Turnbull continues to attack our democracy.

turnbull 18 jan

“We are very concerned at the growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria, in particular in Melbourne …This is a failure of the Andrews Labor government.” Malcolm Turnbull 1 January

The PM’s uplifting, personalised New Year goodwill message, vilifying public enemy Andrews and belittling the Premier for causing The Herald-Sun’s fake African gangs crime wave, fuels another wave of racist xenophobia and shit-holery.

Top Dog Peter Dutton savages Victoria’s judges for their lax sentencing at home this week, while Trumpista Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, shit-holes China, our biggest trading partner for poaching our Pacific Island pals.

A born megaphone diplomat, hard right wing warrior, International Development Minister Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on Wednesday bawls out China for building “roads to nowhere” and “useless buildings” in the Pacific. Even worse, they’ve been duchessing local politicians and promising a slew of new jobs, practices abhorrent to Australian politicos.

Australia is in no position to criticise. First, as ANU’s Development Policy Centre research shows, where our aid funds once gushed, there is now a mere trickle. And it goes against the flow. Other OECD nations now pump up aid; do their bit for global security if not humanity. Yet for every $100 we earn as a nation, we now give only 20 cents in overseas aid.

And our giving is not selfless. Our aid program boosts Australia’s commercial interests at the expense of genuine local poverty eradication. Neoliberal, “Aid for trade” programs, first adopted by Howard, benefit Aussies far more than Islanders. “Creating a favourable environment for business”, or giving to the rich increases local poverty and inequality.

Of course there’s more to aid than helping others. We like to be “geostrategic”, or keep other nations off our patch.

But it costs. There’s some concern in Canberra and Washington over China’s rapidly growing influence in the Pacific since Hockey and Morrison plundered our aid programme’s piggy-bank but Connie’s on to the Chinese. She’s not holding back on how she sees China’s aid programme as a type of indentured servitude or neo-colonial expansion.

Rising sea-levels should worry Oceania less, she contends, than its rising sea of crippling debt. Islanders are in hock to China over their heads. And Beijing’s influence can only grow.  Sri Lanka handed over its strategic southern port of Hambantota in a 99 year lease to the Chinese government last month because it couldn’t meet debt repayments.

Similarly, Landridge, a Chinese company, now has a ninety-nine year lease on the port of Darwin, because NT Chief Minister Adam Giles saw the deal as a fiscally responsible way of reducing the Territory’s indebtedness to Canberra.

There’s been a bit of a fuss since about the lack of due diligence, but given Darwin is not exclusively a military port and we are all one free trade, neoliberal, global fraternity, the government argues, what could possibly go wrong?

In 2009, Tonga’s debt to China was $US100.4 million ($A132.9 million) or roughly one-third of its national income.   Samoa and Vanuatu are also over-committed with big debts to China. In 2013, The World Bank warned Samoa of about “debt distress” where public loans repayments would exceed 56 per cent of Gross Domestic Product each year.

It’s all part of China’s One belt One Road plan to buddy up with foreign governments and companies to channel $trillions into ports, roads and other big infrastructure to boost its sea power or as it says “counter its maritime vulnerabilities”.

The Lowy Institute estimates China has poured $2.3 billion in aid to the South Pacific since 2006 – almost half Australia’s commitment. It’s expanding while our aid budget is the lowest it’s been in half a century and it’s still being trimmed.

The Abbott-Turnbull government cut a whopping $11 billion from our aid budget. “Unmet and unfunded”, moreover, remain our promises of climate change aid.  Oxfam Australia reports, Australia’s average annual contribution of $200 million to international climate finance has not increased since 2010. Little wonder China has been able to buy in.

Oxfam is calling for Australia to boost its contribution to climate finance to $3.2 billion by 2020.

Fierravanti-Wells, however, is a bull in a China shop. The best defence is offence. At least her panda-bashing will win US approval. And it’s a perfect fit with US-sycophants-R-US and Project Normalise Trump, the Coalition’s team plan.

Beijing is not bluffed. Australia is “the daring vanguard of anti-China forces” says the Global Times, Chinese edition.

China’s influence must be pegged back. Trump even threatens trade sanctions. But must we copy his combative communication style? Are we infected with Trumpism? Our Minister, it seems, cannot help herself.

Nuance, subtlety and indirection may be China’s diplomatic bag. Our Connie prefers a Trumpista style. A vociferous foe of abortion, marriage equality and coy reserve Concetta is a self-proclaimed loudmouth of the silent majority. She prides herself on speaking out – venting preconceptions, prejudgements and, in this case, insults.

“I think in politics it’s good to be upfront about what you believe in”, she says, as if communication were really that simple. As if all beliefs were rigid, unchangeable. Already she’s lost her PM, a politician who struggles more than most with knowing what he believes and how to voice his equivocation. Yet like Concetta, he’s quick to strike a pose.

Holding that pose is harder. Turnbull is a notorious flip-flop.  New Year’s Day, he proposes a postal vote on a republic. The next day it’s off the agenda. Doing a Turnbull will enter the language for a volte face; an abrupt reversal of position.

Like most MPs he’s constantly changing beliefs and seeking ways to hide, disguise or deny them. Little wonder he leads a government which has taken years to admit to its hoax about a carbon tax. The upfront plain speaker theory is bunkum.

But that’s not what Concetta’s really saying. What she means in this context is that it’s OK to be tactless or calculatedly offensive. Why, it’s now almost compulsory, as MPs are thrust on to a global stage, awash with Trumpist, “shithole”, anti-diplomacy. Yet Fierravanti-Wells dresses up bluntness or insensitivity as a virtue. Firstly, it’s a time-saver.

“It means that people don’t waste time. It means that they know where you stand,” says the MP. If only. As it stands, she’s offended both Pacific leaders and the Chinese. Prolonged hostility, not communication, results, despite the best efforts of our celebrity Foreign Minister and polo aficionado to step in with her talking points and smooth things over.

“Australia works with a wide range of development partners, including China, in pursuit of the goal of eliminating poverty in our region and globally.” Bishop refuses to endorse her development Minister in The Australian  which reports the Foreign Minister’s intervention as a slap-down. Samoa is not placated. Nor is China.

“The comments … have certainly surprised me, indeed, they are quite insulting to the leaders of Pacific Island neighbours,” St Paul’s College Old Boy, the urbane Samoan PM Tuilaepa Sailele, Auckland University’s first Samoan Commerce graduate  tells the ABC, “they have the capacity to “destroy” Australia’s relationship with the region.”

China lodges a formal protest. A diplomatic slanging-match breaks out. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang calls the Minister’s comments “nothing but irresponsible” complaining they show “scant regard for the facts”.

Xinhua News, which SBS and ABC, our own state news agencies love to demean as China’s state news agency, publishes an angry editorial accusing Australia of acting like an “arrogant overlord”.

“If Australia really cares about its Pacific neighbours, it should first learn from China’s to treat those much smaller neighbours as equals and refrain from behaving like an arrogant overlord,” Xinhua retorts.

“Then it could learn, again from China, to contribute constructive ideas, if not funds, to address the real concerns of the peoples in those countries.”

It’s a fair call. The diplomatic fracas intensifies. Doubtless, the PM will call in his right hand man, Peter Dutton, whose sensitivity to climate change sea rise faced by Pacific Island nations was immortalised, along with his condescension and indifference in his witty joke two years ago.

“Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to be, you know, have water lapping at your door.” 

Dutton, however, has a home fire or two to keep burning. He is busy branding Daniel Andrews an enemy of the people.

He means well. Grand Poo-bah, Home Affairs Supremo, Dutto sheds buckets of crocodile tears over “a small element of The African Community” who tarnish others’ reputations as he gangs up with News Corp to slander Victoria’s Premier for creating lawlessness by appointing limp, left-wing ideologues; wimpy civil-libertarian judges and magistrates.

It’s a rehash of last week’s outrageous attack, reheated and served up with calculated malice aforethought. He’s goading Andrews and the judiciary if not the whole legal establishment to see how much he can get away with. It’s also a stunning display of just how much authority he has over Malcolm Turnbull. Would any other PM indulge him thus?

Dutton also follows his leader’s Trumpism. His libellous allegations are utterly unfounded. Of Victoria’s 57 Supreme Court Judges, Associate Judges in Victoria, the state’s Attorney General, Martin Pakula has appointed 10. Out of 126 magistrates, he’s appointed 17 and out of 68 County Court Judges, a mere 17. But do the facts matter?

Our Home Fires Super Minister, whose interpretation of his role owes much to Tony Abbott’s junkyard or attack dog routines is not just the PM’s bodyguard and Party Room door butch but is already acting as Turnbull’s chief head-kicker.

He’s also treading thin ice. Even a Grand Poohbah can be charged with contempt of court. Is it macho bravado? Is he “going the niggle”  or does our newbie Home Affairs Tsar not understand the separation of powers? That the act is not more complex than it seems is betrayed by his decision this week to attack Lex Lasry for making fun of him in a tweet.

Thin-skinned as his mentor Trump, Dutton personally attacks Victorian Supreme Court Judge Lex Lasry. “Mr Lasry, who is a left-wing ideologue appointed to the court, is dismissive the other day of some of the comments I made.”  

Lasry tweeted that “citizens are out to dinner in Mansfield tonight and they are not worried.” In an alarming show of lack of proportion and decorum, Dutton goes nuts. His rebuke of Lasry is tellingly less than coherent.

“If you’ve got that sort of attitude towards the public, these people who think they’re above the public, it’s a complete nonsense.” 

Dutton is more offended by being mocked than by any legal issue, although he implies that judges should echo public opinion, a dangerously superficial interpretation of the role of the judiciary, especially from a Home Affairs Minister.

His attack earns him swift rebuke. President of the Judicial Conference of Australia, Supreme Court Justice Robert Beech-Jones, says “personalised attacks on judges and magistrates as opposed to individual decisions are unfair and unwarranted. (They) …  cannot respond, and the comments undermine the capacity of the judiciary to apply the law impartially.” 

The JCA rejects Dutton’s claim there was a “problem” with some of the state’s judges and magistrates, describing it as “generalised sledging” that “does not add to the debate”.

Sledging? Dutton’s certainly detracted from so many debates so regularly that his promotion to a Home Affairs super-ministry can only be explained as a leading example of Malcolm Turnbull’s incomparably poor political judgement.

A few examples will suffice. Dutton lashed out at Amnesty International for bullying him, when in October 2015,  Amnesty alleged Australian officials paid $45,000 to six crew to return a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia and that money was also paid money to the crew of a boat turned back in July. Amnesty’s report describes Australia’s secretive Operation Sovereign Borders as “a lawless venture that should be fully exposed through a royal commission”.

After a spate of horrific incidents in May 2016, Dutton alleged that refugee advocates were “teaching asylum seekers to self- harm”. Refugees leaving Manus for the US were “economic refugees” who could afford Armani luxury fashion items, he claimed in September, in his on-air rub-down with Ray Hadley.

“Somebody once said to me that the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags [is] up on Nauru waiting for people to collect when they depart.”

He’s accused men on Manus of paedophile behaviour to explain why drunken off-duty troops in PNG opened fire on the detention centre.  He’s been prepared to violate UN conventions on refoulement. Yahya Tabani, a 32-year-old Rohingya man who arrived in Australia in 2013 but was sent to Manus Island, told Guardian Australia he had no choice but to return. He said he had been promised $25,000 by the Australian Border Force.

Pressed by ABC 7:30’s Leigh Sales to say whether it was safe for Rohingya to return to Myanmar presently, given close to 400,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds and stories of mass killings, Dutton says “it depends on the circumstances”.

He has promised thousands to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Myanmar, a country accused of carrying out genocide or what the ABC continues to call with barbarous euphemism, “ethnic cleansing” against the Muslim minority.

Dutton’s unsuitability to hold office as Home Affairs or any other cabinet post is enough for a separate article. Most damning recently is a report from Queensland police who are investigating an incident in which a South Sudanese-Australian family say were followed home, racially abused, and threatened on Thursday afternoon.

Dutton’s dog-whistling and disinformation may incite further racist violence. He is too powerful to be held in check by his week Prime Minister. Yet he represents a more general malaise as Peter Brent explains.

Australian politics is not in a healthy place. Donald Trump aside, it is difficult to think of national leaders and senior government members of other comparable democracies who regularly debase themselves, and their country, as ours do with these campaigns against minorities. Turnbull, once proudly above all this, is now so enfeebled he feels obliged to join in.

It’s a trend which Brent and others trace to John Howard’s deployment of the politics of division in 2001 with the Children Overboard lie and the notorious, meaningless and false slogan “we will decide who will come into this country and the circumstances in which they come”.

As Brent points out, Howard would have won the election without the arrival of Tampa. Perhaps when Dutton seizes the leadership from Turnbull, as he is manoeuvring to do, he can lose the next election comprehensively by beating the anti-immigration drum and put the lie to the hard-wired notion that stopping the boats and persecuting migrants is somehow an election-winner.

Dutton for PM! The right man to lead the coalition to the defeat it richly deserves.

Just before the last election The Guardian published an Australia Institute poll which showed that most Australians believe that refugees who arrive in the country by boat ought to be allowed to settle here.

Two-thirds of Australians believe doctors working in Australia’s offshore detention regime should be free to speak out about conditions in detention centres, and a majority believe New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Manus Island and Nauru should be accepted.

What Turnbull’s government proposes, however, in a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in December when it would be overshadowed by the result of the postal survey, is the Coalition government’s broader crackdown on treason, espionage and foreign interference in a bill which interprets these matters so broadly it threatens democracy.

If passed into law, the bill increases tenfold the maximum penalties for anyone communicating information potentially harmful to the national interest, where that information is obtained via a government official without authorisation.

As Barrister Greg Barns and lawyer Anna Talbot write, it’s a law which is designed to prevent an incompetent government from embarrassment rather than from any real threats to national security.

Both espionage and national security are defined so widely as to allow almost any writer to fall foul of its provisions which also, alarmingly, uniquely, remove the notion of intent to commit harm before being found guilty of espionage.

The net is cast so wide that almost any writer revealing corruption or misconduct could be caught in it. There is no public interest defence.  Its severe penalties of 5 to 15 years imprisonment with up to 20 years for aggravated offences are out of all proportion to the circumstances or the threat faced.

