“Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today, Oh how I wish he’d go away!”
– William Hughes Mearns
It’s getting all a bit much, isn’t it? The sheer, maddening, shamelessness of this Government? Their incompetence, their venality, their insulting refusal to acknowledge realities that we see with our own eyes, their denial of past statements that we heard with our own ears, their base bleak morality that seeps into our bones.
It’s dispiriting, it’s exhausting, and above all it’s endless. There is literally no end to the depths to which they sink.
Last week, an accused rapist was elevated to the role of Leader of the House. “Christian Porter is an innocent man”, thundered the Prime Minister when allegations against him were first made public. Except that we don’t know if Mr Porter is innocent or guilty of the heinous crimes of which he is accused – and has, of course, “strenuously denied” – because they have never been investigated. For reasons still unknown, the NSW Police dallied when it came to taking the statement of Mr Porter’s accuser, and soon after they thrice denied her, she died by suicide – conveniently, according to the reliably appalling soon-to-be-ex Senator Abetz. Mr Morrison rejected calls for an independent inquiry, preferring the rigorous process of asking Mr Porter if he did it, and accepting unquestioningly his personal denial, thereby ensuring the Rugby League holds its players to higher standards than our Prime Minister does his Cabinet. With his accuser’s claims untested, and the comprehensive document the ABC prepared to support their Truth defence disappointingly buried deep in a vault of the Federal Court – a document that so panicked Mr Porter, he fought tooth and nail to keep it secret, and shortly thereafter dropped the defamation case that he launched with fanfare and a boast it would clear his name – the despicable pretence that Mr Porter has been exonerated resumes, and the shameless rehabilitation of an alleged predator continues.
As Australian of the Year Grace Tame wrote so eloquently, this is a slap in the face to women, to victims, to survivors. But the Government isn’t for turning to mollify a pesky 51% minority. Even before this week’s pointed criticism, they seemed somewhat perturbed by Ms Tame’s steely advocacy; rather than listen to her powerful voice, they launched a probe into the process that anointed her Australian of the Year in the first place.
The incumbent Mr Porter is temporarily replacing as House Leader is the man who spent his last seven years finding ever more creative ways to institutionalise cruelty in our immigration system. Whether leaving traumatised people to languish in gulags in the Pacific, or locking them indefinitely in hotels in Australia, or raiding the home of a young family in Biloela to throw them into detention thousands of miles from a community that loved them, or deporting long-term Australian residents for minor offences to places with which they have little or no connection in a program he deemed “taking out the trash”, or letting Australian children suffer in refugee camps in Syria for the sins of their fathers, or shovelling billions to barely-more-than-shelf companies so they can rip us off as they run said gulags, Mr Dutton set the standard in sadism to which subsequent Home Affairs Ministers aspire. How pleased he must be to find his Government’s finely honed skills at keeping people out of Australia can now not only be used against our own citizens (preferably but not exclusively brown ones), they can also be redeployed within his new portfolio of Defence to shut out erstwhile Afghani colleagues who risked their lives during the abruptly curtailed war to provide vital services for their Australian comrades in arms. What good fortune to be able to parse technicalities about their method of employment – a contractor, not an employee! – to leave them to a terrible fate at the hands of the murderous Taliban that the twenty-year war was supposed to vanquish.
Another deep groan of disgusted incredulity echoed across the country last week as loud as any cheers for our Arnie and SuperBol as Prime Minister Morrison sought shamelessly to co-opt our Olympians’ efforts as a feint for his vaccination failures. “Go for Gold”, he exhorted, all smirk and wild eyes, as if the unvaccinated were simply not trying hard enough and had only themselves to blame for their lack of gilded immunity. As if he’d never said it was not a race, or if he did, he meant only the vaccines’ approval process, not their procurement, nor distribution, nor administering. As if the lack of Pfizer supply, and the Government’s whiplash-inducing shifts on the issue of AstraZeneca’s safety for people of wildly fluctuating ages, advised with high drama at press conferences in the dead of night, did not, could not possibly have anything to do with our Wooden Spoon-winning rates. It is our hesitancy, we are told, that is at fault just as those who died from AZ were to blame for their own demise. The dead attract no Prime Ministerial mourning, just a posthumous curt reminder that they were “responsible for their own health”.
As the prosecution of Brittany Higgins’ alleged rapist inches forward, we still wonder at the lack of care shown to Ms Higgins during the immediate aftermath of the events of that night and the subsequent years. Who is responsible for that? The Prime Minister claimed complete ignorance and won’t even tell us what his own office knew about the alleged rape and when, as Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds also obfuscate and deny. As if we don’t all think they’re lying through their teeth and that everyone knew everything from the start. Morrison’s former Chief of Staff Phil Gatjeans once again runs interference from his Public Service vantage point. His inquiries are as persuasive as Mr Morrison’s into Mr Porter, or the Catholic Church’s into pretty much anyone at all (unless, of course, their cash is at stake).
