THE Abbott government’s decision to reallocate money from the child sexual abuse royal commission to its inquiry into the former government’s home insulation scheme is an own goal for a few reasons.
It reinforces the widespread belief this government puts politics before just about anything.
By transferring money from a royal commission that has so comprehensively proven it was needed to another that was too easily labelled a political witch hunt, the government is giving critics a free kick and an easy target.
It reinforces the belief its public statements on sensitive subjects should always be received with a healthy dash of cynicism.
At a Senate committee hearing in February, Attorney-General George Brandis answered ‘‘No’’ when asked if there had been any offsets from other inquiries to fund the government’s $19million home insulation royal commission.
Senator Brandis took the question on notice after saying it was his understanding that ‘‘no money has been taken away from anywhere else’’.
He later stated the $19million was equally shared by his department, the industry department and the environment department.
But today Senator Brandis revealed his department’s $6.7million contribution came from ‘‘savings’’ in the child sexual abuse royal commission’s capital budget, and from legal assistance that was not required for witnesses to the commission.
The revelation, as the federal government continues to take hits over the budget, was seized on by Labor and the Australian Greens, forcing Senator Brandis’s office to reassure that: ‘‘The royal commission will have sufficient funding to complete its inquiry.’’
The fact that this government has to reassure the public about its commitment to the royal commission is reason alone to add it to the growing list of messes of its own making.
In the days after the child sexual abuse royal commission was announced by former prime minister Julia Gillard on November 12, 2012, a Herald/Nielsen poll showed a record 95per cent of people supported it, while only 3per cent were opposed.
The Nielsen poll director, John Stirton, said he could not recall a poll issue receiving such universal support.
An Abbott government’s commitment to the royal commission was a serious concern for victims of child sexual abuse, their families and victims’ support groups even before the election that swept it into power, making the redirection of some of its funding even harder to fathom.
And certainly Senator Brandis cannot afford the controversy, given the outrage over his plan to scrap sections of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the government needed to explain why the money was taken away from the royal commission, while Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt said the decision was ‘‘unjustifiable’’.
But it is not other politicians the Abbott government needs to be concerned about.
The royal commission has more than demonstrated it was not only needed, but should have been established many years ago.
The public recognises it for what it is – an examination of how powerful institutions were able to abuse some of the most vulnerable in our community for much too long.
A federal government struggling on trust issues cannot afford to play politics on this one.