As Turnbull’s government continue to lose the plot, it resorts to a primitive racist scapegoating and scaremongering it mistakenly believes will rescue it from certain defeat next election. In the process, it emulates the wilful disinformation denial and savage attacks on opponents, individuals and the judiciary that characterise the worst of Trumpism.

Its Pacific foreign policy is an embarrassing self-inflicted failure; its short-sighted massive cutbacks in aid have helped cede influence in the Pacific Islands to China. Trump-like invective and attacks on our greatest trading partner are no substitute for a rational, co-operative policy. Security means an increased investment in foreign aid, not cutbacks.

Similarly the proposed espionage laws represent “a creeping Stalinism” to Ethicos Group specialist Howard Whitton, who has advised governments and the United Nations ethics office on whistle-blower policy.

“The absolute protection of principled disclosure of wrongdoing – unfettered by government – must be preserved, or Australia will become a laughing stock internationally.” Especially a government which has preached the virtue of open and transparent government. But that’s the least of its worries.

The bill will allow government to forgo vital checks on its decency, honesty integrity, justice and efficiency and promote a culture of secrecy and lies which will inflict irremediable damage on our already faltering democracy.

 

References:

Creeping Stalinism …

Turnbull’s terrifying new espionage laws endanger many innocent people

 

Turnbull’s New Year gang-bashing message a serious error of judgement.

dutton ugly

” … people are scared to go out to Melbourne restaurants of a night-time because they are followed home by these gangs …” People worry about home invasions and cars being stolen.” Peter Dutton’s New Year Message 4 January 2018.

 

At Heston Blumenthal’s Australian outpost, fireballs erupt outside the casino windows while a waiter freezes your ice-cream with liquid nitrogen, while, at Vue de Monde, patrons nibble on duck breast with fermented truffle.

Such culinary delights, alas, may soon be no more. Haute cuisine, imported wines and all the festive gaiety of a New Year’s nosh-up and natter with pals, once the birthright of every Melburnian, are now off the menu as violent gangs of black youths roam the streets driving honest, decent citizens away from eating out. Furtive, anti-social, home-delivered take-away or even DIY, stay at home, home cooking drudgery threaten to become the norm. Unless something is done.

Or at least that’s the government’s festive New Year’s message of peace on earth and goodwill to all white men. Hark, the herald angels at News Corp’s Herald Sun sing: glory to the new-born gang. Having promoted the “Apex gang”, they are now on to lurid accounts of a “violent crime spree” they wish us to imagine grips Melbourne’s western suburbs.

“Victoria, the state of fear”, they pun.  The Herald Sun dedicates 28 front pages in a year to a Sudanese migrant “gang” which police confirm were always Australian born-offenders, never had a clubhouse or flag and is now disbanded.

It’s all part of the service News Corp provides to Coalition politicians who sniff votes in a law and order scare campaign.

News Corp’s scare-mongering flies in the face of the facts. Criminal incidents recorded in Victoria are down 4.8%. Victoria’s youth crime rates are declining slowly over the last decade. The proportion of young offenders, under 25, moreover, is falling from half of all incidents recorded in 2007-2008 to 40% of all incidents in 2015-2016.

As Ben Debney reports in New Matilda, migrant youth and newly arrived migrants are not involved in criminal activity. Less than 10 per cent are overseas-born offenders. After Australia, the second-highest country, of alleged offenders in Victoria is New Zealand (2.8 per cent of the total offenders), followed by India (1.5 per cent), Vietnam and Sudan (both 1.4 per cent). Victoria Police confirm that Apex members were from a variety of backgrounds.

Still, gang violence is a good stick to beat Labor with. Turnbull bags Daniel Andrews’ government for nurturing “Apex and Menace to Society gangs terrorising residents following a spate of thuggery across the city’s western suburbs”.

‘We are very concerned at the growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria, in particular in Melbourne … this is a failure of the Andrews Labor government,’ Turnbull tells reporters at Sydney’s Bondi Beach Monday before handing the moral panic job to his superior attack dog Peter Dutton. Greg Hunt helpfully yelps the same talking points.

Welcome to 2018. As befits his status as Home Affairs Minister, an MP suddenly more powerful than the PM, Coalition chief head-kicker, fear-monger and crisis lever puller-Dutton, leads his Orwellian government’s first Hate Week by demonising Sudanese-Australians. African gang violence is totally out of control. Something must be done.

And said. Like all bigots, Dutton pretends his cynical racism is just honest, plain speaking. Unlike Heston’s steak tartare, moral panic can’t be minced. Leave that to the mealy-mouthed left with their Mouli-grater of political correctness.

 “We just need to call it for what it is.”  Dutton has no idea what “it” is. If he can’t or won’t even define what he’s talking about or give some evidence or example, he can’t possibly “call it for what it is.”  But he reserves the right to vilify.

Perhaps he’s alluding to the Herald Sun’s graphic tale of the slap where “escalating gang violence” in Werribee has left one woman disfigured and distraught.

“They told her to stay still for five minutes or they’d come back for her. She’s traumatised. They slapped her in the face and she’s got a fat lip.”

While there’s no doubt that the victim of the sensationalised attack may well be traumatised, there is no evidence that a Sudanese gang was involved. Just one witness reports to a News Corp scribe of seeing “men of African appearance”.

Victoria’s Police Minister, Lisa Neville, confirms that youth crimes in her state are mainly committed by Australians.

‘We’ve got to be clear, this is not just an African youth problem,’ she tells Melbourne radio station 3AW.

‘Overwhelmingly Australian citizens are the offenders, some of those are African-born.’

Yet none of this deters Dutton who is on cue to refine his PM’s “growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria”.

“Of course it’s African gang violence. It’s not the whole community, there are many good people within the community that would condemn this action as strongly as you and I would…and have done so, and to their credit.” 

Condemn this action? Last year South Sudanese community leader, Richard Deng helped set up a team of volunteers who patrol the western suburbs trying to prevent crime by engaging troubled South Sudanese youth.

30 volunteers now patrol the Wyndham area, 18 patrol the streets of Melton, and there are plans to recruit more volunteers across Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, Maribyrnong and Dandenong.

In fact, only one Sudanese man, Nelly Yoa has publicly supported Dutton’s nonsense that political correctness has helped create African gangs but MSM has published him everywhere. It’s almost as if he’s being groomed for Liberal politics.

Yet when Dutton rings the young Sudanese volunteer youth worker, Wednesday, Yoa says he politely rebukes the minister for his “reckless” and “exaggerated” comments about Melburnians being afraid to go to restaurants. Sadly for both parties, moreover, Nelly’s claims over his sporting career are revealed to be false.

So, too, are other claims. ABC News Radio’s Tracey Holmes speaking with the South Sudan Community Association in Victoria discovers that Nelly Yola is actually not working with the association; not in contact with community leaders.

But saddest of all, sanctimonious Paul Barry’s ABC’s  Media Watch falls for Yoa’s claims — labelling him an “ex-professional footballer” despite there being no evidence of his football career.  Not on your Nelly, Barry. It’s a no Yoa.

Hate week, or “Peter’s Panic attack” identifies the nation’s common enemy, unifies us against a nominated minority and diverts us from real threats to our security such as the impending energy crisis. Prices continue to soar despite talking-point-Turnbull and flip Frydenberg’s glib, risible, assurances they have our gas and electricity oligopolies under control.

In fact, Victorians’ electricity prices will rise 10-15%, courtesy of the Coalition’s failure to regulate the price-gouging industry or its labyrinthine, extortionate supply mechanism. This rise comes on top of last July’s rise which imposes a $44 million increase for health services as part of the new electricity contract, according to Health Purchasing Victoria, which is responsible for securing bulk power deals. Some Health services’ power bills doubled.

Cobdenhealth​’s CEO Leonie Rooney says her regional service’s monthly bill is up about $4000 to more than $7000.

Gas producers continue to jack up local prices and to export 74m tonnes by 2018-19, up from 52.2m tonnes this year, with capacity growing to 88m tonnes as we challenge Qatar for world’s largest LNG exporter. All cool, says Turnbull.

“They have given us a guarantee that they will offer to the domestic market the gas that was identified as the expected demand shortfall, by AEMO, in 2018.” The PM cons no-one. It’s a non-binding fairy-floss agreement and the ACCC’s December report says prices remain too high. The market is not functioning effectively.  Big companies may have experienced some price relief but smaller operators and domestic consumers will still pay rates which were too high.

A slew of other problems afflicts a government whose big win, its raison d’être, is to cut corporate tax rates by increasing income taxes on middle-income wage earners. Its Centrelink war on the poor is going well, too. Knight errant of neoliberal austerity, the very undistinguished, Christian Porter has now been over-promoted to Attorney-General.

A former failed WA Treasurer, Porter maintains Centrelink’s Robo-debt recovery program is “working incredibly well”.

Like Dutton, he can scapegoat and demonise the poor as unworthy dole-bludgers, a drain on the public purse who can’t be trusted not to rort their pension claims. Accordingly each is deemed guilty until they prove their innocence.

This can be impossible, especially for women who are more likely in our gig economy “precariat” to hold a range of poorly-paid part-time casual jobs. One woman, reports Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie, was expected to get documents from five employers she had worked for in a seven-year period, one of whom was no longer in business.

The high error rate among 20,000 notices produced weekly brought a sharp public and political backlash against the Coalition and prompted both the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Senate to investigate the scheme.

There’s a herd of other elephants in the room. Alan Austin reports our economy collapsed inexcusably during the two years Joe Hockey was treasurer. But it has tanked even further, except for the very rich, since Morrison replaced him.

And – despite his denials, we experience galloping economic inequality, a demoralised, underpaid, increasingly part-time and insecure casual workforce, homelessness, not to mention housing unaffordability and a housing bubble. Nauru and Manus smoulder. Then there’s Australia’s male violence epidemic, still too often misleadingly termed domestic violence.

ABC’s Emma Alberici takes issue with Dutton’s scapegoating of Sudanese when the minister could more profitably turn his faux concern for victims of gang violence and deploy his resources to deal with male violence towards women.

Victoria recorded 90,000 family violence offences in 2017. Family violence accounts for 17.5% of all crime in the state. One woman a week in Australia dies at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. 

What crime is “out of control”? Family violence is “out of control” She tweets. 

Dutton is already way out of control. Yet his understated delivery, like a drunk’s deliberate phrasing gives him away. He’s a plain speaker, he insists. Nuanced language just can’t be trusted. Like Trump, he poses as blunt, homespun and trustworthy. He also shrewdly exploits populist anti-intellectualism. Tellingly, in 2016, Dutton attacked Labor’s leader.

“Bill Shorten can carry on being part of the tricky elite in this country,”…  “He can talk double-code to people, he can be tricky in his language. I’m not going to be intimidated by it.” 

Confusing racial vilification or offensive speech with honesty is part of Peter’s plain speaking shtick. Calling it for what is. Part of Peter’s appeal is that we already know what he’ll say. He’s said most of it before. More than once.

“The vast majority of Lebanese-Australians are law-abiding, hard-working, good, decent people who are besmirched by a small element within their community who are doing the wrong thing,” he said in November only last year.

It’s dangerous dog-whistling which encourages racists to make threats and post insults to South Sudanese community leaders on social media, but then, Il Duce Dutton is the most dangerous politician in the country.

His Home Affairs combines ASIO with Australian Border Force, Australian Federal Police, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the Office of Transport Authority.

Dutton’s been over-promoted, a textbook example of The Peter principle in politics, stratospherically beyond his own  competence. A serial failure, the worst Health Minister in 35 years, according to a magazine survey of doctors and a Minister whose mission to blend Border Force with Immigration, still eludes him, now has a swag of other ministries to administer. The responsibilities would tax even a capable administrator. But he loves talk-back shows.

Of course there’s no real talking back with a minister who opens his mind only to give you a piece of it. He gives us his Wild West weed-killer formula for a tolerant, sophisticated, multicultural and compassionate society.

“We need to weed out the people who have done the wrong thing, deport them where we can, but where they are Australian citizens, we need to deal with them according to the law.” Yep. Round ’em up and run ’em out of town.

African leaders warn that Dutton’s out of touch and dangerous. Many young offenders were in fact born here, they add, while those who are not Australian citizens would be returning to war-torn death zones if they were to be deported.

But Dutton has no time for facts. And if he doesn’t like the look of you, you’re gone, as many Kiwi deportees now on Christmas Island have discovered.

Vigilantism, demonising and scapegoating work a treat on talkback’s echo-chamber where petty-minded opinion recycles in an endlessly recirculating spin like the fan above the warm fug of the front-bar of some country pub.

Dutton turns lazily like a basking shark in the shallows of populist ignorance on 2GB’s Chris Smith Show. Slow, talking out-spoken Pete shows off his strong moral leadership, nurturing yet inflaming his listeners’ prejudice dependency .

Dutton also keeps to the Coalition team plan of evading real challenges, as former Liberal leader, John Hewson, notes.

“In almost every area of public policy the real challenges have simply been kicked down the road by an obsession with short-term, opportunistic, mostly negative, point scoring and blame shifting,” writes John Hewson for Fairfax.

Attack-dog Dutton may not sully his assertions with evidence but he is swift to smear the judiciary. It’s de facto Liberal policy: Greg Hunt, Michael Zukkar and Alan Tudge did the same in July but were quickly forced to make grovelling “unreserved” apologies to the Victorian Supreme Court to avoid pending charges of contempt of court.

The Coalition’s Sisyphean task is to paint an image of lawless Victoria under a soft Andrews government in order to improve the chances of Matthew Guy’s opposition in November’s election on a tough on crime law and order ticket.

Guy’s mug already appears on Orwellian billboards reading “Safer communities; protecting your future.”

Yet Guy’s lobster with a mobster has blown his tough on crime campaign up in his face. Early last year, Guy enjoyed a crayfish and a few bottles of Grange with Tony Madafferi, whom police allege, is a Melbourne Calabrian Mafia Boss.

Tony, who has never been charged with any crime, and his relatives are long-term Liberal Party donors. The secret dinner at the Lobster Cave in Beaumaris, Guy squeaks had nothing to do with fund-raising. Nor did his 2013 meeting.

In 2013, a dumbfounded Guy found himself “unwittingly’ the star attraction at a fundraiser hosted by  Madafferi at his Docklands venue centre. The Opposition leader was warned then about associating with alleged mafia figures.

