Turnbull government ought to be shut down for fraud

 

amanda-and-dog

Former Howard Liberal government Minister for Social Services and other portfolios, Amanda Vanstone with  pup, Gus, a Weimaraner, who went on to bite the Pakistani ambassador.

 

Australia is way ahead of the game in terms of using government policies and processes to punish and isolate our most disadvantaged citizens so the Government can reduce its welfare spending a few million. We now allow our Government to implement the work of sociopaths and threaten poor citizens with imprisonment on the basis of half-cocked ‘automatic computer-matching’ algorithms that are allegedly tracking welfare fraud.

Bill Mitchell Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

 

“Bill Shorten’s skin is so thick it puts a rhinoceros to shame”, snipes Liberal hit-squad reservist, retired SA senator Amanda Vanstone who is rostered on this week to kick off the government’s perpetual rubbishing of the Labor leader.

She would know. Her own political style was brutal: “Let me put my dancing shoes on, ” she said on learning of the death, from stomach cancer, of fugitive Christopher Skase in 2001. At the time, she was the minister responsible for pursuing the fugitive. More recently, on Nine ‘s election eve commentary, she thrust her hand in Maxine McKew’s face.

“Talk to the hand, the face doesn’t want to listen.” The hand was almost as controversial as Turnbull’s victory speech.

She’s got her hand up again this week. Handy Mandy’s attack is a bid to help a government in crisis over its Centrelink debt collection disaster  while continuing the line that its policy failures are always Labor’s fault. Shorten and Tanya Plibersek invented the scheme, Vanstone writes, so they have no grounds, whatsoever, to criticise it.

Centrelink “does an outstanding job,” she dashes off, in pursuit of a red herring, because it is so big and complex and deals with 4.5 million (sic) “mindboggling permutations”. She reckons she knows. She once “had the welfare portfolio.”

Someone else can tell her it’s now more like 7 million. If they can get past the hand.

Vanstone and Welfare? Now there’s an winning double. It must be Liberal policy to choose the worst possible fit, like Greg Hunt, the Minister for killing the environment, for Health. Dutton for refugees. Who would have thought, Alan Tudge, another MP, like Ms Vanstone, with an empathy bypass, whose robotic delivery so perfectly suits an automated debt recovery system, would be Human Services Minister today?

Who would have thought a government could be so utterly out of touch that it would follow its debacle, this week, by extending Robo-debt to age and disability pensioners?

Vanstone’s bull-dozing joins Alan Tudge’s verbal sludge. The system is working perfectly, he crows. It’s meant to have a twenty per cent failure. That’s how it works. Fear and surprise worked for the Spanish Inquisition, too. Who knows how much more harm is yet to be done when the scheme is unleashed on age pensioners and the disabled?

Apart from its gratuitous cruelty, Centrelink’s “outstanding job” has public servants pitted against each other by managers, competing for the highest daily quota of debt notices, according to Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie.

There’s a lot of “talk to the hand”, moreover, as thousands of Centrelink clients report, as their attempts to seek help or appeal mistakes and miscalculations are brusquely pushed aside. Fobbed off. Threats to seize or garnish bank savings have been reported. The “outstanding job” clearly includes extortion and obtaining advantage by deception.

“If the government was a private company it would go out of business or be shut down by regulators for fraud over the Centrelink debacle,” says former Digital Transformation Office head Paul Shetler. Talk to the hand, says Vanstone.

Vanstone is an expert in the straw man.

“What is it about us”, she writes, “what kind of bongo juice are we on when we fall for some schmaltzy rubbish suggesting that everyone should be allowed to keep overpayments?”

But no-one is making that suggestion. Liberal MPs caught in travel rorts defend rorting, it is true. Look at Steve Ciobo’s absurd claim that a Grand Final is a business meeting if you are an MP . Sussan Ley says she’s broken no rules. But that doesn’t mean everyone tries to cheat.

Keep overpayments? It’s a tactic to blur the issue, divert criticism. It’s a low ploy that can only increase suffering; further harden the dehumanising nurtured openly by Joe Hockey. the prejudice that the poor are leaners. Take away their humanity: take away their human rights. Scapegoat. Its demonisation of the poor is a domestic version of a cruel government’s denial that asylum-seekers are “legal” – have human rights, are entitled to care and compassion. Vanstone’s mob  helped start that with babies overboard in 2003.

Scapegoating helps bury the hoax of broken promises. When authoritarian structures or figures can’t keep their promises to their constituency, they scapegoat, Noam Chomsky warns. “Let’s blame it on people who are even more vulnerable and who are suffering even more than you are. Let’s make it their fault.”

At issue is an employment data matching system between ATO and Centrelink which crudely calculates client’s fortnightly earnings by assuming annual income is earned regularly over a year and generates letters demanding repayment of debt when it discovers or it miscalculates a discrepancy between the two agencies’ records.

Twenty per cent of demands from Centrelink are wrong. Yet many recipients are bluffed or frightened into paying up. 200, 000 letters have been sent since September. The pain and suffering is unprecedented.

In a reversal of natural justice, you are deemed guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Proof may be hard because the Robo-debt claw-back system can search back six years. Workers may not keep their records that long; ATO rules do not require it. Most don’t and the government is counting on it. Yet in contempt of reciprocity, fairness and good faith, if Centrelink owes you money, however, you have only two years to claim it.

Being bullied is the first approach many report. A threatening letter demands debt repayment with a ten per cent processing fee. Alan Tudge, appears elsewhere, to make it clear that defaulters could go to gaol. Attempts to clarify or rectify mistakes are often met with delays. In brief, Robo-debt claw-back is a flawed system, a wrong system, an illegal system before we even begin to consider the social or economic effects.

Bill Mitchell warns that the letters violate recipients’ human rights. Ben Eltham sums up.

Like the government’s last data debacle, the 2016 Census, it’s clear that there are massive IT failures here. This is not just a few glitches and bugs. A government department is sending out tens of thousands of erroneous communications accusing welfare recipients of over-payment. The government is falsely accusing some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Cruelly and irresponsibly, Vanstone misrepresents the issue, smears welfare recipients as cheats, parodying Shorten’s case for an inquiry as “We don’t give a hoot if you get overpaid, by accident or design; it doesn’t matter. Keep the lot. You’ve figured out how to get more than your neighbour? Good on you. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

How to get more than your neighbour? The pernicious lie of widespread deliberate welfare fraud is lightly tossed into the mix. It’s an assumption which underlies the whole clawback policy yet it is egregiously, wilfully wrong. Your prejudices are showing Ms Vanstone. DHS reports show a decline over the years in cases brought for fraud. In 2008-9, it recovered $113.4 million out of $87 billion in payments – 0.13 per cent.

There is no evidence to support $4.5 billion is available to claw back. That pot of gold your government is chasing just doesn’t exist, Ms Vanstone. But you can frighten people into paying anyway. Nowhere is there evidence of widespread rorting – for that you would have to look at politicians and their travel allowances.

Familiar also is her emotive plea that welfare is a burden on the taxpayer, yet Vanstone can add a loopy twist. “Take a $3000 Centrelink debt, she says. A person who pays about $26,000 a year in tax has to work for about six weeks to give the taxman that $3000 to dish out in the first place and certainly wants it paid out according to the rules.”

Yet only half of government revenue comes from PAYE tax. The rules? A tax system is part of a fair society it is not about resenting responsibility – “giving the tax man” but a way those who can work are able to help those who can’t. A real drain on the system, on the other hand, is the third of big businesses who pay tax. Yet Vanstone’s mob will give companies a $50 billion tax break.

Putting in the boot comes naturally to Vanstone who holds her own in a Coalition stable which boasts such feral attack dogs as Tony Junkyard Abbott or Senator Ian Macdonald or Peter “Nutso” Dutton. Indeed, her prowess in sinking the slipper once caused a mild-mannered Wayne Swan to call her a political hyena who takes delight in attacking society’s most vulnerable”.[4] Swannie’s too much of gentleman to tell us what he really thinks. Nor does he need to remind us that hyenas hunt in packs.

While she is unlikely to get under his skin, Amanda knows full well that Kill Bill is the only strategy the Coalition has going for it. OK it may well be derivative, out of date and increasingly ineffectual – like the Turnbull government itself but, hey, it’s fun and why debate the issue when you can play the man? Or all that you know.

Vanstone’s attack on Shorten, is a crude bid to redeem Clawback; to rehabilitate the Coalition’s automated debt-collecting process, a process which is part of its war on the poor and allied to its demonisation of welfare recipients – a process which is so wrong on so many levels that it has already done incalculable harm to thousands of Australians .

Vanstone’s chief tactic is to pretend that the only alternative to clawback is to leave overpayments alone entirely. You don’t pay the money back at all. Showing she’s all class – ruling class, the former Howard government minister charmingly manages to combine this misrepresentation with a dishonest slur of dishonesty on all Centrelink beneficiaries.

Yet Amanda is a welfare recipient herself. After retiring from the senate in 2007, she spent three years on the nation’s tit as Australia’s Ambassador to Rome. The job comes with a few perks such as subsidised accommodation, utilities and travel. Taxpayers lavish on the incumbent a multi-storey Italian mansion perched in the hills above Rome’s Piazza del Popolo.

This is not about Amanda, primarily, but the thick-skinned, wrong-headed, morally bankrupt government she represents. Never in Australia’s history has there been such utter heartlessness by the government department cruelly, ironically entitled, Human Services. Never has it been clearer to the Australian public that their government, unwilling and unable to chase revenue from company tax defaulters is prepared to go to war on the poor.

Most victims of Centrelink’s abuse in its Robo-debt-scam-the-poor-the-weak-and-helpless scheme have nowhere to go to get legal help. The basic legal help available from Centrelink will be axed in July. is Last year 150,000 of those who asked for help though community legal centres were turned away. Centres have had their funding cut.

Spare us the barracking, Ms Vanstone. Spare us the lie that the poor are worthless, lazy, dishonest and underserving. Save us your talk-to-the-hand endorsement. No need to put your own boot in. Your government is doing enough of that already. If you are worried about overpayment, how about refunding your government pension for the three years you were Ambassador to Rome. Remove the grounds for accusations of double-dipping.

The money could fund a legal aid centre for poor people falsely accused of fraud because Centrelink has made a mistake and that they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. Call that an outstanding job all you like Amanda but it’s illegal, it’s immoral and it’s dangerous. Best of all you could back off with your attacks on the poor and turn your journalistic pen to ending rorts in your own political party. Reform is so badly overdue, they are about to undo themselves entirely.

 

Turnbull government in crisis; fobs off nation with review.

SUSSAN LEY RESIGNATION FILE

 

Pleonexia … originating from the Greek πλεονεξία, is a philosophical concept which roughly corresponds to greed, covetousness, or avarice, and is strictly defined as “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others”, suggesting a … “ruthless self-seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one’s own benefit”.[1]

“We are dealing with other peoples’ money,” intones Malcolm Turnbull, taking the high moral ground as he fronts a thin press conference on the afternoon of Friday 13th. Other people’s money. Who would have thought? Tell Centrelink.

The conference room is almost empty. The Canberra Press Gallery is either on holiday or heading for happy hour. A bored government staffer stands to one side; a stage-manager, ready to call time on any questions after the Prime Minister’s hammy but low-energy performance. The atmosphere is let’s get this show off the road.

Turnbull grips the edges of the moulded podium with both hands: he could be a Border Force Control officer on the bridge of an intercepted vessel. He’ll turn this thing around. The kitsch set is so stagey that it shrieks defensive artifice while underlining his government’s monumental disconnect from its people. The national flags add to the travesty.

It’s time to put out the trash; bury bad news in a time slot where it will attract least media scrutiny. Two weeks into a new year, the Turnbull government is already mired in crisis. Dirty Captain Turnbull must spin scandal as good news.

He is here, he declares, drum roll – to announce a new system. Trust him. MPs are helpless as a kitten when it comes to moral choices. He can fix all that. Operation High Moral Ground will flush out the rorters. Besides, we are soon to discover, he has probity’s poster boy, Arthur Sinodinos, up his sleeve.

