News Politics Australian Politics Dennis Atkins: As Scott Morrison tries to ‘get out of Dodge’, Australia needs a political reckoning
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Dennis Atkins: As Scott Morrison tries to ‘get out of Dodge’, Australia needs a political reckoning

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference
Vote buying, abuse of spending public funds and corruption of public administration must have a price, writes Dennis Atkins. Photo: Getty/TND
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Has it come to this? A prosperous and generous country finds itself led by someone who has clustered a completely avoidable, expensive and painful failure in getting COVID-19 vaccines into the community by responding with the mind-numbingly empty two word slogan “COVID Shield”.

Any executive at Lowes would send it back to the agency. We have no such option.

As the week dragged on, Canberra more and more resembled Crazy Town – the Prime Minister looking harried and hunted and the opposition leader impersonating Tim Shaw with a sack of steak knives.

It also had a feel of an old wild west town like Dodge. Scott Morrison was the one-time feared gunslinger looking for a way out of town but found the streets blocked fully or partly by bad memories, present dangers and fear looming in the future.

Government’s ‘Gold Standard’ rorting

The bad memories came in waves. There was the gold standard rort performance highlighted last month by National Audit Office official Brian Boyd, who said the key consideration in handing out $660 million in funds for commuter car parks was whether they were in any one of 20 marginal electorates identified by the office of then minister Alan Tudge.

After Tudge denied knowledge of documents highlighted by the auditors and interrogated by the Senate, the Minister took the usual path followed by this accountability hesitant government. He turned on his heels and walked away.

On Thursday, Morrison followed him. At the end of another scrappy news conference, the Prime Minister was pressed on the car park rorts. He didn’t like it one bit, seeking first to throw blame and responsibility back at Tudge (who had a day before denied any knowledge of anything beyond his name and Cabinet rank).

It’s worth having a close look at what some of what the word-salad mixer had to say.

“What I have done is made sure that we’re addressing one of the biggest challenges that people living in cities face,” he began, suggesting he doesn’t actually get out much.

“These are real issues. These are things that people want us to address. And my government is addressing them. And I will make that commitment, as I did at the last election. I went to the Australian people and I said, ‘We want to do this. Will you support us?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And we’re doing it.”

A textbook example of abuse of process

The facts suggest any “public need” was either politically twisted, ignored or simply electorally convenient.

None of the 47 car parks committed by the Coalition were proposed by the infrastructure department, six have since been abandoned, one (at least) was never eligible for funding and now, almost two and half years later, just two are actual car parks.

This should have a special place in political science and public administration textbooks. You’ll never find a better (or worse) example of abuse of process, policy or politics.

Also, that measurement of success – if the public said “Yes” at the ballot box – is a ethically hollow walk down that highway to hell, the Ends Justifies the Means Avenue

Back to our spinner-in-chief. At the testy news conference, he protested he “couldn’t hear the questions” before flicking the switch to bluster.

“I’m very OK with the idea of building car parks to ensure people can get a park, get on a train, can get to work sooner, get home sooner, because urban congestion and people commuting is a daily challenge.”

“Ministers make the decisions, as they should. That’s the proper authorisation of the process. What Australians are getting are more car parks. Australians are the winners,” he said before turning away.

The trouble is Australians are not getting more car parks. They are not winners.

Australia needs a political reckoning

We can only hope Morrison is chased by this demon from his vote-hungry past all the way to the next campaign and, when that time comes, every day until people make their choice.

A reckoning has to come to show everyone – not just the Coalition but all in politics – shameless vote-buying, abuse of spending public funds and corruption of public administration has a price.

Another visitor from Morrison’s recent bad behaviour was the $1 million Australia Post settlement with dumped chief executive Christine Holgate.

As the former host of the ABC’s Insiders, Barrie Cassidy, asked on social media: “When was the last time a temper tantrum from the Prime Minister cost taxpayers $1 million?”

Morrison should also be haunted over his failed attempt to get his evangelical church pal Brian Houston into the Trump White House as a state dinner guest in 2019.

The Prime Minister blathered, avoided and fudged when quizzed about his role in getting Houston on the invite list – the Hillsong minister was vetoed by US administration officials for undisclosed reasons.

News Houston was this week charged by NSW Police for allegedly failing to tell authorities of sexual abuse committed by his now-deceased father, Frank, who was also a church cleric, could be what the White House was worried about.

These messy, loose ends need to be resolved, reconciled or answered by Morrison – but don’t count on it. This guy twists facts, tells flat untruths and just storms off sulkily when confronted with anything he doesn’t like. He hates transparency. He hates accountability.

Morrison still might sneak across the line at the election ahead of a Labor Party that hasn’t found its way. However, the campfires are going out quicker and the pounding hooves of the posse are getting louder.

Never has Dodge been harder to get out of.

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