ONLY six years have passed, but it would be the rare follower of politics who could these days recall the Shocking Scandal of Tumbi Creek. In a nutshell, the former Coalition government was accused of buying regional votes with development grants directed disproportionately to seats it hoped to gain or retain. The dredging of Tumbi Creek, which runs through the seat now occupied by the throbbing member for Dobell, was one of those initiatives – a $750,000 project to open easy access from stream to sea. If none of that rings a bell, don’t fret. It is quite a while since the dogs were barking, and the caravan has long since moved on. But at the time it was almost a big deal -- big enough to warrant a Silly editorial urging readers to outrage at the spectacle of so much money “being given away with undue haste and with scant regard for anything but the purchase of electoral support.” Funny, isn’t it, how the Silly does not write leaders like that these days?
Shaun Carney, associate editor of the Phage, might do better than most at recalling all the twists in the saga of Tumbi Creek, as he penned a despairing column at the time about John Howard’s contemptuous dismissal of the then-Opposition’s interest in the affair. One of the cancers eating at Australia’s body politic, according to Carney, was Howard’s happy discovery that voters could not have cared less about so many of the things that agitated the Silly and Phage -- in the case of Tumbi Creek, the government's appalling ethical deficit.
A little before three o'clock on Thursday afternoon, John Howard decided he'd had enough of Labor's attempts to turn into a scandal a grant to dredge Tumbi Creek on the NSW Central Coast. It was time for the PM to inject a bit of Howard-era political reality … After offering a brief, fudged and unconvincing response … about the timing of the grant's announcement, Howard delivered his lesson which, boiled down, was: who cares?
Needless to say, Carney thought it a terrible thing that prime ministers and ministers unload tricky questions on bureaucrats, advisers and departmental investigations, thereby insulating themselves from the consequences of their own corruption. Carney was right about that – and he could be on the side of the angels once again, as the Opposition’s demands for more on Craig Thomson’s nocturnal transactions with assorted naughty schoolgirls are stonewalled, dismissed, or denied a response by the purported need not to compromise ongoing probes.
Back in 2005, Carney took exception to those tactics. But today? Well let us just say his enthusiasm for honest, open government has seen something of an eclipse. The problem is no longer a government that dares not tell the truth. Now the obstacle to a better, brighter Australia is an Opposition animated by “grievance and fear”, as Carney informed Silly readers just the other day:
Er, the “other leader” loses the next election, Shaun – at which point we can expect fresh columns about the beastly new government and its jaw-dropping refusal to answer reasonable questions. Golly, there may even be an editorial in the pipeline about squandered trust and profligate spending.Does Gillard have it in her to respond to Abbott's style of politics any more than Rudd did? When one leader decides not to observe the rules and picks up support as a result, what does the other leader do?