If a strong opposition is essential for democracy, how lucky are we to have such a bulwark against what some “news” organisations shrilly call our grave error in electing a new Government? The new leader and his Front Bench apparently features “an incredible depth of talent” – a bold claim given the mostly familiar faces of which it is comprised.
But how long can they last? Once the long delayed and much anticipated National Independent Commission Against Corruption is up and running – slated to be mid next year – how many of them will be called before it to finally answer for the lies, sins and crimes of the last nine years?
Below I search for evidence of the vaunted talent of the Shadow Ministry and – using a scoring system out of a possible 10 Jam Land Jars, so named for the company part-owned by Angus Taylor and convicted of illegal grass-clearing that featured in one of Taylor’s many NICAC-worthy offences – examine the likelihood of its members scoring starring roles in future NICAC investigations.
Peter Dutton: Leader of the Liberal Party
In the days before Peter “Not a Monster” Dutton was anointed to lead the Liberal Party’s much diminished troops, Brother Stuie Roberts stepped forward to exhort us not to unfairly judge proud boy Pete for such inconsequential things as comments he has made or decisions he has taken. These things in no way reflect the size of his heart or the quality of his character, both of which, Brother Stuie assured a blinking nation, are warm and big.
Dutton’s historic record includes jokes that combine insulting the culture of our Pacific neighbours with mocking the existential climate threat they face in part due to our negligence, ever-changing excuses for his boycott of the Apology, assertions that African gang violence kept Melburnians cowering at home, describing deportations so corrosive they managed to jeopardise our relationship with New Zealand as “taking out the trash”, labelling of Australian-born infants as “Anchor Babies”, accusing refugee women claiming they were raped by the prison guards at our Pacific gulags of “trying it on”, celebrating Anzac Day by calling on us to prepare for war with China, insisting that some of the abandoned Afghan interpreters who’d served alongside our diggers were probably terrorists, demanding welcome mats for “persecuted” White South African farmers who would – unlike less deserving, less White refugees – “abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard [and] not lead a life on welfare”, doubling down on bellicose talk of “drums of war” about our biggest trading partner and most powerful country in our region despite pleas from security agencies to stop-and-desist. Yes, considering his past rhetoric, a desire to dodge responsibility for it is completely fucking natural.
Even as he struggles to cast off his Bad Boy persona, Dutton can’t resist the Sirens of Sky, where he and his mad Chorus violently agree on the dangers of political extremists disguised as committed teachers, on the looming flotillas of asylum boats threatening our shores and the economic mayhem that is to come from our new Government following the dismissal of the most profligate in history. Demonstrating a startling new embrace of transparency, Dutton then did the very thing the former Government mendaciously alleged the Labor Party would do as justification for defying US wishes that Labor be briefed earlier on the AUKUS deal – revealing national security secrets for base political gain.
Here’s a man in a hurry to stay the same.
Jam Land Jars: 10
Dutton will surely have to answer for the billions awarded in tender-free contracts to Coalition donors Paladin and Canstruct to run Australia’s gulags in Nauru and Papua New Guinea despite them being barely more than shelf companies at the time, and the jaw-dropping and much-documented waste in a detention system carefully designed to be soul-crushing.
He achieves a perfect 10 with a bonus Jam Land Jar awarded for friendlyjordies’ odd pre-election tale of Pete’s friendship with Liberal donor Eddie Kocwa, creator of this infamous ad in which Dutton featured, a story that led to the candidate for Lilley, Ryan Shaw, standing down mere weeks before the election despite having campaigned in the seat for months.