Besides his interest in seafood, Madafferi is a prosperous market gardener who owns the La Porchetta, literally little pig or roast suckling pig pizza chain. Guy’s spokesman claims straight-faced, “The whole purpose of attending this gathering was to discuss public policy issues in relation to the vegetable-growing industry with some of the biggest users of the market.”  

Yet in an affidavit filed in court in June, seeking his ban from Crown Casino and racetracks, Detective Superintendent Peter Brigham said police held “substantial intelligence” indicating that Mr Madafferi had “substantial and close involvement with serious criminal conduct including drug importation, murder and extortion”.

Mr Brigham also alleges that Mr Madafferi is “a known associate of prominent criminal entities and persons who have a history of significant criminal conduct that includes money laundering and drug trafficking”.

The ban succeeds. Yet Mathew Guy invites Madafferi and his associates to a slap-up meal in a sea-food restaurant?

Also heroically reckless, or Trumpian, Junkyard Dutton follows Hunt, Zukkar Tudge in slagging off the judiciary whilst effortlessly spurning respected research disproving the populists’ nostrum that harsh sentences deter crime.

But let’s be fair, as a former Queensland policeman, Dutton may be a tad underdone on criminology. Doubtless, he’d dismiss Victoria as a hotbed of permissiveness but his call for stiffer sentence is cynical populist nonsense, as The Victorian sentencing advisory council concludes: 

The evidence from empirical studies of deterrence suggests that the threat of imprisonment generates a small general deterrent effect. However, the research also indicates that increases in the severity of penalties, such as increasing the length of terms of imprisonment, do not produce a corresponding increase in deterrence. 

Yet super-minister Dutto can ignore the separation of powers and criminological evidence at the same time.

“You look at some of the jokes of sentences that are being handed down, there’s no deterrence at the moment,” 

Dutton knows how to talk tough. His comfortingly-terrifying vision of a lawless, trendy-leftist, human-rightist, civil-libertarian, dystopian Victoria is a right-wing bigot’s nightmare. Victoria is being held to ransom by gangs of black thugs.

Blacks? “It’s an African gang problem”, “Benito” Dutton dog-whistles. And a conspiracy. Victoria’s civil-libertarian judiciary, appointed by Andrews’ socialist Labor government are telling magistrates and police to “go soft on crime”.

They are? It’s a libellous accusation and wilful disinformation- apart from being a parody of how our legal system works.

But Dutton’s a worry from top to toe. For starters, our Minister for Immigration speaks of “African gangs”? Does he not know The African Union and UN recognise 54 countries in Africa? No wonder the pace of refugee “processing” is glacial.

Luckily help is at hand. Like a rat up a drain-pipe, 2GB’s Smith, Dutton’s on-air message masseur, urger and bigotry facilitator du jour notes, glowingly, that “some leaders have spoken out” against the “car-jackings and home invasions”.

Smith spins the Aussie racist’s favourite long-playing broken record. Why don’t the black thugs’ community leaders step up and take control?  The record’s been given a thrashing with Muslim community leaders. Now it’s time to point the finger at “The Sudanese Community” as if there is only one. “Some have,” Dutton chimes in.

Now he’s about to castigate the Sudanese-Australian community leaders for not controlling the minority of riff-raff in their communities as he did the Muslims, such a cunning double dog-whistle this time. Two ways migrants can fail.

Will the Coalition’s cunning plan succeed? Will Turnbull’s government ruin Andrews’ chances of re-election? Will the massive distraction of bagging African gangs in Victoria distract the entire nation from all the other ways the government is unable to keep its mind on the job? So far, the signs are not promising.

Matthew Guy who has a lot of skeletons in his law and order closet is backing off the African gang thing like a startled rat. Rupert Murdoch’s increasingly unread Herald Sun has over-egged the lawless state pudding while Melburnians who are not so easily put off a good night out their favourite eatery are already laughing all the way to the bistro.

Ultimately, however, regardless of the success of its cunning plan, the government’s unscrupulous resort to racist tactics for selfish political gain can only fan the flames of prejudice and intolerance and will already be causing incalculable suffering to individuals, families and to the nation as a whole. Turnbull’s New Year African gang-bash is an indictment; another lamentable failure of political judgement.

 

More shirt-front than Myers.

malcolm at wayside

His hot pink, red and blue striped Dolce & Gabbana shirt, a steal at a mere $850, is tailor-made for the occasion. Top-shelf  apostolic poverty.  What better to wear for his performance of St Mal of Compassion in Sydney’s Wayside Chapel’s annual morality play and nosh-up? Charitable Mal knows how to bling up Christmas; flaunt his self-effacing humanity.

And what better get-up for a post ironic, Trumpian era? Too flash? Fuddy-duddy literalists. You know what you can do.

Too attention-getting? Impossible.  Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, may well be what St Paul penned to The Corinthians but what did Paul or Saul of Tarsus  (as he was before the scales fell from his eyes) know of post-modern disruption, subversion, trickle-down or NewsPoll?

Renaissance Mal and his mob need all the media applause they can get for their work, as they say “in this space”.

Every night over 130, 000 Australians are homeless after Abbot and Turnbull cut $500 million from homelessness services as Former Greens Senator Scott Ludlum documented two years ago.

$44 million representing all new homelessness shelters was cut from the National Partnership on Homelessness.

All peak bodies on homelessness have been abolished: Homeless Australia, National Shelter and Community Housing Federation of Australia, inexplicably cut. The PM’s Council on Homelessness is no more. So too, are the COAG Reform group on Housing Affordability and the Homelessness Research Strategy funding axed, saving a paltry $3.1 million

Worse, The National Rental Affordability Scheme was axed, scrapping funding for 12,000 new affordable rental homes worth $235.2m. The Housing Help for Seniors pilot program was abolished to save $173.1m.

The First Home Saver Accounts scheme was cut to save $134.3 million over five years while a new program to sell off “surplus commonwealth property” is introduced with no affordable housing outcomes or any criteria. The National Housing Supply Council, the only body providing data on the gap of affordable and available housing is no more.

It’s impossible to fully document here the government’s war on the poor and homeless. Yet, as work becomes increasingly part-time, underpaid and casual and as the Coalition aims to see all penalty rates are stripped away, the battle to afford rent let alone save to buy a home becomes a desperate struggle. Yet Mal wants us all to keep working.

He’s even got a beaut new slogan, Let’s Keep Australia Working. What better match than his imported high-end fashion statement, worth a month’s Newstart Allowance to help launch The Coalition’s latest four word clanger?

Rank a Brand research reveals that Mal’s D&G shirt of many stripes is most likely to have been made in a Chinese sweatshop which does not report its policies for the environment or its labour conditions.

Nor do they keep Italians working. Most Tuscan factories that produce the region’s legendary luxury goods are Chinese operated and staffed. Fantasma, Italians call the 50,000 Chinese workers, ghosts who may work for $A4.60 per day.

Wages are typically not taxed and around $A 1 billion a year is remitted back to China in a process that only ScoMo or those funky funny-money Tea-Party libertarians at the IPA or in cabinet could claim is good for Italy’s economy.

Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Workplaces are often in beautiful surrounds; located in picturesque regions on the tourist trail but most are simply primitive sweatshops with virtually indentured workers. Life is nasty, brutish, miserable and short. Our bilateral trade agreement with China, ChAFTA, allows the same to happen here.

ChAFTA’s “investment facilitation arrangement” allows some projects worth more than $150m to be built in Australia but backed by Chinese companies and staffed by workers hired in China without advertising the jobs in Australia first.

Normally, The Guardian’s Van Badham reports,  companies must show that they can’t find locals to fill jobs before hiring foreign workers. ChAFTA removes this obligation for “infrastructure development projects within food and agribusiness, resources and energy, transport, telecommunications, power supply and generation, environment, or tourism sectors”.

Of course Mal’s gig is not a full morality play. More of a grotesque sketch, a bad Francis of Assisi 2.0 parody with a nod to commedia dell’arte where St Mal, a hybrid Pantalone cum Harlequin character flings a few bread rolls to indigent, itinerant Sydney-siders for whom Christmas is otherwise insufferably miserable, lonely and depressing.

The loud shirt? A play on Joseph and his coat of many colours? Or a practical way to save the camera any bother tracking the PM? It works. Any dream will do. St Mal’s garish ministry to the needy is an instant hit on all channels.

So dazzling is Mal’s show that many mis-hear the government’s new slogan for the election it will spring halfway through the New Year. “Let’s keep Australia twerking”?

But Clive Palmer is off the beltway; out of politics now. Others hear “Australia shirking”. Is it a timely dig at the one third of Australian companies the ATO reports that pay no tax?

Key villains include reptilian Rupert Murdoch, a man with a goanna swagger, who pays no tax on $2.9 billion earned by his News Australia Holdings. Turnbull’s former boss, Goldman Sachs put nothing in the Christmas box. Chevron and Exxon Mobile export huge quantities of gas mainly to Japan. They rake in $2.1 billion without paying a cent to the ATO.

Company tax evasion is costing government revenue $2.5 billion. Nippon Gas Co customers spend less on Bass Strait LNG than Victorians. Worse, Japan makes a killing on the trade as our government is bled dry.

“Japan, the single-biggest buyer of Australian LNG at 30 million tonnes a year, levies an import tax that will deliver $2.9 billion to its national coffers over the next four years”, according to Heath Aston in “The Sydney Morning Herald”.

Ominously, the slogan’s last word turns out to be “working”, after all. It is part of government’s fetishisation of work betrayed daily in the phrase “hard-working Australians”. Lately Treasurer Morrison has taken to intoning the mantra “1000 jobs a day”. Loco ScoMo knows that if he says it often enough, punters may believe that the government is creating jobs.

Bizarrely, ScoMo seems to channel David Cameron who was using the same slogan seven years ago. He’s also hoping we don’t notice that the population grew 388,000 in the year until June — which is more than 1,000 people being added to our population every day. Even a 1000 jobs per diem equals only 377,000. We’re not even keeping up with our nation’s growth.

Jobs and growth has got the chop. But how much better is the four word slogan, “Let’s Keep Australia Working”?   

Keep Australia working? Researcher Gary Morgan says the government’s official unemployment figures are nonsense. The ABS stopped its yearly count of workers not in the labour force in 2014. Now, the ABS considers someone unemployed only if they have “actively” looked for a job in the previous four weeks and are available immediately.  It’s clear that we need to proceed cautiously.

Roy Morgan reports that 1.288 million Australians or 9.8% of the workforce are unemployed. Unemployment has grown by 89,000, or 0.6% in a year, in a workforce of 13,174,000 comprising employed and unemployed, (up 128,000 in a year).

In Sept. 2013, Australia’s jobless rate was 5.7% 7th of 35 wealthy OECD members, Alan Austin points out . After 3 years of surging global trade & corporate profits, our jobless rate has fallen to just 5.4%. We now rank 17th in OECD, our lowest place, since records have been kept. Keeping Australia working?

In addition, 1.106 million Australians (8.4% of the workforce) are now under-employed, working part-time and looking for more work, a rise of 6,000 in a year.

11,886,000 Australians were employed in November – an increase of 39,000 over the past year – or about 3,000 jobs per month as a result of the growth in part-time employment which rose 70,000 to 3,967,000.

Full-time employment, however, decreased 31,000 to 7,919,000. Yet there has been a massive increase in the amount of unpaid overtime. The Australia Institute Researchers calculate (TAI) that Australians work an average of 5.1 hours of unpaid labour per week (up from 4.6 hours in 2016).

This unpaid labour represents 14 percent to 20 percent of the total time spent working by Australian employees. The aggregate value of this “time theft” is large and growing. TAI estimates the total value of unpaid overtime in the national economy at over $130 billion in 2016-2017, up from $116 billion last year.

In his own small show-boating way, with practised ease, time-thief Turnbull effortlessly exploits the mob at Wayside.

Hapless chapel-goers up for a free feed are quickly put to work on the Turnbull ™ razzle-dazzle PR chain-gang as ecstatic, unpaid extras. “It is an event where people arrive as strangers and leave as friends” harps a po-faced assistant pastor.

In other words it’s a QLD LNP shadow cabinet election post-mortem or a Nationals party-room meeting in reverse.

Peace on earth? It’s a blitzkrieg of goodwill. Mal’s PR machine assails the nation with a gonzo charm offensive; a postmodern selfie on a stick travesty of Christian humility. St Mal the alms-giver and compulsive selfie-taker mugs for the camera, dances badly, makes prawn cocktails and doles out bread rolls to the poor whose destitution his government’s policies help perpetuate.

Once the cameras are packed away the PM’s off like a bucket of prawns in the sun.

Three million Australians at least live in poverty. One third of all pensioners live below the poverty line.  ACOSS’ Poverty in Australia 2016, published with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, reveals that 2.9 million people, or 13.3% of the total population, live in poverty. 731,300, or 17.4% of all our children, live in poverty.

Tough-love Turnbull’s government’s response is to make war on the poor by mulcting allowances, cutting benefits and – in a myriad of creative ways making it harder to obtain welfare – including Centrelink’s  notorious Robo-call automated debt recovery extortion system which is poised to terrify any welfare recipient at any time with allegations of fraud.

Reversing legal principle, the onus of proof is now on the accused to prove he or she is innocent. Next comes a wild-goose chase for lost or missing documentation. Women, who are most likely to work several part-time jobs and who have more paper-work to chase are particularly vulnerable to the tyranny of the automated bully, whose accuracy has been shown to be notoriously fallible.

Dispensing with the principle of the assumption of innocence is allied to the demonisation of the poor. This week Scott Morrison’s office leaks disinformation about the “burden of welfare” to News Corp and other Liberal Party lickspittles and Coalition megaphones including Our ABC. The story appears in a more moderate form in The Guardian.

Channel Nine repeats ScoMo’s nonsense that the average Australian works for three hours to pay Australia’s welfare bill. It does not note the $30 billion which is lost because a third of companies evade or avoid paying any tax.

Unemployment benefits, family payments, pensions, were part of this calculation – but excluded were the expensive subsidies tax-payers provide to mining ($4 billion plus state taxes of about $3 billion PA)  or the $6.5 billion The Australia Institute calculates goes to the private health insurance industry.

Estimates from the federal government’s Tax Expenditure Statement and Treasury paper show that tax-payers help subsidise fossil fuel production and use to the tune of $12 billion each year. Yet ScoMo’s basic premise is false.

