Turnbull government marks two years of inertia, paralysis and failure.

cash looking loopy and screeching


“It’s been two years of great achievement … But above all it’s two years since I became prime minister building on the outstanding work of the Member for Warringah. And what that has done is delivered strong jobs growth.”

Malcolm Turnbull marks two years in office with a tribute to his nemesis Tony Abbott; a falsehood set in a farrago of lies.

Great achievement? Don’t mention the NBN. The ABCC was adulterated to buggery. The Gonski 2.0 con a $22 billion cut for education. Media reform? A path for Rupert The Sun-King to gain even more power. Strong jobs growth? The unemployment rate is stuck stubbornly on 5.6%. Over 730,000 people are out of work for more than a year. Every one of us is working fewer hours.  Most Australians are steadily getting poorer while the rich and the very rich prosper.

But in our Orwellian political arena, up is down. Back is forward; black is white. Our PM, the most over-promoted, least-attractive, poseur in our political history, leads his underwhelming, overweening parliamentary jeer-squad over the top.

Embracing their inner lout again this week, MPs set about bullying AGL, defaming “shifty” Bill Shorten and throwing such a hissy fit of denunciation, eye-rolling, finger-pointing, mocking, crowing and hectoring of demon Labor, as they can muster to divert from their imminent mugging by a host of scandals, self-inflicted crises and policy failures.

Gavin Hanlon, our most senior NSW water wallah resigns two months after it is revealed that he offered to share confidential government documents with irrigation lobbyists. Of course it’s nothing to do with our Water Minister, Kiwi, Barnaby Joyce. Not even a federal matter. And, Oh my, just look over there. Shorten’s telling lies again.

“We have seen this all before, because the Leader of the Opposition has a pathological pattern of behaviour to deceive, to falsify and to mislead the Australian people …” crows Josh Frydenberg rightly disputing Labor’s claim that NSW power prices would rise by $1000. Yet Liberals warned of $100 lamb roasts and Whyalla disappearing off the map, if carbon emissions were to be priced, in a carbon tax scare which Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott now freely admit to inventing.

Team Turnbull’s plan is a back-to-the-future attack on Labor as the party of high electricity prices in a re-run of Abbott’s astonishing success, yet it’s unlikely that NSW consumers whose bills Frydenberg claims increase by only $300 will feel upbeat – especially given that the privatisation of electricity was sold to them as a way to lower power tariffs.

Its ABCC scandal, on the other hand, is electrifying. Nigel Hadgkiss, their “tough new cop on the construction beat” confesses he published false information about site entry. He did not bother to read it, he says. Restoring law and order to building sites by appointing an industrial cop who breaks those laws himself would cause most ministers to reflect.

Not so Employment Minister, lip-readers’ friend Michaelia Cash despite being hoist by her own petard appears entirely unrepentant. Ms Hard Cash wins this week’s Government own goal of the week award. And Stand by Your Man award.

Ms Ready Cash tapped Liberal pal Hadgkiss to head the ABCC when she knew that he had broken the Fair Work Act himself.  There was no cabinet appointment process just a lousy $426,160 a year  She tells the senate that she first learned about Nigel’s behaviour in October last year but her office quickly modifies that to “learning of the allegations”.

“Merely because behaviour is alleged in a court process does not make it a finding of fact,” she shrieks on Thursday.

It’s a sobering thought, given forty-one, thirty year old unsubstantiated allegations about Lionel Murphy are released by Federal Parliament to help divert from pressing scandals and to help assuage the Coalition’s insatiable fetish for bashing Labor activists even after they’ve shuffled off stage left.

Never to be outdone, indignant that there is no posthumous Royal Commission into Murph, Merry Gerry Henderson eagerly puts his boot in also just to put aside for a moment The Australian’s sterling contribution to the respectful and mature hatred so consuming the national mood in what the government so fondly calls the same sex marriage debate.

Gerry finds 41 serious allegations to salivate over but allegations they remain. It’s a point The Oz, oddly, seems to lose sight of.

Perhaps Coalition MPs, too could bear Ms Cash’s distinction in mind when next they rise to repeat the Chiquita mushroom allegation or any other from two years of unproven allegations against Bill Shorten in the TURC.

Undeterred and in the spirit of a post-truth week, Cash proceeds to paints Hadgkiss as some kind of martyr,

“Mr Hadgkiss has played a pivotal role in restoring the rule of law to Australia’s building and construction industry, despite relentless opposition and appalling intimidation from lawless construction unions and their political supporters.”

Cash admits to knowing for almost a year, then, that Australian Building and Construction (ABCC) chief had broken the laws he was supposedly enforcing.

He says he thought the laws would be repealed and didn’t bother checking. Why would he? She says she had no proof and besides, he only admitted to the breaches this week.  Why would she check?

In like Flynn, Hadgkiss was immediately appointed, in 2013, by then Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, to head the Fair Work Building Inspectorate. Shortly after his appointment he told inspectorate staff not to correct misinformation to employers that they could direct unions where they could hold their on-site meetings, advice which was left uncorrected for two years, despite warnings from CFMEU and Commission staff.

Hadgkiss admits in a 25 page agreed statement of facts tendered to the Federal Court Tuesday that, in December 2013, he directed his agency to not publish changes to right-of-entry laws that were of benefit to unions. Above all to workers.

The coalition has always claimed that Howard’s ABCC brought a 20% increase in productivity, a lie refuted in Productivity Commission reports. Not only did construction activity decrease, it became more dangerous. Now it’s even worse.

Deaths in construction soared to 19 in the first six months of 2017, equivalent to 38 per year, the worst rate on record. Under Abbott, deaths became more frequent but under Turnbull, the rate at which workers are killed has accelerated.

The fatality rate is even more worrying given the industry’s unprecedented three consecutive years of investment decline under the Abbott-Turnbull government with a corresponding slump in output. The ABCC was supposed to revitalise the industry. Construction would boom once government relaxed the red tape in a new era of deregulation.

Malcolm Turnbull even gave it his best Neoliberal benediction,

“Deregulation, enabling businesses and individuals to pursue their own dreams, their own freedom, is the way to deliver the prosperity upon which all depends.”

Pressed by Leigh Sales, recently to list his achievements, the PM was quick to instance the ABCC. No hint from Sales that construction industry activity or its safety record since Turnbull’s ABCC revival is an indictment of his government.

So, too, is the slump in residential building which headed for a 31 per cent decline according to BIS economics. Jobs? Tens of thousands of construction workers could find themselves unemployed in 2018.