Sussan Ley has made a “personal decision” to resign, Turnbull mumbles, to a reporter’s inaudible question. It’s almost an aside. Ley’s personal decision includes a statement that she doesn’t believe she’s broken any rules.

Yep, it’s the damn rules that have broken her; that stupid system which supposes you know right from wrong. Ken Goodger, Acting Anglican Bishop of Wangaratta, holds a garden party at his church in Albury in support of the high flying Health Minister, pilot and Pythagorean numerologist whose wings are now clipped. Grounded. Dumped from the ministry.

A deafening silence ensues from Ley’s own party where one might expect calls of support, yet the news is full of reports of MPs jostling for what the Herald Sun calls her “plum job”. Former Health Minister Tony Abbott puts in job application in Friday’s The Australian, in the guise of an article in which he shirtfronts Turnbull for being all mouth and no trousers.

Turnbull’s call, cunningly packaged as Ley’s decision, he hopes, will soothe a nation inflamed by a week of revelations of pleonectic MPs, snouts in troughs, rorting travel allowances. We will cheer his decisive leadership. Ra. Ra. Fat chance.

A deep anger now dwells within Australians, a sense of betrayal and of loss. So profound now is the gap between rich and poor; between those who have work and those who have no work; between home owners and those who will never own homes. Between men and women’s career options and pay.

Years of neoliberal cuts to services, to wages and conditions; years of corporatisation, deregulation and privatisation and the voracious love of competition and profit above all else have cheated us and divided us. There is nothing any leader of the party of the IPA, the mining lobby’s puppet, the hand maiden of big business and banking can ever say or do which will assuage the people’s anger.

Abroad, vulgarian and fellow professional narcissist, Donald Trump also deals in lies; manufactures facts; abuses those who would dispute his version of events.

“We are not living in a post truth universe”, writes Robert Fisk, “we are living the lies of others”.

Just when he’d hoped to get by without any cabinet reshuffle, a badly wounded Turnbull, who must himself live the lies of his hard right captors, is caught up in another silly season turkey shoot. But he’s ready with the traditional trimmings. Dab hand with the corny theatrics. He falls back on a tried and true script.

A sacrificial resignation is followed by a (patently hollow) promise to fix the system. Cue massive spin from a servile media. By Sunday the ABC features teenage reporters explaining how huge is the grey area between right and wrong. The system’s rotten. Politicians can’t be blamed for any bad moral choice, really.

It’s what you’d expect of Turnbull. God forbid he’d assent to growing demands for a national ICAC. Or agree to a cease-fire in the automated debt recovery phase of his government’s war on the poor currently harassing 20,000 Australians per week.

We haven’t heard it yet but expect the term “welfare security” to be applied soon as the government seeks another phrase in its mission to demonise welfare recipients; its determination to behave with the same indifference and inhumanity towards the poor as it does toward asylum seekers.

Working “incredibly well”, says Christian Porter about Centrelink’s Robo-call debt extortion system which hounds victims of its own mistakes within an inch of their lives; those it alleges it overpaid, demanding repayment plus a ten per cent debt collection fee.

Porter boasts $300 million dollar has been found down the back of the couch or in Grandma’s funeral bond; $300 million which is clearly not money received but debts alleged. There’s $4 billion out there to collect. But only if you believe the figure is anything more than a wild conjecture.

Robot Alan Tudge, a perfect choice as Human Services Minister in an inhuman government, is equally immune to the grief, the fear, the anger, the human suffering his automated debt recovery blunderbuss is inflicting. The system is working well, he says on ABC, Wednesday -“and we will continue with that system”. You bet you are. You bet I am.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, also is utterly unrepentant, blind to anything but the dollars. He makes a virtue of being remote and unyielding. “We make no apology for the fact that we are trying to make sure we are more efficient, have a wider grasp of those who might have received payments in error.” Or those frightened into paying money they don’t owe. Those driven by despair into dark thoughts of self-harm.

Darren O’Connell, whose PhD is in economics, a teacher who has lectured at Curtin University, has tried eight times since November to get his inaccurate debt removed from the system, but the letters keep coming.

“The process and logic used by Centrelink is both flawed, dangerous and opaque,” he tells news.com.au. “This process assumes people are guilty and it is up to us to prove our innocence.”

A competent, compassionate, responsible PM – even an agile PM would have called the dogs off on well before now. Sacked Tudge. Scrapped a monumental failure. Made time for age pensioners. Raised welfare payments to make amends. Instead he’s helping create for himself and his government a mother of a perfect storm.

Changes reducing the allowable value of pensioners’ assets help magnify the anger and resentment from those in the debt-collector’s gun towards those living high on the hog; having fun in the sun.

World’s best minister, Greg Hunt books up $20,000 of summer holidays in Queensland at the taxpayers’ expense. It’s a similar story with Matthias Cormann. Many other examples follow, each one pointing up the gap between the ruling elite and the rest of the nation; the rapidly widening social divide. A Cabinet Minister buys an apartment on impulse when most ordinary Australians are priced out of the market. Any protest is dismissed as the politics of envy.

Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association says the opposite to poverty is not wealth. It is justice. Closing the gap on health inequality would mean tackling the disproportionate distribution of global wealth, the epidemiologist argues in his latest Boyer Lecture and it’s exactly the same within nations.

“We have the knowledge and the means to improve people’s lives and reduce health inequality,” he reminds us, “The question is: what do we have in our hearts? Do we have the will to close the gap in a generation?”

Abbott has a go at his PM in his vanity publisher, The Australian, for being unready to deal with a protectionist world under Trump. Be agile; don’t just say the words. Make no mistake, the former PM is on the warpath. Here, he scores a technical point – yet neither PM nor his nemesis equates agility with the real need to seek a fairer, more just society.

The Coalition merely flicks the switch to damage control. When all else fails book in a review or an inquiry. Or a distraction. The perpetually befuddled Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, another politician with a charisma bypass, beholden to capital, is wheeled in front of cameras to signal that trade will boom and security will be strengthened thanks to Turnbull’s deftly steering around the 330 Minke whales Japan is about to kill and avoiding any questions about conservation or the ethics of slaughtering sentient beings for human consumption under the guise of scientific research.

After Tony Abbott’s silly, made to be broken, submarine deal promise, Turnbull’s government is reluctant to make waves. It will not send a patrol vessel to Antarctic waters to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet unlike in previous years.

On the other hand, the free trade agreement with Japan is achieving amazing things, says Steve Ciobo noting

“Exports of beef have climbed about 30 per cent as tariffs of up to 38.5 per cent are lowered as part of the deal and are now worth $793 million.” Wild cheers all round. No-one questions the place of tariffs in a free trade deal.

Sadly, the incredible Japan trade boost news fails to distract the media circus from its pursuit of politicians’ travel rorts.

Professional wave maker, Nick “Get-your-head-on” Xenophon pops up on the box again. He’s sure the system is at fault on ABC 7:30. Up bobs Michael Gordon in The Age. It’s another part of the blame the system ruse. MSM scribes agree to call their hounds off; turn their ire from MPs who cheat, to the rotten system whose main fault seems to be that it presupposes politicians can make autonomous moral decisions. Steve Ciobo argues, on cue, that he can’t tell a Grand Final from a trade deal. Jules Bishop pulls out of the Portsea Polo just in case. Shinzo Abe needs me more is her excuse.

She wasn’t going anyway. Reports of a Hugo Boss outfit suggest otherwise, according to Fairfax’s Julie Singer.

Smoothie Stan Grant is also recruited into grey-washing what to most of us appears very black and white. C’mon, Stan. Imagine you are Sussan Ley. You get to Brisbane, bore a few chemists witless with your talk on scripts which could have been an email or a letter and then you fly on to the Gold Coast to buy your apartment. If you can’t tell which part of the journey to book to your boss, you shouldn’t be a minister.

If you can’t tell you don’t need to charter a jet at $12 000 to do the trip, you shouldn’t be in government. Nor do you need anyone to tell you that flying your own plane along the same route used by commercial services is not only hugely more expensive but it looks as if you are trying to get your flying hours up to keep your pilot’s licence. What Grant doesn’t go into is the fudging that is done to dress up holidays as business.

There is a lot still, though, potential grey area, isn’t there? If you look at the entitlements, it’s full of that, and it’s left to a lot of discretion and self-regulation.

We heard from Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister, saying that he thinks it’s appropriate that the taxpayer pays if you attend a sporting function. He would be there being questioned, potentially doing work, as well as enjoying the sporting event. Does he have a point?

In a word, Stan, no. Imagine you are Greg Hunt. From 2004 to 2006 you travel with your family to Noosa in late November, each time staying there between three and seven nights and for five nights in 2008. You talk up the political things you do during your holiday. The meetings, the electoral visits. Dress it up. Then you blur the issue by reference to the beaut job you do at other times addressing the Davos mob on Hayman Island as a Global Leader for Tomorrow’ by the World Economic Forum. Yet none of this justifies booking your holidays up to the government.

The rule is clear. If your trip was primarily a family holiday, that should really be the end of the matter. While it is true that there may be some complex areas, the cases reported are not that difficult to call. But Stan and others don’t think so. The government gets a big boost on the ABC’s 7:30 Report and on all other mainstream media. Mission accomplished. Focus can now shift from rorters to the system. Why, it’s even led the Finance Minister astray.

Belgian Borzoi, Mathias Cormann, who barks and growls incessantly about keeping government spending under control, is clearly at a loss when it comes to who should pay for what. He billed taxpayers over $23,000 for weekend trips to the beach resort town of Broome with his wife over five years. A spokesperson for Cormann points out that the Minister would have had a range of mission critical commitments in the beach resort town. A very junior reporter on ABC 24 reads out a list of all the top level negotiations and vital political stuff Cormann would have to do in Broome.

Never overburdened by an original thought, Turnbull looks to the UK for a solution, as he did when he wanted Alexander Downer to retire in favour of pin-striped megalomaniac George Brandis, whose boundless faith in his own infallibility has not advanced either his own career or his Prime Minister’s.

In the meantime, press hacks flock to admire Turnbull’s new baby- his you-beaut triple decker anti-rorting authority. Turnbull’s system fix gets a massive spin, happily diverting us from any thought of adding up the rorts or forming the view that, in Sussan Ley’s case, here dies a scapegoat or taking interest in how few will actually pay anything back.

A sacking, spun as a mutually agreed resignation means there’s no need to publish PMC secretary Martin Parkinson’s review. It’s the very least that the embattled thin-lipped PM can do – apart from wearing the black spectacle frame of gravitas and sobriety who daily appears capable of less and less. The incredible shrinking PM blinks. A shrewd bit of deflection. Then bugger all the preceding reviews, he’ll set up one of his own.

Why, he’ll copy the Poms; import the British system of transparency, its Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 – as befits a staunch republican. He’s even going to set up an Inquisitor or a panel of three of them called an Independent Authority. That’ll help cut red tape and boost the mission of smaller government. But there’s more.

The independent authority will be staffed by a member experienced in auditing, a member experienced in remuneration matters, the president of the Remuneration Tribunal, a former judge and a former MP. Jobs for the boys and growth!

This is a very strong board, the PM patronises us. It will have significant independence from the Government. (Whatever that means.) MPs and senators will be able to get advice and rulings from the independent agency if they are unsure about a claim. Genius. Outsource ethnical decision making. What could possibly go wrong?

“Transparency is the key”, Turnbull says opaquely – the PM who refuses to confirm how much of his own money he spent on the election campaign – a PM who vowed never to sloganeer. We won’t get to see Martin Parkinson’s review of Ley’s rorts. His government refuses permission to professionals working on Manus or Nauru to testify to their experiences. Transparency? The Turnbull government has yet to share with the nation its legal advice it said it needed before joining the US in its illegal interference in Syria.

A 2016 independent review into parliamentary entitlements, led by retired senior public servant David Tune, found a “focus of concern is travel ‘inside entitlement’ but outside reasonable expectations and standards”, The Age reminds us. Turnbull ignores it.

Bugger Tony Abbott’s review which has been lying around the Liberal Party lunchroom, yellowing, fading, curling at the edges along with Turnbull’s own clean-up vows, now a mouldering year old. Mal must make a stand. But it won’t staunch the Turnbull government’s bleeding. And it’s got Buckley’s chance of fixing the problem.

