As the political and geographical compass drew most of us, inexorably, back to Canberra this week (after the long April lay-off) a former Liberal leader was accusing politicians of losing their moral compass.

John Hewson, who could have been Prime Minister if it wasn’t for bloody Willesee and GST and birthday cakes and frigging candles, was actually talking about an issue some of us have agonised over for decades: the banning of live exports from Australia. Hewson wrote an article for Fairfax calling for live exports to be phased out.

To continue the practice, Hewson wrote, would “… in the face of irrefutable and tragic evidence of systemic failure, negligence, abuse, neglect, and cover-up, now over many years, serve as just another disturbing example of how our politicians and our political processes are rapidly losing their moral compass”.

Well, my compass needle on this one has been pointing due north for nearly 40 years, since in 1981 (pre-social media) I took a petition of 30,000 names demanding that very thing from Melbourne to Canberra  and presented it, in the old Parliament House rose garden, to the then Primary Industry Minister, Peter Nixon.

John Hewson has a genuine point. This time there should be zero tolerance for “more feigned shock and horror from our politicians” and no need for more committees, more reports, more “bullshit” (to use the word tossed in by new Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud) which may signal that the “anything goes” era of Barnyard Barnaby is really over.

Before I impart the latest Canberra tap dancing over live exports, let’s dwell a little on Hewson’s morality thesis — because it follows on the heels of Kelly O’Dwyer’s derisive comments on Insiders while digging herself a hole over the banking royal commission.

The minister told Barrie Cassidy: “So, you know, we’re going to have a new taxation system that’s based on a morality tax? I mean, let’s get a little bit real here.”

So, let’s get a little bit real. What is wrong with having some moral values embedded in our legal system? What is right, what is just, what is fair, what is moral. Maybe that is one of the reasons we’ve been heading to hell in a hand-basket in so many areas.

Back to live exports. I described it as “Canberra tap dancing”. A more accurate description would have been “waltzing backwards”. Because that’s what the government and the opposition have been doing over the past week or so.

David Littleproud has looked and sounded genuinely angry and threatened that some export company directors could join some of Scott Morrison’s banking directors in the slammer. The prospect of several other Liberals crossing the floor to support their own Sussan Ley’s planned bill looked promising. (But that was before the latest dual citizenship High Court ruling which saw Labor’s House of Reps numbers decimated by an unprecedented slew of resignations.

And in the shadow cabinet there were some “you’re leading again, Daphne” dance manoeuvres after Joel Fitzgibbon went on SKY News and announced to Laura Jayes (and to many of his colleagues) that Labor was backing a ban on live sheep exports including bringing in an immediate summer ban on cargo ships to the Middle East. It made animal lovers euphoric.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as I understand it, danced it back a tad by explaining it could take ten years “or longer”.

The Ley bill could well be on hold but a Senate Notice of Motion, jointly moved by the Greens Lea Rhiannon and moi, was to be introduced into the Senate later today.

***

You’ve all heard of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in a garage in Al Capone’s Chicago in 1929. Well, yesterday could be remembered as the 2018 Post-Budget Massacre. Within hours of the High Court ruling that Senator Katy Gallagher was ineligible, Labor pollies started dropping like flies — despite Bill Shorten’s assurance to a suspicious world last year that the ALP’s vetting process was “24-carat”. Turns out it wasn’t even gold-plated.

Seeing that I was that Perth lawyer’s original Section 44 target nearly a year ago, I think I’m entitled to be indulged with a personal anecdote. One Nation accused me of being ineligible to sit behind them in the Senate, not as a Kiwi, but because I hold an American social security number (having worked there in the 1960s-70s). That, to them, made me a Yank.

I offered to go to the High Court, even though I had some good clearance advice from experts like former Solicitor-General David Bennett. Through then Attorney-General George Brandis I sought government legal advice. The green light came back from the Solicitor-General’s department. The High Court was not necessary. Opposition Senate Leader Penny Wong said they would “take you at your word”.

The news came through on a Saturday as I was about to attend a 2GB radio reunion at Sydney’s famed Lord Nelson Hotel at The Rocks. As I walked into the pub, my former colleagues started a chant: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi,oi.”

I told them I was so relieved that I would shout the bar. And produced a US$100 greenback. I still carry it in my pocket.

Peter Fray

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