In last year’s IPSOS global survey of trustworthiness of various professions, while doctors and scientists scored well, journalists did OK (considering) and advertising executives fared badly. Right down in last place were “politicians generally”, with only 10 per cent of those polled ranking them “trustworthy”. Given recent events in Victoria, even that seems charitable.
Whatever slim chance the Coalition had of winning the state election in November was further weakened on Tuesday when The Age revealed Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s chief of staff, Mitch Catlin, had drawn up a contract to solicit a billionaire donor to make more than $100,000 in payments to his private marketing business. In return for what we are yet to be enlightened, but it looked grubby.
Catlin resigned, Guy tried to tough it out as questions mounted about his knowledge of the proposal and the subsequent viability of his leadership, and Premier Daniel Andrews couldn’t believe his luck – just a fortnight earlier it was he who had been in the harsh glare of the integrity spotlight.
Last month Guy would have been delighted at the findings of Operation Watts, a joint investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman instigated two years ago after an exposé by The Age and 60 minutes into industrial-scale branch-stacking and influence-peddling within the Victorian Labor Party.
The Watts report chronicled a “catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behavior and concerning practices” within the ALP, including that grants to community groups were handed out with inadequate scrutiny due to their importance in factional influence; staff at head office turned a blind eye to evidence of branch stacking; staff and MPs knew of signatures being forged and MPs’ staff had unauthorized access to sensitive information on ALP databases.
At least a normally combative Andrews took his medicine, admitting the culture was “shameful” and “absolutely disgraceful behaviour” and vowed to implement all 21 of the report’s recommendations.
All is not forgiven, Premier. The Watts findings were not a one-off. Indeed, as The Age‘s political editor Annika Smethurst wrote, Labor “has amassed an impressive portfolio of scandals since coming to office”, accused of, among other things, unwarranted secrecy around its controversial health decisions, withholding documents from public scrutiny, dodgy deals with unions and cozy bar-room chats with development lobbyists.
Guy claimed, rightly, the Watts report showed “a Labor government mired in corruption, cover-ups and political games at the expense of Victorians.” Yet Guy’s occupation of the moral high ground was brief: just days later he was facing his own allegations.