Figures from 2016 show, Australia spends 19.1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on social welfare, while in the US it is 19.3%; in the UK, 21.5%; Norway, 25.1%; Germany, 25.3%; Sweden, 27.1%; Denmark, 28.7%; Finland, 30.8%, France, 31.5%3. Australia’s welfare bill as a proportion of GDP is modest. Again, the government lies by omission.

Other policies and programs help keep Australians out of work. Our Work for the Dole program is a poverty trap. 90% of participants are not in full-time work after three months.

Even the feral, profit-crazed crony capitalist class-warriors at the Business Council of Australia concede that rates for the dole are far too low, and impede jobseekers’ efforts to look for work. Yet the demonisation is working.

This week even some of our religious leaders claim the spirit of Christmas is wasted on the poor.

“To be blunt — do homeless people need tickets to Paul McCartney or do they need a roof over their head?” 

Salvation Army CEO Major Nottle upstages the PM’s carefully choreographed Sydney show when, instead of giving two donated tickets to the homeless, he gives them instead to his daughter and her partner.

“You really got me,” Sir Ray Davies’ driving anthem to separation anxiety plays loudly in the foreground. Mal sings along lustily, poignantly revealing a neediness all his own: “Don’t ever set me free/I always want to be by your side”

“Nothing is more invisible than what is truly awesome,” says Rev Graham Long. His last gig. He pulls no punches. . “You will miss the awesome if you’re the centre of the universe. Just stand back and realise that it’s not all about you.”

Christmas is a time to spare a thought for the needy and less unfortunate. Charity is a tricky routine for Mal to bring off with his narcissistic ego and his being a bit of a duffer in reading people and his wilful ignorance of the hardships faced by the homeless. True, on ABC 7:30, he can crack hardy about his childhood poverty and hard times as he and his real-estate salesman and hotel broker father Bruce endured the privations of Eastern suburbs Sydney. But the shirt’s the real deal.

Loud? It’s deafening.  Perfect for a Hi-Viz deck-chair or an optometrist’s colour blindness test chart. More than a hint of a Sydney to Hobart spinnaker. Punters puzzle over it. Are the many stripes symbolic? A foppish D&G homage to Flip-Flop, our leader’s signature political position? Or is it simply the Yuletide Mal for all seasons-festive outfit?

Certainly, some of Turnbull’s messaging is unmistakable. Social welfare is under attack by a neoliberal government eager to outsource its social obligations to charity, the way schools, hospitals and other public institutions have now become so accustomed to begging for the funds they need to operate, it’s known as local fund-raising.

We’ve just spent a lazy $10 billion on US arms over four years, we’re told. No hint of any cake stalls, chook raffles or trivia nights. Imagine what a pickle we’d get into if we put people first; gave welfare the unfettered access to federal funds enjoyed by the armed forces while the ADF is told to start baking cakes if it wants a multi-mission helicopter.

Turnbull’s Christmas charity pantomime at Sydney’s Wayside Chapel simply highlights his government’s hypocrisy and tokenism. The Coalition does not give a fig for the homeless. Since Abbott it has done its level best to tear down the limited support that more enlightened and compassionate Australians were attempting to provide.

Similarly the government’s hollow injunction “Let’s Keep Australia Working” masks a range of policies and practices which have done nothing to arrest the growth in unemployment and under-employment while promoting the growth of an increasingly casualised and underpaid workforce which has not enough work and less job security.

While full-time workers find themselves increasingly working extra hours for nothing, the government is doing nothing to promote gender equality. Women in full-time work receive only 84% of their male counterparts’ wage, an inequality which has remained for twenty years.

Increasingly, it is women who bear the brunt of a decline in hours and conditions of work.   One chief consequence is that women are more exposed to poverty and disadvantage than men at every age. If the Turnbull government could do one thing immediately it would be to ditch its banal and dishonest Let’s Keep Australia Working in favour of let’s implement equal pay. It’s not that we can’t afford it. We can’t afford not to.

As for the homeless, there is no time for token patronising public displays of philanthropy at Christmas; what is needed is an urgent re-allocation of funds. The money is there in unpaid corporate taxes and wasted subsidies on fossil fuel, mining and private health insurance. We could begin to provide shelter tomorrow if only our government could recognise that welfare is an imperative in a just and civil society, an investment in social cohesion and not an expenditure item.

But for that to take place, our government MPs would have to stop blaming the victim; stop their scurrilous ideological class war on the poor and begin to acknowledge that neoliberal economics have failed.

What is required is that we confront the consequences of decades of neoliberal inhumanity and the worship of “the economy”; comprehend the reality of a world where the gospel of free trade and globalisation has led to poor Chinese workers in Tuscany trying to get by on $4.60 per day; virtual slaves working to produce luxury goods like Dolce and Gabbana $850 shirts for millionaire would-be Australian Prime Ministers who lack the very empathy, compassion, self-awareness and moral integrity that are the essential prerequisites to even contemplate running for the office.

 

Dictator Dutton dreaming of a Right Christmas.

dutton and turnbull power

Raucous, rowdy and sometimes bawdy, Christmas is upon us in a rush of beery bonhomie and sudden, univited, pressing of the flesh or worse, especially if you are standing under any mistletoe.

Christmas butts into our lives like an MP barnstorming by-electors, all over local punters like a rash; flash as a rat with a gold tooth and a clean, new Akubra who promises to never forget a voter or her needs – unlike the glad-handed candidate’s own dereliction of duty; the neglecting of his or her dual citizenship.

But let not human frailty dim our view of humanity at this sacred, spiritual, time. As Santa Abetz checks that government departments use the word Christmas and not toxic, politically correct “season’s greetings” on their cards, he also scans Canberra poles for rainbow flags, the flag of a hostile nation.

“This particular flag, you will realise, is the flag of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, that declared war on Australia and you Senator Cormann would understand they did the same as Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province and now this is their official flag,” he tells the Senate.

Let Eric help remind us of our MPs’ unique and precious gifts; their multifarious solicitude for us; the many special ways they choose to reign over us. Do I love thee?, they cry. Let us count the ways.

In the double-dipping spirit of the festive, festering season, a time that wounds all heels; a time when Greg Hunt and other MPs book up $20 K holidays and study tours to us mug tax-payers, then, it is time to give thanks. Let us count the ways our MPs love and serve us by their duplicity, skulduggery and lies.

First! A twisted Christmas cracker bon-mot – a type of misfortune cookie message if you wish. “Some say sincerity is the most important thing in life as in politics. Once you learn to fake that you’ve got it made.”

Faking sincerity is part of the artifice and commerce if not the bitcoin of conviction politics. So credit where it’s due. Has there ever been a government so skilled at dissimulation and deception; kidding us it’s normal? Real? In charge? We have passed peak bullshit, we are now knee deep in reindeer poo.

As the most hyped political year on record spins down from warp speed, old slights and long-nursed injuries erupt; a dumped Dazza Chester festers, Fiona Nash pesters Barnaby to give Bridget McKenzie the arse for travel rorting and re-install herself as deputy-leader. Keith Pitt threatens to quit the party and pig-sticking knives appear on every politician’s Santa wish-list. Why? Time to take stock.

Normalising its abnormalities; its bizarre eccentricities and pathologically aberrant behaviour is the big success story of the Liberals’ otherwise dismal Turnbull experiment; an adventure of unmitigated failure.

We are not alone. Parallels with Pocket Man Trump’s sky-rocketing through the toxic Washington atmosphere to GOP hero abound Down Under. As Dame Edna has it, the similarities are spooky.

Incredible! It’s as if Head Office of international capitalism, Bastards Incorporated, specialists in wage theft, and its Box Office branch, Show Business, with its misogynistic casting-couch grope culture reach all the way Down Under. Who would have thought? No wonder they look snowed under at Christmas.

Business and politics go together like a horse and an Amish wedding buggy. With business help, our Coalition government normalises deviance, excess and even bone-headed stupidity. Thanks must go to all the right wing lobby groups, the IPA, MCA, BCA and all those who work tirelessly against the worker.

As in the US, our reactionaries rule by SNAFU, helped by an MP Amnesty International forbade to wear its badge, Phil Ruddock, tasked with drafting amendments to restore discrimination to the amended marriage act – an act which removes discrimination in the cause of marriage equality.

Also shared with the land of the free and the home of the brave is the Turnbull government’s creepy pandering to the whims of its mega-rich sponsors. Abundant, biddable, migrant labour is one.

In  30 September 2016 nearly 2 million temporary visa holders worked in Australia, an increase of nearly 5 per cent in just one year.

Huge Immigration creates headline GDP growth, yet individuals do not share in the wealth created.

Other Coalition achievements include pimping even cheaper, more compliant, workers to bosses by such means as the new 400 Visa.

The 400 Visa spin is that it is used to “fill talent gaps in the local market” – but qualified Australian applicants have been snubbed in favour of cheaper semi-skilled overseas workers, experts report.

The pattern is widespread. Appearing on ABC Q&A, the Prime Minister claims that migrant workers fill gaps in skills shortfall but recent studies prove that his claim is another blatant lie. It’s been repeated now so frequently by both parties that it’s never challenged. Nor is the former employment minister.

Top of the tree is Bad Christmas Fairy, Michaelia Cash who got the Australian Federal Police to raid the AWU and ensured it was televised in order to embarrass Labor leader Bill Shorten who as a AWU former secretary may have authorised donations to GetUp! – a perfectly legal practice. More on this later.

We are a polite political audience. No-one laughs at our leader’s campy costume or hammy acting. Malcolm Turnbull can tool up in his RM Williams gear to the set of the New England by-election dressed up as a Collins St farmer but no-one howls the poseur down. Instead, photographers adore the Brokeback photo opportunity of Mal and Barnaby in matching cattleman’s Akubras and beer goggles.

Josh Frydenberg “puts out the trash” Tuesday hiding an enormous carbon backflip by quietly announcing that international carbon credits are now included in Australia’s energy policy. No-one makes a fuss.

Similarly no-one really protests at our Treasurer’s biznomics, the pseudo-economic belief that what’s good for big business is good for the economy. This week it’s cutting taxes to increase company profits. And peddling the thought bubble of Snowy 2.0 as if it were a commercially viable, practical, plan.

Our ABC and MSM are full of buzzwords and phrases such as “making industry more competitive’, a mantra Ross Gittins notes, means granting concessions to make chief executives’ lives easier.

Why do we put up with it? Does familiarity breed consent? Are we the boiling frog in the parable? Have we become inured to the incompetence of a government which turns crisis into catastrophe?

The incredible saga of Senator Stephen Parry’s silence is an instructive example of normalisation. Bizarrely, as if the issue had never arisen in a Senate he led, Parry kept mum about his dual citizenship.

Odder still was how Parry defended himself by claiming he had confided in Mitch Fifield. And others. None of these told Turnbull or George Brandis. None counselled Parry to dob himself in to the High Court along with other seven MPs and senators. Clearly he was hoping to lie low until it all blew over.

Lying doggo worked well for Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz who may have been a senator 16 years before he repudiated his German nationality 9 March 2010. MPs can count on our losing interest.

Are we numbed by the repetition of sundry acts of ineptitude or aberrant behaviour? Bernard Keane suggests a parallel with America’s normalisation of dotard Donald Trump, the monster man-child.

Of course, crises arise daily. Barnaby’s bastardy, this week, in booting from cabinet his National Party critic, Darren Chester, seizing his Infrastructure portfolio for himself as payback for Chester’s opposition to Matt Canavan’s candidacy as deputy Nationals leader, is not the ticket to party cohesion.

Riskier is Joyce’s dumping of assistant minister to the deputy leader Keith Pitt allegedly for criticising his leader’s extra-marital affair. The MP is threatening to quit the party, losing Turnbull his slim majority. Expect a Nationals leadership spill in the new year.

Regardless of outcome, however, Pitts and Chester are part of the regular rash of crises which threaten to expose divisions behind the uneasy mutual self-interest that MPs claim is party unity.

Yet a number of forces help hold even a bad and unpopular government in power. One of these is the normalisation of oddity or the ways we come to accept strange behaviour as normal.

In the US, voters hope that Trump will turn out to be just a regular president after all – or at worst one who is held in check by his minders, while in Australia the press is primed to prompt us at every turn of the imminent resurgence of the small L Liberal or the Turnbullian political genius.

Each week Mark Kenny predicts a reset – or even a renaissance. It’s an exercise in fatuity. The Turnbull dud we see is the one Turnbull we will get. There is no political maestro waiting inside to break out.

Annabel Crabb invented “Turnbullian” to praise her hero’s super-savvy but abortive double dissolution.  abrasive, incompetent right wing Turn-bully.  It is set to become a synonym for poor judgement.

Yet we come to see such poor judgement and other aberrant behaviour as normal. Voters tend to blur what is ‘desirable’ and what is average into a “single undifferentiated judgment of normality”.

Adam Bear and Joshua Knobe of Yale University, who have studied normalisation, argue in the New York Times that, as Trump “continues to do things that once would have been regarded as outlandish,” these actions are not only being seen as more typical – but also more normal. It’s the same here.

Our perception of normal doesn’t separate the normal from the ideal. So, as Trump or Turnbull becomes more familiar, he becomes more acceptable to those who initially disapproved of his actions. He may be heading towards 30 bad Newspolls but his personal approval rating tells an equally important story.

Along with our acceptance of oddity however, leaders also use strategies to normalise their abnormality.

St John Howard, patron saint of Liberal reactionaries blazed the trail by importing from the US, “pluto-populism” a strategy of deploying social conservatism –  along with a sanctimonious religiosity – which as Mike Seccombe explains helps distract ordinary Australians from their economic pain.

Currently we are hearing about the need to protect religious freedoms, another term imported from the US, or the need for a debate about his issue as if it were anything more than a diversion and distraction.

Pluto-populism has been a GOP strategy in the US since Ronald Reagan. It involves a super wealthy elite who have systematically learned to manipulate the electorate to their advantage. Its key feature is to use democratic processes to establish an authoritarian, autocratic power over the people.

It was deployed in Latin America; it is at work in Trump’s America and it is at work in Australia, too.

Recent events in the brilliant career of former employment Minister, Michaelia “Union-bash” Cash reflect how the Turnbull government’s jihad on organised labour aka “union thuggery” confer a self-righteousness which help Coalition MPs set themselves above the law.

