17 February 2022

PM's poll desperation puts public service in a compromising position

| Ian Bushnell
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison wears an Australian flag face mask

Where does Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s anything-goes approach leave the public service? Photo: Facebook.

If this week’s hysterical rehashing of an old and all-too-familiar script in Parliament is anything to go by, a government facing oblivion is prepared to trash every convention to retain power.

The Prime Minister is likely to call the election for May after his Treasurer hands down the Budget next month, but he has been in campaign mode for some time.

With opinion polls staying south for the Coalition and pressure on his leadership from within, evidenced by a series of leaks, Scott Morrison and his Defence Minister Peter Dutton, threw away whatever bipartisanship there was on national security by claiming without substance that Labor was China’s choice and leader Anthony Albanese was soft on the new superpower.

READ MORE ASIO boss reaffirms agency’s apolitical role

They did so by seizing on the comments from ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess in his annual threat assessment about foreign interference and an unidentified and foiled plot to bankroll candidates, and media reports, based on unnamed security sources, which filled in the spaces to name the foreign country as China and NSW Labor as the target.

The “yellow peril” threat is as old as this country and “reds under the beds” was a winner during the Cold War, but for the PM to suggest that Labor Deputy Leader Richard Marles was a “Manchurian candidate” took what now passes for public debate in this country to a new low and reeks of desperation.

There are very real concerns about China’s more aggressive stance in the region and the trade punishment meted out to Australia for daring to challenge President Xi’s new order.

Both the Coalition and Labor share those concerns, but now Mr Morrison is ratcheting up his rhetoric to confect a difference and wedge Mr Albanese.

Where does that leave ASIO, the other security agencies and Defence?

They are in the invidious position a few months out from an election of being recruited to the Coalition’s cause whether they like it or not.

They cannot be sure how information provided to government will be used.

ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess in Estimates

ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess in Estimates this week. Photo: Screenshot.

Mr Burgess twice this week, before Estimates and on the ABC’s 7.30, made it clear ASIO was non-partisan and would not be used for political advantage.

“ASIO is not here to be politicised. It should not be,” he said.

“We’re here to protect Australians from threats. We are guided by law and that law requires us to act in an apolitical fashion and not lend favour to one element of society or another, or one party or another,” Mr Burgess said.

He confirmed that political interference was not limited to one side of politics.

All governments use the power of incumbency and its access to the resources of the public service but the Coalition appears to take particular interest in spending taxpayers’ money in its own interests.

There are now three reports from the Auditor-General calling out the government’s administration of the multi-million dollar grants system and how it has tended to favour Coalition seats or be used to target marginal Labor seats at election time.

The Auditor-General has highlighted ministerial intervention and lobbying, breaching guidelines, unsupported approvals and a lack of fairness and equity.

It is now a tainted system in which a supposedly apolitical public service has been compromised.

READ ALSO As a migrant, the Australian flag has been ruined for me

In the lead-up to the election, the pressure from a desperate government to roll out the pork barrel and a long list of announcables will be enormous.

How will the public service cope with this pressure, whether it be grants or environmental approvals?

Will good economic policy be thrown out the window to frame a Budget full of election bribes?

If a panicky government is happy to play loose with national security to run the mother of all scare campaigns and paint the Opposition as treasonous, what else will it be prepared to do?

Public service chiefs insist that the professionalism is there for the APS to do its job properly, but there is enough evidence over the past decade that this reputation has frayed at the edges.

If Labor does win the election, there may be a reckoning for some when its Ministers get behind their desks.

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The public service are no longer allowed to be apolitical. Long gone is the “fearless and frank advice” of yesteryear.

Each way Albo is hard left. Morrison is a Turnbull-lite. Greens, well they’re just nutty. Palmer is for himself, Hanson is for the headline. I’m only voting to avoid the fine – might just draw my own box and put a 1 in in it

I am looking forward to the cake stalls and sausage sandwiches at the polling stations. That is the only reason I turn up to vote at all. Drawing scowl faces on the ballot paper or creating your own candidate is the only amusement. The last time I did not vote the NSW government sent debt collectors after me until I contacted the responsible agency and explained I was overseas and personally did not care less. The $175 fine was scrubbed.

Just a short time ago Scomo was sucking up to Xi like they were best mates & bragging about his free Trade Deal with China.

Stephen Saunders7:52 am 18 Feb 22

No fan at all of Morrison, but it is simply not true that Liberal and Labor have had the same line on China. Reams of very recent words and acts of trendy appeasement by Albanese, Wong, and State Premiers, give the lie to this.

Pushing back against totalitarian China is the one healthy thing Morrison has done. Being a poll maniac, he knows perfectly well this has voter support.

Yup there’s big problems there. And Morrisons trying to convince everyone he’ll save everyone. And he talks big. But he’s got no talent to negotiate the complexities. Remember when Trump played him for a fool. Australia pushed the Wuhan investigation, the US faded into the background. Then when China put limits on trade with Australia the US picked up the trade we lost.

Capital Retro10:43 am 18 Feb 22

It’s amazing how some of you lefties can always link someone else’s claims with Morrison in a negative sort of way.

Ask which person or party Beijing would like to see win the election. Then put them last.

I suspect they’d want the most authoritarian in power. It would make us easier to deal with. E.g. see Russia and Chinas more recent ties

Or you could cast a vote based on actual performance in government.
Labor got Australia through the GFC at the top of the positive rankings, while the LNP have let COVID-19 RIP and crippled the economy in the process.

Crippled the economy? We had the fastest employment bounce-back in the world and now have the lowest Australian unemployment rate in decades. As for Labor, their overblown response to the GFC looked good in terms of short term analysis but it left us in a structural deficit and drove up interest rates which drove up the $A, putting immense pressure on local manufacturing and slashing the value of our exports. It took 6 years of careful management to get the budget back into a balanced position and that was done while increasing federal government support for the state responsibilities of schools and hospitals.

The ALP saving the country from the GFC and the LNP for letting COVID-19 RIP and crippled the economy. What are you talking about?

The Federal Government (LNP) closed our International Borders, to prevent Covid ripping thru the country.

Most restrictions, that damaged our economy have come from restrictions placed on us by State Governments to protect their Health systems and most State and Territory Governments are held by the ALP/Greens.

Decisions regarding opening up the States and the country have been made by the National Cabinet, which includes the Federal AND all State and Territory Governments, albeit that States have had their own interpretations of those agreements.

NSW (LNP) made a unilateral decision to removing restrictions in the earlier stages of Omicron and yes I would call that that “Letting it Rip”. Personally, I think they were wrong to do it so fast. Others would probably argue in removing restrictions, they were opening up the economy.

You are letting your partisan political views confuse issues.

I think it’d be helpful if you better understood the roles of our respective levels of Government, because it’s simply not a case that the ALP are our financial saviours and the LNP the wreckers of the economy.

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