Saturday 4th of December 2021

on top of the compost...


Just 24 hours earlier, the Financial Review's annual power list had been trumpeting the fact that, for the first time in the 21-year history of the list, the Prime Minister was not perceived as the nation's most powerful person.

Instead, it was four premiers — Gladys Berejiklian, Daniel Andrews, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan — who were regarded as the ones running our lives.

But by lunchtime of publication day, Berejiklian — so often held up as the Gold Standard of pandemic management by Scott Morrison — was gone.

The woman touted as the one who had "saved Australia" in last year's power list could not save herself.


Having survived the maelstrom of a COVID outbreak in her state that had seen its citizens locked down for four months, but finally seeing case numbers falling and vaccination rates rocketing, the NSW Premier was undone by a system designed to uphold standards of public integrity: a system which her federal counterparts will neither countenance, and in a depressingly increasing number of cases, would be lucky to survive.

The Prime Minister literally raced out ahead of her announcement to make sure everyone got to hear a few of his own.

The PM brought forward a press conference to announce a reshuffle of his ministry, and the opening of international borders from next month, to ensure his news would at least get out there before being swamped by events in Sydney.

Despite having done so, he said he couldn't take questions about Berejiklian's resignation because: "I'm not aware of the circumstances or ... what the Premier has said, so I'm at a disadvantage to be able to respond to that question."

Scott Morrison's very own political quarantine system.


Morrison is doing a lot of racing

He raced through the announcements like a man with a plane to catch.

Angus Taylor — who has been the subject of questions about his own ministerial standards on a number of occasions — has been given Christian Porter's old job, in addition to the energy and emissions reduction ones he already holds, after Porter was forced to stand down because he couldn't or wouldn't say where up to $1 million in legal funding had come from.

Most of the other promotions were forgettable, other than for the reasons the PM gave for giving them. Victorian MP Tim Wilson, for example, was being rewarded because "before the last election, there was no one more passionate in advocating the case when it came to the retirees tax". That would be a political campaign against Labor's proposed changes to the dividend imputation system.

And there was the opening of international borders by November to announce, too.


Scott Morrison is doing a lot of racing at the moment. Racing to beat Berejiklian in the news cycle, racing to get states to lift lockdowns, racing to get international borders open. "It's time to give Australians their lives back," he said repeatedly on Friday.

This is the dynamic that increasingly seems to be running the government. This week the NSW Liberal Party moved to bring forward its federal preselections. The premiers note a certain zeal in their dealings with the PM in National Cabinet meetings in the way he presses them to open things up, irrespective of case numbers.

The Queensland Premier noted rather testily on Friday that National Cabinet had not received any briefing papers on the plans to open international borders, even though the story had already been widely briefed to the media.

And the government announced this week that it would be ending emergency payments in the three jurisdictions where they are being paid — NSW, Victoria and the ACT — as soon as they reach 80 per cent vaccination rates.


Who's running the country?

The argument is that such payments can't go on forever. Fair enough, too. Except this creates enormous uncertainty for almost 2 million people currently receiving these payments.

According to data compiled by Anti-Poverty Week, there are currently 1.906 million people receiving disaster payments or boosted welfare payments, and 1,050,000 of them are in NSW.

The plan is that those payments will start to be wound back one week after the 80 per cent vaccination rate is achieved. The payments go from $750 a week to $450. The only problem is that very few people would presume that, at an 80 per cent figure, businesses just immediately open up again and re-employ at their old hours.

It's likely to be a bit messier than that. But putting such harsh conditions on ending the payments is designed to pressure the states to lift lockdowns as quickly as possible. More racing.


The process of suddenly re-opening international borders is also unlikely to be completely smooth. Getting planes and systems up and running will take time.

But the Prime Minister is relying on all these things happening smoothly enough so that people will feel like they are getting their lives back. It will all add to the impression that it is the Prime Minister once again running the country, not the premiers.

That would put him in a good place to go to an election, and it is hard to get past the impression that all this racing — all the decisions — are now being driven as a race towards polling day.

The risks for the government — but more importantly, the risks for the country — are that all that racing is going to leave us vulnerable on a number of fronts, notably the federal government's abysmal record at running almost anything through this pandemic.

It leaves people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own vulnerable to losing financial support. It leaves the health and hospital system vulnerable to surging cases.

NSW remains critical to the government

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath revealed on Friday that: "Every single Health Minister from every state and territory has signed a letter to the Commonwealth Health Minister, Greg Hunt, and said, 'We need extra funding, we need 50-50 shared funding.'"

