Scott Morrison and Christian Porter (Image: AAP)

Badgerys Creek airport. Rezoning. Road access. A murky deal.

Some of the details from disgraced NSW MP Daryl Maguire’s attempt to help out Louise Raedler Waterhouse in her quest to maximise the value of a parcel of land near the new airport in Western Sydney have a certain familiarity.

The ostensible reason bureaucrats in the federal Department of Infrastructure paid ten times more than they should have to buy some land adjacent to Badgerys Creek from a Liberal donor was because they demanded that a valuer calculate what the block would be worth if it was rezoned to maximum potential use.

Owning land near the forthcoming airport is clearly a ticket to huge wealth — if you can get the right outcome from bureaucrats and ministers.

Usually it’s state and local governments that offer property owners and developers the opportunity to get rich off a bureaucratic stroke of a keyboard, but Badgerys Creek is an example where Commonwealth decisions can also yield a pot of gold for the lucky owner. Or donor. Normally, it’s the opportunities for rorting presented by grants programs that lead to corruption at the federal level.

The details of the extent to which Maguire allegedly sought to use his relationship with Berejiklian to extract immensely rewarding regulatory outcomes for mates — which he hoped to get a cut of — have only emerged courtesy of the investigations of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.

It was ICAC that forced Maguire to resign in 2018 after it revealed his conversations with a councillor of Canterbury council about the cut they would get from the purchase of a block of land zone for several hundred units.

But under the Morrison government’s model for a federal ICAC — released years ago, without any steps taken to establish — a federal counterpart to Maguire, say a dodgy western Sydney MP trying to extract favours for a mate owning a block of land next door to Badgerys Creek, would never have been caught.

Under the restrictions imposed by Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter, the federal ICAC would explicitly be banned from investigating complaints about an MP from a whistleblower or member of the public. It could only act if another integrity body referred a complaint about the MP to it.

And even if another body referred it, a federal ICAC might not be able to investigate it — it would have to decide if trying to influence a Commonwealth decision for a mate was “serious or systemic corrupt conduct”. If not, then it couldn’t investigate. If it did investigate, it wouldn’t be able to do so publicly. The entire hearing would be held in secret, so any relevant details — like, say, the relationship between a dodgy MP and the prime minister — would be kept hush hush.

And the federal ICAC would also be banned from making a finding that the MP had behaved corruptly. Instead, they would have to hand their findings to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions — who is hand-picked by the government.

It’s another example of how Morrison and Porter’s farcical federal ICAC model would allow corrupt MPs and ministers to continue on their merry way without fear of a whistleblower, complainant or disgruntled client, making life difficult for them.

Everywhere you look at the state level, there are major integrity and accountability issues. In Victoria, it’s the lack of accountability for the Andrews’ government’s lethal mishandling of hotel quarantine. In NSW, it’s the latest in a long, long line of dodgy MPs.

In Queensland, it’s scandals around the premier’s former chief of staff and the opposition leader being referred to authorities by her own party for potential donation law breaches. (Opposition leader Deb Frecklington today rejected reports that she had been referred to the Electoral Commission of Queensland over breaches.)

Does anyone outside the federal Liberal and National parties seriously think federal MPs are fundamentally different from their state counterparts?

Australia is a banana republic, a country where the fix is always in, mates are always looked after, and having your eye for the main chance is a guide to public life for too many MPs. The only thing they fear is a well-resourced, independent and transparent anti-corruption body.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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