It’s time for Governor-General David Hurley and Scott Morrison to go. Public perceptions of mates-deals have tarnished the two highest offices in the land. Michael West reports on the unfolding scandal of the Australian Future Leaders Foundation.
It is time for the Governor-General to exit. Scott Morrison too. The former has tarnished the reputation of the Crown, the latter the very foundations of Australia’s democracy.
Governor-General David Hurley had signed off on Morrison’s secret ministries at a time which overlapped with him lobbying the government for a Commonwealth grant for the mysterious Australian Future Leaders Foundation, a charity without a website, a clear purpose, an operation, even a phone number.
Not only that, but Hurley had a conflict of interest. He also signed off on a law for the benefit of this very charity he was promoting.
The quid pro quo
The conflict of interest is clear. It rings loud, despite the yet ringing silence over the scandal in the corporate media. The two highest offices in the land are embroiled, blighted. Morrison wanted Hurley’s approval for his secret roles as treasurer and four other key portfolios; Hurley was seeking government support for his foundation.
The grant of $18m to the Australian Future Leaders Foundation had been made, without tender, following an amendment to laws administered by then finance minister Simon Birmingham. It was not known at the time but Hurley had also signed off on Morrison’s move to be secretly appointed finance minister, to shadow Birmingham.
Further, it had emerged in Senate estimate hearings in April that the Prime Minister’s department PM&C was dealing with the foundation and its appeal for financial support from the public, support which did not end with the $18m grant, public funding which was ongoing at a clip of $4m a year, funding with no horizon.
Cash, open-ended, ad infinitum, flowing to a charity sponsored by the Governor-General, cash belonging to ordinary Australians, cash of which the prime minister was steward, not owner.
Following reports of the conflict here two weeks ago and in social media investigations, movement is now afoot in Parliament, and it can only be a matter of time before Hurley and Morrison leave their posts.
On Monday, independent MP and former soldier Andrew Wilkie and new Teal MP Monique Ryan co-signed a “disallowance motion” in parliament to junk the “special grant” and review the circumstances under which it was struck.
Today, I lodged notice of a motion to disallow the Morrison govt’s mysterious $18m ‘special grant’ for a non-operational leadership program, co-signed by @WilkieMP
There is insufficient evidence supporting this peculiar grant.
It must be disallowed and reviewed with rigour. pic.twitter.com/RtstiZOwnD
— Dr Monique Ryan MP (@Mon4Kooyong) September 5, 2022
It is now time for Anthony Albanese’s Labor government to act. Also on Monday, the Greens and Jacqui Lambie Network’s Tammy Tyrrell moved to disallow the grant, on grounds that it was public money for which the GG himself had personally lobbied the government.
Hurley’s office has vigorously denied any impropriety, and without any imputation here of inappropriate behaviour, there has been a failure of proper process which has left the stench of a mates’ deal hanging heavy over the highest offices in the land.
The system relies on the real and the perceived political independence of the Governor-General. Otherwise, what is the point?
David Hurley and Chris Hartley celebrating at a private dinner hosted by Chris Hartley to celebrate the Leander Club bicentennial, a rowing club for elite ex-rowers.
Mr Hurley is also pictured cutting the cake.
A good evening from all reports. pic.twitter.com/YaFBNVaXSJ
— Ronni Salt (@RonniSalt) August 26, 2022
The shadowy Australian Future Leaders Foundation is run by a Chris Hartley, from whom the Governor-General has sought to distance himself, telling the ABC earlier this year: “The Governor-General met Mr Chris Hartley, the Executive Director of the Australian Future Leaders Foundation, in July 2020”. Hartley is the organiser of elite rowing event The King’s Cup and appears socially very active but with little professional public profile.
However, as revealed by @RonniSalt in an expansive Twitter thread (linked above) replete with a suite of photos of Hurley and Hartley at various events, the relationship appears to have been significantly played down.
Yet Assange, McBride, Boyle pay the price for transparency
Australia needs healing, we need transparency in government. But the government continues to prosecute whistleblowers for doing the right thing. Afghan war crimes whistleblower David McBride and tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle face years in prison. Julian Assange faces a secret prosecution in the US. Yet the government has failed miserably to be accountable for its reckless and clandestine use of public money.
As McBride noted this week on Twitter: “the guy [Hurley] ran the ADF when at least 39 Afghans were murdered by our most decorated soldiers”. Where is the official inquiry into Australia’s involvement in war crimes in Afghanistan?
Instead of government action, the public has been treated to a private “show-trial”, a $30m defamation extravaganza playing out in the civil courts over Ben Roberts-Smith’s alleged involvement in the murders of Afghan civilians. Like so many government services, it seems accountability has also been outsourced, privatised.
As the role of holding power to account has devolved to independent politicians, the Greens and independent and social media, the mainstream media seems destined again to fulfil its role of “bayoneting the dead”, rather than holding the torch of transparency, piling in once there is no option but to cover the story.
Just as they piled on in droves to the News Corp Mean Girls scoop – essentially political gossip and speculation that Labor figures Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher were responsible for the manslaughter of former senator Kimberley Kitching, they ignored the story of sexual antics in the Parliament prayer room and police persecution of the #PrayerRoom whistleblower, a story backed by documents arising from a Morrison government inquiry.
That too was left to independent media, FriendlyJordies and this journal, and many thousands of posters on social media.
Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.