Ms Ley who added an extra S to her name to liven up her life will be remembered more for her travel and her numerology than her service to the nation’s health or the body politic. In May 2016, her wish to lift the Medicare freeze was blocked by departmental red tape helped pave the way for Labor’s Mediscare.

She’s also become a standing joke on social media and an emblem of government excess during its automated debt recovery extortion, part of a war on the poor which has at its heart a mean-spirited denial of welfare beneficiaries right to payments which will at least keep them above the poverty line. A Melbourne Cup field of other rorters soon join Ms Ley. Each one is a nail in the political class’s coffin.

The vivid contrast between the entitlement of the ruling elite and the deprivation of the poor highlights the expanding inequality and redistribution of wealth from labour to capital; worker to boss that began with Hawke’s accord and continued as the neoliberal Keating Rudd and Gillard Labor governments traded away workers’ wages and conditions.

Ley’s final touchdown is a welcome distraction from news that Trump’s team is hustling Congress to approve its members without adequate vetting rushing through the process in a way which shows contempt for the American voter. It brought relief from chortling and guffawing over news from America of a Shower-gate scandal in which Russian agents, it is said, compiled a dossier of compromising dealings on the president-elect including The Donald’s alleged dalliance with Russian prostitutes and deviant sexual preferences

But now Turnbull must rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, as former Health Minister Tony Abbott loiters with intent in the public eye. Abbott backers are active. Turnbull drops National Party Deputy Fiona Nash’s name. As Assistant Health minister, Ms Nash took down a healthy food rating website on the advice of her Chief of Staff Alistair Furnivall.

Mr Furnivall is married to junk food lobbyist Tracey Cain, sole director and secretary of Australian Public Affairs which represents the Australian Beverages Council and Mondelez Australia, which owns Kraft, Cadbury and Oreo brands, among others.

By Sunday, he’s giving the impression that the impeccable Arthur “see no donors” Sinodinos will get the nod. Sinodinos was questioned by NSW ICAC in 2014 but couldn’t recall, despite being a director of Australian Water Holdings, an Eddie Obeid company, on a salary of $200,000 a year for three years, what he did beyond the odd meeting and checking his bank account.

Sussan Ley is all done and dusted now that her resignation is in. Yet her trip to the Gold Coast, after a meeting selling prescriptions in Brisbane, to snap up a $795 000 apartment on the spur of the moment is not all it seems.

In fact, her bargain buy turns out to be a carefully planned purchase in which the Main Street apartment owner, Martin Henry Corkery proprietor of Children First, a child care business and a big donor who gave the Queensland Liberal Party $50,000 in 2011, sold the property at a loss to the MP. Doubtless he took pity on the impoverished Cabinet Minister.

Corkery, who disavows all knowledge of who was buying what, received a $109,977 grant for his day care business when Ley was assistant Education Minister.

Furthermore, a retired couple on the Gold Coast Hinterland helpfully come forward to claim Ms Ley made an unsuccessful bid on their house nine months before she purchased the apartment.

Ley should stand aside until the two inquiries , one by Finance and one by Martin Parkinson of the PMC under way are completed. All overpayments should be paid back with ten per cent recovery fee under the same terms and conditions as apply to Centrelink beneficiaries. The media should be encouraged to drop its spin that Arthur Sindodinos has been cleared. The report, released September last year does not exonerate Mr Sinodinos.

Operation Credo is yet to deliver its report. Happily, NSW’s Baird government made amendments to ICAC last November which are widely tipped to help Mr Sinodinos while a current review of laws banning property and other specified investors to make donations could clear things up nicely.

Despite his sacrifice of Sussan Ley, Malcolm Turnbull begins 2017 badly wounded by revelations not only of endemic rorting but of a political caste made up of ministers such as Steve Ciobo who don’t see a problem with pretending that their holidays or Grand Final tickets are for business and their own and their families’ recreation. Nor will it help him with the perfect storm brewing as a result of the Centrelink clawback debacle and the rising discontent spread amongst pensioners by changes to the assets test.

Most damaging of all, however, and irreparable is the disconnect revealed between his ministers and the Australian people in comments from the likes of Alan Tudge and Barnaby Joyce which indicate a damning lack of empathy if not a contempt for the welfare of ordinary people in a society which wealth is increasingly in the hands of the elite.

Above all, a government which promised openness, transparency and consultation has opted instead for secrecy, lies and diktat. No staged press conference, fake news, spin, arranged resignation or any other diversion can alter one jot the right of the people to a fair and just society; to the truth, Mr Turnbull.

 

 

Sussan Ley, Centrelink and Alcoa: Turnbull government in deep trouble

sussan-ley

It’s been a bad week for Turnbull government. Even for a mob with a gift for self-inflicted crisis and a record for monumental mismanagement and sheer ineptitude, it’s been a shocker.

Health Minister Sussan Ley’s gift for snipping up the odd bargain $795,000 apartment while travelling on official business and her spectacular thrashing of her parliamentary travel allowance – $10,000 per day in the USA – has aroused the nation’s indignation at a time when Centrelink’s claw back fiasco takes its popular demonisation of the unemployed, the poor, the frail and the elderly into extortion.

Always with an eye for the main chance, veteran trouble-maker and attention-seeker Tony Abbott swoops to ridicule his PM’s lack of authority and trash our mid-East foreign policy.

Ever willing, Greg Huff n Puff Hunt is sent on an Alcoa rescue mission with a side-serve of Greens-bashing in a desperate, attempt at distraction. “The Turnbull government will stand up for workers, their families and regional communities”, he says in callow self-parody. Does he mean Adelaide and Geelong with closure of car manufacture? Or in ship-building in Adelaide, Melbourne or The Hunter where 1600 workers have lost jobs since the Coalition came to power?

ABS statistics show 44,000 fewer manufacturing jobs and 49,000 fewer mining jobs exist now than when the Coalition took power in 2013. Yet Hunt, champion of the workers, is eclipsed instantly when Indonesia tries to pick a fight over an insult in some training materials and later over a demonstrator waving a West Papuan flag at its Melbourne Embassy. Foreign Minister, show pony Julie Bishop will be tested by the challenge.

Some may call him lily-livered but can Turnbull be blamed for hiding under his goose feather doona? Deputy dog Barnaby Joyce is sooled on to Abbott. The  bovver-boy-yobbo rides taller in the saddle on his comeback trail with every Turnbull government crisis. Yet, even Joyce knows the jig is up. He settles for telling Abbott he is “unhelpful”.

Yet something seems to be working. The budgie smuggler is probably miffed that his policies do better under Turnbull than they ever did under his own good captaincy; when his “fierce political warrior” and micromanager Peta Credlin had the whip hand. But he’s not going to ditch the hair product just yet. Turnbull’s true gift is for self-destruction.

History repeats itself, wrote Karl Marx, first as tragedy second as farce. Turnbull, Abbott with a better post code looks set to repeat his 2009 defeat as he once again shows his the vast, yawning deficit in his authority and his lack of political nous.

Junkyard dog Abbott scents blood. Geed up by Malcolm’s endless misfortune, he is free-lancing in foreign policy; urging Australia to drop its foreign aid to Palestine, move its embassy to Jerusalem; second guess Trump.

Domestically, Abbott talks up division, helpfully telling 2GB, recently, there are ‘cross-currents’ within the party, urging colleagues to think twice, not “make a bad situation worse”. The human wrecking ball wags his finger at Cory Bernardi, George Christensen; warns against wrecking and division. How does he keep a straight face?

Abbott knows full well that when things start to go wrong for a government, they rarely go right.

Making a bad situation hopeless, Industry and Science Minister Greg Hunt fails to reach any kind of deal at all with Alcoa after a last minute dash to New York with his Victorian counterpart Wade Noonan in tow.

The rebuff coincides with news of another dud. Its record-breaking 2016 Census data gathering mother of all disasters is about to be eclipsed. Unaccountably, defective data infects its new, computerised, “claw-back” program which is set to shake down shifty welfare beneficiaries and other bludgers who have been wrongly claiming age, Newstart and other pensions. Yet, unfathomably, Bludge-buster Alan Tudge is on leave; unavailable for comment. Who would have thought?

Christian Porter eventually turns up to defend claw-back. It’s “working incredibly well” and “he doesn’t think it’s an unfair system” even though it might “upset” some people. Only twenty per cent of letters are sent in error. Besides, it’s already netted $300 million, a figure disputed by Hank Jongan, Department of Human Services GM who says that this number represents the identified debts.” Porter’s bland blithe indifference will help make this into a PR disaster.

Despite Porter’s spin, MPs and others report countless stories of computer error and human suffering. The system is a lemon. The Not My Debt website records disturbing examples. Jayde Harvey, 24, is shocked when she gets a letter from Centrelink just before Christmas, asking her to clarify how much she earned when she worked part-time while in high school. A casual teacher, morbidly distressed over a demand for a $3200 debt from six years ago, is told to call Lifeline.

Errors are inherent given the way the program calculates fortnightly earnings, for example, or interprets employer’s names. Yet the government will continue with its weapon of math destruction in the absence of any effective, responsible political leadership – adding callous indifference, if not sheer cruelty, to its reputation for incompetence.

Labor’s Human Services spokesperson Linda Burney tells Fairfax Media: “A program that’s working well doesn’t send 4000 false debt letters a week. She’s written to the Australian national audit office asking for an investigation. Labor’s call is echoed by The Disabled Peoples’ Organisation which wants a stop put to the Centrelink “fiasco” stressing that it is particularly unfair on people with a disability. Half of all people with a disability live in poverty.

Peter Martin in The Age calls the program “a litany of inhuman errors”. He predicts that the debacle will cost more than the bungled census debacle for which the PM said heads must roll. A look overseas, at the US or New Zealand would have been sufficient warning that data matching programmes cause more trouble than they are worth. Again, what could have reasonably been foreseen appears to come as a complete surprise to the Turnbull government whose gesture toward planning is a two word slogan. Even the demise of Alcoa, a business long in terminal decline, is treated with feigned surprise.

Who could have predicted that Alcoa would be in trouble? A global decline in aluminium prices has closed eight smelters in the US, reducing that country to its lowest output since 1945. Known for years, also, was the expiry of the unsustainable deal for Alcoa’s electricity struck by the Cain government in the late 1980s, eager to boost employment even if it meant over burdening a creaky state power grid and imposing billions in costs tax payers.

The subsidies began in 1962, when the Liberal Bolte government offered Alcoa discount electricity at 0.4 pence per kilowatt hour, when the market rate of 1.5 pence. The arrangement was possible because the state owned the power network and generators. With privatisation, which politicians promise brings competition and lower prices to consumers came exactly the opposite. Later the Bracks government levied $100 million a year land tax to help it meet its power liability, a cost passed on to all consumers. No-one can tell how many billions it has cost tax-payers in total.

Cain agreed to subsidise the multinational company’s profits by $100 million a year, while the plant consumed ten per cent of the state’s electricity. And a succession of political white knights have come forward as Alcoa has struggled to make a go of things. Although the unprofitable plant was forced to close its Point Henry smelter, an opportunistic Tony Abbott was quick to offer the kiss of life. “Scrapping the carbon tax will give industries like aluminium a fighting chance, not just to survive, but to flourish,” he said in February 2014, a patently absurd prediction.

In reality, despite Abbott’s ranting, rather than being crippled by the carbon price, the company benefited from a system which left it with excess, lucrative carbon units. Now the chips are down, work experience boy, Greg Hunt, is sent on a fool’s errand.

Hunt has been running a few ideas up the flagpole. See who salutes. Some may say it’s late in the day but nevertheless Hunt has big-noted himself with a plan to funnel clean energy loans into building a dirty power station for the troubled smelter. It sounds so good on paper. But it’s not legal. Any clean energy project has to be at least part clean: renewable energy. Shocking bit of red tape. Must be a complete surprise to the unlucky Industry Minister.

Happily the Turnbull government has an economic plan. Its tax cuts to corporations plan is guaranteed to restore jobs and growth. Grow the economy. Alcoa of Australia Ltd, CITIC and Marubeni -three of four entities with ownership interests in the Portland smelter paid zero corporate tax in Australia in the latest year for which information is available. According to the Tax Justice Network Australia, over the last decade, Alumina Ltd, owner of 40% of Alcoa Australia has paid a global average effective tax rate of zero per cent. But it’s all about the jobs, as Hunt keeps reminding us.

