Opinion Paul Bongiorno: Danger signs as double standards and cover ups rule

Paul Bongiorno: Danger signs as double standards and cover ups rule

The Morrison government is refusing to uphold the basic conventions of government and Parliament, Paul Bongiorno says.
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Trust is the glue of a liberal democracy like Australia.

It’s the essential ingredient that establishes the compact between the government and the people on whose behalf they govern.

The Morrison government is in grave danger of completely undermining that covenant entrusted to them at the 2019 election.

The evidence is as compelling as it is depressing.

What we have seen in the past month and in the current Parliamentary sittings is more than the expected slippery manoeuvrings to avoid embarrassment and minimise facing up to consequences.

We are seeing a blatant disregard for the conventions and proprieties previous administrations of both political persuasions adhered to as basic.

The refusal of the Attorney-General Christian Porter to stand aside while grave allegations against him remain unresolved was always problematic.

But once he embarked on defamation proceedings in the Federal Court for which he is responsible, it became unsustainable.

The conflict-of-interest implications were so obvious the Prime Minister – on the advice of the Solicitor-General – took these responsibilities away from Mr Porter and handed them to his assistant minister but only temporarily.

Labor’s Kristina Keneally on Sunday spelled out why Mr Morrison’s treatment of Mr Porter is so offensive when compared to his government’s treatment of ordinary citizens, especially female victims of domestic violence.

She said Christian Porter “can return to his job of Attorney-General on a full-time salary, but doing part-time work”.

She said it was “artificial” and that’s because he remains the senior legal minister and will return to his job of overseeing the judges of the Federal Court and deciding who will be promoted and who will not, including the one assigned to preside over his defamation case.

Senator Keneally said the Attorney-General will be given the time and the space on his full-time salary to fight his defamation case.

Then she wielded like a cudgel a recent contentious decision of the government to give scant support to domestic violence sufferers.

Senator Keneally said “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if women who are victims of domestic violence in this country had access to paid leave when they have to go to court to escape their abusers?”

Instead, she said, these women hear a very different thing for the Prime Minister and his ministers: “You can dip into your own superannuation savings and fund your own escape.”

And she continued “These are people who barely have any savings” and that makes her and the women of Australia very angry.

One woman who has ignited a tsunami of anger in the nation is Brittany Higgins.

Brittany Higgins continues to ask questions of the government and Parliamentary procedures.

The government’s completely disingenuous account of its response to her allegations of rape by another staffer in the office of her minister Linda Reynolds was laid bare in Senate Estimates and in Question Time on Monday.

Of course minister Reynolds has been shielded from any Parliamentary grilling by her extended sick leave – as has Christian Porter – though in his case he is well enough to assemble one of the most high-powered legal teams seen in a long while  to pursue the ABC.

But it is the whole government, from the Prime Minister down that has inexplicably gone into hiding from the simple truth.

The mystery as to why Scott Morrison would prefer to mislead Parliament over the curious inquiry he asked the head of his department Phil Gaetjens to conduct deepened when Mr Gaetjens contradicted Mr Morrison.

The senior public servant told Senate Estimates he informed the PM on March 9 that he had suspended his inquiry into who among the staff knew what and when about the Higgins rape allegations.

Mr Morrison last week told Parliament the inquiry was ongoing and on Monday Trump-like merely denied there was any contradiction.

Mr Porter’s stand in as leader of the house, Peter Dutton continued the policy of shutting down every attempt the Opposition makes to get the government to explain and defend themselves.

Mr Dutton kept moving that “the member no longer be heard”.

Their problem is the Australian public is hearing their deafening silence.

The sound void is being filled by the media and the outraged people prepared to speak out on it.

Network Ten on Monday night carried a shocking report of offensive, juvenile sexual behaviour by Liberal staffers in Canberra and Four Corners uncovered more evidence of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethos pervading the Morrison administration.

The flood disaster swamping New South Wales may be the distraction Mr Morrison needs, but even there this extreme weather is but another reminder of catastrophic climate change.

The record there is none too flash either.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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