In the 1954 horror film, Creature from the Black Lagoon, a monster emerges from a murky backwater of the Amazon, savaging anyone who comes close. These days, the swamp dwellers who maul politicians are their nearest and dearest.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s swamp man is his son Hunter, whose sleazy deals with corrupt companies in China and Ukraine are not news. Joe Biden has repeatedly said he has never discussed Hunter’s foreign affairs with his son; his fellow travellers in the media claim that so long as Biden didn’t know what his coke-addled son was cooking up, there was no problem. But if the trove of emails purportedly extracted from Hunter Biden’s laptop is genuine, they expose father and son engaged in a cash-for-access scandal in 2015 in which Hunter introduced the vice president to Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to Ukrainian gas giant Burisma, while Hunter was being paid $US 50,000 a month to sit on its board. A Biden official has said it was ‘technically possible’ the meeting occurred. Burisma wanted an investigation into its own corruption shut down, and shortly after the alleged meeting, Biden pressured the Ukraine to sack the prosecutor investigating Burisma. Another email from 13 May, 2017 discusses ‘remuneration packages’ from the now-bankrupt CEFC China Energy Company, suggesting that 20 (per cent) would be for H (presumably Hunter) and 10 (per cent) would be held by H for the Big Guy. Joe Biden’s nickname is the ‘Big Guy from the Small State’ of Delaware.
No one from the Biden camp has denied the authenticity of the emails. Hunter is shtum. Joe said he had ‘no response.’ Jenna Arnold – one of the ‘100 Awakened Leaders who are using their voice and talent to elevate humanity’ – told Fox News, ‘I don’t think anybody is saying they are inauthentic or not.’ Yet Twitter censored the story and suspended the accounts of the New York Post, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the Trump campaign. It said the articles were ‘potentially spammy or unsafe,’ presumably for the electoral prospects of the Democratic candidate. Facebook used its algorithms to bury the story which it said needed to be corroborated or fact-checked. Politifact fact-checked Hunter Biden’s dealings with China and confirmed that his firm had invested in a Chinese state-owned company which was stealing nuclear secrets in 2017 and also bought a company that provides dual-use technology to the Chinese military.
The social media censorship backfired, propelling the story to the top of those platforms but other sympathetic media starved the allegations of oxygen, with the New York Times hypocritically claiming that it couldn’t run the story because it was unverified; that hasn’t stopped the NYT from running unsubstantiated attacks on Trump for the last four years such as the completely fabricated narrative that Trump had colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. Also, without a shred of evidence, the media claimed the emails were ‘Russian disinformation.’ That prompted the Director of National Intelligence J. Ratcliffe to categorically state that the information was ‘not part of some Russian disinformation campaign,’ while the FBI, which has had the laptop since 2019, refuses to confirm or deny anything about its investigation.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been mauled by her own swamp man, Dazza the Dodgy Dollar Dazzler, her deadbeat date. NSW’s ICAC is a flawed institution, once boasting that its task was akin to ‘pulling the wings off butterflies’ as it gleefully went about ruining reputations in the court of public opinion, but at least its aim is to stamp out corruption.
What was surprising in the ICAC revelations was not disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire’s lust for filthy lucre, or the incompetence with which he attempted to acquire it, it was what the premier – the state’s Head Prefect and Girl Guide-in-Chief – saw in a man with a deficit not just of integrity but charm and intellect. Beneath the soporific inquiry into this small-time grifter lies the unexploded ordnance – what the premier knew.
Maguire confessed to using his public office to enrich himself and disclosed his comical efforts to destroy the evidence. He claimed he ‘accidentally lost’ a USB stick at his farm gate which was run over several times. His iPad suffered an ‘unfortunate incident’ with a tractor. He tried to protect the premier by concealing the nature of his dealings with cryptic comments but it was hardly the enigma code. He referred to a short bald property developer as ‘his little friend with the polished head,’ and immediately asked the premier if she knew who he meant. ‘Not really,’ she replied wearily, adding, ‘I don’t need to know.’ His pleasure at earning $5,000 for assisting in the sale of a motel in 2014 seems a pathetically small sum considering the reputational damage it has done, but Berejiklian, who was then transport minister, greeted the news with jubilation, texting, ‘Congrats!!! Great news!!! Woohoo.’ Dazza graduated to bigger deals, hoping to earn $1.5 million for brokering the sale of land at Badgery’s Creek in 2017 and telling her that the fee would wipe out half his debt. ‘That’s good,’ she said, hurriedly adding, ‘I don’t need to know about that bit.’ It sounded like the repetition of a perfunctory ‘Our Father,’ intended to deliver her from evil, or perhaps it was code for, ‘Don’t talk about your shonky shenanigans on a phone which might be bugged.’
Obviously, the premier should have made it her business to ensure that the man she hoped to marry was furthering the interests of the people of NSW not feathering a love nest. There are shades of former PM Julia Gillard, whose unsavoury boyfriend used the ‘slush fund’ she set up and other union assets in dubious ways, including to renovate a house where they sometimes shared a bed.
Maguire coined the word ICAC-able which neatly encapsulates his ham-fisted attempts at earning cash for access to ministers, premiers and visas. His testimony conjured up Sinatra crooning Call Me Irresponsible: ‘Do my foolish alibis bore you? Well, I’m not too clever, I just adore you.’ Sadly, there was nothing in the exchanges that anyone, other than Gladys, could have mistaken for love. He simply succeeded in besmirching the reputation of a woman that voters had thought was un-ICAC-able. It’s not clear how these sorry sagas will play out. All that can be said with certainty is that it is not good enough for those who tread the corridors of power to simply say they couldn’t see the swamp creatures in their midst until they were exposed as their sons and lovers.
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