Alcoa is a model employer. In early January last year it abruptly replaced the Australian crew of MV Portland, a crew with 27 years’ service and no industrial disputes. Security guards hauled crew members off ship in the middle of the night. The company replaced the workers with a crew from India on a rate of $2.00 per day. The ship was sailed to Singapore and sold. The operation was carried out with the full knowledge of the federal government which was told it was the ship or the smelter.

WA Labor Senator Sue Lines noted in a speech March that,

“The government stood up for a multinational company over the jobs of Australians—men and women, mums and dads, taxpayers, homeowners, voters.”

Astonishingly Greg Hunt can still claim in The Herald Sun just before Christmas that the Turnbull government was “working closely with the Victorian government and unions to help secure jobs in Portland”, after a recent power outage damaged the smelter which appears to have no back up supply.

The Centrelink claw back debacle and the battle to save Alcoa the workers’ friend forms a fetching backdrop to news that little Aussie battler Health Minister Sussan Ley may have rorted her travel claim when she dashed away May 9 2015 from a meeting with key stakeholders to snap up an $795,000 Gold Coast apartment, a spur of the moment purchase.

Other revelations follow including a trip to the USA to “study its health system” a vital exercise in learning what to avoid which could have just as easily been done online – in which expenses ran to $10,000 per day. Expect more to follow.

Late on Sunday Ley admits to an error of judgement in The Australian but she cannot produce evidence of the meeting of stakeholders which she says drew her from Brisbane to the Gold Coast after her official business which was a policy announcement on the “availability of new medicines” which could have easily and rather more cheaply and effectively been made on a piece of paper. She says she will pay the money back.

In any decent, functioning government, Ley’s resignation would have been expected long ago. Its mismanagement is as much of an indictment of Turnbull’s government as the light it sheds on its true nature. Illuminated is the context of indulgence and entitlement. It makes a telling, damaging, contrast to the stories of the wretched victims of Centrelink’s mismatched computerised debt-recovery or the plight of the thousands about to be thrown out of work.

2017 has barely begun yet everywhere is seen the suffering of innocent victims of a government totally unable to plan beyond its next gibe at Shorten or its latest diversion from its own failure. Blinkered by its Neoliberal ideology, possessed by its war on the poor and needy, the Coalition begins 2017 destined to repeat its disastrous performance of last year.

Light on for talent in Cabinet, its ineffectual leader a captive of the hard right, its crew fighting among themselves or mutinous, the Turnbull government enters a world where the inauguration of anti-politician Donald Trump, an unstable professional narcissist and Russian puppet, means all the old certainties will be cast into doubt. It will be sorely tested.

Tony Abbott prepares his comeback.

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To know how the world goes without America, look at Aleppo

To know how the world goes without America, look at Aleppo” writes pesky attention-seeker and part time pen-pusher, Tony Abbott, our Titan Helios and Colossus of Rhodes in his own mind, ever- aflame with international insights and gratuitous advice.

Abbott appears in the current issue of The Spectator, the Tory anachronism which funded his trip to Birmingham last October for the UK Conservative conference where the MP, who barely lasted two years as PM, did a Brexit backflip and wised up the Poms on how his own star would rise.

Tony says he has “a reasonable chance” to be PM again, because, unlike Turnbull, the PM they couldn’t wait to be rid of is “popular with the party membership. Forget all that stuff he said about his leadership being “dead, buried and cremated” or the “Abbott era is over”. No-one got it in writing. The plan, then, was that he would show his colossal support in the NSW Liberal Party State Council October 22 with a call for “democratic reform”, a cloak for a conservative push from his Federal Electorate Commission (FEC).

It didn’t work but that won’t deter him. As he has famously observed, “Shit happens.”

As Turnbull continues to sink without trace in the polls, Abbott is more than a minor diversion. Is old onion-breath about to recycle himself? How much longer can the Liberals endure Malcolm flapdoodle? Will the self–styled good skipper scupper his bad captain?

The Spectator tells us thoughtfully that it does aim to be provocative. But for that you need good writers, not a bit more vanity publishing from our most insufferable egoist.

The world outside Tony Abbott has value – indeed exists – only insofar as it sustains and inflates him,” as Charles Krauthammer observed of Donald Trump, another dangerous narcissist sadly, madly out of his depth in public life.

Misleadingly entitled Jerusalem Diary Abbott’s diatribe is entirely derivative of the right wing Zionist nut jobs whose company he’s been keeping in Israel recently. Abbott writes in banner headlines, his recycled, received opinion are spliced with bumper sticker slogans he hopes will be mistaken for insights or statesmanlike savoir faire. Such is his opening gambit.

How the world goes without America? He says he’s quoting an (un-named) Israeli intelligence bigwig – as you do– but he could just as well be channelling Vladimir Putin in beginning his piece by blaming Aleppo on the US.

Is he trusting we will forget that the Assad’s brutal, bloody psychopathic war on his own people has been vastly enabled by help from Russia and Iran? Are we to point the finger at the US and ignore the failure of the entire Western world to protect the Syrian people from genocide?

When Bashar al-Assad killed over 1,300 of his people in a chemical-weapons attack in 2013, it is true, he crossed Obama’s self-imposed “red line,” The US President contemplated an air campaign to depose the Syrian dictator but that campaign was delayed when he chose to put it to a vote in Congress – and thrown out altogether when Russia offered to dispose of Assad’s chemical-weapons arsenal if the US refrained from launching air strikes.

Our former PM implies, nevertheless, that Obama didn’t have the ticker for the whole enchilada, a boots on the ground full scale regime-change military liberation. It worked so well in Iraq.

Abbott’s other observations are only slightly less judgemental:

“Iranian policy is a mix of ancient Persian imperialism with apocalyptic Islam,” he writes. And “President Erdogan hankers to be a modern version of Suleiman the Magnificent. Erdogan’s a politician, critics say, who would be sultan, implacable, cunning and restless: the type of role Abbott’s always had his heart set on for himself if only he had the calligraphy for it.

Iran, he writes, “must never be allowed to become a nuclear power”. A bit of shirtfront diplomacy, perhaps would fix that. Or a US-led allied regime changing invasion. Surely a PM who resented the UN lecturing Australia on human rights isn’t advocating UN sanctions?

Never famous for his nuanced view of things, Abbott treats Spectator readers to a the superficial, simplistic grand observations that will help them massage their own prejudices.

The man who would be PM, again, is fresh back from a Zionist boot camp – and overflowing with silly, dangerous ideas. The myth of the Aussie Light Horse liberating Palestine from Ottoman oppression is a torch he picks up to reveal modern Israel as a model democracy. In the Zionists’ dazzling light, Israel is perfect. Apartheid Israel is invisible. Occupation? Racial discrimination against Arabs? Silencing of internal dissent?

One Nation empiricist Malcolm Roberts loves this type of stuff. He’s in the news too with the claim that we are “stabbing our ally in the front”. One Nation would know. Ask Rod Culleton. Has Roberts been feeding on the same Zionist propaganda?

What’s clear is how much Abbott wants his old job back. The Spectator piece is a top opportunity for the Lycra lad to ease his relevance deprivation syndrome, indulge his literary bent and do a bit of sniping at Turnbull. Toss the odd grenade.

His timing’s good too, deep in the silly season. Effortlessly, he grabs headlines with his call for Australia to cease its pitiful $40 million aid to Palestine in yet another shot at Turnbull’s authority. Then, echoing Trump, the merry prankster proposes that our embassy be moved to Jerusalem. Is he kidding? Or is he at last publicly selling his arse to the highest bidder?

Certainly, the Speccie could do with a lighter touch: the paper hit peak fun minutes after its Australian launch in 2009 when Press Holdings Supremo Andrew (Brillo Pad) Neil rued the day as a Mid-East correspondent when he wrote that Jerusalem was a Mecca for tourists.

But the Coalition fails to see the joke from a deposed former leader who has become an irritating if not creepy clown, a bitter and twisted Dicky Knee of Australian politics. Someone needs to have a word. Stooping to take the bait, an agile Julie Bishop soon slaps Abbott down. It’s undignified; this public brawling. But it’s especially hard to keep a straight face when she attempts to assert her authority; scrambles for the high moral ground.

“The Australian Government does not have any plans to move the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” huffs the Princess Mesothelioma, a stickler for procedure. In 2007, Australian Doctor was told by personal injury lawyer Peter Gordon that as a corporate lawyer in the 1980s, Julie Bishop, then Julie Gillon  rhetorically asked a court hearing asbestos claims, “ why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying?”

A lack of plans may well be the truth, a sort of default position for Foreign Affairs under her stewardship: for example, there is no sign of any plans to meet an isolationist, protectionist Trump but it doesn’t matter. Can anyone believe her? Abbott’s banking on the Coalition’s credibility gap. Her government surely has the world record for backflips. And denial.

“We will not be taking any steps that will increase the cost of energy,” Turnbull promised last month as he took steps to do that very thing according to his Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, whose warning that the government’s course on inaction on renewables and carbon emission was guaranteed to boost electricity prices was studiously ignored.

Bishop’s “Australian Government” also said it had no plans to privatise Medicare. It denied that it was introducing co-payments by stealth. Its track record consists entirely of backflips and braggadocio from its claim to have achieved an NBN turnaround to its farcical plans to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru to the United States. PM Turnbull Inc. is full of it.

“ … this budget will not be about a fistful of dollars”, proclaimed the PM, yet dollars in the form of company tax cuts were his one big idea – coupled with clawing back welfare payments with a nifty data matching programme that is now causing unparalleled distress by sending menacing letters to Centrelink clients with a twenty per cent error rate.

Plans? As Ben Eltham noted last April, the Turnbull government achieved seventeen backflips in its first seven months. Climate, marriage equality, a GST rise, company tax, capital gains, simplified tax returns, Gonski funding, University fee deregulation, international carbon permits for direct action, a discussion of an ETS, Safe Schools, Section 35 P of the ASIO Act – and more in the flip-flop government of PM endlessly Turning Bull.

The words “plan” and “Turnbull government” are antithetical, just as the Turnbull government is an oxymoron. This is a government whose energies are taxed in simply reacting to crises – mostly self-inflicted; whose agenda of tax cuts and war on the poor has been hi-jacked by its own incompetence. Witness its backpacker tax, its failed plebiscite, its spending blowout.

On a hiding to nothing in the credibility stakes, the Coalition whistles up Deputy Dawg, Barnyard Barnaby Joyce who condemns Abbott’s “continued public commentary.” Unhelpful is the word he chooses. Them’s fighting words, Barnaby. Beastie Boy Bernardi endlessly yaps that he’ll leave; elope with gorgeous George Christensen, perhaps. Start a new party. Yet now even drama queen Bernardi accuses Abbott of self-interest and fostering division.

A shake of Aleppo pepper, however, is the least offensive missile that Abbott dashes off. Our former PM and free-lance hack is now the suppository of all wisdom on Arab-Israeli politics. He returns to his sniper’s mark, ears pinned back by the torrent of knowledge he’s been taking in. And the ruckus he’s causing. He knows how to enjoy himself.

It’s too easy to take a pot shot at our lightweight Foreign Minister, show pony Julie Bishop. Abbott’s a larrikin having fun. He and Hockey plundered her Foreign Aid budget like an ATM, when he was PM. Besides Bishop is a possible rival in the leadership stakes when Turnbull is trashed in April. In his own tiny mind, moreover, Abbott’s riding high on the comeback trail. It’s worth noting, however, the Zionist myth-information baggage in his saddlebags.

Tony’s been recruited to the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue, a Zionist bull-session run by his right wing pal millionaire Melbourne property developer and jazz guitarist Albert Dadon who has achieved runaway success in taking Australia’s politicians to Zionist Israel.

Abbott’s a repeat patron of the Dadon circus, a version of which ran in 2010, with a subtle name change: the word Forum appeared instead of the buzz word Dialogue in the 2010 version. Seventeen serving politicians took part, a who’s who of the political elite

Along for the 2016 group hug photo is Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who ought to know better, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and ten other federal and state parliamentarians.

