ABC Nemesis episode on Scott Morrison leaves out many scandals

As with the Turnbull instalment, only more so, we in the Crikey bunker were struck by the sheer number of Scott Morrison-era scandals the ABC’s Nemesis was unable to cover. With the understandable focus on COVID-19 management, Morrison’s multiple ministries, a cautious look at the Brittany Higgins allegations, and the behind-the-scenes wrangling of the AUKUS announcement, the latest episode barely had time to scratch the surface of the pure uncut weirdness and scandal of ScoMo’s reign.

Voting for white supremacy

In October 2018, Morrison government senators opted to support a motion put forward by Senator Pauline Hanson, which spouted the white supremacist slogan “It’s okay to be white”. Several senior government figures doubled down on the decision before back-tracking and redoing the vote, opposing the notion. The fuck-up was blamed on an “administrative error” rather, than, oh, I don’t know, a horrifying attempt at dog-whistling that backfired spectacularly?

This came only a few months after Parliament united in self-congratulation over its apparent opposition to racism.

Angus Taylor

You wouldn’t know it from the amiable figure who appeared in Nemesis, but then energy minister Angus Taylor had a very busy 2019, on his way to one of the most convincing wins Crikey’s Arsehat of the Year award has ever seen: there was Grassgate, which necessitated a Department of Environment investigation into the clearing of critically endangered grasslands at a property owned by the Taylor family. Watergate. Deploying forged documents against Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, which necessitated an embarrassing and ultimately inconclusive police investigation.

And, of course, in the lead-up to the 2019 election, Taylor defined the art of getting caught posting from an alt, when he wrote “Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus” on his own Facebook post.

Sports rorts

At the time it was rightly identified as one of the most blatant acts of pork-barrelling in Australian history. By the end of 2020, thanks to COVID-19 and a year of lockdowns, it had been more or less lost to memory. In the lead-up to the 2019 election, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie and her office actively directed the $100 million “community sport infrastructure program” grants process toward marginal seats. This led to absurdities such as upmarket golf clubs receiving nearly $200,000 to revamp their foyer, while football clubs that easily met the grant’s criteria and needed women’s change rooms failed to receive any help. McKenzie, on a tangentially related matter, had to stand down. You know, for a bit.

Which is nearly as bad as…

Car parks rorts

The “national commuter car park fund” was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It funded 47 car parks and guess how they got picked? There was a list drawn up by staffers in then infrastructure minister Alan Tudge’s office of the top 20 marginal seats ahead of the 2019 election. Further, the allocation was influenced by other ministers and state Liberal counterparts. Not one recommendation from the Department of Infrastructure made it into their final list.

Which is nearly as bad as…

Building better regions fund

In 2022, the Australian National Audit Office found that 65% of a $1.1 billion set of grants under the “building better regions fund” should not have been awarded. You are never going to believe this, but all of that money went to Coalition electorates, and the allocation was largely decided by a National Party-controlled committee, which consistently rejected departmental advice.

Stacks on

Not limited to the Morrison government, but certainly accelerated by it, was the incredible stacking of nominally independent bodies such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Fair Work Commission, with dozens and dozens of partisan appointments flooding in over the nine years of Coalition rule. At the same time came the degradation of the public service, most clearly revealed by the robodebt scandal.

Christian Porter

Though he briefly appeared in file footage, as far as we could tell the name Christian Porter was not uttered once over the nearly five hours of programming about the government for which he was a senior member. Which is understandable — the attorney-general under the Morrison government sued the ABC for reporting historical, and strenuously denied, allegations of sexual assault against him (though he had not initially been identified) that surfaced in early 2021. That this legal action was funded by a blind trust was the last straw, and Porter did not contest the 2022 election.

Honourable mentions

There was Morrison’s uncharacteristic speed to act on the very real threat of strawberry-based terror, via a Sorkinesque walk and talk. While the program dedicates a minute to Morrison’s reputation for “truth issues”, we’d probably suggest the producers could have gone a little harder on the dozens of demonstrable lies and falsehoods from his time in power. Barnaby Joyce insisted he and Morrison weren’t enemies, but there were those leaked texts in which he called him a “liar and hypocrite“, while New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian (one of the state premiers of the era to not participate in Nemesis) apparently told a colleague Morrison was a “horrible person”, to which the colleague replied that he was “a complete psycho”.

Speaking of texts, there was the 2022 election day scare Morrison and then home affairs minister Karen Andrews’ offices cooked up by trying to force Home Affairs to share information about an asylum seeker boat from Sri Lanka being intercepted on its way to Australia. Safe to say it ended the era in an appropriately cynical and grubby fashion.

What other sagas and scandals were overlooked? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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