The Australian Construction Industry Forum predicts construction industry could shed as many as 166,000 jobs over the next three years as a deterioration in engineering construction dovetails with the slump in residential building,

It’s a big cloud gathering but Pollyanna Scott Morrison is still inanely braying “better times ahead”. Perhaps he has to. The alternative is unthinkable.

The Cash scandal, together with Stuart Robert’s sensational revelations, would bring any other government to its knees.

Robert is alleged to have made his eighty-year-old father, Alan, a director in his IT service business, Robert International, which he ran with his wife, Dorothy, so his son’s business could continue to receive tens of millions in government contracts.  It also links Robert to GMT Services, an IT business with which Robert says he has “ceased involvement”.

Any normal government would be rocked to its foundations but the Coalition has the answer. More loud shouting. Slurs.

You can’t let Shorten “slither in”. Malcolm Turnbull’s morphing into Tony Abbott with a bigger vocabulary and a better postcode is almost totally complete two years after he hauled the mangy junkyard dog before his own kangaroo court.

Turnbull 1:0  still in his suavely debonair Q&A leather jacket stage, couldn’t tell Tony that, as PM, he was a hopeless joke.

Worse. It was the savage god, the economy, that ravenous beast that made him do it. He had to knife his PM, he said, in his languid, lofty, hollow, vowels primarily, because Abbott was hopeless with budgets and spending. Simply no idea of how to act like an economic leader, or what tie to wear, let alone how to keep a Cayman Island company or trust afloat.

How Turnbull’s Abbott hatchet-job has come back to mock him. The 2017 budget is big-spending and high taxing. Yet the economy is going backwards. Hours worked, to take the single most reliable indicator of jobs created, have been below 85.10 in the 22 months since Morrison became Treasurer and Cash became Employment Minister.

The lowest under Labor was 85.7.

Despite the nonsense about total jobs created – meaningless without population growth, jobs wound up and above all attention to the steady decline in total hours worked, unemployment is stuck at 5.6%.

While profits are at record levels, wages growth hasn’t budged from 1.9%, for the last four quarters is a record low. It helps to put the lie to trickle-down if not the entire corpus of laissez-faire Neoliberal economic theory.  Wages as a proportion of GDP are at their lowest since records began in 1959.

Today, economic leadership amounts only to repeating “our economic plan.” And “strong jobs growth.” Yet, in keeping with all true contrarian experience, every claim the Turnbull team makes about the economy, employment or their goals is refuted by the experts.

Similarly, Abbott’s leadership style was held to be deficient. How, for example, Tony spoke down to the nation. Talk about superficial slogans. “Jobs and growth.” The tosser sounded like a talking bumper sticker. Sloganeering was no substitute for advocacy and didn’t respect people’s intelligence. It was mutual. Witness 30 straight Newspoll fails.

Despite solid progress, Turnbull is still working towards the Newspoll goal but most of the other key non-performance indicators are there. Especially the slogans, arrogance and the autocratic tendencies. This week, in the bullying of AGL, there have been flashes of the Ayatollah, as the imperious Turnbull was known in his banking career.

The power play of the week has been to wheedle cajole and bully Andy Vesey, the CEO of  AGL into an undertaking to keep Liddell, the nation’s oldest, dirtiest and least reliable power station open beyond its 2022 use by date. Or sell the plant to a competitor, a proposal which has curiously been spurned by the company’s board.

No-one would buy a station which AEMO itself says is most likely to cause power blackout and which could consume a billion dollars just to get it back into commission – despite Barnaby Joyce’s claim that he knows of at least two. But he’s not telling.

The Turnbull government, however, has chosen the contrarian path issuing press releases suggesting the AGL board will take 90 days to consider keeping the station open.

In reality, the undertaking allows AGL a number of options including honouring its generation commitment by means of renewables – which was its intention in the first place.

Alarmingly, this week Morrison is not up to speed on AGL. And who knows where Joyce has got his Liddell tyre-kickers from. His place as a National party climate denier is to insist repeatedly that coal is affordable and reliable, neither of which is true but it all helps the Coalition strategy of ditching Finkel’s Clean Energy Target for something that would allow coal-burning power stations to be part of the “energy plan” a novelty in Coalition policy to date.

Expect a CET 2.0 which will have to be appropriately renamed as an ‘affordable energy target”. Whatever the government comes up with it deserves to be known as the dirty or unclean energy target. It will be billed as a product of the cabinet and party room “consultation process”. In other words what Tony Abbott’s mob tell Turnbull he must do.

An environmental, energy and economic disaster, it promises to end Turnbull’s political career.

Yet Abbott’s consultation style was hopeless, too. Nor was he big on “proper cabinet government”. Mostly he got Peta Credlin to tell ministers what they were up to – or how far they were off the pace.  And he made up policy on the hop.

Turnbull two years out is vulnerable on all these counts just as he is hamstrung by his secret Faustian pact with the Nationals. Captured by the right of his party with its climate denial and its opposition to marriage equality he is unable to exert his authority, let alone lead. Further, as Bernard Keane points out, the PM is wedged between the sudden death of neoliberalism, largely occasioned by its inability to sustain wages growth and the rise of populist resentment.

This week a conga-line of ministers turns itself inside out in a series of back-flips on everything including the Paris Climate Accord as the Turnbull circus marks the beginning of its third, surreal, year with an Orwellian tour de force.

“This will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”  promised Turnbull at first. Now he’s intervening in the energy market, lecturing the banks, re-jigging the gas market, even bullying AGL to keep open a costly, inefficient, unreliable, uneconomic coal-fired plant and proposing to build and run state power plants and even a railway to a coal mine or two in the best Soviet command-economy style. He styles himself as a pragmatist but his record is more one of agonising confusion.

In common with Abbott, Turnbull falls back instead upon a political style which is permanently stuck in opposition mode.

“We know that this Leader of the Opposition is shifty and he can’t be trusted,” Coalition junkyard top dog Dutton says.

“The Labor left will not allow a policy which sees boats stopped, deaths at sea stopped, children out of detention.”

Kill Bill is the now the only game the whole bitterly divided government can safely play. No wonder they do it to death. Luckily, our leaders can still rally the nation if not the party’s esprit de corps by making war on the poor, the less fortunate and those who throw themselves on our mercy.

Peter Dutton has just cut financial assistance for up to 400 asylum-seekers across Australia. Over seventy refugees are evicted in Melbourne. Fortunately, Daniel Andrews’ Labor government will provide financial support, food and shelter, “so they don’t starve on the streets” to those now facing homelessness on top of the trauma they have already endured.

The state’s support package follows Andrews’ letter to the prime minister last year offering to take “full responsibility” for asylum seekers who faced being sent back to Nauru. He received no reply.

