Mutually assured corruption
What is most curious about John Barilaro is the honesty of his politics. Not in the conventional sense of integrity or commitment to the people he represents, but in the way that the truth sometimes bubbles up out of him. Accused of pork-barrelling, he says: yes, of course, that’s how we get elected. When given a trade posting, senior bureaucrats don’t bother dressing it up: one tells the otherwise successful candidate her job offer has been rescinded because it is “a present” for someone else.
“There is absolutely no place for gifts of government jobs, whether they are statutory appointments or government sector appointments,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said after this was revealed. “Obviously yesterday the reports are concerning and from my perspective the independent review will look at that.”
Of course, Perrottet is the liar here. Barilaro is a straightforward grifter. He knows what politics is. He knows his life has been built on the everyday venality of a system structured to reward ad infinitum every kind of seat-warming huckster. If the system resembles anything it is the milking shed of a factory farm, all sucking hydraulics and dead-eyed creatures caked in their own faeces.
The offer to Barilaro of a job in New York, greasing export deals and charging back dinners, was not an accident: it was how it works. Politics in this country is not a calling but a period to be endured in exchange for a pension and the chance of a plum job. There are exceptions, of course: too few to name here.
This rot goes all the way through. The last Labor government to hold power in NSW boasts more ministers in prison than it does ornaments to the cause. On both sides, at all levels, people walk straight from office into lobbying firms. The Morrison–Turnbull government produced more arms dealers than it did policies.
All of this is by agreement. It is mutually assured corruption. It started with meaning: once that was despoiled and besmirched, and enough people looked away in disgust, the Mr Creosotes of modern politics came for both parties. They fouled the preselection processes and poisoned the idea of talent. They made it so that by the time most people arrive in Canberra they are already grimy with the soot of the party machine.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Still, it won’t change while we pretend a back-scratching post in the Financial District is an aberration. It is the very expression of a system built to enrich the people craven enough to stomach it. In his own contemptible way, John Barilaro has made that clearer than perhaps it ever has been.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 16, 2022 as “Mutually assured corruption”.