Tones formerly attended an Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue in London in 2012.

With Dadon’s help, Abbott is a born again Zionist, a zealot contender and the PM who so quickly became history himself seems poised to rewrite history. The mix is heady.

Like Howard, Abbott is a hardcore military fetishist but he fancies himself as an armchair general. His boys’ own adventure grasp of military tactics and his shirtfront realpolitik led him to propose sending a crack Australian force to fix up both Ukraine and Syria during febrile moments in the grandiose delusion that was his prime ministership. Now he recycles the claim that our Diggers were the superheroes of Middle East history.

“In the Great War, the Australian Light Horse formed the spearhead of General Allenby’s British army that liberated Beersheba, (Be’er Sheva) Jerusalem and Damascus from the Ottoman Turks. In World War Two, Australia’s Seventh Division was the bulk of the British force that freed Syria and Lebanon from the Vichy French.”

Abbott’s stretching it. Others before him have invented a spiritual bond between Australia and Israel forged by the charge of the Australian Light Horse against Turkish trenches defending the town of Be’er Sheva in Palestine in 1917. It is a shameless misappropriation of the remarkable history of the Light Horse to serve a narrow political end; cement the current Australia-Israel relationship.

Historian David Hirst cautions. “Despite the myth-making and re-writing of history by the hasbara merchants in Israeli PR, the dirty truth is that the diplomatic front was where political Zionism got its foot in the door of Palestine.”

But there’s more from our polymath. Abbott’s upgraded himself from foreign policy spokesperson to something above Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. Not only did the Charge of the Australian Zionist Horse Brigade deliver Damascus from the Turks and liberate Syria, the science of climate change – is” far less settled than most people think”, he says. It’s a throwaway line and a dangerous falsehood but enough of a whistle to keep the climate deniers interested. An old campaigner knows how to make every post a winner.

Abbott, the dog whistler of bigotry and division also shamelessly burnishes the claim that we are a multicultural society, a phrase which Malcolm Turnbull and others are keen to return to without ever adducing a jot of real evidence. But Tony’s on a roll. It’s our ecumenism at work again and yet another bond we have in common with the mecca of freedom modern Israel.

“… long before we were taught to think of ourselves as a multicultural country, Jews had been Australia’s chief justice, army commander and head of state …” a distinction which he is happy to award on the inclusion of three individuals in the power elite.

Not only does the trifecta win us best multicultural nation, it is a distinction, he claims breathlessly, which is shared only by Israel itself. Except that it’s not. Britain’s Jews, for example, can proudly point to many distinguished figures in civilian and military

Even should we choose to overlook his specious argument that because we count a few individuals of Jewish origin or faith at the top of the tree means that Australian society is open to all comers. It is, like his other claims, soundly based in myth-information. Other nations have equally strong claims, especially Abbott’s own birthplace.

Sir Rufus Isaacs was the first Jewish Lord Chief Justice of England in 1913. In 1917, the 38th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers became the first Jewish battalion. Recruited from London’s East End they included two future leaders of Israel, David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.

But, perhaps Abbott is less troubled by facts than with cementing his legitimacy, carving out a new role for Australia as an advocate for the right wing of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party right which is encouraged by Trump; its backing of the settlement project making ever more fragile its official two state solution with the Palestinians policy.

Perhaps it is unwise to inspect too closely Tony Abbott’s lazy grab bag of potentially incendiary rhetoric – but what is clear is that while he is aligning Australia with Zionist policy and keen to put us on the side of the hawks in the most dangerous volatile era of international politics we have yet encountered, he is positioning himself for another tilt at the leadership of his party. He knows that Malcolm Turnbull is history.

Above all, he must take heart from the view expressed when he declared he was in fact a contender for PM. Liberal stalwarts said it would be hard to “sell a new leader to the base”.

A reinstatement of the former PM, would, however, be a different proposition.

 

Turnbull takes out the trash.

turnbull-new-year

“Taking  out the trash” is Canberra-speak for burying bad news in a quiet time-slot. Confronted, 10 September, by the inconvenient truth that Australia’s carbon emissions are rising, Federal government decides to sit on the data until just before Christmas, as it does with its MYEFO, a report so poor it would be taken as a rebuke by any other government.

Delays and evasions are the Turnbull government’s stock in trade. As 2016 ends, it has little to show for itself, however much the PM may boost his ABCC, a law, Adam Bandt notes, which won’t come in for two years and which, even then, could be disallowed by the Senate. Carbon emissions are less equivocal; an indictment of Coalition climate policy.

The Environment Department Greenhouse Account report confirms Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 0.8% in the year to June, mainly due to fossil-fuelled electricity generation. Current policy cannot bring us near our 2030 targets; not that the government that scrapped the carbon tax will admit to a rise in emissions, let alone own its responsibility.

In November, Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg stalls four times when David Speers on Sky asks him about the rise. Then he thinks up a lie; attempts to blame Labor “they’ve gone down significantly from where they were then we inherited it from the Labor party.” It’s a whopper but few will challenge him. He’s counting on it.

The Government’s own data shows that, when Labor left office national annual emissions were 523Mt CO2 (year ending December 2013) while the latest annual result from shows they are 529Mt CO2 (year ending December 2015).

A Freedom of Information request is needed before the Australian Conservation Foundation can confirm the delay, a move, it says, which shows the Turnbull government’s determination to hide its policy failure. Evasion is becoming its trademark. Last year, figures showing a rise in emissions were released on Christmas Eve. Nowhere is the government of secrets and lies better revealed than in its propaganda war on renewable energy; its failure to deal with climate change.

The Coalition’s war on wind and solar is a diversionary tactic. With the help of ABC’s, Chris Uhlmann, the anti-solar power Grattan Institute crusader and a mainstream media eager to protect coal against the consumer, the nation has been repeatedly told that the SA blackout, in which a storm blew down 22 transmission towers, was caused by “too much renewable energy in the mix” a ludicrous assertion contradicted by every industry body in the market.

Expect to hear endless replays in 2017 until it becomes accepted as true. Just as budget repair, another absurdity – as if you could break a budget – and originally a gibe at Gillard – has now become part of mainstream discourse.

Solar and wind energy are now cheaper than any other mode of power generation creating a dynamic Chief Scientist  Alan Finkel calls “an unstoppable energy transition away from centralised polluting fossil fuel plants.”  Yet, like Donald Trump, a post-truth Coalition gets its propaganda from the coal lobby. Expect to hear it repeat the fossil fuel industry myth that renewables boost prices to the consumer. How they are unreliable. Not suited to the grid. Bad for birds and bats. Or that we must take our time.

Expect to hear more from red-neck MPs such as Matt Canavan, Resources and Northern Australia Minister and other science illiterates who pretend to accept climate change but dispute how much of it is man-made. (Stop wasting our time. Read the research. It’s pretty much all of it, Canavan!)

Expect more fake, fake news fibs. Matt King Coal Canavan, a climate change denier who believes the effect of carbon emissions is “overhyped by certain interest groups”, bizarrely attacks the ABC for broadcasting “fake news” when it reveals that the Adani company is the subject of multiple corruption investigations by the Indian government for trade based money laundering, allegedly siphoning funds offshore and inflating electricity prices. Fake? It’s impeccable.

ABC sources not only include India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Indian government itself, they comprise University of Sydney’s Professor David Chaikin, a leading Australian authority on money-laundering. Worrying, as Bernard Keane notes, is Canavan’s ironic reversal of the use of “fake news” to mean news without foundation, false or fictitious such as the wilful misinformation and lurid fabrications published on social media by Donald Trump’s associates.

Yet it’s not without precedent. Canavan’s tactic echoes Malcolm Turnbull’s recent misappropriation of “post-truth” to dismiss information he doesn’t like. Expect more pernicious nonsense. Trump’s inauguration and the swearing in of his cabinet of climate science denialists will vastly encourage the Coalition’s rabid right wing to pull even tighter on the strings of their puppet Malcolm Turnbull. Yet nothing will help a coal industry past its use by date. Or ease its desperate propaganda.

Jargon helps the coal lobby case. Wind energy, we are told, can’t supply “synchronous energy” despite a recent assurance by GE, the world’s largest supplier of energy equipment that “The days of relying solely on synchronous generation for everything are over.” Nick Miller, senior technical director for GE Energy Consulting, adds that alternatives such as inverter-linked solar can perform many of the same functions, and much more efficiently.

Yet, in a nation where mainstream media is hostile to wind and solar, Australians are lied to; manipulated into accepting the worst possible choices for their future and the future of the planet. Almost as deplorable is the extent to which Turnbull, a former advocate and the putative leader of his party, has capitulated; embraced Abbott’s denialism. In the meantime, Abbott has stepped up his sniping at Turnbull while Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and other clapped out party hacks barrack for Abbott to be given a place in Cabinet, doubtless hoping for a rise in their own fortunes.

Abbott gal pal, Catherine McGregor, makes the laughable suggestion that cabinet discipline would keep Tony focused. It never has before. A certainty is that Turnbull can expect more sniping in the New Year. Above all, it’s a beaut diversion from the colossal ineptitude, the vacuity of his own leadership and his government’s plummeting popularity in the opinion polls. Everybody knows Abbott doesn’t have the numbers to challenge but it’s fun watching him heckle from the peanut gallery; extracting every ounce of revenge by cutting his PM and his pretensions down to size. On with the show!

You can’t tell the silver budgie from the budgie smuggler, when it comes to policy -apart from the onion breath.  Turnbull’s New Year message and terror alert is straight out of the Abbott playbook. Yet not all of us can give him our attention. Many decent Australians are distracted by menacing debt collection text messages; pay up or go to prison, Merry Xmas, Happy New Year, Ho, Ho, Ho: Centrelink, Santa Clawback department. PS add our 10% “recovery fee”.

Recipients have 21 days to comply, calculated from when they were sent the original letter or electronic message. Many do not receive the first notice. Letters are sent to invalid addresses. Some electronic messages are simply not received.

“We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison,” Federal Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge is a model of enlightened humanity on A Current Affair, Monday 5th December.

Most vulnerable, according to current Legal Aid statistics, will be those with disabilities or in financial hardship. There is no evidence, moreover, that threats of prison will significantly change behaviour. Or reduce any kind of crime rate. Nor with a 20% increase in our imprisonment rate over the last ten years, are our prisons likely to have room for more pensioners and poor. Yet the threat does sit well with the government’s get tough on dole bludger narrative.

Not that people matter. Bludger-buster Tudge is chuffed: productivity is up. Centrelink used to send 20,000 queries a year. Now it’s 20,000 a week. A gung-ho Tudge boasts the system will send over 1.7 million compliance notices by 2020. At the current rate, however, it would send 3.12 million notices over the same period, but this assumes accurate data in the first place. It also flies in the face of other evidence which suggests that the $2 billion the government believes it is chasing or the $4 billion nudge upward from Tudge is a delusion; one of Morrison’s unicorns.

Referral of fraud cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions fell by 80%  since Centrelink introduced an early contact system between 2009-13. The recent rapid upsurge is due to automation and a huge number of incorrect letters of demand being generated by erroneous calculations or deductions made by the new software system. The software searches back six years, while welfare recipients entitled to claim a benefit in arrears may go back only one year.

Data-matching is the government’s latest buzz-word in its “welfare crackdown”. However, the process is only as good as the data it matches; the algorithms used. Horrific injustices reported include a young single mother being hit with a bill for $24,215 days before Christmas. A minor error in her reporting an employer’s name in two separate documents led the computer to deduce she had two employers. Errors are common when the ATO’s recording of a company’s business name differs from the name the employee knows it by. The computer treats the discrepancy as an extra job.

An automated debt recovery system is the grand title given this crude database matching with agencies such as the ATO.  Thousands of complaints that low-income earners have been wrongly served with repayment demands for thousands have led to calls from ACOSS and some Labor MPs for its abandonment.  Calls for the abolition of the new compliance system, are unlikely to be heeded. The government is on to a winning formula. The burden of proof is on the accused. If you can’t find your receipts, which you have no ATO legal requirement to keep, or your employer has gone out of business, you have to pay anyway.