In another surprise announcement, it is revealed that construction is well-advanced on Manus 2.0 in Port Moresby, of a duplicate detention centre to incarcerate refugees displaced by PNG’s decision to close the Manus gulag.  Details are sparse. Doubtless all has to be kept secret to spoil the demon people smugglers’ business model.

The $20 m building will house men who have been given “negative” refugee status, a category which includes those who have withdrawn from submitting to the cruel torture of “processing” their claims out of fear, trauma or a lack of trust.

“Those people, who total about 200, who have been found not to be refugees are to be moved into an alternative place of detention away from the regional processing centre, given that they have no lawful claim to be in PNG,” Peter Dutton tells parliament.

Sadly, it is always “those people” whenever the government speaks of refugees. Not “our people” as our common humanity would tell us or as international law would confirm. And we have only Dutton’s notoriously untrustworthy word for the adequacy or the legitimacy of the processing to say nothing of its legality under our human rights obligations.

The only possible humane solution is to bring those on Nauru and on Manus home to Australia immediately. Four years of suffering is enough. Apart from petty political point-scoring the government has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yet such a move does not suit its increasingly narrow, right-wing agenda.

Nurturing Islamophobia and the persecution of minorities is now a mainstay of Coalition politics but in a new low, even for the fathomless enigma that is Turnbull, the week is darkened by the PM’s inaugural anti-Muslim dog-whistle.

“I notice they’re all making a sign of solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood with the Rabia sign there,” he bellows. “They might want to think about that.

Labor MPs are displaying four fingers to indicate his government has taken four years to do nothing on energy policy. It could just as easily indicate it has nothing to show in ending the illegal indefinite offshore detention of men, women and children whose only mistake was to throw themselves on our mercy.

Four years out, the Abbott-Turnbull experiment has so little to show for itself in the economy, the environment, education or any other area of policy, that it may as well take the opportunity of the closure of the Manus detention centre to rediscover its humanity and reverse its opposition to resettlement in Australia of those in off-shore detention.

Time for the PM to give his precious innovation agenda mob a real project. Nothing much else seems to be working.

Turnbull no Pacific leader; nor any leader at home.

 

pacific island shirt photo

His Pacific Leaders’ blue shirt a size too tight Malcolm Bligh Turnbull winces at the camera like Gulliver awakening to find himself tied to the ground by pieces of thread. He can only look up and the tropical sun prevents him from seeing anything but he knows the locals are hostile.  He has never been more ill at ease in his political career.

It’s the 48th Pacific Islands Leaders’ forum in Apia. Neither the rig nor the gig are a good fit for our little Aussie bwana. Amidst the Islanders, the canaries of climate change, our coal-powered Prime Minister is way out of his comfort zone. Utterly exposed. Now the whole world can see he’s treading water; not waving but drowning.

He’s left Kiwi of the Year nominee, Barnaby, in charge just to stick it to the Labor Party. Anything could happen.

In other ways our PM is glad to leave Canberra. It’s his government’s 19th straight Newspoll loss; the eighth in a row where the margin is at least six points behind Labor. A one-point gain on the last poll is just a statistical blip.

Way things are, Ian Macdonald kindly tells the party room, at least 30 MPs stand to lose their seats next election.

Turnbull’s tight shirt looks as if it’s shrinking, like the emerald isle of Upolu itself, as climate change, helped by Aussie coal, raises sea levels; brings floods, and storms.  The shrinking Samoan shoreline is confronting.

Help is needed. Twenty per cent of Pacific Islanders live in poverty and are unable to meet their basic needs.

Unsettling also is the bad vibe he’s getting from Pacific leaders, burned by an endless gallery of rogues; black-birders, corporate pirates, carpet-baggers and other invaders from the south. Above all, his hosts take Australia’s carbon emissions role in global warming seriously. It’s not a political game to these leaders. He looks pained.

This should be Mal’s happy place.  He’s had a big week ranting about downward-pressure on power prices, putting the wind up Blackout Bill and a huge win in the High Court over the constitutionality of Dutto’s delaying tactic. The postal survey is in the bag. Respectful debate is off its leash.

Amanda Devine pens a piece entitled, Fascism has a new flag and it’s a rainbow, in an echo of a Breitbart piece from two years ago. She wins Orwellian double-speak of the week.

Reason, inevitably, flies out the window. Rich and powerful lobbyists such as the ACL whose mystery donors include mining corporations spend up big to create a tsunami of fear that a Yes vote will be the start of a slippery slope which could end with marriage to Sydney Harbour Bridge or the loss of religious and other freedoms.

John Howard, whose change of the Marriage Act in 2004 has helped to make marriage equality a matter to be decided by popular prejudice, helpfully says it’s disingenuous for the Yes campaign to argue that changing the law to ­include same-sex marriage did not affect other rights and that the survey involved a simple yes/no question.

Yet, as former High Court justice Michael Kirby said in August last year,

“We didn’t do this for the Aboriginal people when we moved to give equality in law to them, we didn’t do it when we dismantled the White Australia policy … we didn’t do it in advances on women’s equality, we didn’t do it most recently on disability equality. Why are we now picking out the LGBT, the gay community?”

Howard’s dog-whistling about rights evokes Augusto Zimmerman’s Quadrant view that the welfare of children of parents in same-sex relationships are physically and emotionally at risk. In a not too distant echo, residents in Newcastle NSW receive No case propaganda suggesting that same-sex parents are likely to be paedophiles.

More alarming for the PM and for most Australians but delighting Abbott and the right-wing of the party is recent Fairfax research suggesting support for the No case is growing, while only 65% who support the Yes case appear much less likely to complete their survey. Yet the shift needs to be seen in context of a strong majority for Yes..

Yes voters still make up nearly 60% of the poll, conducted for the Equality campaign by Newgate Research pollster Jim Reed between August 28 and September 6, with a sample size of 800 and a 3.5 per cent margin of error.

Marriage equality is not something the Australian PM can take on the road, especially given that homosexuality is illegal in Samoa but he’s got a lot of good tidings if only they could look past their hang ups with climate change. The forum leaders are astonished that he could waste so much time avoiding the one issue that really matters.

You’d think, nevertheless, he could kick back and enjoy a South Sea Islands Friday happy hour with his Pacific-leader pals. It’s a chance for them to high-five him over the latest “good set of figures” the tiny rise in GDP created largely by government spending? Record profits. Lowest wages. Our economy is the envy of the world, he brays.

A new IMF study shows lowering taxes for the wealthiest 25%, such as the Turnbull government’s $65bn corporate welfare tax cut may stimulate economic activity but will promote inequality. Such cuts never pay for themselves.

