Just in case you thought 2018 was going to be significantly different to 2017 for the Turnbull government — new year, new us etc — the leaks have already started. Yesterday the ABC got a cabinet document canvassing a range of Abbott-era welfare reform options including ritually sacrificing cutting benefits off to young unemployed people altogether, until Kevin Andrews suggested it might be going a bit far.

Today it’s a document about then-Immigration Minister Scott Morrison asking ASIO that they go slow on processing security clearances for asylum seekers so more could be kept out of Australia. Oddly, there’s no talk of calling in the Federal Police to pursue this serious breach of cabinet confidentiality.

But if you apply the usual cui bono algorithm to determine the provenance, the computer says “no”. Consider the options:

  1. Abbott leak was from the Turnbull camp to make Abbott look bad because who would cut off welfare to young people?
  2. Abbott leak was from the Abbott camp to make Abbott look good to the party base because he was prepared to consider cutting of welfare to young people.
  3. Morrison leak was from the Turnbull camp to make him look bad and undermine his threat to replace Turnbull.
  4. Morrison leak was from the Abbott camp as payback for not backing Abbott.
  5. Morrison leak was from Morrison to remind the party base of his success in stopping the boats.
  6. Morrison leak was from the Dutton camp to make him look bad and undermine his threat as a rival to Dutton to replace Turnbull.
  7. Obviously nothing to do with Julie Bishop because she never leaks.
  8. One or both leaks were from the anti-Turnbull camp and designed simply to create the appearance of disunity, spark articles like this and provoke counter-leaks.

Actually it’s less an algorithm than a hall of mirrors. It’s true that we haven’t reached the stage of the last days of the Abbott government, when entire cabinet discussions would appear verbatim in the press as if cut-and-pasted from the note-taker’s laptop. But we were debating who was leaking against whom at the end of 2017 and we’ve kicked off 2018 the same way.

When it comes to leaks, if you have to ask cui bono, the answer is “not you, mate”.

Peter Fray

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