Friday, December 14, 2018

Morrison’s surprise integrity commission

Prime minister Scott Morrison has announced the formation of a national anti-corruption body, less than a month after describing the idea as a “fringe issue”. Speaking on Thursday, Morrison said the new Commonwealth Integrity Commission would “learn the lessons from many of the failed experiments we’ve seen at the state level”, which he said had become “playthings” for political agendas. The commission model follows that presented by attorney-general Christian Porter to cabinet before August’s leadership change. Under Porter’s proposal, the CIC’s public sector division would not be able to hold public hearings or make findings, and “will not investigate direct complaints about ministers, members of parliament or their staff received from the public at large”. Independent member for Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps, who has been pushing for a federal anti-corruption body alongside the parliamentary crossbench, said she “certainly won’t be supporting any proposal that doesn’t result in adequate transparency and proper investigative powers”.

Western Australia’s inspector of custodial services has released a damning report into the case of an Aboriginal woman forced to give birth alone in a cell. In March, a woman identified as “Amy” gave birth in Bandyup women’s prison in northeast Perth after spending 43 days in custody. Staff ignored Amy’s calls for help for more than an hour, at one stage giving her paracetamol and returning her to the cell. Staff eventually offered help through Amy’s locked cell door, but she gave birth before a staff member could arrive with keys. The report found that “every person on night shift on 11 March was aware that Amy was in pain and distress for at least an hour before the birth”, but failed to act likely due to “a desensitisation of staff to the suffering of Amy, a lack of knowledge or skills, or because each person assumed someone else would take responsibility for responding”. Inspector Neil Morgan said he “wanted to understand how such a distressing, degrading and high risk set of events could have occurred in a 21st century Australian prison”.

United States president Donald Trump has claimed he never directed his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to break the law. In a series of tweets, Trump said Cohen pleaded guilty “in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence”. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday on eight charges of tax evasion, fraud, campaign finance breaches and lying to Congress over large sums of money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. During Cohen’s trial, prosecutors asserted that he had “acted in co-ordination and at the direction of Individual-1”, a reference to Trump.

And British prime minister Theresa May has survived a vote of confidence, preserving her position as party leader for another 12 months. Conservative Party MPs voted to retain May as leader by 200 votes to 117. Speaking after the vote, May doubled down on her draft Brexit agreement that led to the vote, calling it “the Brexit people voted for”. She also confirmed that she would not lead the party to the next general election in 2022, saying “I think it is right that the party feels that they would prefer to go into that election with another leader”. May still has not set a date for a parliamentary vote on the agreement, which is likely to fail in the House of Commons.



“At COAG, the oft-divided state and federal energy ministers will consider the energy market operator’s plan to connect the rush of renewable energy to Australia’s power grid. The choices made at COAG could have profound implications for the reliability and cost of energy in Australia. Get it wrong and the country could end up with consumers paying more for electricity for decades to come.”


“At the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, a secondee from inner-city Sydney was sharing an office with Linda Rive, an interpreter who had spent a good deal of time living in remote communities in the Western Desert. Linda mentioned that when she first worked out on the lands there was no accommodation for visiting whitefellas, and she had lived for months at a time in a wiltja. The secondee heard the word, which means a traditional shelter, as ‘wheelchair’.”


“There is a nexus here on major projects, especially governments’ big cultural projects and other major projects by private developers seeking a better planning outcome: in essence they see overseas ‘star architects’ as good, and Australian architects as lesser and in need of exposure to what the internationals are doing.”


“It's no surprise that the the tech community is up in arms over the passing of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) bill last week. There is widespread concern that the bill will result in Australians working for technology companies will lose jobs here and abroad and that products and services developed here will no longer be trusted by the international community. A group of tech companies has come together to fix the flaws in the bill.”


“Prime minister Scott Morrison will take a proposal for a dedicated religious discrimination act to the next election, as he releases the findings of a lengthy review into the nation’s religious freedoms ... A proposal for a religious discrimination commissioner, to sit within the Australian Human Rights Commission, will also be adopted.”



“And so draws to a close another year that we – all of us, willingly or not – spent online. If 2016 was a year defined by hating the year 2016, and 2017 was a year in which this vast disdain could only be quantified by categorising and ranking the most loathsome things online, 2018 was – well, we’re not going to say it was worse, but it certainly wasn’t better.”

Alex McKinnon
is Schwartz Media's morning editor.