Angus Taylor: Shadow Treasurer
Could the elevation of Angus Taylor to the position of Shadow Treasurer be a sly indication that Dutton has a sense of humour after all? When Taylor says the new Government should treat “taxpayers’ money as it if was their own”, we can’t be sure if he means handing it over to friends and ideological allies in keeping with the practice of our dear departed former Leader and his own demonstrated instincts in the energy market, or literally transferring money to companies associated with his inner circle, as per Taylor’s documented preferred strategy. His most recent key initiative was CoalKeeper, whereby taxpayers were to be forced to pay for antiquated power stations’ continued burning of coal we didn’t want or need at a cost of up to $400 per household, ensuring the coal company’s income is maintained whilst emissions and electricity prices remained sky-high.
Someone’s a winner in that, I guess.
I’ll grant Taylor points for sheer chutzpah as he heaps opprobrium on a Government still settling on to the red leather benches and shoots an ad for Firstyle Homes that includes a surely self-directed Angus unironically lecturing us about “prudent fiscal policy” before heading to his first press conference as Shadow Treasurer that attracted zero journalists.
Jam Land Jars: 11
Taylor breaks the Jam Land Jar ratings for reasons about which I wrote in detail for The Shot last year, the most egregious of which remain the still unexplained ownership of the Taylor-co-founded, Cayman Island-headquartered Eastern Australia Irrigation and the $80m it earned for selling no water to the then Barnaby Joyce-led Department of Agriculture, and Taylor’s gate-crashing of an official meeting within the Department of Environment discussing the illegal grass clearing by Jam Land without disclosing his part-ownership of said Jam Land.
Sussan Ley: Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Shadow Minster for Industry and Women
Sussan Ley distinguished herself immediately in her new role of Shadow Minister for Women by announcing at her first press conference that men also speak for women. Her previous notable performances include her stint as Minister for the Environment when, upon her return from an emergency trip to Europe to lobby UNESCO delegates not to embarrass the government by listing the Great Barrier Reef as endangered despite universal acceptance that it is, in fact, endangered, she successfully appealed against the Federal Court decision of Bromberg J in Sharma v Minister for Environment brought by eight high-school students that found she had a duty of care to consider the climate change impacts of an open-cut coalmine extension in NSW. The minister, the students had suggested, should not make decisions that endangered the very planet on which they would have to try and live in the future. Ley disagreed.
Jam Land Jars: 6
Ley retired hurt to the backbench for a while after being caught using her travel allowance to pilot a charter flight to the Gold Coast to maintain the flying hours required to keep her pilot’s license. The chosen destination allowed her to purchase a holiday house while passing through.
Alan Tudge: Shadow Minister for Education
What a relief Alan Tudge returns to the Education portfolio, albeit now mercifully as Shadow, after what also proved to be a temporary if belated time out on the backbench to reflect on his adultery with and alleged abuse of his one-time staffer, Rachelle Miller.
When previously holding the portfolio, he decried the lack of “positive and patriotic and optimistic view of our history” in the first draft of the new national curriculum that included greater interrogation of our past, arguing it risked instilling a “hatred” for Australia and creating a generation who would not fight to “protect it”. Prior to this he was infamous for taking the Human out of the Human Services portfolio by charitably advising the most vulnerable Australians that the Government’s enthusiastic implementation of the illegal, sometimes fatal Robodebt scheme meant “we’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison.”
Jam Land Jars: 6
In 2018-2019, as Infrastructure Minister, Alan Tudge made $600m of pre-election promises for commuter carparks in seats overwhelmingly held or targeted by the Coalition, regardless of whether there were any actual train stations in the electorates.
Jane Hume: Shadow Minister for Finance
Jane Hume has spent most of her political career shamelessly pursuing the interests of her previous employers by regularly attacking industry superannuation funds despite consistent bountiful evidence they offer the best returns to their members. She then moved on to undermine our superannuation system in its entirety. Whilst Minister for Women’s Economic Security, she promoted the idea of endangered women using their (often non-existent) superannuation to fund their flight from domestic violence and cheered on women under financial stress draining their super during the pandemic. During the 2022 election, Hume suggested those shut out of the housing market should be able to hand over $50k of their puny super balances to real estate agents as a deposit on a first home despite conceding it was likely to further inflate the housing market.
