Gladys Berejiklian and Daryl Maguire (Images: AAP)

Many of us spent more time consuming news in 2020 than any other year in memory. But never has information been so desperately sought and so frequently hidden.

Take the story of the year: a deadly virus that upended the world killing more than a million people. Almost a year on and we’re none the wiser about how it started.

And with China waging a trade war with Australia for trying to find out, we’ll be waiting a while for the answer.

It wasn’t just China dodging interrogation. It seemed like all across the world the powerful were perfecting the art of evasion. In Australia questions about alleged corruption, pork-barrelling and secret affairs were batted away with innovative PR, deflection and spin.

But while COVID-19 has proved the perfect cover for those avoiding scrutiny, some questions deserve to be asked again and again.

Here’s Crikey’s list of just some:

Coronavirus: how exactly did it start?

We still don’t know. As the science journal Nature points out, nailing down the origins of the virus could take years, if it can be done at all, and any investigation would have to navigate the highly sensitive political situation between China and the rest of the world.

Gladys Berejiklian and Daryl Maguire: how much of a security threat did Maguire pose?

The New South Wales premier’s secret love affair with the disgraced MP prompted enough questions to keep the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) busy for days. Berejiklian became adept at swatting away reporters’ questions, dismissing the potential risk posed by Maguire’s connections to China as “complete rubbish”.

But one question Crikey is still asking: did ICAC also dismiss the security risk out of hand, or did it pass on its information to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation?

Angus Taylor and Clover Moore: who altered the document?

Remember when the Australian Federal Police (AFP) “formed no concluded view” about who altered the City of Sydney document that Energy Minister Angus Taylor used to attack Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore? The AFP made the announcement in February after deciding not to interview either Taylor or Moore. Frenzied messages between Taylor’s staff have only added to the mystery. Will we get to the bottom of it in 2021?

Leppington Triangle: who decided to buy the land for 10 times its market value?

Months after the revelation that a government department paid 10 times more for a piece of land than it was worth we still don’t know how the deal came about. Who made the decision to pay $30 million for land worth $3 million? That it was bought from Liberal Party donors Tony and Ron Perich makes the question only more pertinent.

We might get answers now it’s the subject of a criminal investigation. But don’t expect it to be easy. The government has already refused to comply with a Senate order to produce its associated briefs.

Robodebt: who knew what, when?

Now the government has agreed to pay $1.2 billion to victims of its cruel robodebt scheme, it might seem like the scandal is over. But there are a lot of questions we don’t have answers to — which is one of the reasons why Labor and the Greens are calling for a royal commission.

The biggest question is: who knew what, when? Given the social services minister at the time is now the prime minister, it’s not going to be easy to find out. But as the program has done untold damage to some of Australia’s most vulnerable people, we should keep asking.

Stronger Communities grants: whose idea was the scheme, and how was the money allocated?

Not even an office shredder was enough to let Berejiklian escape questions about another scandal: her using local government grants to bankroll an alleged $140 million pork-barrelling scheme. But it certainly slowed things down — as did her refusal to testify about the program to a parliamentary inquiry.

Whose idea was the scheme? And how was the money allocated? With the destroyed documents now recovered and Berejiklian kindly offering to front estimates hearings next year, perhaps we’ll get some answers.

What would happen if Scott Morrison got COVID? And who was in quarantine with him in November?

When Trump was hospitalised with COVID in October, Crikey tried to find out what plans were in place if the same thing happened to the prime minister. We asked his office where would he be treated — in a public hospital or privately? Who would act as his physician? What would the procedure be around isolating those who had come into contact with him?

We never got a response but these are still valid questions. As are those we asked in November when Morrison went into quarantine after travelling to Japan: was Adam Taylor, Morrison’s personal photographer, the only staffer in lockdown with him? And if not, how many people were in lockdown and what are their roles?

Again, no response.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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