But not to worry, we can import cheaper workers. Mal announces an amazing self-help deal for Polynesian job-seekers. Islanders look warily at yet another Aussie con-man. AusAid 2.0? Or return of the blackbirders?

2000 workers from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru may now spend up to three lonely years in remote parts of country Australia doing poorly-paid low and semi-skilled jobs. And it’s not just hard manual labour, some will work in aged care and tourism. Goodbye backpackers, hello Kanakas 2.0, another brilliant scheme to boost corporate profits, by providing contractors with a stream of docile Pacific labour to exploit in often dangerous, back-breaking work.

Pacific Islanders already throng to work on farms in their thousands, lured by word of high wages. Yet, reports reveal, the reality is near slavery. An ABC investigation found Tongan and Fijian workers were picking fruit in Victoria for $9 a week after deductions for accommodation and travel and work equipment from their pay.

A 22-year-old Tongan national, Sione “Vaka” Fifita, who died after falling ill while fruit-picking, was left for eight days in a caravan park, according to The Salvation Army. Ten seasonal labourers have died in the last five years.

Twenty-two workers tell the Federal Court they often were given no food for entire days, moved from farm to farm without warning and forced to sleep on buses on the side of the road, or on chairs.

Silas Aru was paid $150 for six months work in Australia. Others were abused and threatened with arrest or deportation if they asked for food and water, or about their pay: “Stop asking questions about payment. If you keep asking I will send you back to Vanuatu,” said Emmanuel Bani, the contractor.

No-one from your village will get work in Australia again. It’s a powerful threat to a member of a small community.

A senate inquiry last May heard evidence from Australian unions that exploitation of seasonal pacific workers is widespread. Reports were heard of long hours, up to 60% deduction from wages for board and lodging, excessive hours, unpaid overtime and lack of access to health care. Yet the PM’s announcement is given hearty media spin.

Exploitation, neglect and abuse can be so spiritually uplifting. Minister for Utopia, Michaelia Cash talks of promoting economic resilience and improving livelihoods of ‘the citizens in the region’ as Islanders “access the Seasonal Worker Programme.  Why it will even “pilot ways to lower upfront costs for employers”. You bet it will.

So why so glum? True, he’s missed four days of meetings but at least he’s here in time for the leaders’ retreat.

And the camera. Mal’s shunted to one side, his ill-fitting shirt just shrieking exclusion in the forum leaders’ photo. Worse, the colourful Peter O’Neill ear-bashes him about Manus. Wednesday’s $70 m Victorian Supreme Court settlement puts the lie to the Turnbull government’s fiction that the detention centre is not our responsibility.

Our evasion of duty of care extends to having no plans for the refugees beyond telling them they’ll never come to Australia. One hundred men have been moved to Port Moresby, ostensibly, for specialist medical treatment. Immigration Minister – soon to be super minister indefinite detention Dutton has nothing planned beyond that.

By contrast, in another state response to the failure of commonwealth will and compassion, Victoria’s Andrews government will find $600,000 for the asylum seekers living in Victoria so they “don’t starve on the streets”.

Andrews will also set up means whereby Pacific Islanders working in Victoria can be more carefully monitored and policed in order to end exploitative practices in the state. Yet there is no federal acknowledgement. Especially not from Peter Dutton.

It’s hard to conceive that Peter Dutton could think that forcing destitute refugees on to the street is an acceptable strategy but he spends much air-time this week defending his callous inhumanity while his shock-jock hosts nod along.

On radio 2GB with Alan Jones, Dutton defends the introduction of ‘final departure Bridging E Visa’, claiming that people are ‘ripping the system off’. It’s a cruel stunt which is part of a Coalition attempt to wedge Labor as soft on refugees while dog-whistling Pauline Hanson supporters. Yet it is a singularly degrading experience for all parties.

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern renews former Kiwi PM John Key’s offer to take 150 men from Manus – possibly more – but the Turnbull government appears implacably opposed to any variation in its punitive detention policy. The dead hand of Dutton denies all compassion or humanity; the access and passage of remorse.

In absurdity of the week, Turnbull manages to insult the Kiwis and all refugee advocates and supporters by maintaining that a NZ solution would offer people-smugglers a “marketing opportunity” for backdoor access.

Worse, like any shyster, our PM doesn’t care if the US takes a single refugee in the much vaunted refugee swap deal, another Dutton disaster. It’s the look of the thing that matters. Last month’s leaked transcripts of his call to Trump make his unconcern shamefully clear.  He makes policy not to govern the nation but to appease his party.

Similarly, he’s unfussed how much Australia waters down any climate agreement Pacific leaders may propose.

Last month PICAN awarded the Australian government the inaugural “Pacific Fossil Award”, for repeatedly trying to kid Pacific island countries that it was serious about helping to slow climate change, while, in fact, making the problem worse by increasing coal exports, as well as promoting the use of coal abroad.

They’ve been kind to us. Ten million Pacific Islanders need our help. They can see what we’re up to.

The Islanders have seen how Abbott dismantled our price on carbon; how he crippled investment in renewable energy. Worse, they have seen how Coalition governments diverted public funds from genuine carbon abatement schemes by pretending that its Direct Action boondoggle was a legitimate mechanism to curb CO2 emissions.

Scott Morrison didn’t even mention climate change in his last budget. The climate change debate has been supplanted by the ‘energy debate,’ in line with world’s best practice in defending the use of coal by ignoring climate altogether and pursuing “energy solutions” instead.

The Pacific has been rising by 4mm per year since 1993. It will inevitably swamp Samoa and other Pacific Islands unless global warming is halted. Mad Mal’s response is to drown our neighbours by increasing carbon emissions – not because he believes in coal but because it fits his selfish political agenda. Talk about make yourself popular.

Island leaders remember last year, too when the PM misled Parliament that Australia’s emissions reduction targets of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 are “credible and substantial” and ” second only to the cuts offered by Brazil.

His latest ploy to wedge Labor and to win over his own party’s right wing rump is to keep Liddell, Australia’s oldest, dirtiest, coal-fired power station burning.

The week is wasted with attempts to paint Labor as the party of blackouts while the Coalition is determined to roll up its sleeves to keep the power on. This means picking a fight with AGL over its decision to phase out NSW’s Liddell power station, only recently privatised by the former Baird NSW government.

Liddell is the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired plant in Australia. In the view of energy market regulator AEMO, it is likely to cause blackouts rather than supply additional electricity to the grid. Yet over the week it becomes a cause celebre. It will be sold, the government declares. Yet who will buy remains a mystery. It won’t be AGL.

