When it comes to a New South Wales-Commonwealth match-up on sleaze and corruption, we’ve got two competitors in peak form.
Gladys Berejiklian is now a byword for sleaze in a state made famous by persistent corruption. And Scott Morrison leads the most corrupt federal government since World War II.
But there can be only one winner when an uncleanable force meets a rotten-to-the-core object.
Phew! Where to start? Berejiklian goes hard out of the gate with a long-running “close personal relationship” with boyfriend, Berejiklian sackee and prize shonk Daryl Maguire, whose Walter Mitty-meets-Eddie Obeid dreams included selling access to the premier and name-dropping ministers for property developers eager to influence decisions while Berejiklian turned a blind eye.
If that icon of total corruption Joh Bjelke-Petersen made famous “Don’t you worry about that”, Berejiklian has made her own bid for Wikiquote history with: “I don’t need to know about that bit.”
It wasn’t all Maguire. Berejiklian pork-barrelled a council development fund to favour Liberal electorates and her office tried to shred the relevant documents, only for forensic IT to recover them, leading Berejiklian to declare that there was nothing illegal about pork-barrelling and everyone did it.
In this, she was just following the lead of serial Coalition pest and Nationals leader John Barilaro, whose personal highlights of the year included a failed attempt to stand for a federal seat (he didn’t fail to win, he failed to stand) and a couple of attempts to wreck the government, along with protecting farmers from the tragic and horrific consequences of koalas being allowed to live.
The only reason Berejiklian still has a job, of course, is that her most likely successor, Dominic Perrotet, is embroiled in his own scandal over the deep cesspit of governance that is state workplace insurer iCare, which included having to dump his chief of staff and breaches by Perrotet of rules around staff employment.
Elsewhere the Berejiklian government blew more than $53 million overpaying for a slice of toxic land at Camellia and refused to provide additional funding to the Independent Commission Against Corruption when it was investigating Berejiklian. Then there’s the lingering fallout from the outrageous corruption of water rights purchasing in the Murray-Darling Basin that went on under the Coalition.
In most years, Berejiklian would be looking for a spot in her office for the Sleaze of Origin trophy — perhaps out in the lobby where so many developers and other rentseekers have come looking to wield influence.
But she’s up against a potent foe: Scott Morrison.
Morrison, of course, began his prime ministership declaring that he’d look after the Liberal Party’s mates — and he’s lived up to that commitment every day.
Fossil fuel donor mates allowed to write the government’s gas-led recovery policy. Liberal Party mates looked after with huge, no-tender government advertising contracts. Liberal donor mates at Austal looked after with manufacturing policy decisions. Coalition candidate mates looked after with rampant rorting of the Community Development Grants and sports grants programs. Official Coalition propaganda arm News Corp looked after with gifts of tens of millions of dollars.
And then there were the cover-ups of and distractions from scandals. The cover-up of Alexander Downer and John Howard’s roles in the bugging of Timor-Leste via the harassment of Bernard Collaery and Witness K. The axing of the investigation into possible corruption at Home Affairs and Austal. The attempt by the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet to denigrate the auditor-general’s sports rort findings. The mysterious failure to prosecute government ministers and their staff for clear breaches of the law. The attempt by Alan Tudge to force a journalist to delete embarrassing footage of Christian Porter, and the attempt by Paul Fletcher to intimidate the ABC over Four Corners.
Plus bog-standard scandals like the astonishing 1000% mark-up on the Leppington Triangle for a Liberal donor or the expenses scandal at ASIC. In normal years they would be spectacular highlights but this year were just variations on a theme.
So who wins?
Berejiklian, with a strong all-round performance of sleaze and her bold declarations that pork-barrelling is fine, would edge out Morrison — except for one factor.
And that’s Morrison’s national integrity body, for which we’ve waited two years but, in its proposed form, would actually help cover up corruption and subject serving law enforcement officers in the AFP to far more stringent oversight than politicians and public servants.
Morrison’s stroke of genius — an anti-corruption body that would actually help corruption — is what matches and defeats Berejiklian.
Morrison goes through to the final by the narrowest of margins. But surely all can agree — it was a contest for the ages.
Tomorrow: Dan Andrews goes head-to-head with Scott Morrison in a corruption cage-match that can have only one winner.