An extraordinary AFP raid on AWU headquarters in Melbourne, Tuesday 24 October, ostensibly to find receipts for donations to GetUp! (ten year old recepts which not required to be kept and which were never a legal matter) leads to a televised raid a type of TV show-trial of Bill Shorten’s former union after David De Garis, Cash’s senior media adviser tips off all available media. His boss lies about his actions.

De Garis, 34, is rewarded for breaking the law with a job as media and communications officer at AHA in WA. Far from censure, Cash is promoted this week to Minister for Jobs and Innovation, a mega-portfolio.

What Turnbull risks is that in rewarding Cash, he is tacitly signalling the extent of his own investment in the plan. Her promotion, surely is indirect evidence, that he or his office was the author of the illegal raid. As with all of Turnbull’s cunning plans this one also blows up in his face Wednesday.

As lawyers Maurice Blackburn report, key parties involved in raids undertaken by federal police on the offices of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) will have to hand over documents and correspondence, after the Federal Court this morning dismissed applications by Michaelia Cash, David De Garis, Mark Lee and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) for subpoeanas to be set aside.

The documents had been sought in October and the case illuminates the Turnbull government’s contempt for the rule of law. Along with normalisation of abnormality or delinquency goes the application of pluto populism, a powerful attempt to recruit public sympathies for government propaganda that unions are thugs who engage in criminal conduct.

Similar strategies are deployed to deny Aboriginal people their rights to be part of a bona fide consultation process. The PM dismissively rejects an indigenous voice to parliament by misrepresenting an appeal for constitutional recognition and inclusion as a demand for “a third chamber of parliament”, and “a latecomer proposal” that Noel Pearson says he agreed to in June 2015 .

“This was not what was asked for, or expected,” he told the Referendum Council at a meeting in July.

Yet the Prime Minister’s claim is now received wisdom for MSM.

And as with the dangerous fantasy behind the normalisation of Donald Trump, a stroke of genius is to dress-up what is essentially a mean and sneaky Howard government 2.0 with the natty leather-jacket of the pseudo-Liberal Malcolm Turnbull while his government lurches ever further to the right.

This week’s cabinet reshuffle sees any coalition MP who’d voted for marriage equality dealt out of any promotion by their riverboat gambler Prime Minister. The reshuffle stacks the cabinet to the right.

In panic at Hanson’s One Nation Party’s appeal in rural and regional Australia and its prospects of losing vital Queensland seats in the federal election to be held most likely mid-way next year, Turnbull has bowed to expediency and allocated cabinet positions to Queenslanders not on merit but on territory.

It’s all working brilliantly. Company profit is surging twenty per cent. Wages and working conditions are the worst they’ve been for decades.  And the push is on for Mal to grant business more tax cuts.

Why? With dividend imputation and other concessions, the average effective Australian company tax rate is 10.4%, yet with the passing of Trump’s tax cut bill this week – a bill which will cost America $US2 trillion over ten years, but will net him millions personally, our business lobby wants us to do the same.

Quack Treasurer Scott Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts of the economy, this week tries to con us into thinking business needs even lower taxes. Keep competitive. Few bother to contest his nonsense. Stop Qantas flying overseas?

Yet too many of us have been groomed or coerced into complying or simply suckered into submission.

Now we don’t even raise an eyebrow as our Coalition government, a Westminster kleptocracy run by mining, finance and big pharma oligarchs stops faffing around and appoints Ugly Peter Dutton top dog in cabinet, as head of super ministry of Home Affairs. Dutto’s more powerful now than his own PM.

Christian Porter, who as Attorney-General ought to keep Dutton in check, is no match for the Super Minister. Nor can we expect any hint of resistance from a solidly right wing reshuffled cabinet.

Barnaby Joyce also wields extraordinary power – yet we don’t bat an eyelid. Joyce is a deputy PM who has a secret agreement to be boss of the Prime Minister, a deal which the government refuses to reveal even under FOI, a Faustian pact defended by legal genius, former Attorney-General George Brandis.

In typically dazzling forensic manner, Brandis tells an estimates hearing last October the Coalition agreement is a “private document”. “It is not a public document – it is an exchange between two individuals in their capacity as leaders of two political parties, not as public office holders.”

Hypocrisy and cant are normalised, too. A government which professes respect for the High Court and the rule of law, is led by a Prime Minister can praise Joh Bjelke-Petersen not for his brown paper baggery and homophobic bigotry but for his “vision and leadership.”

Vale to the Venerable Senator Flo’s whose timely popping of her clogs in a Kingaroy nursing home this week at 97 provokes such a tsunami of southerly gush and obsequious fawning from Neoliberalism’s knight errant, Sir Malcolm, Prince of Point Piper, it’s fit to make a pumpkin blush.

In an encomium that would embarrass even Trump’s grovelling claque, Turnbull bids for the most nauseating, orchestrated sycophancy yet demonstrated toward an incompetent and corrupt leader.

Instead of polite indirection or even better, silence, a startled nation hears Joh and Flo brought “success” and “dynamism” to the Moonlight State whose systematic corruption and abuse of power is exposed in  The Fitzgerald Inquiry  of July 1989. Yet Joh’s elevation is nothing compared with Dutton’s.

Border Supremo, Immigration Pooh-bah Peter Dutton’s Trump-like elevation is extraordinary. The only Coalition front-bencher to boycott Parliament’s 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations, Dutto’s achieved singular distinction before, but the tyrant’s rise and rise, via a career of scandalous incompetence makes him not only the most powerful minister in cabinet – but Turnbull’s most favoured.

Now Pete’s anointed King of Bullshit Castle. Our Lord Protector. He  is not only most comfortably accommodated – in his bespoke Home Affairs portfolio whose extensive powers would dazzle any dictator, his elevation also seals his extraordinary ascent over the rule of law – a process confirmed when in 2015 his government obligingly made it legal for Dutto to use powers that put him above the law.

As the ABC reported at the time, The Australian Border Force Act, supported by the ALP and opposed only by the Greens, effectively turns the Department of Immigration into a secret security organisation with police powers. Although the Act seems to be directed at Customs operations, it also seeks to regulate and control access to information about asylum seekers in immigration detention.

The week marks Dutton’s ascension to the Coalition throne effectively vacated by Malcolm Turnbull’s failure to exercise leadership. By normalisation of abnormal if not bizarre excess and via pluto populist techniques the Turnbull government is successfully and swiftly taking Australia ever further to the right.

Part of this drift may be an insurance policy. Turnbull attempts to keep in sweet with the right wing which pull his strings. Yet it may also be a reflection of a protean, Zelig-like political chameleon whose political complexion is determined by the group he is with or the last powerful politician he spoke to..

But his “reforms’ are alarming. Home affairs combines the Australian federal police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and border force in a new ministry broadly modelled on the UK’s home office. All this flies in the face of advice from a range of expert commentators.

Gillian Triggs sees the new ministry as “a very serious incursion into the separation of powers, the power of the judiciary to make independent judgments”.

“Over the last few years, and particular during my time as president, we’ve seen this initially quite slow movement, piece of legislation by piece of legislations, that centralises administrative and ministerial decision-making.”

“But the last few weeks are seeing almost a galloping move towards a centralisation of government but most particularly of expanded ministerial discretion without proper judicial supervision and control.”

Beneath its chaotic dysfunction and in some ways because of it, the Turnbull government has been able to normalise its bizarre abnormality whilst at the same time it has used democratic processes to increase the power of the elite in constructing its own Turnbull’s own fortress – bullshit castle, a very right wing, authoritarian government presided over by his Supremo and Lord Protector Peter Dutton.

I wish everyone well for the holiday season  but right now I’m dreaming of a Right Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Turnbull lynches Sam Dastyari while invoking Yellow Peril 2.0

mongolian octopus

“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.” George Orwell, 1984

 

Nothing in our politics excites such primitive passions than a public shaming of a traitor – and his expulsion from our virtuous midst. Especially if this involves a public lynching. And so it is with the extraordinary story of the casting out of diabolical Sam Dastyari which dominates the week in politics eclipsing even the Bennelong bunfight, a bit of a non-event save for a 6% swing to Labor so far which would win it the next federal election. But nothing will ever rescue Sam.

Spurned by his leader, abandoned by colleagues, tormented by Coalition foes, Dastyari is hounded from office, Tuesday, amidst a frenzy of anti-Chinese hysteria, or “Chino-phobia” as Bill Shorten says, which fuels wild accusations of betrayal all cynically engineered by an embattled Turnbull government desperate for distraction and a scapegoat for its woes.

Yet it’s overkill. The harrying of Sam has all the fecund irrationality of a witch hunt. Which it is – at least in part.

Perhaps, also, somehow we’ve dredged up a monster from the deep. Phil May’s Mongolian Octopus has re-surfaced, its writhing, slimy Chinese tentacles threaten every element of our innocent nation’s virtuous (multicultural) ways of life.

One thing is clear. Expulsion is too good for Sam. Even after his exit, Dastyari’s detractors continue their insults.

What is so dastardly about Dastyari? Ben Eltham writes, “Dastyari has been forced to resign, not so much for taking money from foreign donors, but for so obviously showing the political favour that can be bought with such largesse.”

The tragedy of Dastyari’s forced political exit results less from being found by the kangaroo court of Sydney talkback radio to be a spy – or, in Grand Inquisitor Peter Dutton’s dud phrase, “a double agent” – than from his leader, Bill Shorten’s expediency. Shorten must sacrifice Sam lest he mess up Labor’s chances in the Bennelong by-election.

And worse. The Coalition and its media claque are destroying Dastyari to redouble their attack on “Shifty Bill” Shorten’s trustworthiness, his credibility and leadership. Sam must go. Yet nothing about the decision is easy.

Even Sam’s carefully scripted exit lines evoke the self-styled party martyr more than any type of penitent confession.

I’ve been guided by my Labor values, which tell me that I should leave if my ongoing presence detracts from the pursuit of Labor’s mission … It is evident to me we are at that point, so I will spare the party any further distraction.”

Dastyari is a talented politician; a factional ally and a party power broker with a history of personal loyalty to his leader.

And Shorten is indebted to Sam the king maker. As NSW Labor Party Secretary, he rallied Labor’s Right and managed Shorten’s campaign well enough to gain victory over Anthony Albanese in Labor’s leadership stakes, 13 October 2013.

It was a close contest. In Labor’s first leadership ballot to include grassroots party members, the ALP parliamentary caucus gives Shorten 63.95% of the vote while with 60% grass-roots support, Albanese is more widely popular.

Yet Bill doesn’t shilly-shally. Unlike Turnbull’s 18 months agonising on the banks, Shorten takes 13 days to sack Sam. Aaron Patrick in The Australian Financial Review admires the Labor leader’s decisiveness . But how has it come to this?

Sam’s fate is part-sealed when a patriotic Fairfax publishes Sam’s South China speech, a talk he gave in China 17 June 2016 in which he backs the Chinese Government’s refusal to abide by international court rulings on the South China Sea.

“The Chinese integrity of its borders is a matter for China,” he says.

The “Iranian-born-Australian”, (how the ABC loves to diminish Dastyari’s citizenship) opposes Australia’s and Labor’s position on China’s bullying in the South China Sea. He tells his listeners and benefactors what they want to hear.

Labor and Liberal Party donor, billionaire businessman and head of YUHU group, Huang Xiangmo is present.

It’s not the carpeted Persian’s first offence. Sam’s already been pilloried mercilessly in parliament and press; endured a year of gibes for allowing another fat cat, Dr Minshen Zhu, to pay a $1600 office travel expense for him.

Neither of these comes within cooee of Andrew Robb’s $800,000 PA secret China contract for a part time position with Chinese company Landridge which in the words of former NSW supreme court judge Anthony Whealy, means “on the face of it, he is required not to do anything and still get a whacking great fee”.

The Turnbull government is to come up with a beaut new public register for those who lobby on behalf of foreign interests which will capitalise on the anti-Chinese hysteria it’s created while cracking down on GetUP! And crippling the vital advocacy work done by overseas charities and other international bodies who may criticise offshore detention.

Robb is upbeat. The register would not apply to him because” he doesn’t do business here”. But not so Dr Zhu.

Dr Zhu, a senior adviser at the University of Sydney’s Confucius Institute, and principal of Top Education Institute, donates to both Liberal and Labor. Photos show him with pals Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Scott Morrison, Kim Carr, Bob Carr, Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop in various roles across government and opposition.

Australian Electoral Commission records show Top Education gave $230,000 to both parties since 2010. Like Huang and almost every other outstandingly successful businessman in our political Yum Cha he has Beijing links.

Yet the Fairfax story 29 November is a bombshell. Using material that Labor figures contend came from “intelligence sources”, a shadowy but beguiling oxymoron, Fairfax reports another meeting between Dastyari and Huang.

On the unlikely face of it, good old Sam is just doing his pal a favour. Weeks after Dastyari had to quit the shadow ministry, he is said to have warned Huang his phone was most likely being bugged by intelligence agencies.

This is either insultingly gratuitous advice or a clumsy intelligence operative’s ex post facto attempt to verbal Sam.

Now the shit hits the fan-tan. Inveterate ham actor that he is, Turnbull milks the incident for all its worth.

“Here he is, an Australian senator who has gone to a meeting with a foreign national with close links to a foreign government and advises that foreign national Mr Huang to put their phones inside to avoid the possibility of surveillance.” Turnbull bellows in the house. “Whose side is Sam on?”

As Dave Donovan notes, Sam’s quite reasonable caution about likely phone-tapping tells us a great deal about the era of Turnbull and Trump. And it beggars belief that Huang would not suspect his phone was being bugged. But that’s what double agents do. Is this the obviously fake detail to throw us off the scent? Make us miss the habeas corpus?

No habeas corpus exists. As from this week an MP can be hounded out of office just if government makes enough fuss.

Dastyari’s major crime … was telling a contact their privacy may be compromised because he was most probably under surveillance by the CIA. Given subsequent events, it appears Dastyari was on the money. Apparently, wanting to exercise your rights to privacy and free association is prima facie evidence of treason in this new Orwellian age, says Dave.

Has Sam been set up? There are disturbing clues that Sam may be the fall guy in some bigger intelligence sting. As Labor figures suggest, Dastyari’s phone advice could come only from some intelligence agency. Unless, of course, Huang, himself is a double agent. Yet, regardless of source, the story becomes terminally damaging to Dastyari.

