Which may suggest the real stakes here. The government’s multiplying, metastasizing scandals — from Duffy’s improper expense claims to the efforts, apparently coordinated between the Prime Minister’s Office and senior Tory Senators, to cover these up, to the robocalls affair, to the arrest on charges of fraud and money laundering of Arthur Porter, the prime minister’s choice for chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — are not, in my view, wholly unrelated. Rather, they stem from a culture that has taken root among the Conservative hierarchy — a culture of expediency.
People don’t make ethical choices in isolation. They take their cues from those around and above them
People don’t make ethical choices in isolation. They take their cues from those around and above them. Maybe Duffy’s expense padding had its roots in the Senate’s historically lax culture: indeed, given the absence of controls on senators’ expenses, it would be astonishing if only a couple of senators had succumbed to the temptation this presented.
But the efforts to cover this up, like the obstruction of the robocalls investigation or the curious lack of due diligence in the Porter appointment, are suggestive of something else: a habit of looking the other way at bad behaviour, if not actually encouraging it; and, when it is brought to light, of denying, and minimizing, and explaining it away.
This isn’t about a few senators padding their expense accounts, or criminal acts on the part of one or two individuals, or even what the prime minister knew when. It’s the whole moral code of this government that’s in question. This isn’t just a problem, something to be fixed: it’s existential. Whatever the various official investigations may or may not turn up, questions about the government’s character are now deeply planted in the public mind, in a way it shows no sign of being able to deal with, or even comprehending.
Indeed, if you want to know how a government gets into this kind of mess, you’ve only to look at how it tries to get out of it. The government persist in thinking this can all be treated as a matter of spin and bluster, much as it has dealt with most problems.
But you can’t spin your way out of something you spun yourself into. If you are generally perceived as devious and duplicitous, more deviousness and duplicity are not going to help. Only transparency and honesty can. But, as I’ve said before, if that were what this government were about, we wouldn’t be here.