Hume was a prime player in the inexcusable exploitation of Kimberley Kitching’s untimely death, when the then Government sought to conflate Labor’s typically vociferous factional and policy disagreements with accusations of “menacing wallpaper”-style Prime Ministerial bullying as well as obfuscate the circumstances around alleged rapes in Parliament and a Cabinet Minister’s past. When Tanya Plibersek disputed this despicable false equivalence during a joint Sunrise appearance and accurately stated that Senator Kitching had made no formal complaint about the bullying to which the Government now insisted she had been subjected, Hume retorted “Dead women tell no tales”.
Jam Land Jars: 1
Although a constant spruiker of her previous employers’ interests and a generally unpleasant political player, Hume has not been directly involved in corrupt and unethical behaviour.
Dan Tehan: Shadow Minister for Immigration
Principally known for being gormless and utterly unexceptional, as Trade Minister Tehan was left to cool his heels in Paris when attempting to advance the EU Free Trade deal after his French counterpart and EU officials refused to meet with him in September in the aftermath of the AUKUS debacle. He similarly failed to close a trade deal with the UK in October, despite the desperate straits of the UK post-Brexit, with further concessions on beef and lamb exports ultimately required to get the job done.
In his earlier incarnation of Education Minister, Tehan was responsible for using the cover of COVID to sneak through the most dramatic changes to university funding and fee structures in decades, asserting they would result in more graduates with in-demand vocational degrees despite his own bureaucrats confessing no modelling had been done on the likely impact of the changes and that the Department had no idea if they would be effective. No doubt completely coincidentally, the changes also significantly reduced funding for Humanities degrees. Tehan was also known for rejecting a number of rigorously assessed Australian Research Council grants on opaque “national security” grounds.
Jam Land Jars: 0
Whether due to insipidity or ethics, I’ve uncovered nothing NICAC-able in Dan’s past, although it was tempting to award him a Jar for the sheer shamelessness of his complaint about the dearth of sitting days in June.
Michaelia Cash: Shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations
It is sadly no exaggeration to say that the Senator for Whiteboards is best known for her curious cadences, striking gait and impregnable hair. For a while, her office was a Halfway House for the Liberals’ designated problem women, a brief stop for the likes of Brittany Higgins and Rachelle Miller to be offered false reassurance and saccharine platitudes on their way to political oblivion.
A stranger to policy achievement or even interest, Cash is remembered for her exaggerated and evocative hand gestures as she threatened to “name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office over whom rumours in this place abound” in a bid to distract from revelations of the role of her office in tipping off media about an impending AFP raid on the AWU, and when she accused Minister Wong of drinking from a “chalice of blood” following the rolling of Julia Gillard. Cash disappeared from the heated public debate around an Integrity Commission during the recent election campaign despite it sitting squarely within her long-coveted Attorney General’s portfolio. Once secured, her main activity in said portfolio seems to have been continuing the rabid pursuit of Bernard Collaery and David McBride and ignoring the plight of Julian Assange.
Jam Land Jars: 8
Whilst the lies told about the aforementioned AFP raids may have receded into the mists of time, her continuation of her predecessor’s shameless practice of stacking the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) with Liberal mates should see Cash called before our new ICAC to answer for her actions. In particular, there should be scrutiny of the curious promotion of Fiona Meagher from full-time Member to President of the AAT (following her prior meteoric rise from part-time to full-time member under the previous Attorney General) after earlier advocacy on Meagher’s behalf to the Prime Minister from her father, retired High Court judge Ian Callinan, whilst Callinan was conducting an inquiry into that very institution. A senior legal source of The Australian described Meagher’s ascent from part-timer to AAT President in four years as akin to “going from cadet to Head of the Army”.
Next time: We trawl through the Nationals, the odd Assistant Minister and Those Who Are Not There.