Clearly Sam has stuffed up. Now his opponents and some of his party accuse him of fatal errors of judgement.

What follows, however, is more serious and disturbing for a nation which prides itself adhering to  the rule of law, especially the cardinal principle that all people are presumed innocent unless proved otherwise.

Sam is judged guilty of treason based on unfounded accusations made without due or proper regard for evidence.  Dutton’s nonsense that he is a double agent, for example, is endlessly repeated verbatim. If Sam were a double agent, he’d be pretending to spy for China while actually spying on them for Australia.

If Sam were a double agent, the AFP would be busting his place apart with crews from all major TV channels filming.

The government, assisted by the media and hyper-egomaniac George Brandis, a bulked-up Big Brother body double, aka the Attorney General from hell, who dubs Sam “a serial offender” despite Sam’s never having been convicted of a crime, subjects Dastyari to a McCarthyite witch trial.

Sam is tried in a theatre of extreme cruelty with a lynch mob’s contempt for his right to a fair and just process.  In CIA jargon, his career is “terminated with extreme prejudice”. Yet, even then, voices are baying for his blood.

“He should get out of the Senate, and Bill Shorten should boot him out of the Labor Party,” Turnbull shrieks on 3AW.

Knowing – as he surely must – that the second call is nonsense, doesn’t get in the way of hate-speak. The PM’s vindictiveness is echoed by Liberals’ deputy leader, Julie Bishop who makes another stupid demand,

“Sam Dastyari should resign effective immediately. He shouldn’t receive another cent in salary from the Australian people.”

It’s an unprecedented dismissal, as Phil Coorey notes in the Australian Financial Review.

“Plenty of politicians have committed acts of stupidity and worse over the years but it’s hard to recollect anyone who has been frog-marched out of Parliament.”

What has Sam done wrong? Everything, it seems. A political tall poppy in all but height, the mildly obnoxious, self-promoting Dastyari has long been unjustly caricatured as an over-ambitious, self-promoting, attention-seeking creature of Labor’s shady NSW Right even though, at 34, he is one of the youngest ever state Labor Party secretaries.

Yet, in April 2015, he led a crusade to get multinational corporations to pay tax. He chaired a Senate Inquiry into Corporate Tax Avoidance.  This July, when he ran a senate committee into the future of public interest journalism, another tantalising oxymoron, he clearly recognised the gravity of its decline.

“This is a serious problem. We have got to the point of no return. If we want to have a proper journalistic industry here in Australia then we have to actually start taking steps to protect it.”

Sam was also highly effective in questioning the CEOs of our Big Four banks.

Yet all of this is irrelevant unless you subscribe to the theory that Sam’s fatal career move was to take on the banks. And upsetting multinationals who are funny about being asked to pay tax.

Not only is he outed as some sort of spy, moreover, his own leader is so wedded to his own political survival that he is prepared to throw Sam under a bus. Yet there’s a wider perspective, also in which Sam is merely a bit-player in the murkier interstices of our US Alliance.

The political lynching of Dastyari, forced to resign over accusations he’s a mole; a “double agent” betraying his nation’s interests by being a paid advocate for China’s policy in The South China Sea, may also make him a casualty of a Coalition keen to play craven sycophant to its “great and powerful friend” the USA – a Turnbull government which will do anything to boost its chances of winning a Bennelong by-election on which rests its parliamentary majority.

Right on cue, Sam’s downfall is seized upon by US commentators keen to point up how China threatens western democracies, Australia and New Zealand. Marco Rubio, former Republican presidential candidate,  brings up Sam at a bipartisan, congressional executive commission, during a two-hour hearing he just happens to be chairing Wednesday.

“What we saw in Australia [was] a member of Parliament resigned after there were accusations made that, not only had he tipped off a Chinese national of some alleged intelligence operation being conducted against him, but that he had allegedly received cash from a wealthy Chinese national,” Senator Rubio says.

The hapless Dastyari could also be the canary in our nation’s political coal mine. Surely this weekend’s battle for the Bennelong by-election is the low point of a long campaign of Liberal gutter politics, smearing AWU unionists, refugees on Manus and now a Labor senator – if not the nadir of Malcolm Turnbull’s career?

Surely, also, it is another epic failure of political judgement; a serious miscalculation of consequences?

Certainly, the government’s frenzied attack on the Labor senator, eagerly inflamed by its unctuous toadies, the mainstream media, including the increasingly partisan ABC, is widely condemned both within Australia and in China.

“Needlessly nasty” Labor heavyweight mate Graham Richardson, former Hawke and Keating numbers man, writes in The Australian of the wanton destruction of the Labor senate back-bencher’s political career.  He would know.

“Carpet-bombing” says Paul Bongiorno, needing military metaphor to capture Malcolm Turnbull’s over-the-top attack.

“Hysterical, paranoid and racist” says The China’s People’s Daily, our largest trading partner’s official voice.

Wednesday, the Chinese rag accuses Turnbull of “pandering to anti-China bias”. Is Yellow Peril 2.0 the Panda in the room? Never one to skimp on rhetorical reiteration, the paper also alleges Fairfax Media and the ABC are “jointly whipping up an anti-China backlash”. Turnbull is buying into “an orchestrated media falsehood”.

China is not happy. Whichever pejorative term you prefer, the despatching of Dastyari is classic Turnbullian over-kill. Experts warn that reprisals may follow although given the volume of our vast trade, they have yet to narrow the field. Fewer tourists? Cuts in overseas students? Options for payback are vast.

James Laurenceson in the Australian Financial Review cautions that “cooperation on removing outstanding bilateral trade and investment barriers, not to mention on bigger regional challenges, might be put in the slow lane.

Chinese households might start to find that California wine tastes better than ours and the views at Waikiki eclipse those along the Great Ocean Road.”

A manic Turnbull is all over the airwaves like a man possessed. The magic pudding of public hysteria gets endless stirring. He dubs Dastyari a double-agent. Excoriates Sam for jeopardising our national security. Helping China to spy on us, even though Sam says he has no secrets to sell. The slur is unsullied by a shred of evidence yet impossible to refute.

Dutton calls him shady. He has no evidence, he says, but his slur is based on “what he knows of Dastyari so far”.

The government elevates Dastyari to Public Enemy Number One in order to dent Labor’s chances in Saturday’s Bennelong by-election, a one-sided contest between parliamentary seat-warmer, John Alexander, who boasts of putting table tennis tables in Bennelong’s schools and not missing a local fair or fete.

A courageous raconteur, his anecdotes and cringe-worthy off the cuff remarks speak for themselves.

Charges against Sam are laid in the court of Sydney talk-back by Peter Dutton, an MP who is tasked with protecting our borders from the Armani-wearing people-smuggler enabling riff-raff who would come in the backdoor via boat as illegal maritime arrivals instead of hopping on the next plane. Or that’s Dutto’s potted version of his brief.

Nasty Dastyari is a “double-agent”, alleges Dutton, leading an orgy of public denunciation in an attempt to hound him out of office in a warm-up to his assuming super-minister powers when he becomes Home Affairs Minister next week. Perhaps then, he’ll find some way of stripping Sam of his citizenship and repatriating him to Iran.

Panjandrum Pete will head up a super-ministry which does not include a Hate-Speak department by name, as yet, but which, innovatively, sets up an Orwellian Office of National Intelligence. Expect it to call out spies, denounce GetUP!  and other enemy agents in our midst, whilst it supports Sydney shock-jocks in denouncing un-Australian activity.

Home Affairs’ powers remain nebulous. What is clear, however, is that details will soon become scarcer. As we have seen with Border Force, operational matters preclude transparency and accountability. It’s all part of Pooh-Bah Dutton’s watching brief over us. He will keep Australia safe, protect our freedoms and nurture our multi-cultural democracy. Don’t you worry about that.

Not only will Home Affairs persecute traitors like Sam, it will be a one-stop shop for cradle to grave protection. An English language test, for example, for new citizens, is undergoing a bit of fine-tuning after initially being howled down by a Coalition-dominated parliamentary committee last September – a rare achievement in this government.

But it’s not just about language. The test is part of an exciting new package proposal which has passed the lower house and aims to introduce a four-year waiting period for permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship while imposing tough English language requirements and a test on “Australian values”. Even if these are yet to be articulated.

Home Affairs (HA) is clearly keen to ensure we get the right kind of migrant and for this alone it needs be a huge outfit.

HA will combine ASIO, the AFP, the Coalition’s pet police force and our quiet achievers, the secretive Australian Border Force, who only this week, returned a boatload of 29 Sri-Lankan asylum-seekers to Colombo and certain persecution.

Given Dutto’s conspicuous lack of success in merging Immigration with Border Force, the wisdom of Turnbull’s over-promotion of the Immigration Minister is self-evident. It’s simple self-preservation. Keep the mongrel so busy he can’t make trouble. Every man for himself is team Turnbull’s motto.

Dutton will be so busy, schemes strategic genius Turnbull, that he won’t pose any leadership threat. The flaw in this cunning plan is that Dutto’s alarming lack of success in any department is certain to continue into HA. Combining so many departments may have a crisis-multiplier effect. But given operational secrecy, no-one will ever know.

The nation has much to give thanks for now that our state show trial apparatus is set up. Enemies of the state beware.

We look forward to feeling hugely more secure with the elevation of paranoid Peter Dutton, Australia’s most unpopular, most secretive, least competent minister to a position of unparalleled power in a Home Affairs super-ministry which experts universally expressly warned the Turnbull government never to set up. Expect a show trial next week.

Given the huge success of the lynching of Sam Dastyari and building on recent AFP union raids to recover ten-year old receipts, the nation can expect to see similarly brilliant strategies deployed against Labor or indeed any other organisation including GetUp! or unions which pose a threat to Liberal rule – or any other outfit or individual whose actions or beliefs may interfere with the enlightened despotism of Menzies’ sensible centre as mediated through Malcolm Turnbull’s top secret Coalition agreement with the Nationals.

This week has seen the nation take another step into emulating the political dystopia George Orwell warned us about in 1984. The trouble with the Coalition – and their pals in the United States of America is that they think it’s a primer.

 

 

A double agent in the house? It’s the least of our worries.

dutto2

 

Loud hosannas resound in Canberra. Hallelujah. Could it be the joyous news that Harry and Meghan Markle will grace us with their royal presence at a charity polo match in Marvellous Melbourne early next year?

Or is it Dotard Trump’s Middle East diplomatic masterstroke? Swayed by Zionist lobbyists and fat-cat Republican donors’ demands he moves the US embassy to Jerusalem? Images of rioting, protesting Palestinians appear immediately. Any moment, son-in-law, slumlord Jared Kushner, will “deliver peace” in the Middle East on cue.

No. It’s our own joyous ritual bloodletting. The killing season is upon us. A PM should watch his back. Beware Daily Telegraph claims that Turnbull is “turning the tide on Labor”.  Which tide? A chorus of MSM hacks ignore NewsPoll and Ipsos showing the Coalition lagging Labor 47:53, while Essential has the government 45-55 to Labor.

Yet Turnbull insists he’s ending the year on a high. Even lurching from crisis to catastrophe, a Coalition government always gets a fabulous press. It has the best connections.

Or it just helps itself to credit due to others.  A week before parliament plunges into recess, the government covers itself in stolen glory. In a stunt worthy of a Mean Girls’ character, little Malco takes credit for the Yes vote himself, despite leaving all advocacy to others. It’s his big win. This does not endear him to any LGTBI advocates.

More worryingly, Turnbull shows no sense that the survey was a delaying stunt. Nor is there any hint he feels sorry – or some responsibility for all of the injury done. Mental health expert, Professor Patrick McGorry – reports that, for many, the campaign revived traumatic memories of bullying and discrimination they faced at school.

Online agencies report a similar pattern. Digital Youth service ReachOut, a Frontline Service which attracts 1.5 million unique visitors to its website annually, reports its online forums recorded a sharp increase in activity, with young gay people reporting feeling scared and tired of personal attacks.

Many other agencies report distress. A key source of psychological suffering stemmed from the flaw in the survey’s conception. Many share Dennis Halloran’s anger that other people get to vote about his personal life.

“It’s insulting,” says Halloran a voter in Turnbull’s Wentworth electorate . “I believe equality is a human right.”

In other aspects, Turnbull’s support of marriage equality is equivocal; inconsistent. In 1997, he wrote a case against a postal vote because “it flies in the face of Australian democratic values”. In 2012 in Julia Gillard’s conscience vote in parliament, he voted against marriage equality. Bill Shorten voted in favour.

Turnbull has not been honest about the concept. The postal survey was not Dutton’s idea but came from Andrew Laming, an MP who drew up many surveys, which, when trialled always managed to get a negative result.

Most tellingly, Turnbull has never been keen to canvass the thoughts and feelings of those whose interests and experiences are most relevant.   Last August he ignored calls to consult with the LGTBI community before introducing his postal survey which, in inception at least, was a Trojan horse to forestall marriage equality.

Congratulations? The PM will be lucky to receive a Mean Girls  Spring Fling plastic tiara a cheap, hollow crown.

Yet a euphoria descends upon weary but relieved yes supporters. Even IPA tool, former anti-human rights commission, human rights commissioner Tim Wilson proposes to partner Ryan mid-debate.

You can read it in Hansard. Then, quickly compartmentalising joy as all male-dominated outfits must; it moves on to pride. The Coalition channels its inner Trump, boasting over its glorious, historic victory in the New England by-election.

The Coalition  crows. Biggest swing to a sitting government in history, even if it must say so itself – repeatedly.

This “wasn’t a Newspoll”, this was “a real poll” shouts a PM whose credibility is in free fall as a nation has just seen him cynically cancel a week of parliament on the pretext of making room for marriage equality law-making. The hiatus is a desperate move to ensure his own political survival. So, too, is his over-promotion of Peter Dutto.

Yet joyous exultation froths out of the Liberal spin machine over the imminent elevation of our Lord High Protector Peter “Spud” Dutton to his new Home Affairs gig. His installation is fast-tracked not by popular demand but by Turnbull’s need to appease right wing party bullies intent on total domination via ownership of the PM.

Dutto, too, kicks along the nation’s ersatz euphoria as Dastyari-bashing, a national blood-sport, is back in season.

