Five years

Scott Morrison is lying. He says he is not, which is also a lie. “You’ve got to stop reading The Saturday Paper,” he says. “It’s not true. That report is just not true.”

Morrison denies receiving advice from security agencies, showing how the medivac bill could be amended to ameliorate pull factors. He did. He just ignored it.

Advice was given to the national security committee, of which Morrison is chair. The parts of it that were useful to the government were leaked to The Australian. Speaking on ABC Radio, Morrison denied the rest.

Ignoring the advice allowed Morrison to claim Labor was inviting a crisis in border security, which he did. This is the quality of our politics.

It is five years today since The Saturday Paper first came off the presses. In that time, debate has thickened like keloid. Faith in institutions has continued its decline. Truth has become a kind of abstraction.

Common to these things is a fragile hold on power. Those attached to the past will lie and scrap and grift to maintain outdated orthodoxies. They do so at the expense of the country and its future.

This week, George Pell was jailed for molesting two boys in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral. National newspapers played Cluedo with the verdict: I don’t believe it; he’s too good a man; I like him too much; he would have locked the door, surely; how could he have gotten his penis out through the robes? Pell maintains his innocence.

Here, justice is mistaken for culture war. Facts dissolve. It is not just Pell being protected: it is the institutions that formed the basis of moral and social consensus in this country, and which are now doubted. That is the thing about power: it does not like to be questioned.

When The Saturday Paper launched, we promised a newspaper for a country more serious than it is sometimes credited as being. Australia’s seriousness has never wavered, despite the farce of the people who stand at its top.

The leaked medivac advice was misrepresented by The Australian. The director-general of ASIO took the extraordinary step of contradicting it, publicly.

While he did this, the government ignored criticism over a multimillion-dollar contract for offshore detention, awarded through secret tender to a company whose directors include a man charged with fraud and money laundering.

The same week, it emerged that two ministers had impeded an Australian Federal Police investigation and prevented charges being laid over misconduct. Another government contract was awarded after free travel was given to a minister. He repaid it, and said nothing was wrong.

The truth doesn’t matter. The government would sooner lie than confront it. The same goes for Pell: we now know that the architect of the church’s response to clergy abuse is a paedophile himself, and instead of confronting this terrible reality, one half of the press is pretending it’s not true.

Five years after printing the first issue of The Saturday Paper, our job has never been clearer: to keep writing what others will not. Scott Morrison is a liar. George Pell is a paedophile. And the edifice of power in this country is rotten.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 2, 2019 as "Five year".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on June 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.