Editorial
Affairs to remember

To consider the government’s recent history is to question which is the lesser of two evils – negligence or corruption. Where the Paladin affair falls may never become clear.

Perhaps once there was a hope the Morrison government would work to police misconduct within its ranks. That faded when details of its integrity commission emerged last year. A “sham commission”, said former Victorian Court of Appeal judge Stephen Charles AO.

To award $423 million without even the appearance of a genuine tender process raises alarms for basic competency. To hand it to a company headquartered in a beach shack on Kangaroo Island verges on the absurd.

Faced this week with questions about his company’s dealings with the Australian government, Paladin’s director, Ian Stewart, said: “We reject the notion in the media that any contract with a Papua New Guinea entity is tainted by corruption – we find this notion offensive.”

The sharp reaction to the Paladin story would suggest the Australian public finds offensive Stewart winning a government contract worth half-a-billion dollars.

Perhaps once this story could have toppled a minister. This week, it was almost overshadowed by a parade of other scandals – the 2000 Centrelink robocall deaths; the Helloworld travel scandal; the revelation both Michael Keenan and Michaelia Cash refused to give witness statements to the Australian Federal Police over the Australian Workers’ Union raid tipoffs; the apparent leaking of security advice to The Australian, which was then misrepresented.

Tim Wilson’s collaboration with relative and billionaire fund manager Geoff Wilson seems almost a lifetime ago.

But this woeful pattern, of course, predates Morrison’s leadership. Parallels abound between the Paladin contract and the surprise $444 million granted to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation by Malcolm Turnbull. The grossly inadequate Murray-Darling Basin Plan, responsible for the destruction of Australia’s most vital water source, passed under the Gillard Labor government.

Politics will always attract those who see it as a means to shape the nation, and those who see it as the chance to make a quick buck. It has always been this way.

Bill Shorten promises he will establish a national integrity commission, if elected. Helloworld will be the first item on its agenda. “This is a Liberal government of their donors, by their donors and for their donors,” Shorten said. “All this government has left is fear and dishonest scare campaigns. They think the public will forget their failures. Oh, no, they won’t.”

Whether his own government would fare any better, only time will tell.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 23, 2019 as "Affairs to remember". Subscribe here.