Searching back six years is guaranteed to increase the probability that clients won’t be able to find receipts. These will have to pay up regardless.  It’s enough to put you off the political circus entirely, if you stop to think about it.

Not that we do over think our politics. We love to hate our political clowns and villains; see ourselves as spectators rather than participants. And each other as us rather than them. Those on welfare, moreover, are daily demeaned in our media; trashed in The Herald-Sun, The Daily Telegraph and in the Australian as worthless, undeserving, bludgers.

The Daily Telegraph alone has published fifteen dole bludger bashing articles in 2016 alone. Three quarters of these, Owen Bennett points out in New Matilda, rely on government information; statistics and interviews with ministers. Only government supplied data or opinion is used to support its argument for example that a quarter of dole recipients are refusing to turn up to work in Dole Shirkers Shun Work in 7 April which cites 276,000 payment suspensions job agencies imposed on unemployed workers between 1 July and 30 September 2015 as evidence.

Yet these figures refer to a different penalty. The relevant eight week suspension was applied only 1046 times in the same period. As Bennett notes, the Daily Telegraph got it wrong by 1,102,954. Fake news or news which falsifies key information or wilfully misleads to support the government’s case is increasingly put at the service of the Turnbull regime.

A Current Affair, last year, found an “Aussie Kim Kardashian” rorting her single parent payments, which it doubled to $600 per week, despite supplying no hard evidence as to the woman’s alleged extra income from her home beauty salon business. To delight Peter Dutton, and other Coalition racist dog-whistlers, ACA helpfully led readers to believe that not only was un-Australian Kim in need of some repair work, she was – Lebanese.

“It’s reported she recently returned to her home of Lebanon for cosmetic surgery.” Hopefully not via Syria.

No-one expects a Turnbull government to chase the top end of town. Or to give fig about its role in growing social inequality. Australian Taxation Office figures released 17 December show over a third of Australia’s top 1500 corporations did not pay any tax at all in the 2013-14 financial year. Then there’s deductions and dividend imputation. While companies press for their promised $50 billion’s worth of tax cuts, many already effectively pay around ten per cent tax. The government misses out on $8.4 billion in revenue per year estimates United Voice in its 2014 report.

Then there’s $380 billion in tax breaks, capital gains and super concessions for rich retirees over the next two years.  It’s the nation’s biggest cost to the economy but would involve breaking the Coalition’s election commitment to looking after the wealthy. Scott Morrison, moreover, refuses to admit any revenue problem. Pretends it’s a welfare problem. But there’s only so long that he and his government can go on pretending.

In September, one year into office, Turnbull’s government had underwhelmed Jeff Kennett. He couldn’t recall a single achievement. “Well, by the skin of his teeth, he didn’t lose to Bill Shorten”, sniffed a visibly unexcited Peta Credlin.

“It takes Malcolm Turnbull a year to do nothing, ” huffs the Herald-Sun, a rag which loves Tony Abbott like catnip.

Nowhere is this more of an indictment of his leadership than in Turnbull’s defection to the side of climate change denial.

Apart from demonising the other and pandering to xenophobia – both unifying pursuits which still play well in the Victorian anti-terror witch-hunt in the lead-up to Christmas – and featuring the war on terror in the PM’s New year message, delay is one of the few tactics still available to a Coalition saddled with a neoliberal ideologue as treasurer, a poseur too dry to even utter the words “stimulus spending” on ABC 7:30.

No good telling Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts of economics, that government debt would zero if we had Howard-era tax rates. Nor any other kind of empirical truth, such as from best performing economy in the world in 2013, in three years we’ve fallen to fifteenth.

There’s a lot not to like and bad news to bury at the end 2016. Carbon emissions and unemployment are up; tax receipts are down, down, down. Under-employment is steadily rising. Wages are flat-lining. Real wage growth will stay below 1% until 2019-20. Prices remain static. Business investment will fall by 6% next year. Forecasts for jobs and growth are also “revised downward” in a phrase which lies at the heart of Malcolm, Fizza Turnbull’s brief but endlessly disappointing career as Prime Minister even in a post-truth era.

A hapless captive who traded his independence for a crack at the top job. Turnbull faces new threats to defect from the likes of Beastie-Boy Corey Bernardi and Gorgeous George Christensen. He should call their bluff. If only he had the guts.

Instead, the year ends with Turnbull burying the trash of his economic and climate policies when he hopes it won’t be noticed, whilst Morrison, an economic mountebank, expects a round of applause because we have not lost our AAA credit rating. Yet.

No-one in government will concede that there its welfare crackdown is flawed in conception and in execution, a cynical attack on a fair and compassionate society, by a government too weak or too beholden to review $50 billion company tax cut; a government which has sponsored a war on the poor and fostered social division through mainstream media.

And no-one in government has the human decency to respond appropriately to the death of 27 year old Faysal Ishak Ahmed, a Sudanese refugee yet another in our care on Manus Island whose quest for asylum has cost him his life.

In the end how the Turnbull government treats the poor, the suffering and the dispossessed diminishes us all,  to say nothing of its cavalier disregard for future generations in its climate policy, its failure to make sound economic plans. Australia has seldom been so ill-served by any government. May 2017 be a time it is brought to account.

 

 

An anti-Christmas message as Turnbull government richly rewards its own; wages war on the rest of us.

a-maniacally-possessed-scott-morrison

While Australia anxiously awaits Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison’s ‘most Yuletide Economic Forecast Outlook, or MYEFO, due Monday, one in eight of us can’t afford to pay the power bill. Even more alarming, 730,000 children in Australia and rising, The Australia Council Of Social Service, (ACOSS) reports, live in poverty, worrying about their next meal. Yet the agony is over for former Tasmanian Liberal MP, Andrew Nikolic.

Nifty Nikolic receives a Christmas gift from Federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis, as the nation’s First Law Officer plays Santa; dumping a sled-load of plum jobs in the time-honoured way our ruling caste looks after its own, nurturing and protecting, shielding its less fortunate members from hard times.

A similar rush of benevolence overcame the Senator just before July’s election when he doled out a hundred appointments including a $370,000 PA position to Liberal Party donor Theo Tavoularis, a Queensland Solicitor, who one defended the Attorney-General’s son, Simon against a charge of damaging property.

Brandis is in a flat spin. Perhaps he may not be with us for the New Year. PM “Truffles” Turnbull, it is whispered, will get stuck into a Cabinet re-shuffle shortly after Christmas pudding. Could our First Law Officer, an elite member of our political caste, end up in the Old Dart; a type of Botany Bay manoeuvre in reverse? And how does London feel about it?

Current Australian High Commissioner to London, Alexander Downer, since 2014, a US sycophant and our longest serving and least effective former foreign minister, is reported to be “privately furious” at any notion Brandis replace him. The Downer dynasty scion stands on his hereditary privilege. Not only does “he wish to finish his current three-year term”, he ought to get at least one more. At least. After all, he argues, his father, Sir Alexander, (Alick) was a High Commissioner to London before him. Breeding will out.

“Shut up, you foul-mouthed bitch.”

Downer was overheard in 2007 to tell Penny Wong: “Shut up, you foul-mouthed bitch.” Promoting his party’s policy Things That Matter, in 1994, he got a laugh by suggesting footwear traders might know the policy as Thongs that Matter but lost his audience and subsequently his leadership with when he went on to quip that violent, abusive husbands might refer to the policy as Things That Batter.

Even Brandis would struggle to match Downer’s way with words; equal his unparalleled diplomatic charm. Or is there, then, a High Court in Queensland with a vacancy with his name on it? Rumours abound. But who would take his place? Match his wit and wisdom; his passion for human rights? His advocacy of a repeal of 18C because “people have a right to be bigots”. His capacity to mislead parliament over his dealings with his Solicitor General?

Who can forget his justification for a $15,000 bookcase? He was Arts Minister at the time, he argued, which meant he was also minister for books. Then there’s Brandis’ unconscionable bullying of Gillian Triggs; his attacks on her credibility and that of the AHRC.

“It is the role of the Australian Human Rights Commission to promote tolerance, not to encourage a culture of grievance,” he replied to Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane’s advice that the AHRC is available to consider complaints by Aboriginal Australians about Bill Leak’s racist cartoon depicting an Aboriginal man who does not know his own son’s name. Brandis will be a hard act to follow.

At least, Nikolic’s in like Flynn. He gains a seven-year place on The Administrative Appeals Tribunal, a body pledged to inclusiveness and diversity, where he will review Commonwealth government decisions on immigration and welfare. Despite lacking any legal qualifications for the position, as a “senior member” – and it’s Brandis’ call- he will enjoy a total remuneration package of between $304,790 and $362,070, with a base salary of at least $222,500. It’s a pittance for the work involved but it will help augment the former Brigadier’s handsome army pension.

“…accused of trying to start a brawl…”

Nikolic’s win will be applauded by the people of Bass who harbour a soft spot for the hard right former career soldier despite his being clearly, falsely and maliciously accused of trying to start a brawl with Victorian Labor MP Rob Mitchell in Federal Parliament in June 2014. If not du rigueur, muscular diplomacy was certainly an idea embraced by Liberal higher echelons. Five months later, his boss threatened to shirt-front Putin.

During the 2014 misunderstanding, Labor MP Anna Burke sought clarification from then Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, asking “Is it appropriate for members of the Government to be inviting people to a brawl, to come on over to the other side of the chamber and have a bit of a biffo?” while Tasmanian Labor MP, Julie Collins saw Nikolic’s behaviour as ” aggressive”.

A distinguished former Speaker, Labor MP Anna Burke is also a Brandis’ appointment to the Tribunal and, despite not being made a senior member, will, doubtless, soon enjoy new opportunities to be mentored by Nikolic. He has a lot to contribute. He fought hard and long during his brief but rewarding incumbency over such issues as whether the ABC news or Sky TV should be screened in the parliament house gym, reports Labor Senator Helen Polley in her first year report card on the tyro MP for Bass, a seat with its fair share of battlers and a volatile political history.

When, unaccountably, Nikolic failed to keep his seat last election, despite bravely facing down complaints he did not want to speak to community groups with opposing views, he bore his misfortune like a trooper, blaming the loss of his seat in a 10.6 per cent swing against him on the left-wing GetUp! for “running a dishonest, nasty, personal campaign”.

Happily for the nation, the former MP can now apply his prodigious personal and professional peace-making skills to the resolution of conflict in his work on the Tribunal. In the interim, Tasmanians trust that Nikolic will honour his campaign pledge, backed by PM Malcolm Turnbull, to fund University of Tasmania $150 million to set up a new campus in Launceston.

“white welfare villages”

Bass residents, who suffer 17 per cent youth unemployment are thrilled also to hear Nikolic’s mentor, Tony Abbott, tell 2GB listeners this week that major cities are fringed by “white welfare villages” while “people in regional areas would rather be unemployed than work in jobs such as fruit picking and cleaning.”

“This idea that you can be unemployed on benefits in a town where you can’t get fruit pickers…it’s just wrong,” opines the veteran dog-whistler as he puts the boot into the poor as part of his government’s attack on welfare recipients, a campaign which is impeccably timed, as part of a Christmas-themed package of seasonal good cheer with lashings of peace and goodwill. The problem is not the lack of jobs in a contracting economy; or that there may be 19 job-seekers competing for each vacancy, it’s that we have too many work-shy bludgers.

No bludgers on Brandis’ Christmas list of course. All are hard-working worthies, as is Jamie Briggs whose inappropriate behaviour towards a female public servant as a Minister in Hong Kong in November in 2015 led to his resignation and a subsequent electoral rout.

Briggs is now to become director for Moorebank Intermodal Company Limited, a firm created by the Federal Government in 2012 to oversee the construction of the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal in Sydney. It should go well for him unless he tells the terminal it has piercing eyes and kisses it on the neck or shares a photo online without the terminal’s permission.

Bludgers are created when you are too generous with welfare, says Abbott . “We were far too ready to put people on the DSP [disability support pension], with bad backs, a bit of depression and so on.” His insensitive remarks have sparked outrage. A bit of depression?

As many as 2.9 million Australians are living below the poverty line, according to ACOSS, National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) and The University of Melbourne’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA).