“Sam Dastyari is a Chinese spy. A double agent”, dirty Dutto dog-whistles in Question Time. It’s a slur speaker Tony Smith doesn’t hear, he says, but it’s clear enough to 2GB listeners when Dutto first makes it a week earlier.

“You can’t have a double agent in the Australian parliament. It’s simply not good enough, Ray.”  

Government MPs love a lynch mob – especially with a racist vibe. All week, MPs pile on; raid the Liberals’ stock of Yellow Peril formula from the Cold War to whip up a fresh brew of Sinophobia. They howl Dastyari down, a Labor traitor in our midst, while putting the wind up the 44341 Bennelong residents who identify as Chinese-Australians.

Political piñata he may be, but Dastyari’s bashing goes too far. And not just in Sydney. China is “astonished” by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s statements which risk “poisoning” our bilateral relationship.

Less puzzled, however, is Martin McKenzie Murray who reports in The Saturday Paper that senior Labor Party figures believe the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) leaked the audio of Sam Dastyari’s 2016 press conference in front of Chinese media, but possibly did so following pressure from a disgruntled US.

Like the giant panda in the room, the issue of how the media gained report of Dastyari’s diabolical treachery is largely ignored in our MSM. A security agency’s spook may have leaked intelligence to the media in order to damage Dastyari and Labor but the story of the week has been largely ignored, save by McKenzie-Murray.

A hostile US embassy concerned with Labor’s links to China – and a willingness to co-operate may have stitched up Sam – and his PM.

How this Chinese-whisper stacks up against Andrew Robb, for example, or countless other money-grubbing Coalition figures is problematic. Dastyari’s breach of protocol is nowhere as serious, for example,  as Stuart Robert who, as assistant minister of defence, oversaw a mining deal between Nimrod Resources – run by his close friend, major Liberal Party donor Paul Marks – and the Chinese government-owned company Minmetals.

In a review conducted by Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC)head, Dr Martin Parkinson, it was found that Mr Robert had acted inconsistently with the Statement of Ministerial Standards, if unwittingly. Parkinson also notes Mr Robert appears not to have received any financial benefit from the deal. Unlike Andrew Robb.

Andrew Robb’s contract with Chinese company Landridge, a document shrouded in confidentiality,  effectively guarantees him $800,000 per year with little in the way of prescribed, part-time  duties, – beginning shortly after he left parliament in 2016 – a contract revealed by Fairfax Media and Four Corners in June.

Billionaire Ye Cheng owns Landridge, which controversially acquired a 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin in 2015. In brief, any investigation of China’s influence in Australia would begin with far bigger firms and entrepreneurs.

And agents. McKenzie Murray reports sources who suggest that the damaging leak against Dastyari may arise from his association with Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo. ASIO had forewarned major parties Huang was a likely agent for the Chinese Communist Party. Some suggest the NSW Right may have leaked the story.

A separate leak against Shorten was made quickly after the Dastyari tape went public. The Opposition leader is reported to have visited Huang prior to the federal election – months after an ASIO warning – for a campaign donation. The NSW Right may have leaked to warn Shorten to acquiesce with the pro-China faction.

All of this is damaging to Labor. Yet more than some of the story beggars belief.

Getting great airplay in parliament and in MSM is the PM’s story that Dastyari visited Huang at his home. He suggested to Huang that his phone may be tapped, or its microphone remotely activated. The story depends on the willing suspension of belief that neither man would simply turn his phone off.

Or that neither uses Telegram or some similarly secure popular messaging device. But we mustn’t spoil the story.

Being bugged by a phone which is  turned off taps vast reserves of fiendish oriental cunning and other Sinophobic prejudices. It is also fed by popular mythology of all-pervasive, ruthless modern cyber espionage, currently fanned to fever pitch by dynamic Dan Tehan and his PM on behalf of a government keen to crank up fear of Cyber-attack.

Hysteria beckons. MSM report stories of people fearing they are being spied on by their microwave ovens.

The attacks on Sam are problematic. It is unwise, however enjoyable, to speculate on motivation. Yet they are odd and appear orchestrated.  Are they US inspired? Shopping a spook – or a double agent could help the coalition show its fealty to the US and also be part of an attack on Shorten, an MP who has been pilloried mercilessly since Abbott in a prolonged and damaging process of character assassination and personal slur.

What is alarming is the number of MSM stories which now suggest Shorten faces troubling times.  Even more disturbing is Peter Dutton’s promise that he has more dirt to dish on Dastyari.

There will be more revelations to come out on shady Dastyari, he threatens in that menacing generality one expects from a super minister about to run a Home Affairs super ministry. Or a drug cop about to fit you up.

Huge damage has been done, despite Labor’s strong opinion polling. So effective has coalition sledging been, alone, the name “Bill Shorten” has in some contexts become a type of gag-line; a means to invoke derision or worse. Barnaby Joyce loves to make himself useful with such attacks. Nationals exist to bait Labor.

“You might be leader of the Labor Party, but it looks like you’ve never done a day’s labour in your life.

“He couldn’t run a pie shop and the thought of him running the country fills me with dread.”

Lapdog Barnaby is eager to follow Turnbull’s lead in preferring personal insult to political debate. Character assassination takes far less preparation than refutation or rebuttal or any other of the arts of debate. Far more damaging, too.

Yet there’s another twist. Mal’s cunning plan is to crank up the war on Dastyari to smooth the passage of a bill or several –he talks loosely of laws – which will restrict foreign influence- not just Chinese interference- while it prevents charities from advocacy (which entails criticising government policy) and nobbles GetUp!

More worrying is that the new legislation appears directed against Sam Dastyari, our Labor opponent du jour.

“In my view, the conduct alleged against him does not reach the threshold of the existing laws of treason and espionage, but that is why we are introducing – because of the gap in those laws, a new offence of unlawful foreign interference,” argues Attorney-General Brandis, a Queensland QC who argued in August that ignorance would save Barnaby Joyce.

Ironically, Australia takes further moves to silence dissent and to diminish agencies of advocacy or criticism, while China, with a long history of such measures  including persecution of dissidents, is quick to voice its displeasure.

Yet Turnbull’s gone overboard – or thrown the Dastyari out with the bath water. Whipping up anti-Dastyari hysteria so keenly as to offend a major trading partner amounts, is another poor judgement call from the PM. Happily the Liberals’ broad church can celebrate Barnaby’s brain farts instead.

Joyce to the world. Barnaby is not just Tamworth’s Salvator Mundi, says the PM although BJ says he’s no saint.

New England writs return in record time; Turnbull urgently needs BJ’s vote. By Wednesday, Joyce’s back at the despatch box ranting at Labor in a mongrel attack bagging Shorten for not sending MPs straight to the High Court .

 “Even after seeing the decision in the High Court where it is black and white, they (Labor) still made it a resolve of theirs to hide, to obfuscate and treat us all as fools,” he thunders his face all beetroot borscht and no cream.

“To Mr Shorten, to the Labor Party, to those being led around by the nose by the Labor Party, who actually took them on good faith to what they told you. I think now is the time that you should truly hold the Labor Party under the tutelage of Mr Bill Shorten well and truly to account.”   

There’s more of this from the former bean counter but the jig is up. Joyce is rewriting history. Preposterous is his outrageous claim that his delayed appearance in the High Court was not an attempt to hide, obfuscate and treat judges like fools. But he knows, as well as his government’s dirt unit, that it’s the big lies that work best.

Mangling syntax, forging tortuous metaphors, BJ rivals Bob Katter for wrangling language into nonsense.  Barnaby has his own wordsmithing ways and he’s not afraid to enter the smithy. Even if it gets him into serious trouble.

In October 2014, Barnaby corrected Hansard  His drought assistance answer claimed farmers received immediate help. He added disclaimers and qualifiers – “unless it is a new application,” and “if you were also a recipient of the Interim Farm Household Allowance”. He later had the changes struck out, blaming his staff for the error.

In  March 2015 his secretary Paul Grimes wrote to the now-Deputy Prime Minister telling him he “no longer [had] confidence in [his] capacity to resolve matters relating to integrity” with him. Grimes resigned. Fudging Hansard is probably not something to put on a CV but Barnaby’s absolved of all sin by his latest, greatest, glorious win.

The government has Joyce sworn in just before Question Time Wednesday and uses his crucial vote to stymie Labor’s attempt to send a joint referral of its current crop of nine MPs with dual citizenship to the High Court.

Turnbull does another flip-flop, back-flip. His political gymnastics are guaranteed to convey stability; strength.

For all its hype about a bipartisan resolution of the citizenship crisis , the government is now adamant that only Labor MP David Feeney and senator Katy Gallagher will be referred to the High Court. Given a chance to clear up an unpopular and time-consuming crisis, Malcolm Turnbull has chosen to prolong it indefinitely.

Yet, just as big, is the news of the elevation of Liberal top banana, former QLD drug squaddie “Dirty” Peter Dutton.

Riding high on the runaway success of his off-shore detention regime of deterrence and the genius of his Manus’ final solution, Dirty Dutto’s long overdue promotion to a Home Office super-ministry is tipped for 17 December.

The move strengthens talk that Santorin George Brandis, our Attorney-General, will slope off to Old Blighty to replace High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer even if he does have to evict Downer kicking and screaming out of his High Commissioner’s mansion. At least Theresa May will receive some free entertainment.

Yet Dutto has a tough gig. Long overdue is Australia’s response to the UN Human Rights Committee, a body which harshly condemns of Australia for failing in its treatment of refugees, Indigenous rights and inadequate protection of human rights, including the lack of a national human rights act.  On past form, Dutto will ignore all this.

His pal Tony Abbott provides a clue. Going on the offensive, Abbott declared that we were sick of being lectured to when a 2015 UN report found Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers breaches an international anti-torture convention. It was just after he called Professor Gillian Triggs report on children in detention a stitch-up.

The UN’s special rapporteur on torture finds Australia is violating the rights of asylum seekers on multiple fronts under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a notion which Eric Abetz calls deluded when Tasmanian Senator Lisa Singh repeats it on ABC Q&A last Monday.

Dutto will be champing to get this bit between his teeth. His  super ministry will combine Australian Federal Police (AFP), spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and the Australian Border Force (ABF).

But the week has a happy ending after all.

All hail New England’s conquering hero, former dual Kiwi, bar-storming, Barnaby Joyce, a man of the Tamworth world, who returns to Canberra in a blaze of glory, a cloud of bull-dust and his Akubra Cattleman hat. He’s back in parliament in a flash. His government’s majority rides on his RM Williams hand-tooled dynamic flex boots.

A boisterous, brawling government is abuzz with something more than the size of the New Election by-election win, a win which Turnbull instantly appropriates for the coalition – as he does with the marriage equality Yes vote.

Meanwhile, true-blue, Aussie battler and patriot Barnaby is pitted against Sam Dastyari public enemy number one.

Or that’s this week’s national mythic contest. It doesn’t pay to look closely. Barnaby may be Australia’s best retail politician but he’s a mining lobbyist who would help pollute the Great Artesian Basin, the world’s largest and deepest and our island continent’s biggest water source is extolled as a paragon of Aussie loyalty and fidelity.

“If you want to focus on the person in the weatherboard and iron they will give you the grace of their vote,” says the MP with a touch of Huey Long a politician who like Donald Trump appeals to the battlers and does nothing for them. And almost everything against them. Barnaby’s backers include billionaire Gina Rinehart

A deputy PM in charge of resources and water, he has no issue with spruiking for Santos on the local radio despite the damage done by fracking to local water.

Amidst the crush to cheer on Barnaby and install him in Tamworth’s pantheon as a cultural icon and appropriate his victory as the greatest swing to a sitting government ever, a frantic Canberra reaches fever pitch Thursday as religious freedom fears or time-wasting “pious amendments” such as Tony Abbott proposes are brushed aside and it becomes legal for same sex couples to marry. The winners’ circle is swamped by raucous gate-crashers.

Much of the ruckus is joyous celebration over the removal of an injustice and the recognition of a human right but there is also a desperate rush by a crush of unlikely MPs – rent-seekers eager to claim the victory of marriage equality, hitch their star to true-blue Barnaby’s iconic victory – while Dutton’s hot-eyed zealots pool resources, horses, water and feed and prepare to run any double agents right out of town.

Activists, lefties, greenies, advocates and dissidents all need to sit up and take notice.

 

A shameful betrayal of trust and responsibility.

turnbull and barnaby in hats at tamworth

“Yes we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.” (Frank Silver, Irving Cohn from, Make it Snappy 1922.)

“For every person who voted for us … I just want to say how completely and utterly humbled I am,” lies Barnaby.

“This has been a stunning victory and a great demonstration of the strength of the coalition,” says the PM.

A surreal political week reaches peak bullshit, the communications strategy of our era and one of the greatest dangers we face as a people and as a nation, Saturday.

It’s the talking up of Barnaby Joyce’s victory in the New England by election Saturday. Professional political con-artist, Malcolm Turnbull gives four cheers for his side-kick Joyce. Two stooges in concert in Tamworth, he and his deputy are dressed like stock agents on a Saturday night out. Costume is vital to any Nationals’ occasion.

The duo shriek Collins St farmer chic in matching blue checked shirts and nattily contrasting cowboy hats, light for the local and dark for the Canberra ring-in dude. Turnbull grins like a barracuda. Busts his chops as if he’s just won Lotto. There’s a holler and whoop from the crowd before he’s back on the mike with another crock of whoppers.

“Thank you for getting the band back together”, says the PM to his ruddy-faced sidekick. More whoops.

The nation looks on warily. Joyce’s re-election rubber-stamp after 16 years of ineligibility in Senate and Reps is the end of a bizarre anti-campaign in which our unseated sitting candidate rarely appears outdoors. He deigns to appear in public, let alone debate the other 16 candidates. Cannily, he calculates, it’s not worth his while.

None of the out of town blow-ins, he knows, offers any real competition to Himself, a sitting member who is owed a massive Section 44 victim sympathy vote. He sets up his victimhood well. Cleverly makes it all about injustice.

It’s a complex, paradox-ridden balancing act and is part of the key to the paralysis afflicting national politics.

Despite being top dog, BJ plays the underdog who’s been cruelly and unfairly thrown from office. The ABC encourages this view.

Other media also obligingly depict BJ as another victim of ‘the citizenship crisis’, as if it were some rogue virus; negating his own responsibility. Like many other MPs Joyce was just too slack to check his own citizenship eligibility. Yet government chatter turns now to changing to law to protect the negligent.

