I was listening to the news on the radio driving back to the office the other day and there was Donald Trump mouthing off about his impeachment trial and how it was all fake news.
I’m thinking, this guy is President of the United States, supposedly the greatest democracy in the world, and this is the model for leadership?
He gets caught red-handed every time but he denies everything, says it’s all made-up, hits back with some outlandish claim and, anyway, nobody out in the real world cares what’s happening in Washington.
And I asked myself is anybody accountable anymore? Because here in Canberra we’re getting fed the same BS, in longer, more coherent sentences, but it’s got the same stench about it.
It used to be that if a minister, or Prime Minister for that matter, did the wrong thing, breached a standard, or something untoward happened on their watch, the honourable member would do the honourable thing and walk.
Not now. Angus Taylor won’t take responsibility for using false figures in an attack on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore over overseas travel in some inane ploy to call out her supposed hypocrisy on climate change. PM Scott Morrison has got his back. NSW Police have now handpassed it to the AFP.
Morrison also has Bridget McKenzie’s back, under siege over the sports rorts affair.
Well, he did at first, but he’s now referred the damning Auditor-General’s report on the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program which she administered to his own department (PM&C) to investigate whether any ministerial standards were breached.
Basically, the Nationals Deputy Leader and former Sports Minister ran a pork barrelling exercise, channelling millions of taxpayer dollars in sports grants to Coalition marginal seats or seats it was targeting before last May’s unwinnable election.
Sport Australia had sent off a list of worthy recipients, only for her office to make quite a few alterations, because it had its own list of even worthier recipients.
Is McKenzie fazed by the report, or subsequent stories about how some grants went to pretty well-heeled clubs in “lucky” electorates, or her own conflict of interest?
No way. No apologies, no embarrassment and, hey, every recipient was eligible.
And minister after minister lined up with the same talking points about no rules being broken, because basically there weren’t any to break, and they all made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, lauding the great work the grants are doing in their communities.
Now, the miracle of May has been attributed to one of the most disciplined, tightly run and coordinated Coalition campaigns ever mounted, built around the Prime Minister and his office.
Would the Prime Minister’s office really be unaware of a $100 million grants program in the lead-up to an election in which all stops need to be pulled out?
Is that something Mr Morrison’s investigation will look at? More likely it will be process and procedure.
It is entirely plausible that the Coalition decided to use every advantage of incumbency in the fight of its life, and worry about the consequences later, if it survived.
The real fun will begin when Parliament resumes, and Labor can ask some questions in the House and through a Senate committee.
It may all seem a bit of a sideshow compared with the ongoing bushfire crisis, but the sports rorts affair signals another crisis – the breakdown of what was once known as responsible government, and the accountability at its core.
The Trump model appears to be contagious, and it’s infecting the Australian body politic.
McKenzie may yet be forced out, as the scrutiny of the media and Parliament intensifies, or the PM throws her under a bus.
Or she could also ride out the controversy, supported by a Prime Minister all too willing to accept a finding of mere structural issues with the program, and take the “Canberra bubble”, “fake news” route.
But if she does go, will it stop there?