Royal Commissions and Entitlement

Governments make laws but it is the legal system which interprets those laws. Our rights are protected not by the Government but by a legal system that attempts to protect our rights by ensuring those laws are applied equally and fairly to all. So a look at how Governments treat the legal system in this country is a good look at what they think of the people they govern.
Since coming to power last year the Abbott Government has launched two Royal Commissions. The first was the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Scheme. The estimated cost of that inquiry was $20 million despite the fact that the Royal Commission revealed nothing that that had not already been revealed by several Government, Senate and independent inquiries as well as two full coronial inquiries in NSW and Queensland. The second Royal Commission is into Union Governance and Corruption. Despite the Government claiming this inquiry is based on “serious allegations”, none of the allegations have been revealed. Abbott is merely continuing the anti-union witch-hunt he spent most of his time conducting under the Howard Government. So at least Howard would approve, right?

“I’m uneasy about the idea of having royal commissions or inquiries into essentially a political decision on which the public has already delivered a verdict, I don’t think you should ever begin to go down the American path of using the law for narrow targeted political purposes. I think the special prosecutions in the US are appalling.”

Okay maybe not, but an investigation into union corruption is bound to increase productivity isn’t it? Let’s hope so, because the $53 million the Government has budgeted for it over the next two years has been directly taken from Employment, Industry, Infrastructure and Regional Development. $53 million the government thinks is better spent on settling old scores than invested in Australia’s future. Then there’s the additional cost of the joint Victorian-Federal task force to further investigate unions, coincidently set up to run at the same time as the Victorian election this month. Unfortunately that won’t leave many resources for the Victorian ombudsman’s investigation into allegedly corrupt political donations in Liberal marginal seats announced today, at least not until after the election.

If there’s one thing this Government is quicker at doing than announcing Royal Commissions into their opponents, it’s ruling out Royal Commissions into their friends. The Independent Commission against Corruption in NSW heard allegation of illegal party donations to the NSW Liberal party resulting in the resignation of 10 NSW government members (including two ministers and the Premier), the resignation of the Federal Assistant Treasurer and allegations of money laundering, involvement by organised crime and corruption at federal level. The Government has made it clear from the outset that none of these allegations will be investigated further.

Politicians covering their tracks are hardly anything new, that’s politics, corrupt politics, but politics nonetheless. We can still expect justice when it comes to corruption in the private sector can’t we? Well no. Earlier this year a bi-partisan Senate committee recommended an investigation into the Commonwealth Bank after it was revealed the bank hired financial advisers for a number of years who provided misleading information and falsified documents. The CBA was found to have violated numerous financial planning laws, did not properly report on the advice given and was criticised for failing to keep investors money separate from the bank’s. An estimated 400,000 investors lost amounts of up to $200,000. While the CBA is still refusing to fork out $6000 for a handwriting expert to determine whether documents were forged, it still found enough money for bonuses of $1.5 million each for the two people in charge of investments and $3 million for the bank’s CEO. Last week economic Boy-Man Mathias Cormann announced there would be no inquiry into corruption allegations against the CBA. The bank’s victims will have to make do with a half-arsed apology and an internal inquiry run by the people it is meant to be investigating.

Coincidently Cormann’s announcement was made on the day that Freya Newman, the person who blew the whistle on Frances Abbott’s suspicious $60,000 scholarship, was originally due to be sentenced for accessing private records. Newman, who has no previous criminal record, has not benefitted financially from her actions and is the only person to be investigated over the scholarship, is now due to be sentenced next month. She is facing up to five years in prison. The Whitehouse $60,000 scholarship is so exclusive it has only been awarded once before; to the daughter of the school’s founder.

Of course no government can claim to have truly subverted the legal system unless it can literally get away with murder. Add that to the list of undesirable achievements for the most repugnant member of this repugnant government, Scott Morrison. Reza Berati was murdered by employees of Scott Morrison’s department on 17 February this year. Thanks to a non-existent Federal Opposition, Morrison has been immune from scrutiny over this incident from the start. Allegations of witness intimidation by department officials have been ignored, federal police and the Department of Immigration have refused to cooperate with PNG police investigating the incident and still no one has been charged.

According to human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, detainees on Manus Island were offered transfer to Australia if they withdrew their witness statements on Berati’s murder. If these allegations are proven it would expose one of the worst examples of perverting the course of justice by any government in Australian history. That can only happen if a full and independent inquiry takes place, which the Government have already ruled out.

When a government uses justice to pursue its enemies and protect its friends it has failed in the most fundamental way. When the Opposition refuses to hold the government to account for its actions it too has failed. As this Government is all too keen to remind us, the Age of Entitlement has ended. Clearly the entitlement to justice is one the first entitlements to go.

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on January 6, 2015.

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