Michael Pascoe: Morrison confirms election tactics of lie, deny and deflect

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is sticking to his standard strategy in dealing with the misuse of public funds, Michael Pascoe writes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is sticking to his standard strategy in dealing with the misuse of public funds, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: TND

The degradation of Australian politics continued this week with the Prime Minister doubling down on his core campaign tactics as he raised a middle digit to the concept of integrity in the use of public funds.

Confronted yet again with evidence of corrupt use of government grants, Scott Morrison stuck with the strategy he, his ministers and backbenchers have used ever since his #sportsrorts hit the Auditor-General.

Mr Morrison told the National Press Club 23 months ago that there was absolutely nothing wrong with corrupting community sports grants for partisan political purposes, nothing wrong with misleading hundreds of community sporting clubs, nothing wrong with wasting the time of thousands of volunteers applying for funds that would not be granted on merit.

“How good are sports rorts?” he may as well have shouted, never mind The New Daily’s collaboration with spreadsheet supersleuth Vince O’Grady to fully disclose the politically corrupt nature of those grants.

That was the start of a series of investigations and reports in The New Daily over the next 18 months detailing the corruption of billions of dollars of grants, the blatant abuse of power to effectively steal money from the best and most equitable possible uses and instead allocate it for base party political purposes.

‘Pork barrelling’ and ‘rorting’ became inadequate euphemisms for the scale of the problem.

Learned judges and silks have instead defined it as corruption. That could be of interest to a genuine federal anti-corruption commission.

No wonder the Morrison government tries to denigrate the NSW ICAC.

Showing contempt for ministerial standards has become standard procedure.

coalition pork barrel

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham implied the #carporks scandal was what the public expected.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham went on the record in July, implying the red-hot $660 million #carporks scandal was all the public’s fault.

“It’s what electorates expect,” Senator Birmingham sniffed.

This week the biggest racket of all, the multibillion-dollar Community Development Grants scheme, was back in focus as the Sydney Morning Herald and Age caught up with the sort of analysis The New Daily was doing last year and this.

Faced with the example of Peter Dutton’s LNP seat of Dickson scooping up 46 times the amount of federal grant funding that a neighbouring Labor electorate received, Mr Morrison on Wednesday cheerfully replied: “Dickson must have a very good local member”.

Yes, when caught, boast about it, deny and spin.

It’s the same utterly cynical tactic the government adopted over the scores of billions of JobKeeper dollars thrown at companies that didn’t need it. Spin and deceive. (And to its disgrace, the ATO was an accomplice in that little effort.)

Aside from raising both middle digits to the ideal of ethical government in general and nearly half the Australian population in particular, the Prime Minister’s Dickson response confirmed his 2022 election campaign tactics: More of the same – lie, deny and steal.

On cue, Josh Frydenberg’s MYEFO (mid-year economic and fiscal outlook) on Thursday contained a whopping $16 billion in decisions taken “but not yet announced” – ammunition for the election.

Some of that money might be for genuine non-party-political policy initiatives, but on the government’s unrepentant form, it looms as a massive slush fund for political bribery.

When behind in the polls and nothing to lose, the Morrison campaign went extraordinarily hard and often with corrupt grants for the 2019 campaign, an utterly unprecedented level of brazen rorting. Sorry, I slipped there – corruption.

Mr Morrison is in the same position this time, so more of the same is a given. The threat of a real ICAC could make him even more desperate.

As for lies, what started out as a Crikey dossier on the Prime Minister’s proclivity to not tell the truth turned into a book by Bernard Keane.

As the man nearly said in Jaws, “You’re going to need a bigger book”.

Bernard Keane’s Lies and Falsehoods. Photo: Hardie Grant

The line between spin and lies is sometimes hard to divine, but there will be lots of each.

Again, the MYEFO provides ready examples.

Spinning that the government will “create” a million new jobs over four years might sound impressive to the uninitiated, but it’s actually rather mundane when you’re starting from a low COVID point, picked up a third of a million or so last month and that in normal times we create a million new jobs every five years just to stand still.

There are the usual brave assumptions and slippery numbers that lazy commentators slide by.

For example, the MYEFO forecast of real wage rises next financial year is false even if correct – nearly everyone forgets that a wage rise just a fraction over the inflation rate turns into a fall in the real take-home wages thanks to the tax impact, never mind the transfer system.

There’s no point getting too excited about such things – we know there are many more examples to come.

That, along with climate policy, is the biggest driver for the wave of community independent candidates that government members and party hacks have started casually defaming.

But apparently it’s all our own fault.

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