They say there’s no loyalty in politics, but it’s a filthy lie. This government knows how to look after its friends.
It looked after the banks, which contributed generously to both sides of politics but particularly generously to the Liberals — even employing a number of senior ministers between staffer jobs and public life. It protected them against a royal commission and gutted the corporate regulator, until politics demanded that sacrifices be made. It looked after financial planners and retail super funds, protecting them against Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) regulations, instead going after industry super funds.
It looked after News Corp, with a $30 million handout. It looked after the rest of the commercial media as well, with the repeal of the last media ownership laws and cuts and endless reviews of the ABC. It looked after big business donors with a company tax cut package worth tens of billions of dollars to Business Council members, despite knowing the economic benefits were trivial at best.
Then there’s the extraordinary extent to which MPs who hit the fence at the 2016 election have been looked after, with former MPs appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or statutory positions.
That former government staffers now well-placed in the private sector can call up Peter Dutton’s office and obtain a rapid fix to an au pair’s visa problem, or Liberal Party donors can expect similar silver service, is consistent with the generosity and loyalty for which this government is known. You look after your mates. It’s the Australian way.
If you’re not a mate, though, look out. As generous as it is toward its friends, this government is relentless to its enemies. And “enemies” includes anyone who has embarrassed the government by exposing its misconduct, wrong doing, or how its claims don’t stack up. We’ve itemised these “enemies” so often. The whistleblowers, opposition politicians and journalists improperly pursued by the AFP. The civilian critic who was smeared using personal information. The ABC journalists targeted with vexatious complaints. The prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery (again, targeting the ABC). To this list can now be added the alleged leaker of embarrassing details about Dutton’s carefree use of ministerial discretion to rescue mates’ au pairs from detention.
“Unacceptable and probably in breach of criminal law” was how Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo described the shedding of light on the use — or is it misuse? — of Dutton’s extraordinarily wide-ranging discretionary powers. He went on to lament “unlawful and indeed criminal disclosures that have not otherwise gone through the protections that are provided by this Parliament,” and said the matter had — like so many other leaks from his department — had been sent to the AFP for investigation.
Labor members of the committee investigating the au pair scandal were unimpressed, suggesting Pezzullo might have come close to threatening reprisals against people who had provided information to the committee. We may yet see a repeat of AFP officers trawling the bowels of Parliament House trying to track down emails that contained embarrassing information.
Police states are distinguished by, inter alia, a highly selective approach to the rule of law. Those deemed opponents of the government faced the full legal apparatus of the state, intend to punish those who embarrass or expose it, and deter any others who might similarly be tempted. But friends of the government can skirt the apparatus entirely, securing favour with a phone call, an email, an appeal to old mateship, business ties, mutual interests, donations. One rule for the former, no rules for the latter.