Funny thing about the federal government’s orchestrated multiple “Gladys for Warringah” media moments: They weren’t really about a former Liberal premier perhaps running for a former Liberal prime minister’s seat.
They were about lessening the damage Scott Morrison is suffering from accusations of telling lies and running what is arguably the most corrupt Commonwealth government in our 120 years of federation.
The co-ordinated talking points attack on New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Environment Minister Sussan Ley, never mind anonymous “senior Liberals”, was not aimed at convincing Gladys Berejiklian she would like to be in federal Parliament taking orders from Mr Morrison.
Instead, the media grabs had two primary goals: 1. The Morrison government’s usual raison d’être of “winning” the daily news cycle; and 2. Deflecting criticism of Mr Morrison’s broken promise of introducing a federal equivalent of the ICAC and the weakness of the model the government has allegedly been working on for nearly four years.
“Don’t talk about my failure, talk about how bad a strong ICAC can be – you wouldn’t want one.”
It will be three years on Monday since Mr Morrison announced that “a new Commonwealth Integrity Commission will take the lead on detecting and stamping out any corrupt and criminal behaviour by Commonwealth employees”.
It hasn’t and it won’t.
Three years later, the Morrison government has refused the invitation to bring its proposed bill to the floor of the Parliament and was too scared to debate an independent proposal.
It will be four years next month since the Coalition “began carefully considering options for a national anti-corruption body”, Mr Morrison claimed, saying “we have taken the time to ensure this model fits into the existing system but avoids the worst aspects of some state anti-corruption bodies”.
Mr Morrison said his was “a serious new commission with teeth, resources and proper processes”.
It wasn’t, it isn’t, and there is no sign of it becoming one.
The Liberal Party is acutely aware that the stench of the Morrison government’s “integrity” jostles with climate change as the key driver of community independents candidates threatening safe Liberal seats.
In the same way that a vote for supposed Liberal “moderate” is a vote for Barnaby Joyce’s climate policy, a vote for Dave Sharma, Jason Falinski, Trent Zimmerman, Josh Frydenberg, Tim Wilson et al is a vote for #sportsrorts, #carpork and $4 billion worth of other raids on taxpayers’ funds for political purposes, rather than good government.
From the mere scores of millions of taxpayers’ dollars spent on political advertising of the Coalition’s dud climate policy and fake infrastructure boost to the multibillion-dollar Community Development Grants racket, it is spending former judges have no trouble describing as “corruption”.
What concerns the Morrison government about the ICAC’s inquiry is not what might or might not be found about what Ms Berejiklian should or should not have disclosed, but that it might lead to blowing the whistle on the sort of flagrant misuse of public funds that has become the Coalition’s hallmark.
With Commonwealth ministerial standards thoroughly trashed, the comparison with higher expected NSW standards is invidious. Best attempt to trash the body enforcing those NSW standards then – lie about it, mislead Parliament on the matters at stake, whatever.
Irony doesn’t come much thicker than this government criticising a legal ICAC inquiry while pursuing lawyer Bernard Collaery with “super-secret” evidence, a multi-year legal persecution of an honourable man that verges on an attempt to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
And it’s all over the embarrassment of the Howard/Downer government’s commercial espionage in East Timor.
And such is the gaming of Australian politics that, for all that is wrong with the government’s media stunts, they work.
On Sunday, Anthony Albanese unveiled Labor policies including free TAFE and more university places, but Scott Morrison was a passenger around Bathurst in a Mustang, throwing in such dubious statements as the Bathurst 1000 being “the greatest race there is” and that it was “the best course in the world”.
I’d wager more people know about Mr Morrison’s cruise around the track (no helmets needed to be worn) than Labor’s education policy.
On Monday, when Mr Albanese was out and about trying to sell those policies, cue the government attacking the ICAC and ramping up the idea of Ms Berejiklian running in Warringah. It was no contest.
The idea of Ms Berejiklian being a welcome candidate while awaiting the ICAC’s findings, let alone the suggestion she would win the seat with that cloud hanging over, suits Mr Morrison’s purposes just fine.
See, nobody wants a real integrity commission anyway.