The plant would require at least $1/2bn to keep going but offers investors only five years, operation in a market where profits on coal-fired electricity are harder to make than in renewables.

The crusade to save of Liddell will be a defining point in next week’s debate in the house – just as it stands as a defining point for this government which is so committed to pleasing its coal-lobby sponsors that it has abandoned all pretence at concern with carbon emissions and their role in global warming. No wonder Pacific Islanders see our PM simply as another palagi who is interested only in putting profits before people.

It’s not just home fires burning, moreover, our global warming Coalition promises to help Adani pollute the planet. Back out of Paris. Flunk even Finkel’s feeble CET, a type of Clayton’s carbon price Turnbull is rapidly giving up hope of sneaking past Tony Abbott and his cheer squad of delusional denialists and Minerals Council dupes.

The government pounces upon the Australian Energy Market Operator’s annual Electricity Statement of Opportunities which is released this week and within hours has its own spin on the report which predicts the likelihood of blackouts this summer given the age and unreliability of our national grid. It blames Labor.

What the report really says, the government doesn’t want to admit. It’s an indictment of the failure of Abbott’s war on carbon pricing, his so-called carbon tax that Peta Credlin now confesses was just a stunt. Without such a pricing mechanism, our nation’s progress towards renewable energy sources has been criminally sabotaged.

Equally damning are the ways in which the Abbott and Turnbull governments have discouraged investment in renewable energy generation.  Alternative power sources should be available ready, now, to be phased in as we close the dirty, uneconomic fifty-year old coal-burning plants. Instead, the industry has been actively discouraged.

All of his could be foreseen; planned for. For all its attempts to rewrite history and blame both sides of politics, or even to just blame Labor, it is the Coalition with its coal-based ideology and its failure to develop a clear energy policy or a policy on carbon emissions which is responsible for the energy mess we are in now.

More will be heard of the Turnbull government’s base load fetish; the technological nonsense that a stable power source is only possible through burning coal. Much less will be said about the fetish for the free market and for privatisation which helped it to set up an electricity supply which is either affordable or reliable.

And in the ledger of our international responsibility, our status as global citizens we face a growing deficit as polluters. Tuvalu’s PM, Enele Sopoaga, speaks of hypocrisy, of an Australia which is happy to preach renewable energy and emissions control to its island neighbours but which in practice does the very opposite itself.

“We’re simply seeking for the rights of small island states to survive,” he says.

Oddly, no-one in Apia looks overjoyed to have the big blue bwana in their midst. He has dropped in on the tail end of proceedings as if he still believes it’s the great white bwana, the palagi’s prerogative to be fashionably late.

Better late than never? We can’t even give him that. Leadership is what you do not what you preach. And your priorities. When there’s a clear choice between saving his own leadership and the chance to lead or even save others, Turnbull gives up a whole six hours of his time. Just enough time to announce a new kanaka recruitment drive.

Super Mal of Monaro fails to save the day.

turnbull praying

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird? It’s a plane? No it’s super-Mal soaring high above the Monaro Plains! Up, up and away!

Faster than a speeding ballot or a same-sex marriage postal survey. More powerful than a speeding locomotive loan fast-tracked for approval in Adani’s boondoggle. Able to leap tall infrastructure building in a single bound.  Or soar above the heap of mounting crises from Abbott’s sniping to impending High Court hearings that could derail his government.

Parliament is about to resume. A new News Poll looms and two challenges to the Coalition’s postal thingy thought bubble could be decided next week. The dual citizen juggernaut thunders on while four years on, the Coalition has forgotten to get an energy or environment policy. And the government is tearing itself apart over marriage equality.

As it continues to do over climate. Helpfully, our resident international expert on climate change denial, Dr Tony Abbott announces he will be the star speaker  delivering a paper entitled “Daring to Doubt” at The Global Warming Policy Foundation which holds an annual gabfest in London. His selfless gesture is certain to help his party agree on a CET.

When the going gets tough, the tough get airborne. Super-Mal, son of Ming, scion of “the sensible centre”, hurtles across the political firmament, all fizz and spin; a sky-rocket without a stick; a whirlwind of technological agnosticism and base load bull dust. Up? Turnbull even tells Leigh Sales he’ll win the next election. Attacks her “cynicism”.

It’s impossible to keep up with him. Two days after he says the government has no plans to build a coal power station, Turnbull pledges federal support to Queenslanders hoodwinked into thinking this could fix their tripling power bills.

Why? The PM must appease his masters, of course. South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis  writes:

“ … the only thing standing in the way of lower prices, improved grid security and meeting our carbon reduction commitments is a divided Federal Liberal Party that is completely beholden to the coal lobby.”

Then there are MPs who have to be obeyed. Kiwi-Barnaby Joyce and his former chief of staff, Signor Canavani our Italian Senator are both noisy advocates for a mine whose only value is the profit in it to investors up for a boondoggle.

Super Mal would be easier to follow, however, if he satisfied Joel Fitzgibbon’s FOI request that he release his secret squirrel deal with the Nats, the Coalition agreement.

Turnbull refuses because it is private and not an “official document of the minister”. The case, currently before the Federal Court, promises to be a protracted legal stoush.

Yet it’s a lose-lose for the PM. A new coal power plant would not offer consumers lower prices, despite coal lobby spin.

AIG (Australian Industry Group) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance say electricity prices could double if new coal-fired power stations are built. Experts also say more coal-fired power generation is not needed. 680 MW of privately funded renewable energy projects are pending with $1.5 billion of new investment and more than 1200 direct jobs.

Yet, with an election announcement in the wings, QLD Opposition Leader, former Newman government treasurer, Tim Nicholls will fast-track a project using the latest high-energy, low-emissions (HELE) technology, to be built and run by the private sector if he wins. The QLD LNP has already proposed that Australia quit the Paris Climate Agreement.

Queensland Energy Minister, Mark Bailey, says another coal power plant is one of the most irresponsible policy propositions, ” he’s ever heard.  With eight huge generators Queensland is already the powerhouse of the nation. It does not need a ninth. Nor is it persuaded by coal lobby propaganda that new power stations are somehow clean.

The state already has four HELE plants, all burning black coal and using you-beaut “super-critical” steam technology. They emit only 10% less than stations burning the same fuel with regular technology. Queensland’s proposed new coal-fired power station is a litmus test in the Turnbull government’s complete and utter failure to get real about energy.

