The mess left by the Coalition is (almost) overwhelming

Bridget McKenzie was forced to resign while Scott Morrison continues to be dogged by the #sportsrorts controversy. Photo: AAP/TND

Bridget McKenzie was forced to resign while Scott Morrison continues to be dogged by the #sportsrorts controversy. Photo: AAP/TND

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. To deal with the steaming mountain of ineptitude, corruption and failure left behind by nine years of Coalition government, Labor is trying several shovels at a time.

The most obvious at present – more of an end-loader operation – is the Robodebt Royal Commission, which has already uncovered an extraordinary degree of malfeasance and multiple failures of basic principles and ethics.

And it’s early days. Yet to come will be examination of the personal tragedies, the distress of vulnerable people hounded by the illegal, bloody-minded machine that was the Australian government. People hounded to death.

Most of the relevant former ministers still sit in Parliament, roll-called by Bill Shorten in question time. They are still on the public purse, still pretending they were not responsible. The thickness of their hide is astounding.

Another shovel was unsheathed on Monday in the form of Treasury starting consultation on a beneficial ownership register – an early step in trying to bring Australia up to international speed in fighting tax evasion, money laundering and the investing of corrupt and criminal funds here.

As the Australian Financial Review reported last year:

“The Morrison government has walked away from plans to unmask nominee directors, a move experts claim will entrench Australia as a safe haven for laundered money and the proceeds of corruption.

“Australia committed to introducing a so-called ‘beneficial ownership register’ in 2016 and again in 2018 with expectations the reform would be delivered as part of an overhaul of the companies registration database.

“But Serena Lillywhite, the chief executive of Transparency International Australia, said she had been told by Treasury that the government had no appetite for this commitment, and was not open to pursuing it.”

The relevant minister at the time was Senator Jane Hume, now shadow minister for finance.

The relevant minister now is Dr Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Treasury. He was stressing the tax avoidance angle in Monday’s announcement, but if the government has the ticker, a comprehensive register will go much further, with the beneficial ownership of trusts the second step with more to follow.

At present, international criminals and corrupt officials have little difficulty in buying and hiding their ownership of Australian assets.

More than one way to play the game

The NSW Crime Commission’s investigation of money laundering in pubs and clubs explained that there are much better methods of laundering than using gaming machines:

“The simplest method of cleaning involves the purchase of assets, such as real property, in the name of a trusted third party (family member or associate). The most complex and effective methods rely on professional facilitation and can obscure the source of millions of dollars of dirty money in minutes …

“Trusts and corporate structures can be misused by criminals to conceal their beneficial ownership of assets making it challenging for the NSWCC and other proceeds of crime authorities to confiscate criminally derived proceeds. Some of these structures are highly complex and can include multiple layers of discretionary, unit, and bare trusts over which no single person has effective control and are near impossible to penetrate.”

Dr Leigh’s shovel – perhaps more of a gardening tool so far – is a start in cleaning up Senator Hume’s failure.

Government shovels were hard at work in the lead up to the Budget dealing with the immediate grants corruption left over by the Morrison mob.

Bridget McKenzie quit the frontbench and resigned as deputy Nationals leader after the so-called ‘sports rorts’ affair. Photo: AAP

An important footnote to the scandal was provided by former senator Rex Patrick on Monday when his freedom of information request to release the Gaetjens report on #sportsrorts finally succeeded.

Mr Gaetjens – Scott Morrison’s appointment – went much easier than the Auditor-General on the Prime Minister’s office and the then sports minister, Bridget McKenzie, finding she could pretty much do whatever she (or the PMO) wanted to do with the grants. Senator McKenzie is now the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate.

More muck, more shovelling

There is more spade work to be done on the former government’s raiding of taxpayers’ funds for political ends – perhaps scalpel work by the National Anti-Corruption Commission – but we should be grateful for Senator McKenzie’s sports rorting as it triggered the examination and exposure of vastly bigger grants corruption – billions of dollars’ worth.

A real NACC itself is part of the clean-up, but the shovelling isn’t limited to financial muck.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is digging into the potential undermining of the Cabinet process under Scott Morrison and National Security Committee leaks.

In that pile lies hints of the Morrison government’s diplomatic disasters in dealing with China, Mr Morrison achieving a worse relationship with Australia’s major trading partner than any other country had with China.

(The Albanese government is not proving so adept at fixing that mess, continuing to dig American trenches.)

And then there is the wreckage of a failed energy policy and the scandal of our broken visa system, enabling human trafficking and worker exploitation.

The energy mess was built up on Angus Taylor’s watch. He is now shadow treasurer.

The visa problem festered on Peter Dutton’s watch as the relevant minister. He is now Opposition Leader.

Another inquiry, more serious shovelling to be done.

And the NACC is yet to get started.

Topics: Michael Pascoe, Robodebt, Rorts
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