how the parties voted on the original motion advanced by Mr Wilkie.