But why listen to cynicism? (Turnbull-speak for scepticism.) Innovation reigns. Up, up and away. Turnbull’s Coalition 2.0 upgrade replaces government with an eternal loop of announceables. Cameras show a PM doing stuff and looking tough. Fuddy-duddy consultation and collaboration are as yesterday as facts in a post truth, Trumpian universe.

Our new anti-terror partner, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, doesn’t let any of that consulting stuff hold him back.

Just to help duelling Duterte uphold the rule of law, Australia pledges help to the Philippines’ President in his battle in Marawi, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announces. Eyes in the skies, not boots on the ground she adds hastily.

Bishop’s caught on the hop with her own state becoming a foreign country.  WA Liberal Party delegates vote to:

“examine the option of Western Australia becoming a financially independent state”, late Sunday afternoon in a motion which manages to combine Liberal revolutionary ardour with its legendary commitment to fiscal prudence.

Yet her drift is clear.  In no way does sending the odd RAAF Orion to spy on his people mean we condone Duterte’s war on drugs which has caused the death of up to 13,000 Filipinos in “extrajudicial killings”, double-speak  for murder.

But the Pres is on to it. “There is a possibility that in some of police incidents there could be abuses. I admit that,” Duterte tells reporters in Manila. “These abusive police officers are destroying the credibility of the government.”

Duterte nails it. Doubtless our nation has much to gain from supporting the regime of such an enlightened ‘strong-man.’

Our PM is inspired. Junking the commonwealth’s clunky federalism for a united states of xenophobia, homophobia and atychiphobia (fear of failure) Super-Mal, soars effortlessly above the High Court, the constitution and the rule of law.

Beware you cynical 7:30 reporters, Stalinist revisionists, defacers of public monuments; all other evil-doers in our midst.

And bankers. Just look how we’ve put the wind up the banks, boasts ScoMo. No Royal Commission is required. ASIC and APRA are doing it all anyway, the wordsmith  and former tourist-tout now Federal Treasurer gloats. Then there’s my Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR) which I will be introducing into the Parliament before the end of the year.

It’s “the take action now approach which the Turnbull Government continues to drive right across government”.

Like any “take action now” hero, Mal knows how to look the part. Tough? Does all his own image consultancy. Stylish to the core, our death-defying PM breaks out his emergency leather bomber jacket, Monday and ‘copters to Cooma. Time for a spin recycle.  Renewable? Bernard Keane notes, clean green Turnbull pumps Snowy Hydro PR back uphill, reuses it.

Carpe diem. Let’s do another showy, Snowy Hydro 2.0 whopper in a chopper. Spear-head this week’s instalment of “Malcolm malgré lui,” another ritual tussle with his brothers, the power barons, part of Mal’s epic struggle with himself, his party and anyone who answers back. He’s keeping the lid on power prices, he says in the whopper of the week.

The lid is part of “a comprehensive package” to put “downward pressure” on energy prices.

“Operation lid-on” is Wednesday’s well-staged show-of-farce in which Turnbull and side-kick Futz Frydenberg eye-ball energy executives. Cameras roll. A break-through is announced on ABC. Companies will mail consumers on how to get a discount on prices which on average have doubled in the last year thanks to our hugely defective price-setting system.

Turnbull’s embarrassing stunt will apply the same downward pressure that we’ve long exerted on petrol prices by driving to a cheaper outlet. None. The ACCC this week reports that Australian petrol prices at the bowser are at their lowest for 14 years. Gross retail margins, however are at record highs. Companies are not “passing on their savings”.

Yet it’s not trickle-down – it’s the consumer at fault. Taking a leaf out of the neoliberal playbook, the ACCC exhorts motorists to shop around. Oil companies could write letters to tell motorists which servo has the best prices each day.

Back at the showdown with Mal, Josh and the power CEOs, sparks fly. A quid pro quo situation arises. In return for writing a million letters, energy executives request the government set a Clean Energy Target.

A CET is all that remains of a sensible carbon emissions policy. Like the Cheshire Cat’s smile it is all that remains to a Coalition whose grasp on carbon pricing was destroyed for narrow political gain by Tony Abbott and his anti-climate science followers including Craig Kelly who recently claimed that renewable energy would kill people this winter.

The claim is helpfully repeated by Andrew Bolt.

Our electricity cartel’s request for certainly over a CET doesn’t make the news. It won’t pass the party room either. Given the entrenched opposition from the Coalition’s right, the key component to Alan Finkel’s government-friendly report will be ignored as Turnbull desperately tries to find a way to build uneconomic, toxic coal-fired power stations while feigning concern for the environment, public health, industrial health and safety or a commitment to renewable energy.

“Technology agnostic” rivals” innovative” in the battle of the buzz-words but nothing can disguise the dismal fact that the Coalition has fails comprehensively to devise either an energy or a real environment policy in four years of government. Nor did it ever really intend to. The Murdoch press helps by wilfully misrepresenting the shift to renewables as a false dichotomy  – a choice between jobs or clean energy. It’s standard coal lobby propaganda.

Luckily, our innovative PM has super powers. He can contain price rises with a re-visit to a project which gets no new funds and which is only a feasibility study on a scheme which relies on burning coal to pump water back up to the dam. It will take twenty years to build and its design guarantees it can only ever produce expensive electricity.

In a script straight out of ABC’s Utopia, Turnbull re-announces $8 million in funding towards a $29 million feasibility study on the project. The Snowy Hydro 2.0 idea was first explored in 1980 – and rejected because of the prohibitive cost.  Mal’s signature NBN fiasco has more chance of living up to expectations and promises than his Snowy Hydro 2.0 stunt.

Some state infrastructure projects could be just the ticket to help us out of what seems to be an approaching recession. In the nation-building afterglow of the Snowy 2.0 presser, no-one brings up the construction slump. That’s heresy.

Everyone knows the Coalition has completely reformed by stopping “union thuggery” and with its hugely diluted ABCC laws. Yet, as Alan Austin reports, the nation has seen three consecutive years of decline. It’s a unique achievement.

Turnbull blamed construction workers and their union for the high cost of housing, when he re-introduced the ABCC bill in Parliament a year ago, claiming the bill would help “young Australian couples that can’t afford to buy a house because their costs are being pushed up by union thuggery.”

Yet research from the Centre for Future Work reveals it’s a lie. There is no statistical correlation between construction unionization or construction wages and the soaring cost of housing. Construction wages are in fact below average for the last five years. Construction labour amounts to only ten per cent of new housing prices.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures released Wednesday show building and construction investment has now declined for three financial years in a row. It’s an alarming result especially to a Coalition which vowed to make construction its signature achievement.