When did this shamelessness begin? It wasn’t always this way. Back in the Fraser Government, Michael McKellar resigned from the Ministry for a Customs form that listed a colour TV as black and white. Mick Young resigned from the Hawke Cabinet when his wife failed to declare a Paddington Bear. Before whiteboards were shields for a cowering Senator Cash, Ros Kelly used one to map out her own version of sports rorts and had to resign from the Keating Cabinet for her trouble. As with so many of our worst traits, the origin of our current plight can be traced back to the Coalition’s previous Dark Wizard, John Howard. As well as infamously unleashing division and disharmony with his call for racist immigration policies and his rhetoric against refugees, his evocation of a black armband view of history as he hectored delegates at Reconciliation Convention, not to mention kicking off the Coalition’s love affair with the military and its attendant uniformed props, he trashed the idea of Ministerial standards when his first term Ministers kept inconveniently breaching a much vaunted new Ministerial Code of Conduct. After losing seven ministers – seven! – in less than one year for everything from conflicts of interest, to travel rorts, to fraud, Howard took decisive action and watered down the Code. Recall, too, that after hanging workers in failed companies out to dry for years, he introduced an Employee Entitlements Support Scheme to bail out his brother’s failing company, one of the early, glaring examples of the Coalition’s fine tradition of using taxpayers’ money as its own.
In this Government, not a single Minister has been held accountable for anything at all. Not one. For anything. A few may have retired hurt to the backbench for a while but they always return revived and rejuvenated. Some of the things for which Ministers should be held accountable (but weren’t) and for which one might expect to see lasting consequences (but haven’t): Brother Stewie ripping us off for internet connections, listing his parents as company directors for an organisation unknown to them, and masquerading as an official Government representative on a private business trip to China. Michaelia Cash refusing to talk to the police when they investigated her office over leaks to the media and then lying about it. Sussan Ley using taxpayer dollars to get her flying hours up to keep her pilot’s license and buying herself an apartment in the Gold Coast along the way. Bridget McKenzie, Senator Sports Rorts herself, now apparently in charge of a Bush Fire Relief Fund busily dispensing money to areas unaffected by the bushfires. Angus Taylor, where to start? A man whose list of scandals is so great, I had to add this extra clause to capture the last and actually least egregious, the monumental self-own that was his skirmish with Clover Moore. Christian Porter, an accused rapist, who moved on Witness K and Bernard Collaery, a whistleblower hero and the lawyer approved by the Inspector-General of Intelligence, fought to try them in secret, and then destroyed the Family Court. Porter’s wing-man, Alan Tudge sleeping with a staff member while promoting himself as a family man and, pre-election, flinging $666,000,000 of taxpayers’ money around in marginal seats for ill-conceived carparks. Barnaby fucking Joyce. This mob shovel money to their mates – really, lots of it, and even more this year with the truckloads of COVID-dollars delivered directly to the bottom line of greedy chancer companies via the poorly designed JobKeeper scheme Josh Frydenberg stubbornly refuses to reexamine – while maliciously, callously denying it to their perceived enemies, like the arts and universities, the ABC and CSIRO – you know, the good stuff. They watch the world burn and venerate fossil fuels and pretend all is cool, defiant in the face of the world’s dismay. They undermine the significant reform of the NDIS, hollowing it out instead of solving its teething troubles. They’re already watering down the few recommendations they implemented from the Banking Royal Commission. When the mother of a veteran who died by suicide Julie-Ann Finney asked them to take the issue of veteran suicide seriously, they offered her a Mother’s Medal. They actively persecute the most vulnerable, allowing their wages to be stolen, humiliating them with the Indue card (which has the added bonus of delivering more money to their mates), abandoning them to poverty on JobSeeker, occasionally hounding them to the grave with their relentless and unlawful Robodebt pursuit. And all the while they deliver their drab punitive homilies in self-righteous, censorious, smug-as-hell tones. Honestly. This mob.
And presiding over the whole toxic mess is our brave leader Scott Morrison, who, before politics, was sacked from virtually every job he held, who secured his preselection by enlisting The Daily Telegraph to smear his opponent to overturn his initial thrashing, who sat in Cabinet and argued for the stoking of anti-Muslim sentiment for electoral gain, who complained about the cost of refugees attending the funerals of their dear, drowned families, smashed to bits in Australian waters, who invented Robodebt and on-water matters, who backed his Leader one day and took his job the next, who refuses to answer questions about anything remotely uncomfortable, a Prime Minister who goes MIA so regularly that we’re now exhaustingly familiar with the nausea of Scomocillation, that feeling when you are both furious at his disappearing act with all its cowardice and sometimes laziness and abject refusal to take responsibility for anything, while simultaneously hoping you never see his smirking face again.
Why is it tolerated? We know why Governments grant impunity – when every member’s vote counts, their behaviour doesn’t – but why have we citizens become so blasé about our amoral leadership, sanguine in the face of international incredulity, laissez faire at the trashing of our brand?
While we continue to do so, we rot in our Kingdom of Nothingness, debased.
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