Scott Morrison covid-19
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Remember, my value is: we look after our mates.

Scott Morrison, September 6 2018

Everywhere you look in the Morrison government, you see sleaze and self-interest, if not outright corruption. Merely itemising the current scandals on foot is an arduous task.

The million dollars paid to a Liberal mate for government advertising without the inconvenience of a tender. Christine Holgate’s spending habits at Australia Post, all approved by a Liberal-stacked board. The expenses scandal at ASIC that has already cost that regulator a deputy chairman and is likely to cost it the chairman. The ongoing investigation into the 1000% mark-up on the Leppington Triangle for a Liberal donor.

The festering sore of the Community Development Grants program, a scandal 10 times bigger than sports rorts. The soft pedaling of the ACLEI’s investigation into Home Affairs and Liberal donor Austal. The long-running harassment and prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery for exposing the corruption of the Howard government in Timor-Leste. Allowing executives of fossil fuel donors to write energy policy.

And, of course, the now years-long wait for even a pale shadow of a federal anti-corruption body.

Of all of these, Scott Morrison only confected high dudgeon about Holgate, his marketing skills having alerted him to the toxic combination of the words “Cartier” and “not taxpayers’ money”. Otherwise, his moral compass remains unmoved.

A number of the scandals have their genesis in the Abbott and Turnbull governments; Morrison only inherited some; others are of his own creation.

But all reflect two themes that have run through this government from day one in 2013: that it’s OK to use taxpayer money, and taxpayer-funded positions, for your own benefit, and the benefit of your mates, and for the benefit of your party; and that there are no consequences for failure and scandal, unless political calculation necessitates them.

Those themes are potent indeed. Governments do not operate in a vacuum. The tone and example set by governments has impacts that ripple outward. First to the bureaucrats who serve governments, then businesses that work closely with government, then the broader business community and then, eventually, the whole community.

When a government appoints scores of former Liberal MPs and staffers to publicly funded offices like the AAT; when it hands a million dollars to Liberal-connected pollster without process; when a deputy PM creates a taxpayer-funded job for his new girlfriend; when it gives over $440 million to a tiny Great Barrier Reef charity run by people connected to the Liberal-allied Business Council without process; when it carefully spends taxpayer money to service its electoral needs; when it hands tens of millions of dollars to its mates at News Corp without process — it sends a clear signal.

Taxpayer funds are there to help you and your mates. And looking after mates is the explicit foundational value of the Morrison government.

The message has filtered out to the bureaucracy. To Australia Post. To ASIC. To someone in the department in charge of valuing land in Western Sydney. To the Health Department, which looked the other way rather than do anything about Bridget McKenzie allocating grants without any legal authority.

It has filtered out to one of the government’s favourite consultants, KPMG, and every other major consulting firm that has latched firmly onto the taxpayer teat in recent years while delivering what ministers want to hear rather than quality policy advice. To its shipbuilder Austal. And it filtered out to the Leppington Pastoral Company plenty good.

And when ministers are caught out lobbying for their family’s business interests, or pedalling forged documents without consequence; when a department like Home Affairs can be repeatedly assessed as incompetent in the use of its powers and its expenditure of billions of dollars without any repercussions for its secretary or minister; when over a hundred thousand Australians can be targeted by an illegal scheme like robodebt without a single bureaucrat or minister suffering any consequence; when forensic independent reports by the auditor-general are dismissed by senior bureaucrats and the funding of the Australian National Audit Office is cut, when those who seek to hold the government up to scrutiny are raided, rather than rewarded, that too sends a signal.

Accountability doesn’t matter. You don’t need to fear the consequences of misuse of taxpayer funding.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,” David Morrison famously said. For the Morrison government, it hasn’t merely accepted the low standards that have mired federal politics in sleaze, it has actively promoted them.

This is the result.

Is the Coalition’s “mates first” policy rotting Australia? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

Peter Fray

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