Tony Abbott fantasized about becoming, “ … a prime minister who revels in seeing cranes over our cities, who revels in seeing bulldozers at work and who revels in seeing water coming from where it flows to where it’s needed. That is the kind of prime minister that I would like to be if I get the chance.”  Instead he helped achieve the reverse.

Pleading global headwinds won’t cut it. Global trade is booming and company profits are at record highs. Explanations include the decline of real wages, low business confidence.

Yet there is also, Austin notes, a slow-down in investment from overseas which coincides with a shortage of public funds for infrastructure due to an acute loss of tax revenue caused largely by widespread tax avoidance.

Disaster dogs our super-hero at every turn.  His enemies are legion. Arrayed against Mal are eighteen straight News Poll falls, his nemesis, the mad monk Abbott, and a perfidious, shape-stealing “slithering-Bill” Shorten, a Stalinist-Trotskyite-Castro-ite opposition leader so keen to rebuild East Germany he carries his own Berlin Wall brickworks in a knapsack.

Mathias Cormann continues his surreal attack on Shorten begun last week at Gerard and Anne Henderson’s Sydney home dining club otherwise known as The Sydney Institute, a tax-deductible charity which is handsomely supported by Telstra and QANTAS although the names of its backers or “contributors” are closely guarded.

Cormann ought to do more stand-up comedy. He could clearly use a live audience. His dire warnings that the Labor leader is “getting increasingly cocky” a novel theme which Paul Kelly in The Oz re-badges as a ” Battle of Ideas” which, somehow, Cormann is “rebooting” include the tired assertion that Shorten is consumed by the politics of envy.

It’s a stock response to Labor’s pursuit of inequality a topic which the Coalition, with the help of the ABC, has relegated to a ‘contested area’ despite damning evidence of wealth inequality across generations.

It’s no easier to move from rags to riches in Australia than it used to be, and no easier than anywhere else concludes Dr Andrew Leigh whose recently published research creates Australia’s first very long run estimates of social mobility, using data on rare surnames among doctors and university graduates from 1870 to the present.

Dangerous Dan Tehan  believes “what we are seeing from Labor and from Shorten is a desire to go back to that type of governing where government knows best, government will impose its will”. Labor is trying to turn us into Cuba. Wags on social media look forward to a decent education and health system. The Cuban heel is a tricky pivot.

Tehan’s Cuba is meant to invoke a socialist state which saps individual initiative and wastes resources. This is totally unlike a Turnbull government which can ignore its UNHCR obligations and the rule of law to turn refugees out into the street when it wants them to hurry up and return to persecution either at home or in offshore detention.

Declaring war on the unfortunate and demonising bludgers are two of this government’s specialities but Supremo Dutton ups the ante with his attack on those refugees whom illness or a family member’s illness has caused to fetch up on the mainland, thereby circumventing the death-in-life of indefinite offshore detention so lovingly prepared for them.

In one of the most shameful chapters in the Turnbull government’s history and in the history of our nation, Dutton decides to cut off all assistance and accommodation; turn out into the street seventy poor and suffering refugees whose offence is to be sent to Australia because they were too ill to withstand the torture of onshore detention.

They can’t return to Manus. Many would be in danger back on Nauru. The government’s tactic is to force them to return to their country of origin where they are almost certain to encounter persecution. It is an act of despicable inhumanity. And it’s illegal.

What makes it worse is the clear sense that it is a stunt – a distractor to take pressure off the government’s myriad other problems with complete unconcern for the personal suffering of the men, women and children involved.

Dutton complains to his 2GB host Ray Hadley about the cost. He forgets that it costs $500,000 to house each refugee in offshore detention. Or hopes we forget. The case he makes continues the demonising of those whose only mistake is to seek our refuge.

The least we can do is to allow those here to settle; bring the remaining detainees suffering on Manus and Nauru to the mainland immediately. It is a political stunt which demeans us all. It is never about the money.

No money available? News comes Saturday that the Coalition will allow a $100 million dollar government subsidy to WA mining companies to help them with the cost of their prospecting, despite such costs being tax deductions. The Australia Institute publishes a report showing 83% of Australian mining companies are overseas-owned.

Tony Abbott gets subsidised. The former Opposition junkyard dog, who was a total disaster when his News Corp fear campaign made him PM, reveals he’s racked up $120,000 plus in travel expenses just last year, a matter which Paul Bongiorno sees as a tax-payer funded anti-Turnbull campaign. “Former Prime Ministerial duties”, Abbott puts it down as.

Abbott’s out to destroy Turnbull at any price, certainly. But let’s not discount how well Abbott’s destroyed every last shred of his own political credibility in the process. His legacy of division lives on in the current postal survey compromise.

According to some experts, The High Court is poised to disallow emergency funding to a postal poll in a challenge it will hear next week. How the government will react is not clear. On Sunday’s ABC Insiders Christopher Pyne was full of breezy mindless optimism and chose not to share any contingency plan.

The postal vote or survey is Super minister Dutton’s cunning compromise. An unfunded optional survey, it is a non-binding shonky sequel to Abbott’s dodgy plebiscite stunt  – itself a desperate delaying tactic to extricate the accidental PM from a push for by some Liberal MPs for a conscience vote on marriage equality.

“Good captain” Abbott could block democratic process in his party room while pretending to consult the people.   Genius.

Despite a ripper of an argument in response to a challenge- the postal thingy is “urgent and unforeseen” and thus the government’s entitled to $122 million straight out of the kitty – no dreary legislation required, experts are not upbeat.

Professor George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of New South Wales, puts a live cat amongst the pigeons when he declares Monday, that he would be surprised if the government emerges with a victory in funding the survey.

Given the long-running debate on same-sex marriage, it is far from obvious that it fits into these categories,” Professor Williams says at the National Press Club.

“How could this expenditure be said to be unforeseen at the relevant date of 5 May 2017 when the government had a longstanding policy of holding a plebiscite on same-sex marriage? And what about this survey is urgent, except for the fact that it is necessary because of the government’s own political imperatives?

Nor does Williams fancy the chances of the seven MPs who will appear before the High Court. He also admonishes Turnbull for his abuse of parliamentary privilege in prejudging a matter before the High Court when it comes to the wretched case of Barnaby Joyce, whom the PM roundly declared will have no case to answer. “And the court will so find.” It may not.

Super Mal’s week is frenetic. It is successful, however, only as absurdist entertainment or distraction. In the end it is totally counterproductive. With every stunt, or stalling, a decision is avoided, a policy is not developed. Events scheduled  in the High Court and in energy and around marriage equality and in the near total breakdown in the government’s asylum seeker management are rapidly conspiring against it.