"We've had a funding guarantee under COVID until June 30," D'Ath said. "That has now stopped. That needs to be reinstated."

It will be difficult to be listened to when everyone is in such a hurry.


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the liberal rubbish tip...

Gladys Berejiklian has resigned as NSW premier, and will leave parliament entirely once a byelection can be safely held, after the NSW corruption watchdog announced she was under investigation over her previous relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire.


Just hours after she was jointly named Australia’s “most powerful person” (along with yet another glowing AFR cover), news broke that ICAC was investigating whether Berejiklian had breached public trust when awarding community grants between 2012 and 2018, and whether she failed to report things about her then-boyfriend’s conduct that she suspected could constitute corruption. Berejiklian will wait for the NSW Liberal Party to choose her successor before officially standing down, with three men – Dominic Perrottet, Rob Stokes and Stuart Ayres – now vying for the job.


Perrottet, her deputy from the right, has long been perceived as her likely successor, prompting fears of a UK-style reopening out of lockdown. But whoever ultimately replaces her, the dramatic shift will be widely felt, with the premier having been forced to abandon her post at a critical time for the state. (“The people of the state need certainty as to who their leader is during the challenging time of the pandemic,” Berejiklian said. Indeed.)


Earlier in the afternoon, the PM moved forward his planned press conference (announcing a federal cabinet reshuffle) to avoid a clash – and, many suspect, to avoid having to answer awkward questions about the NSW premier, with reports of her impending resignation already circulating. The reason for the cabinet reshuffle – the eventual resignation of Christian Porter from the ministry, over equally questionable but unprobed conduct – stands in maddening contrast with the NSW premier’s full and prompt standing down. Why is there still no federal ICAC, and how many of Scott Morrison’s ministers would still be in power if there were?


A clearly upset Berejiklian took no questions after today’s announcement, much in line with her track record on accountability. The premier, who recently decided she would no longer be giving daily COVID-19 updates (and had already been cutting them rather short anyway), has long been dismissive of questions about the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into Maguire, implying they were “offensive”, even as reports swirled that she might be under investigation herself. As recently as August, the premier waved away questions (literally) from the ABC’s Paul Farrell, calling suggestions of a conflict of interest “absolutely ridiculous” and demanding that he “respect” the press conference she was then holding. (Farrell and the ABC’s 7.30 have long been pursuing the premier over this; as Farrell tweeted today, “what we do matters”.)


Unfortunately for Berejiklian, the decision by ICAC – which she was advised of late yesterday afternoon – will leave her with little choice on the matter, with the soon-to-be former premier to face public hearings as part of the inquiry, due to begin October 18 and expected to run for 10 days. Berejiklian joins a line of NSW Liberal premiers to resign while under investigation by the powerful state ICAC, including Nick Greiner and Barry O’Farrell.


But if ICAC has taken yet another scalp, it’s a harsh reminder of the lack of a federal anti-corruption commission – as is Morrison’s “matey” reshuffle. Today’s federal cabinet reshuffle, the second one prompted by the behaviour of Christian Porter, has only come about because the public pressure on Porter grew too great, not because he faced any kind of formal inquiry for a clearly-in-breach-of-the-standards donation he received towards the legal fees incurred in his defamation case against the ABC. The reshuffle has seen Morrison promote two of his closest allies, the ABC notes, with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke elevated to cabinet and Morrison’s own assistant minister and close friend Ben Morton to become the special minister of state and the public service minister. Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor – who might not be in cabinet at all if there were a federal ICAC – has gained the industry portfolio from Porter, while Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price – whose own decision-making has raised calls for one – picks up science and technology.


In fact, it’s difficult to find many in the Morrison ministry who wouldn’t have faced some kind of investigation if there were a federal ICAC – including Morrison himself. Berejiklian’s rightful resignation over the potential misuse of public funds is a reminder of the federal government’s non-stop misuse of public funds, and her departure has only increased calls for the national anti-corruption commission the government has long avoided introducing, for obvious reasons. While Labor MPs have been widely respectful of Berejiklian’s decision and legacy today, they’ve been quick to attack the federal party, with leader Anthony Albanese sandwiching Berejiklian’s brief presser with repeated promises to establish a national ICAC.


The premier of NSW, one of the most powerful people in the country, is standing down largely over a $5 million grant to a gun club from four years ago. But those in the federal government, who have openly rorted hundreds of millions more – including to gun clubs – face no lasting consequences at all.


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