The former PM is also keen to keep the pressure up on the current PM whom he sees as a dangerous leftie and who needs to be hounded in the press lest he or his government stray into rationality on climate or heed his own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel on the need to adopt an emissions trading scheme. Why create new policies when the Coalition gets them already pre-packaged and gift-wrapped from the same think tanks and lobby groups who guide President elect Donald Trump as he busily appoints his transition team. Keep an ETS as a stick to beat Labor.

A former boxer who still thrills to a bit of biffo himself, seasoned sniper Abbott is keen to declare he is not after his PM’s job. He says his former role as “the parliamentary assault” man is “no longer appropriate”. Besides today’s cross-bench are a different kettle of minnows. Gushing with affection for Pauline Hanson whom he describes as “an honourable exception” the veteran exhibitionist revealingly tars the cross bench as show offs.

…love to be the centre of attention…

“Some of them just love to make a spectacle of themselves. They love to be the centre of attention [and] the best way to be the centre of attention is to be making things difficult for the government.” He would know.

“I think that is one of the most inane and stupid things I have ever heard,” sniffs investment guru Roger Montgomery in what could be a response to Abbott’s verdict on Hanson but which is in fact a response to Federal Treasurer, “Hallelujah Brother” Evangel of economic illiteracy, Scott Morrison who underwhelms a Sydney banking and finance mob Wednesday with his message that it’s OK to have a massive mortgage. Good debt is OK, OK?

Are you hopelessly in debt, having to skip meals, medicines and visits to the dentist, just to meet your mortgage repayments? Kick back, relax, your house goes up in value every day. Hallelujah. Unless, that is, the housing bubble bursts. Unless rising interest rates in February force more of us to sell. Or our economy records a second quarter of negative growth, making official the unofficial recession most of Australia is already experiencing, anywhere outside major centres in Victoria and NSW. Or unless Donald Trump makes good his vow to wage a trade war with China and triggers a global trade downturn.

Personal debt is now 125% of GDP, up twelve points since 2013 as employment dwindles. It’s not a good combo. For all Minister for Underemployment and Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash’s breathless ear-bashing, Thursday, her job figures are increasingly hollow, as part-time workers displace full-time in the workforce.

Untroubled by pronouncing trends on one month’s figures alone, moreover, Cash is crusading to elevate “participation”, or the fraught, forlorn task of merely looking for work, as somehow a triumph. Soon the hopelessly under-staffed, under-funded, demoralised ABS will be tasked with recording anyone who ever expresses a wish for a job.

“While the figures showed an increase in the unemployment rate to 6.3 per cent, this reflected a sharp increase in the participation rate to 65.1 per cent in July — the highest level since mid- 2013.” Brilliantly, she deduces that it’s not that people are desperate to seek work out of dire economic necessity, to pay bills, or buy food, pay rent or meet mortgage repayments, it’s because they “feel confident” and are “being encouraged”. It’s that Turnbull government vibe, again.

A disappointment in her role as Minister for Women, earning some to rank her below Tony Abbott who was insultingly dreadful but at least talked the talk at times, Cash appears oblivious to the real issues such as women’s underemployment. “The minister has not yet taken sufficiently seriously the increasing casualisation and underemployment of women in Australia,” Marie Coleman, chairwoman of the social policy committee of the National Foundation Coleman says. Nor is she about to.

 

…when you fear you’ll lose your home …

For all Cash’s spin, Thursday, November’s job figures show unemployment in Western Australia – and other places hit by the mining slump – is at heights not seen since 2002, a convergence of events that produces mortgage stress, a euphemism for the terrible desperation you feel when you fear you’ll lose your home, despite screaming Scott Morrison’s reassurances that the size of your debt will comfort you. Expect to hear more from Monday’s MYEFO.

Funny things can happen to a Federal Treasurer, however, on his way to MYEFO. Scales can fall from his eyes. The old dry can become the new wet. Anything to make a set of wildly reckless estimates and “absurdly optimistic” projections, as UNSW economist Richard Holden calls them, look less irresponsible. Anything to make it look as if Morrison’s been doing his job instead of peddling discredited fiscal austerity under the guise of budget repair. Or just blaming Labor.

An anti-Keynesian jihadist, the wild-eyed Morrison, another nut-job whom Michael Pascoe dubs “the Malcolm Roberts of fiscal policy”, brandishes yet another dodgy study, backing his government’s economic reality denial – a “Treasury” report from Professor Tony Makin of Griffith University, claiming that our internationally acclaimed stimulus spending did not help us through the GFC, but was, in fact, a debt and deficit disaster. What we should have been doing is cutting taxes like New Zealand.

Makin is undeterred by the results. Out of all 34 OECD countries, New Zealand was hit with the longest recession. Not to worry that Treasury already rebutted this in 2014. Using figures readily available to anyone with an internet connection, Alan Austin concludes, by the end of 2010, the fortunes of Australia and New Zealand could hardly have contrasted further. Australia’s economy was clearly the best-performed in the world. Stimulus spending works.

Of course it’s possible Morrison has at last begun to take advice or consult economists, such as Richard Denniss of the Australia Institute, or a succession of governors of the Reserve bank or the OECD or the IMF which warns we could lose our AAA rating if we don’t borrow to invest in roads and schools and hospitals.

Yet it’s Liberal Party heresy to claim that any form of government debt is OK after years of Abbott and Hockey howling debt is evil while promising “a credible path back to surplus” a budgetary nirvana where we pretend that the nation’s economy is a household budget to the detriment of investing in infrastructure to meet the needs of a population growing by half a million a year.

“… cut welfare spending …”

On closer inspection, there is no conversion. Morrison is beefing about needing to get bad debt under control before he starts feeding us up on the good borrowings. Bad debt? He’s bashing the bludgers again. In a word, he wants to cut welfare spending, despite it depressing consumer spending further flattening economic activity and increasing social division. Equally, “inane and stupid” is his nonsense about mortgage debt.

Montgomery, who manages $1 billion worth of funds, leads a chorus of experts who explain it would not take much for highly indebted Australians to be caught out, unable to service their financial commitments. Real estate values can and do fall, despite popular myth. You can bet your house on it.

Your investment, moreover, is safe as houses, according to a parliamentary inquiry into housing affordability, which reports this week that it has no recommendations. Labor calls the Clayton’s report a waste of money. Developers delight in the report’s idea that a solution lies in “increased supply”.

Chaired by work experience boy David Coleman, a Liberal MP who has been in parliament a whole three years, the Committee into Housing Affordability says it did not want to mess with negative gearing because it had been such a feature of the Australian tax system over much of the last century, although, in fact, it was introduced by the Hawke-Keating government in 1985 before being suspended for two years, a period in which rents went up only in Sydney and Perth where rental properties were scarce. The Committee tables no evidence for its quaint argument from tradition.

Similarly, the Committee cautions against touching capital gains tax lest it have “a negative impact on the housing market and the broader economy” despite providing no evidence that this would be the case. Stamp duty is “inefficient and outdated” according to submissions received by the committee which could do nothing about this form of taxation because it was “a state matter” an argument based on the wilful denial of reality and history.

Alcohol and cigarettes were also once ” a state matter” but this did not stop the High Court in 1997 from striking down excise duties levied by the states over alcohol and tobacco and relieving them of $5 billion in annual revenue.

“… a twenty per cent decline …”

Let’s not be too harsh on screaming ScoMo. At last he admits that debt incurred investing in infrastructure is a good thing. Makes us wonder why his Coalition government has been unable to take that step under either Tony Abbot or his current, ineffectual clone. The government has presided over a twenty per cent decline in public infrastructure spending. But, hey, who needs roads, schools or hospitals when you can brag that you are on a credible path to surplus?

Who needs cheap electricity? Who needs clean, green energy when we have a coal industry past its use by date to protect? To most rational governments investing in a renewable energy industry is a no-brainer. Yet the Abbott/ Turnbull government has chosen to defy common sense and the advice of experts including those within its own ranks.

Luckily, help is on its way in the form of God’s gift to lip-readers, Michaelia Cash, who talks up a storm about how a teensy rise in unemployment should not detract from the tremendous good news of the participation rate, another piece of jargon which she translates as lots of us are “putting our hands up” for work. That really pays the bills. One month is not significant: the real trend is towards rising unemployment – Roy Morgan says it’s more like 9.2%

Even luckier, Eddie Obeid is sentenced to five years gaol, an event which has ABC News 24 running a banner of his evil while Chris Bowen, Labor’s shadow Treasurer offers some intelligent economic comment. “Is his sentence high enough?”, one young commentator asks a guest, as if we don’t have judges for that type of thing. Obeid’s sentencing is a handy means to smear Labor. No-one on ABC TV joins the dots from Obeid to Arthur Sinodinos.

Happily, Mike Baird has nobbled NSW’s ICAC before it did too much damage to the Liberals and their born to rule party and supporters. As Christmas approaches, it brings daily new evidence of a government not just out of its depth but one which is causing the economy to shrink by cutting spending and failing to invest in infrastructure while doing everything in its power to scapegoat the poor, the elderly, the unemployed.

While its “savings” policies help cause productivity to stall, inequality to widen and women’s participation to decline and as it retreats even further into its double-speak, the Coalition’s sole priority seems to be to look after its own as if driven by some deeper sense of threat into ever more desperate acts of blatant self-preservation; its brazen, grasping, self-regarding, narcissism, the very antithesis of the spirit of Christmas.

Turnbull claims shotgun victory in worst week of his political life.

turnbull-at-coag

 

“You won’t find an economist anywhere that will tell you anything other than that the most efficient and effective way to cut emissions is by putting a price on carbon.”

Malcolm Turnbull Q&A 5 July 2010

 


Dark clouds descend over Malcolm Turnbull’s future and over any vestige of hope his government will do anything real to reduce carbon pollution as the worst week of the PM’s disappointing political career exposes the disturbing truth of his utter captivity by the right-wing of his party. His bad week ends not with a bang but a whimper.

“Say it ain’t so Bro,” he tweets his pal John Key, on hearing of the Kiwi PM’s decision to abandon his very neoliberal ship. It’s a message his bestie could easily have sent him on report of his week’s epic failure.

Forced to choose between his Chief Scientist’s advice and an ETS which could help save Australia and the planet from global warming, or appeasing Cory Bernardi and the lunatic right, the PM plumps for keeping the nut jobs on side. It’s not so much political pragmatism as total capitulation. And political suicide.

Turnbull’s monumental failure of ticker triggers a chorus of scorn and disbelief. There is just too much on public record of Turnbull’s earlier passionate advocacy of carbon pricing to leave him a skerrick of credibility. He is too quick, moreover, to throw Josh Frydenberg under a bus.

Turnbull is “the most ineffective conservative prime minister since Billy McMahon” says Kevin Rudd whose record is obligingly besmirched this week by a fake report purporting to come from Treasury which challenges his stewardship of the economy in the GFC. Even Michelle Grattan reckons he’s run up a credibility deficit. Katherine Murphy drops the torch she holds for her PM to tell him he’s “gutless” and “talking crap”.

An expired Liberal leader, resurrected as leader with fanfare, primarily because he was not Tony Abbott, his stocks boosted by the willing suspension of disbelief and the wilful suppression of any memory of his original failure, Turnbull’s prime ministership is beginning to look a bit like the dead parrot in the Monty Python sketch.

“… (the) only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there…”

Nailing the lid on the environmental and economic management coffin, is news that Adani is to proceed with its Carmichael mine, thanks to a generous government coal lobby love-in subsidy, in the form of a $1 billion rail loan from the slush fund created by the grandly titled pie in the sky  North Australia Infrastructure Facility. Who could now heed a coalition which cries poor to make its case to cut funds to health, welfare and education and slash its public service workforce?

And how doubly untrue Sunday, is its claim funding two weeks’ domestic violence leave will damage the great god the economy? As Labor’s family violence spokeswoman, Terri Butler, point outs “It’s domestic violence, not domestic violence leave, that costs our economy and harms our international competitiveness, citing KPMG research that estimated domestic violence cost Australia $13b a year.