By Saturday, Turnbull will crow. His deputy PM’s re-election represents a thumping endorsement of federal government policies.  And the wisdom of allowing candidates to check their own eligibility. But who are The Nationals? Do they even know themselves? How does Barnaby re-take New England? Time for a closer look.

“Bananas” Barnaby Joyce, New England’s celebrity MP, leads a motley rural mob of likely lads, ladettes in hats, self-interested mining shills and big-noting populist con-men like himself. Despite their pretentious name, the Nationals are local and parochial. Little is as it seems in the hugely over-promoted  victory in New England.

As with Donald Trump’s supporters, Nationals’ contradictions are endless.  For one, the Nats’ electorates offer refuge, of sorts, to a growing rural poor, whose numbers are swollen by increasingly transient Australians forced by rising rents, falling real wages and skyrocketing utility prices to migrate to regional and country towns.

Yet our poor folk in the bush get little joy from their MPs, although George Christensen did cross the floor, in June, to vote with Labor against the abolition of Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers. Nationals are generally right behind the Liberals’ crippling war on the poor, a plan that has seen wages and welfare stagnate.

The Nats’ big role is to add a second anti-Labor party to our politics – and joy to the hearts of our business class.

Mining interests love them. Ironically, Nationals MPs obsess over their own patch of turf while remaining hostile to those environmental and climate change policies which would help them conserve it.

Naturally, like former leader John Anderson some go on to top PR jobs in resource extraction after politics. Matt Canavan, who effortlessly relays Peabody and Adani Coal propaganda is already almost a full-time mining lobbyist.

Yet they are mysterious. Barnaby Joyce is privy to the top secret Coalition agreement which gives his party total control of the Prime Minister.  The government won’t show it to Labor, even under Freedom of Information. Opposition Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon mounts a legal challenge.

And they are conflicted. The Nats say they represent farmers but as primary production dwindles to 2% of GDP, they are far more likely to be lobbyists for Big Cotton and other rural, corporate interests which need the likes of Barnaby to help them suck the life out of the Murray Darling Basin, for example, at scandal-ridden Goondiwindi.

Their loyalties can be murky. Barnaby’s our nation’s Minister for Water. Yet when ABC’s Four Corners alleges Barwon-Darling valley farmers are taking more water than they are entitled to, it’s nothing to do with him, or federal government. “State issue.”

Yet in a Shepparton pub-talk, he’s every farmers’ champion, backing irrigators against greenies. Farm profits are more important than the environment. A recording shows him making extraordinary promises.

“We’ve taken water and put it back into agriculture [ministry] so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show, basically sending you out the back door.”

Happily, no-one asks Barnaby about water in the campaign. But up in Goondiwindi, farmers report rorts in the “Healthy Headwaters” program. Irrigators replace water sold back to the Commonwealth with extra floodwaters caught off the plains, utterly subverting the Murray-Darling Plan’s aim.

Phlegmatic to the core, Barnaby’s not fussed. It’s not a matter for the commonwealth he maintains.

Healthy Headwaters appears to have been falsely entered on Goondiwindi invoices currently under investigation by Queensland’s major organised crime squad (rural). While Barnaby’s been looking after irrigators, there’s enough accrued evidence of corruption for SA to order a Royal Commission. “A states’ issue”, he insists.

Joyce is untroubled by awkward questions on his anti-campaign trail. A no-show means no-one holds him to account. Yet river issues form only part of Barnaby’s story. Nats are also big on fracking, a process of hydraulic oil and gas extraction known to contaminate, deplete and ruin the water table for farming and safe drinking.

In March, he endorsed a South Australian government plan to pay farmers 10 per cent of royalties for allowing gas wells on their land. The scheme should be rolled out nationally, with an exclusion of prime agricultural land.

“I can’t see people who start making hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of dollars a year having a backlash,” Joyce tells Fairfax Media. Bugger the environment, Barnaby. Buy complicity in eco-vandalism.

Joyce has also been accused of conflict of interest. In September, the Turnbull government demanded NSW accelerate approval of the Santos project at Narrabri, north-west of Sydney, to “ease a looming gas shortage”.

So its spin machine claims. Barnaby lists land at Gwabegar, west of Narrabri as part of his pecuniary interests.

He downplays his purchase of the land. He had no idea he’d bought CSG reserves when he paid $572,000 dollars for a thousand hectares of mongrel country on two blocks in 2006 and 2008. He denies receiving advice from his pal former Nationals leader, John Anderson, who became chairman of Eastern Star Gas in 2007.

Eastern Star co-owned explorations rights to PEL 428 a neighbouring area- before being taken over by Santos.

Given all his power, influence and sheer hide, however, Teflon Barnaby causes a stir with his invisible campaign stunt.

On the stump, it’s deathly quiet. You can almost hear the boys from the banks duffing cattle and forging signatures on contracts as they foreclose on farm mortgages in Tamworth’s main drag. Even the $9 per week Fijian fruit-pickers turn down their radio. Trust crafty old Bananas to run a silent auction instead of a campaign.

BJ’s fifty but the old stager uses a New Age, anti-campaign approach. Innovative. He stays up-tight and out of sight until voters re-elect him and the next episode of Barnaby goes Bananas begins all over again. Or when Turnbull goes down in harness. BJ’s mob will make a bold showing in any new coalition opposition portfolio carve-up.

New Age? No self-respecting modern local hero or anti-hero wants to risk over-exposure. Appear on the hustings? Debate the other 16 candidates? Don’t waste my time. Sagely, BJ stays right away from public fora.

His campaign team confirms the former deputy PM  is “not be participating in any public forums or debates”. It’s all due to the Melbourne Cup Field of “out-of-towner” candidates, volunteers The Armidale Express.

Not even BJ can keep it up. Duty calls. He must flip off a man’s hat in The Graman Hotel near Inverell Monday. The Deputy Prime Minister then calls his bare-headed victim a “fuckwit” reports the jihadist Labor-left- wing-greenie ABC news.

“A line was crossed. The man was bringing up family matters“, Barnaby tells Fairfax.  It’s a win for New England gallantry. The Nationals’ leader also sets a new community liaison benchmark to his followers.

Certainly, The High Court’s upset him. Barnaby’s stripped of his office by seven judges dim enough to claim he’s a Kiwi despite his First Fleet ancestors in the local cemetery. So unfair. No-one’s more ‘Strayan. Even Malcolm Turnbull knows that. So why is Barnaby not on the hustings? His nation needs him. The suspense is incredible.

Everything rides on BJ’s re-election, an RM Williams-Gina Rinehart-Santos-Murray-Darling cotton joint-production. But Nats are more than lobby group sock puppets. Our gerrymandered electoral system, helps too.

Nationals get seven times as many seats in parliament as The Greens for less than half the votes. Nats get at best seven per cent of the national vote, David Marr reminds viewers on ABC Insiders Sunday.

But our democracy loves a helping hand. New England  receives $170m in community grants from the Federal pork-barrel, for example. Labor-held NSW seats average $3m. And Barnaby’s got some powerful sponsors.

Gina just wants to give her old pal, Barney, more money: he’s the Minerals Council’s nation’s best ever farmer. Santos needs the Resources Minister’s silver-tongue to keep spruiking the benefits of fracking while the Nats go ape-shit without a top banana in control. When Barnaby’s not on top of them, his sidekicks run amok.

NSW Nats’ leader, State Deputy-premier John Barilaro tells 2GB the PM should give the people his resignation as a Christmas gift. Barilaro’s compliments of the season come as renegade Nationals rampage without “strong leader” Barnaby. They side with Greens and Labor to force Turnbull into ignominious retreat over his long-held opposition to a banking royal commission. And it’s all his own fault.

“Turnbull is the problem, the Prime Minister is the problem,” Barilaro tells 2GB who assume he’s speaking only for himself. “He should step down, allow for a clean-out of what the leadership looks like federally. And whoever governs the country needs to make sure that they put the country and its people first.”  

Quickly, “barrel of laughs” Barilaro gets a slap-down from serial cabinet leaker Julie Isabel Bishop, an aspiring leadership contender herself, it is whispered – if mainly, at this stage, by Peter Hartcher and Latika Bourke.

He’s “irrelevant”, Bishop lisps. He’s not even in our party room.  So there. Yet Barilaro can give the PM as much cheek as he likes. Besides, Turnbull’s runt of a government needs Bananas for its lower house majority.

Barnaby rallies to his PM’s cause. Turnbull is a mate, he says. Besides, he did not know what Barilaro was going to say about Turnbull. If he had, he’d have told him not to. Yeah. Nah. That’s the leadership you get with Bananas. And the loyalty. Then, just so you know you can trust his judgement, Barnaby goes barking. Foams at the mouth.

Barilaro’s comment is the “worst possible insult in politics … worse than drowning a dog, worse than murder”. 

Barilaro almost distracts the nation from the government’s weekly witch hunt of “Shanghai Sam”. Yet even Dastyari-bashing, 2.0 is upstaged briefly by the most bizarre PM’s presser in Australia political history, Thursday.

The PM backflips over banks. He has to. The Nationals sans Barnaby threaten to cross the floor unless they get a royal commission and he hasn’t got the numbers. Yet if he’s forced into it, he’s had time to tip off the banks.

It’s a sensational performance; a double back flip with pike. Ayatollah Turnbull and ScoMo – Where the bloody hell are you? -his all-singing, all dancing former tourist tout cum refugee jailer cum treasurer steal the political show with an amazing improvisation. It’s incoherent, illogical and ultimately inexplicable but ScoMo tries his best.

“S’ a lot of politics in this. That politics was damaging our economy. It was damaging the credibility of our banking system,” Morrison tells Coalition megaphone and One Nation comfort station, Channel Seven’s Sunrise next morning. He sticks his chin up for the camera in an alarming Benito Mussolini impression.

“Sometimes in politics you’ve got to take the least worst option.” He waves a letter from the banks. So he claims.

The truth is that the Nationals have helped force the federal government into an inquiry it doesn’t want. Labor gets blamed, of course, but no-one sees it as anything but an attempt by a PM desperate to save his political skin.

The letter is a theatrical prop too far. “Is that a permission slip?”, snorts Bill Shorten, warming up. He’s close. Yet the government has chosen terms of reference which include superannuation, one of the few areas of financial industry doing the right thing for members, as The Australian Financial Review’s Laura Tingle points out.

Tingle calls the targeting of industry super an “ideological fatwa”. It clearly an extension of the government’s war on workers and their attempts to organise their labour to protect their rights and conditions through unions.

Not only has the government allowed the banks to dictate the terms of its own inquiry, it has connived at a Clayton’s Royal Commission to take aim, equally, at the banks’ only competitor, industry super funds. It is an outrageous political stitch-up. To make it more absurd, it blames Labor.

We just couldn’t allow a politically hi-jacked inquiry to be taking place” says Matthias Cormann Thursday with a straight face. Yet that is precisely what the government has delivered.

An in-form Shorten calls it a “bank flip”.  A “super bank-flip”, perhaps, also, given its designs on industry super? A super-size me (broad and vague) commission?

Of the $2.6m banks donated to the major parties last year, Labor received $1m, however. Even if the attack on workers’ savings provides fresh resolve, on past form, the Opposition is unlikely to pursue banks too far.

Best total bank receipts for a party in government, however, go to the Liberals who received at total of $12,716,470 in donations from Macquarie, NAB, CBA, ANZ and Westpac between 2013 -2016.

Money talks but best colour and movement goes to “dragged kicking and screaming” to a Royal Commission a popular offering by Nationals MP, George Christensen, who vowed he’d cross the floor to vote for a Commission and who now not so secretly promises to resign if his PM does not. He later reneges as expected.

At least he can be credited with helping supply the right imagery even if turns out he hasn’t forced Turnbull into doing anything. Is it all a sham? So far all signs suggest a bravura confidence trick. Amazingly the PM calls a Royal Commission the very day the banks write to him begging for one.

Their letter shows that the banks will set their own terms of reference. Clearly, this is no royal commission. As the terms of reference, the year limit and the appointment of Ken Hayne, QC, Dyson Heydon’s stablemate as its Chief Commissioner make clear, it not about fixing the banks but about helping banks access union super funds.

Will an inquiry damage the credibility of the banking system as Morrison and his PM maintain? The banks have done a good job of that themselves; they can thank their own conduct. Since the GFC, our Big Four banks have paid out over a billion dollars in fines and compensation for rorting their own clients.

Ian Verrender, points out, moreover, our regulatory authorities have a track record of letting banks off lightly.

Are they “too big to fail or too big to jail?”, asks former Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Mangan now CEO of funds manager 2MG. Mangan  summarises our banks’ transgressions during the past decade from the Storm financial crisis to rigging Malaysian currency markets and providing bad financial advice.

Complaints are broad and range from farmers to small business and households. Issues  include banks’ usurious profiteering, their fee-gouging, money-laundering and their almost complete contempt for the law.

On ABC Insiders, Mark Riley warns the government will be challenged by “expectation management”. He means the nation will be angry at its betrayal when it discovers that the Royal Commission into the banks is not the Royal commission everyone was hoping for. Already any change in regulation is ruled out as is any change in policy.

“… the Commission is not required to inquire into, and may not make recommendations in relation to macro-prudential policy, regulation or oversight… ”, 

No-one but the banks and a government desperate to buy time will be happy with a Clayton’s inquiry with terms so wide and vague as the one outlined Thursday. The Coalition will quickly live to rue its chicanery.

Above all, as Marr points out, there will be no forum for story-telling, a place for farmers, for example, to share their stories of how they were sold financial products they couldn’t manage and then thrown off their land.

In stories there is part of the path to healing; part also of the process of calling to account those government subsidised and protected institutions we have allowed to grow into monsters preying upon our lives.

In its absurd theatre of calling a royal commission it didn’t want but its weakness forced it into, as in its faux self-congratulation in the New England by-election on a victory it didn’t win for policies which continue to fail even the popularity test, the government again reaches peak bullshit. The nation is ill-served by such duplicity.

Its banking commission is clearly a hoax, a poorly disguised way of pretending to heed calls for an inquiry while providing the means for banks to access Industry super while it furthers its ideological war on unions. More than duplicitous, it is an attack on some of the most vulnerable members of society in the interests of profiting the rich.

It’s shameful betrayal of trust and responsibility.