‘Can’t go on like this’: Morrison in 'denial' over grants
Scott Morrison has been caught in a mess of his own making over the damning sports rorts saga and can no longer ignore the need for a corruption watchdog, independent MP Zali Steggall said.
The member for Warringah said the Australian public was "rightly outraged" at the latest revelations, which contradict Mr Morrison's defence of the controversial $100 million grants scheme.
Last night, a Senate Inquiry heard that half of the projects funded were ineligible, contrary to the repeated claims of the Prime Minister and a raft of senior ministers.
"We can't go on like this," Ms Steggall told news.com.au today.
"It's simply unacceptable that MPs and their staff aren't held to the same standard of accountability as all other Australians."
On Tuesday, every Coalition politician in the House of Representatives voted to block draft legislation to establish a robust corruption watchdog, defeating it 72-70.
"The pressure is going to keep building and so we will get there," Ms Steggall said. "The main aspect is ensuring it's a body with teeth."
At the end of 2018, Mr Morrison succumbed to mounting pressure to establish a body to examine allegations of political corruption.
But his proposed model was described by Monash University law lecturer Yee-Fui Ng as having limited powers and being a "watered-down version" of a commission with real teeth.
More than 12 months on and the Commonwealth Integrity Commission has yet to begin its work, with the Government missing its own deadline.
"The Government's proposed model falls down on two fronts at the moment," Ms Steggall said.
"We need an independent referral pathway so that if there's an allegation or concern, the commission can determine if there should be an inquiry. Secondly, the big sticking point is that the Government doesn't want public accountability. It doesn't want there to be public hearings or public reporting of outcomes.
"How can that create a higher level of accountability?
"I don't think that's acceptable. There isn't a profession in Australia that isn't publicly accountable when there's an issue of corruption."
Dr Ng, a leading legal and political accountability academic, said the Government's handling of the sports rort saga showed that the current approach to handling corruption is flawed.
In January, an explosive report from the Auditor-General found the Government had used millions of dollars of taxpayer funds for pork-barrelling on the eve of the last federal election, targeting its own marginal seats and electorates it needed to win.
But Mr Morrison rejected that finding and instead relied on a probe by boss of his own department Phil Gaetjens - also his former chief of staff - that determined no wrongdoing.
"By referring the sports rorts affair to the prime minister's department to investigate, the Government is essentially conducting an internal investigation," Dr Ng wrote in an article for The Conversation. "The department is under the full control of the Prime Minister."
"This means an investigation by the Auditor-General is far more independent than one by the secretary of the prime minister's department. The Auditor-General is independent of government. Unlike the Gaetjens report, his report is publicly published and tabled in parliament."
Also revealed last night was Mr Morrison's insistence that his office had nothing to do with now-dumped Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie's handling of the scheme.
Last night, Audit Office officials said Ms McKenzie's office had exchanged "comfortably dozens" of emails with Mr Morrison's office during the process.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the sports rort saga "just gets worse and worse" and said a national integrity commission is long overdue.
"This is a complete rort," Mr Albanese said. "Everyone knows that it is.
"We do need a national integrity commission. It should be introduced as a matter of urgency. The public do not have confidence in our politics at the moment. And it would go a long way to ensuring that there was integrity in our system."
The latest revelations come a week after the Federal Police dropped its investigation into Energy Minister Angus Taylor over a forged document used to attack Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
It's perhaps unsurprising that a new report this month found 56 per cent of Australians don't trust the Government, and most view it as "unethical and not competent".