Excellence in Judgement Part One
PM Malcolm Turnbull's excitingly wobbly frontbench is under scrutiny again, following the December 28 departures of currently-facing-investigation ex-Special Minister of State Mal Brough and putting-moves-on-junior-staff ex-Cities Minister Jamie Briggs.
Labor and the government spent much of Question Time merrily scuffling over Human Services Minister Stuart Robert hanging out in Beijing for a signing ceremony between resource magnate Paul Marks, in whose businesses Robert is an investor, and Chinese government-owned company Minmetals back in 2014.
That's Robert's version of events. The alternative scenario places him there in a conflict-of-interest-seeming official government capacity that included a speech, as Minmetal's official press release claimed, followed by a meeting with China's vice-minister of land and resources, Wang Min, which was confirmed by the Chinese government.
If it's the latter then that looks rather dodgy, sure. But it's the former, that seems very sweet of Stu. Going all the way to China for a buddy's big special day is no small thing - and that's with all his then-responsibilities as Assistant Defence Minister too!
And it's slightly embarrassing timing since Briggs' indiscretion was being referenced by Labor senator Penny Wong, who was castigating public service commissioner John Lloyd in Senate Estimates on Tuesday for doing nothing to investigate - much less advocate for - the public servant that Briggs allegedly kissed, told had "piercing eyes" and then shared pictures of to colleagues (which were then mysteriously leaked to media).
And it's not a great look if Malc manages to shed three ministers. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose two may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose three would look awfully like carelessness.
Excellence in Judgement Part Two
Speaking of great decisions handled well, Turnbull seems determined to maintain the government's proud level of contempt and disrespect for Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs. Ah, it's just like old times!
Attorney General George Brandis confirmed to Senate Estimates that he and the PM were going to ask her about the new sex discrimination commissioner, even suggesting that she be on the panel to select them, and then decided nah, why bother?
"Mr Turnbull and I had a conversation, the outcome of which was we decided that an arm's length process of selection should be adopted," Brandis explained, "and it was and that arm's length process of selection has resulted in the appointment that was decided by cabinet yesterday."
Triggs confirmed that "the Prime Minister at that stage [in December] indicated he would include me on the panel but he did so really as a matter of good faith because he hadn't been advised by anyone else, I don't think, on that question. And it was left at that. I've not subsequently been consulted,"
Instead the four person panel to appoint the new commissioner included Chris Moraitis, Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department - a man with a bit of Triggs-related history.
A waltz down Estimates lane!
You might recall that he was the person who had a meeting with Professor Triggs on 2 February 2015, before the release of the terrifying evidence of abuse and neglect of children in detention laid out in The Forgotten Children report, about which you'd have noticed Australia has done nothing.
During the meeting he reportedly suggested that she should resign from her position, with a suggestion that Uncle Georgie would find her a nice cushy new job if she'd just stop going on and on about children being tortured in Australian detention camps.
"[Mr Brandis] was asking me to formally put on the table or mention that there would be a senior legal role, a specific senior role, that her skills could be used for," Chris explained in Senate Estimates last February, indicating that Triggs had already known the position that would be offered.
Now, the problem with this is that this would appear to be offering an inducement to Triggs to resign, which is not even a bit legal. However since everything G-Dawg had said on the matter was protected under Parliamentary privilege, federal police would need other evidence in order to launch an investigation into the matter. Such as, for example, the notes that Moraitis had taken during his meeting with Triggs.
And wouldn't you know it? By a complete freak of chance, those notes were mysteriously lost.
Heck, what are the odds?
Dogs really do love homework, to be fair
A very apologetic Moraitis told the whole sorry tale to the the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on February 24 last year.
"I had taken some notes of my discussion with the attorney and also annotated those notes after my discussion with Professor Triggs. I had those notes for a while and unfortunately I have travelled to three countries in two weeks and I have lost those notes, losing my briefcase by mistake. I am sorry." Curse you, cruel Fate!
Weirdly enough though, as the Saturday Paper reported, Queensland barrister Alex McKean filed a Freedom of Information request on documents relating to Chris Moraitis, Gillian Triggs and George Brandis between Sept 1 2014 and February 29 2015, including information on where Chris travelled and therefore where that errant briefcase might have been mislaid.
The FOI office rejected the request on the grounds that it was too onerous to complete, but did confirm the following: "To assist you to revise the scope of your request I can advise that the Secretary, Mr Moraitis, did not lose a briefcase during the period September 1, 2014, to February 28, 2015." B-b-but how?
It would seem that C-boy lost his official departmental briefcase containing said notes about conversations and then inexplicably didn't report the loss to the department, thereby raising exciting questions about security and confidentiality of official departmental documentation. After all, there's no possible alternative explanation: obviously he couldn't have just made the story up, since that'd be lying to the Senate!
Luckily that story died while the government when on and on about how Triggs was partisan, thereby ignoring the horrible details about the treatment of children in detention in both the Forgotten Children and the subsequent Moss Review into the findings of the report.
So keen was the government not to acknowledge the evidence that Brandis' fellow senator and stone-cold intellectual powerhouse Ian Macdonald declared the report was "unnecessary, irrelevant and inaccurate" despite the fact that he hadn't actually read it having decided "not to waste my time on a report which was clearly partisan". That's because he takes his publicly-elected responsibilities very, very seriously.
And then last May the AFP decided that Brandis didn't have a case to answer, and everyone was happy forever after. Except for Professor Triggs, and those children that are still being traumatised in detention centres, obviously.
Anyway, Moraitis is a great choice for the panel. Seems like a cool guy.
The cocktail hour: reunionpalooza!
We live in a golden age, people into 90s indie rock, as all the ancient bands of yore are reactivating while they still have the ability to stand.
Today's entrant is US guitar-pop darlings Belly, who have confirmed they've reunited, will be playing shows in the US and Europe in the middle of the year, and that they have new songs for some reason. No word on an Australian tour yet, but maybe we'll see them for Big D… sorry, Soundwa… Parkl…um, say, what festivals are left?
Here's their enduring classic Feed the Tree, friends: turn it up, remember that brief era when alternative music was going to change the world, and pour something evil and potent.
See you back here tomorrow, and cheers!
Andrew P Street's book The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott is out now, and available through Booktopia.