The former Minister of Finance, the Honourable Lindsay Tanner, is in the news again. In a piece in The Australian (30/4) “Sideshow syndrome 'eroding democracy' “ he writes that winning today's micro-argument is all important, and tomorrow can look after itself. He condemns the misuse of Parliament to these ends.
“This breeds a collective mentality of cynicism and manipulation. Policy initiatives are measured by their media impact, not by their effect. The symptoms of this shift are on full display.
"A dramatic growth in pork-barrelling, driven by backbenchers hungry for positive local media coverage. Growing misuse of parliament for juvenile stunts that are designed to win momentary television coverage. “
He is going around the country to promote his book, Dumbing Down Democracy, Scribe Publications ($32.95).
…his campaign for a republic…
In the moves to make Australia a politicians’ republic, Mr. Tanner is best known for his use of parliamentary privilege to damage the opponents of his republican movement.
Was this cynical and manipulative? Was this a misuse of Parliament for a stunt designed to win media coverage and to damage, unfairly, a legitimate advocacy group?
We will be very interested in his account of this event – if any- and also another concerning a certain judicial suppression order.
Parliamentary privelege had been accorded by King William III and Queen Mary II when they assented to what was described as An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown, 1689.
It is interesting to speculate as to the standards of governance in the politicians' republic he and the republican movement espouses. Perhaps discuss in his book. In the same edition of the Australian, Peter van on some expresses his disappointment about the book.
He says that instead of readers being exposed to an insider's account of our political system, or a quality scholarly account of its democratic shortcomings, this book fails on both counts.
Indeed, one of Mr. Tanner’s last acts as Minister was to advise the Governor-General to exempt the NBN company from the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Public Works Committee. The explanatory statement gives the reasons for this, essentially that the company enjoy a level playing field with its competitors.
We had thought that it was to be a monopolist wholesaler, but we may have misunderstood what the company is to do.
Phillip Coorey reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (2/11) that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his senior ministers were so suspicious of Mr. Tanner that they used to hold fake pre-budget meetings to ensure their plans did not leak.
According to accounts of the meetings of the now abandoned Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee, the so-called ‘the gang of four’, some meetings with Mr Tanner would deliberately be light on detail.
After the meeting concluded and the then finance minister had left, the other three members of the committee – Mr Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan – would reconvene and discuss their budget plans in detail. Mr. Coorey says there is no evidence that Mr. Tanner leaked anything.
…Hon. Lindsay Tanner alleges crimes committed…
Mr. Tanner was determined to achieve a great victory for republicanism. The way he chose to achieve this gives us an idea of parliamentary standards in this republic.
Mr. Tanner alleged under parliamentary privilege that Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, another organisation and a number of eminet Australians were engaged in criminal activities.
I had explained this by reference to my negotiated statement published in Hansard, 4 September, 2008.
Naturally this had to be softened to make it acceptable to all sides in Parliament.
And I could only refer to the damage to me. I was much more concerned about the damage to others, especially those who by their service on the battlefield had demonstrated that they are the most patriotic of Australians.
…Piers Akerman explains…
The eminent journalist and former editor Mr. Piers Ackerman told the story in detail in a column in The Daily Telegraph on 4 October 2007.
He referred to the fact that Mr Tanner had:
…on February 13, 2006, launched a spectacular attack under parliamentary privilege on a body named the Constitution Education Fund-Australia which had gained deductible gift recipient status in June, 2003, the year it was set up as a bipartisan organisation to educate the public on the role of the Australian Constitution.
In his lengthy speech he made bold claims of a conspiratorial link between CEFA and Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, which shared the same Sydney address.
He referred darkly to CEFA and the ACM's accounts, and tried valiantly to paint a picture of collusion and worse before making the claim:
"Only one conclusion can be drawn from these facts: The ACM is engaged in a brazen tax scam with the direct connivance of the Howard Government.
"CEFA is simply a front organisation which exists solely as a filter through which donations to the ACM can become tax deductible . . . it is little more than a shell.
"This is nothing less than a fraud on Australian taxpayers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax which would otherwise be payable by ACM donors has been evaded by the use of this elaborate sham.
"Acknowledging it was "theoretically possible that there is some innocent explanation", he said, "I find it very hard to conceive of one".
He demanded the immediate cancellation of CEFA's tax deductibility and an explanation for "this outrageous scam".
When the Australian Tax Office obliged this ALP frontbencher and member of the potential Rudd gang of four with a confidential tax audit of CEFA, the story was leaked to that experienced investigator of dirt files – Koutsoukis.Before revealing the outcome of that audit, it must be remembered that Tanner is held up as one of the most experienced and more responsible members of the Rudd team, a man of integrity, a man to be trusted.
…highly respected honourable Australian attacked…
When he accused CEFA of being a "shell", and being a front for "a brazen tax scam", he was attacking a number of highly respected and honourable Australians including the wounded war hero and RSL chief Major General W.B. "Digger" James, the noted historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey, the arts benefactor Kim Bonython, Justice Lloyd Waddy, a former chief justice of NSW, Sir Laurence Street, the highly successful mining executive Hugh Morgan, Sir David Smith, the widely-respected historian associate professor Greg Melleuish, and the matriarch of Australian philanthropy Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.
He was also attacking fellow republicans Professor Greg Craven (vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University), the widely-published historian Dr John Hirst, and the frequently-quoted professor of constitutional law Professor George Williams, who also sat on the CEFA Foundation council at the time, and such distinguished trustees as Sydney constitutional law professor George Winterton, the former Sydney University Chancellor Dame Leonie Kramer, the former Tasmanian governor Sir Guy Greene, and the Honourable Justice Barry O'Keefe.
Oh, and his blanket claims would also have covered CEFA's patron-in-chief Governor-General Michael Jeffery and the former Australian Test captain Steve Waugh, who was the public face of civics promotion body.
…not one breach found ….
Tanner certainly knew how to hit the biggest possible target when he launched his serious spray and, had any of it been accurate, criminal prosecutions would have followed.
Unfortunately, and I bet you guessed the sad end to this saga, when the ATO completed its comprehensive secret audit in June it found absolutely nothing awry.
Not a single breach of the Tax Act.
Not that it wasn't a thorough investigation, a number of tax officers were involved and CEFA had to divert its resources from providing charitable educational activities to assist them in their fruitless task.
Tanner's witch hunt cost the Australian taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.It sullied the reputations of people of principle who have earned nationwide admiration for their contributions to public life.
But has Tanner paid them the courtesy of an apology? Has he submitted a small mea culpa to Hansard? Has he expressed any shame for his disgraceful conduct?
He has not even replied to letter from the national convenor of the ACM, Professor David Flint, sent in June, in which Flint said: "(The) inescapable conclusion is that you made your allegations of criminal conspiracy without any evidence whatsoever, and without any inquiry.
"It seems these allegations were made with reckless indifference as to whether they were true or false. An apology would be gracious, your minimum obligation is to retract."
It is to be hoped that Mr Tanner explains this in his book.