In one stroke, the Turnbull government proves it does not give a fig for the environment, global warming or its responsibilities as a world citizen and that it is prepared to tear up any social contract, renounce any commitment to a fair and just society. Let it regurgitate the propaganda of the mining and business lobbies. The Adani approval is a fatal error.

Federal Northern Australia Minister, Matt Canavan, tellingly says it is the “biggest news for North Queensland since the Beatles came to Australia”. Sadly, his government’s view of the environment is also stuck in 1964.

Mainstream media spins outrageous fictions, long disproved, about the mine creating masses of jobs despite Adani’s own testimony in the Queensland Land Court last year of 1464 full-time jobs. “Bring millions of Indians out of poverty” recites Adani Australia chief executive officer Jeyakumar Janakaraj in a bare-faced lie straight from Peabody Energy’s website, a wilful piece of coal industry propaganda which flies entirely in the face of the facts. 84% of India’s poor live in rural areas beyond the reach of the grid. Those who don’t, can’t afford the prices.

Coal is a slayer not a saviour of the poor. One Indian study found that in 2011-12 exposure to pollution from coal-fired power plants killed at least 80,000 Indians and inflicted health problems on tens of millions more. In Queensland, last year, black lung was reported to have returned to the industry, causing the deaths of four miners and potentially putting thousands more at risk. The monitoring system appears to have failed.

Failing us too are our leaders. Nowhere in the national energy conversation is there room for truth. Along with Resources Minister Matt Canavan, Labor Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk ought to be charged with wilful deception. She keenly recycles the mining lobby’s lies of ten thousand jobs. Nowhere is there mention of the adverse effects on the Great Barrier Reef due to the mine’s use.

Nor are miners good tax payers. Energy and resources sectors have the highest level of non-payment. Fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil Australia, Chevron Australia, Peabody Australia, and Whitehaven are among those that paid no tax for 2013-14.

If they can’t be good corporate citizens, bugger the planet. Last year, in a brilliant bit of sophistry, Greg Hunt argued that the global warming achieved by burning the coal exported from Carmichael was not significant when calculating environmental effects.

Nowhere is there any admission that no Australian bank is prepared to fund the world’s largest new mine. The railway subsidy offer is received with great ceremony but Adani is in no state to begin digging. A sense of national leadership in abdication, a commonwealth in disarray is heightened as Australia is torn between appeasing the demands of the declining mining states of Queensland and Western Australia and the needs of the rest of the Commonwealth. Above all is the stench of appeasement at any price.

Crushed by the burden of a nation’s unmet expectations and led on a leash by the rabid right, the weary PM picks his way out of COAG alone, Friday, cursing his self-inflicted, self-funded fate and his overweening ambition for leading him to believe he could be PM at any price. Any price except a carbon price.

Monday begins well, for the planet and common sense. Josh Frydenberg is a model of reasoned moderation on ABC radio, “We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.”

Frydenberg is merely faintly reflecting his own party’s former policy. The record is clear. “The Liberal Party has a policy of both protecting the planet and protecting Australia. We support, in principle, an Emissions Trading Scheme” trills Julie Bishop in an electorate newsletter, September 2008.

Greg Hunt, best minister in Dubai’s view of world 2015, ever generous with superlative, gushes with praise for St John Howard, Liberator of Iraq, spinning his crafty bet-hedging on carbon tax in May 2008 as visionary , “Perhaps the most important domestic policy was the decision of the Howard government that Australia will implement a national carbon trading system. … We hope that the new government will take up this proposal.”

Federal Treasurer Scott “pothole” Morrison was all for embracing an ETS in June 2009. “There are a suite of tools we need to embrace to reduce emissions. I believe an emissions trading scheme, in one form or another, is one of those tools. Placing a price on carbon … is inevitable.”

Even captain turn-back himself was on board with an ETS. “You cannot have a climate change policy without supporting this ETS at this time,” Tony Abbott babbled in 2009, support the suppository of wisdom now says he never gave. Onya, Tone. Play your cards right and you’ll be back on the PM perch in no time. Dead set.

In the same year, Steve Ciobo, who has since moved on to lead the free trade happy clappers church, was all prophetic vision and pious intent “We want to work constructively because we recognise that in the future around the world in most developed economies if not all there will be an ETS of some sort.”

“We went to the last election with an ETS policy—many have forgotten that fact,” Sussan Ley lectures in 2009. Little did she know then how completely her party would renounce its vision. Malcolm Turnbull has not forgotten. Although his defeat was largely because then, as now, he was unable to unite and lead his team, he still needs to blame his defeat on his support of an ETS. It couldn’t have been his leadership.

Hansard records many other Coalition politicians who were to deny their faith; becoming hypocrites and converts to the Direct Action boondoggle as the price of their loyalty to Abbott; pinning their hopes to their party’s dazzling, rising star in lycra Tony Abbott who won his ascendancy over Turnbull by one vote and sealed it with a crusade against what he falsely called a carbon tax and its supporters in the 2013 election.

With all of its previous advocacy on board, the Coalition’s modern allergy to anything to do with an ETS is even more shocking – and yet another toxic legacy of the hyper-partisan Abbott era where carbon emissions were a stick to beat Labor.

Barely has Frydenberg shut his mouth before the air is filled with shrieks of heresy and the grinding of pitchforks. By Wednesday, after cabinet meets to force him to recant, the early worm is given the bird; Fry-in-hell Frydenberg is forced to retract, rescind and disavow in a Hobart news conference. He ships out to Antarctica, as you do. An ETS, his PM thunders, rising to cleanse the broad church of the Liberal Party from the sulphuric stench of climate apostasy, is dead buried and cremated. Wash your mouth out with coal tar soap.

Craig Kelly, coal fire in his belly, goes on ABC to reprise a Tony Abbott standard about power bills, lamb roasts and a Bee Gees’ inspired song about the lights all going out in old Whyalla. Barnaby Joyce echoes his former master’s voice. Even Turnbull lapdog, mincing poodle Christopher Pyne, yaps in time to the music, nipping the hand that feeds him along with a small army of defence contractors who are laughing all the way to the bank.

It’s all too much for South Australian PM, jolting Jay Weatherill, who publicly rebukes the PM for heading a government “clearly bought and sold by the coal club”. He invokes Turnbull’s commitment to “mature evidence-based policy” communicated “through sophisticated explanation rather than infantile slogans”. He says “that’s all we are asking for here”. Turnbull looks as if he’s made to look a complete fraud and a fool. He has.

Weatherill accuses the PM of ignoring his own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, and for “mischievous” lying about an ETS pushing prices up. Finkel and others have the figures to show it won’t. Weatherill won’t let up. “Many Australians were optimistic that Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership would provide us with sensible policy debate and action in the national interest. After this week’s events, any remaining optimism has now evaporated.”

The truth clearly hurts. Yet repeating the myths and clichés of coal lobby propaganda will cost more. Weatherill warns Turnbull his job is at stake. “The Prime Minister lost his job in relation to a decision back a few years ago. It would be a great irony if he was to lose his job for a second time being on the opposite side of the debate.” Ouch.

Turnbull’s coal-powered government has been attacking Weatherill for months, assisted by the ABC and led by News Corp’s The Australian, falsely accusing him of setting “reckless” and “ideologically-driven” targets for renewable energy generation which have compounded the state’s massive power outage and threatened the state’s “energy security.” In reality, electricity prices soared when power was privatised and were helpfully boosted by Tony Abbott’s 2013 ten per cent bonus to power companies for investment in poles and wires which has raised costs to consumers by fifty per cent.

Now Turnbull backs into the blades of a spinning wind turbine. Or several. He, again, shows his utter contempt for the electorate. As Bernard Keane points out, “he has ratified an international agreement to reduce our emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030 and has nothing that will achieve even that unambitious target.”

Less popular now than his predecessor Tony Abbott, when he deposed him, his political credit long spent, a weak, forsaken leader of a bitterly divided Coalition, he further shrinks to a bad Abbott caricature over carbon. His humiliating back-down on just a hint of a discussion paper on an emissions trading scheme, provokes a storm of media criticism and bad publicity. SA talks of going it alone on carbon pricing and Victoria pleads for real leadership. Has ever a Prime Minister been so comprehensively routed?

Monday’s announcement of his government’s long scheduled review of Direct Action which would include a system of baseline and credit carbon permits for electricity generators only is rescinded, even denied by Josh Frydenberg but 36 hours later, an ignoble retreat in panic at the prospect of a party room revolt.

Cory Bernardi, his courage up after three months in New York observing the UN and the rise of Donald Trump, spearheads the attack calling his government’s plans to consider some form of ETS, “one of the dumbest things he had ever heard”. From Beastie Boy Cory Bernardi, that is saying something.

Sunday, Cory’s all over the media protesting that Centrelink is authorising polygamy, by making payments to Muslims with several wives. Miranda Devine and Peta Credlin quickly leap on the Muslim-PC-welfare bashing bandwagon. “Just completely ridiculous” barks Belgian Shepherd Mathias Cormann, the alternative is a single parent payment which is more expensive than a partner payment. But it’s about the Islamophobic dog-whistle not the cost to the budget. Imagine what these gurus could do if 18C were repealed.

Environmental warrior Bernardi echoes Trump in calling for Australia to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, “for the good of the country”. He also falsely claims the move would drive down power prices, a line coalition members are queuing up to repeat in the most recent set of government post-truth talking points.

“Hardworking Australians”, as Turnbull likes to divide us, are left to wonder who is running the country, a puzzle which is not eased by the release of figures showing a quarter of negative growth, a contraction in GDP of 0.5%. By cutting public spending and failing to invest in infrastructure, Scott Morrison is depressing the economy; sloganeering about jobs and growth yet delivering neither. He pretends the news is a surprise.

In an admission, surely, that his government has been asleep at the wheel for the past four years, he candidly calls the bad figures as a “wake-up call”. What he means is that Labor should get behind the corporate tax cuts, an imperative which is somewhat undermined by the release this week by the ATO of figures which show that a third of companies paid no tax last financial year with QANTAS heading the list.

Who is in charge? It’s “The Cory Bernardi government” runs a popular tweet as Turnbull’s right wing masters, yank him ignominiously into line with their climate-change denying, coal-industry serving and anti-Labor stance. We won’t meet our Paris climate change targets, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel warns COAG, and avoiding an ETS will add $15 billion to the cost of electricity, over a decade, but our government plans to do nothing about it.

Instead, in another capitulation to the Nationals, COAG agrees to import the Adler shotgun. A press release Friday, stresses “heavy restrictions” in an indictment of the Federal government’s evasion of real leadership and effective decision-making unrivalled since its backpacker tax fiasco last week.

The seven-shot model Adler A110 is restricted to professional shooters prompting howls of outrage from the shooters, fishers and farmers party yet the five-shot model is re-classified B, from A where it sat alongside air rifles, yet still putting a semi-automatic shotgun within the reach of a wide sector of the population. Experts attest to the ease with which this model can be modified to an eleven-shot without reloading weapon. Somehow, Turnbull tries to spin the result as a good thing.

‘This is the first time the national firearms agreement has been strengthened in this way in 20 years,’ he tells reporters.

Turnbull is not alone in his humiliating carbon back down. Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is forced to deny from Antarctica that he ever suggested emission trading schemes, despite clearly announcing this Monday in foreshadowing his government’s proposed review of energy policy scheduled for 2017.

It’s “an extraordinary, gutless capitulation” writes Turnbull admirer Katharine Murphy. Frydenberg’s lie is quickly exposed by ABC TV and radio news which replays recording of the Minister’s Monday media release.

Help is on its way. Pauline Hanson’s recent flying visit to Launceston confirms reports that One Nation plans to expand into Tasmania. Although her party invariably votes for the government it is nice to offer the people of Tasmania the illusion of choice. Interviewed in her bathers, as she subjects the Great Barrier Reef to her empirical testing, only 1300 km south of where the coral is bleaching, she is a model of lucidity:

“We are being controlled by the UN and these agreements that have been done for people’s self-interest and where they are driving our nation as a sovereignty and the economics of the whole lot,” Hanson tells an adoring media in her best, incoherent, manner. Please explain? You can’t. But it makes as much sense as current flip-flop, appease-the-right-at-all-costs, post-truth coal-lobby Coalition policy.