The government’s attack on Bill Shorten won’t save it. Instead its cheap cries of socialism, of Cuban and Eastern German and of class traitor only serve to signal its utter desperation. Lacking coherent policy or the capacity to plan, forever reacting to events it can’t control, the Turnbull government heads further into chaos and dysfunction.

Whatever the High Court finds, Turnbull has lost the nation already.

turnbull pratt visy

 

“If you look at the examples across Europe, socialism is a recipe for failure, is a recipe for mediocrity and for inferior outcomes. There is no doubt Bill Shorten has taken the Labor Party down the path of a socialist agenda,”

Senator Matthias Cormann.


Undermined by a dual-citizenship debacle that threatens its legitimacy and which could well drag on until Christmas, besieged by a marriage equality survey that is at best postponing of a reckoning with popular opinion – and at worst an abdication of leadership, the Turnbull government is paralysed by indecision and ineptitude.  Almost.

Luckily, it has hidden reserves. Wannon MP, plucky Dan Tehan, is on hand to deplore the “defacing of public statues” and two councils’ decision to change the date of Australia Day. It’s his way of advancing public debate.

“The behaviour of these councils is appalling”, he says, showing all the open-minded empathy a Liberal MP can muster.

Darebin Council, in Melbourne’s north, says it decided to replace citizenship ceremonies on January 26 with “more culturally appropriate” activities out of “compassion and empathy to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

Accordingly, the federal government has, fairly and reasonably, removed Melbourne’s City of Yarra and Darebin councils right to host citizenship ceremonies, ever, after the local governments voted not to hold them on January 26.

The bizarrely high-handed, over-reaction to what is a local issue reveals a government losing its sense of perspective long with its legitimacy and its authority. Worse.  In the hothouse anti-terror climate of official aussie values, hypervigilant citizenship and constant, state-sponsored paranoia, a type of madness thrives.

The Turnbull government is increasingly, alarmingly intolerant of dissent. In its recent Australia Day actions it seems unduly, unreasonably, threatened by local independence which includes a healthy disrespect for authority and state control – surely the very lifeblood of the Aussie values or the peoples-  it professes to respect.

Professor Roberta Ryan, Director the The Institute for Public Policy and Governance at Sydney’s University of Technology, cuts to the chase.

“I really do think the outrage is about people not liking what councils are saying … and what these councils are saying is ‘Australia Day is ‘Invasion Day’ for Aboriginal people and we don’t want to be a part of it’.”

“It’s ironic that the PM has said changing the date is a national debate we need to have, yet his government appears to be working to silence it by punishing councils for taking a stand in support of their Indigenous communities,” says Darebin’s mayor, Kim le Cerf, exposing a favourite Turnbull buzz-phrase – on a par with “national conversation” .

Dan hasn’t got the memo about debate or dissent. Someone has written “change the date” and “no pride in genocide” on a statues, including one of James Cook in central Sydney. Dan hopes they are arrested. You can’t change history. You can look at the facts at the time and you can say this is what we know now. “But you can’t deface statues.”

Australia Day’s date and the statues are huge in the news. The PM is quick to condemn the “cowardly criminal attack” on the defenceless statues.  He sees it as nothing less than “a Stalinist attempt to rewrite history”, which fits his government’s attack on socialist Bill Shorten this week.  You can tell he’s always up for measured, respectful debate.

Dan’s can-do attitude and his nose for true Aussie values illustrate the resilience and agility of a Turnbull team with its backs to the wall. The statues help remind us how we are up with latest overseas trends in statuary conservation.

Donald Trump, for example, has recently deplored the toppling of beautiful statues of confederate generals and slave owners. He tweets that he is  “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart”. No danger that the Donald will acknowledge his own part in that ripping apart. Our self-righteous rulers share the same blind spot.

Minister for Defence personnel and for assisting the PM on cybersecurity, when he’s not deploring local vandalism, Dan is also helping his government devise laws to make telecommunications providers take responsibility for what he describe as “scrubbing the Web of viruses and malware”. With those aims he easily wins Sisyphean hero of the week.

Sinking further with every poll, racked by internal division, a rapidly disintegrating Coalition desperately tries to rally; forge some superficial unity or purpose by picking on others. A week of absurdly overblown posturing is on show all arenas – in the theatre of its war on terror, refugees, the poor or Bill Shorten, led by the PM’s bullying of the High Court.

Barnaby Joyce is “qualified to sit in the house and the High Court will so hold. “Turnbull trumpets. He goes way too far, even given his gift for hyperbole. Better to have stood his Kiwi ring-in aside. Called a bye-election. Bluster won’t cut it.

In three months, tops, Aussie Barnaby, would canter back in – well in time for office Christmas drinks and parties.

The PM’s dud call upsets backers. Shocks their Murray-Darling cotton socks off. Even Barry O’Sullivan goes quiet.

Bazza reckons BJ’s a rock star. A real celebrity. Books him to campaign in the QLD state election in October or next March. Across the Tasman, Joyce’s just as big. He’s running second in nominations for 2018 New Zealander of the Year.

Huge as Barney is, nevertheless, Turnbull is out of order. Did the former savvy, Spy-Catcher barrister really try to sway the High Court? Abuse parliamentary privilege to get an expeditious hearing or a favourable outcome? Surely not.

Turnbull says he has “very clear advice” from the Solicitor-General that Joyce need not stand down; that his future’s safe. But does he? Could it simply be its George Brandis-friendly S-G 2.0, Dr Stephen Donoghue QC, our second most powerful law officer, telling it what it wants to hear? Could getting rid of Gleeson have backfired so quickly?

Other constitutional legal experts are much less upbeat. Spencer Zifcak, Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University says the PM has badly miscalculated:

He should have known better than to preempt the court’s decision. The judges will not be impressed. And anyway, in this instance, he’s likely to be wrong. In constitutional matters, unambiguous words usually win out.  

Notorious for its secrecy, the Coalition will not release its advice, yet the public has a right to know. AG Brandis, maintains that publishing advice could scare off the silks; jeopardise the Coalition’s future access to legal opinion.

Yet “…why should the nation trust the government on the basis of legal argument it has not seen?”, asks UNSW’s Gabrielle Appleby.

Government should release its case out of respect for the upcoming High Court hearing, for the right of the Parliament and public to know the full detail of advice that we are being assured we can rely upon. Secrecy, she concludes, risks further undermining the reputation of the office of the Solicitor-General, tarnished by Gleeson’s treatment.

Help is on its way. Nuanced News Corp hacks invade the field; stiff-arm tackle a rogue constitution for tripping up the lazy or unwary. Laurie Oakes calls section 44 “a silly tangle” and calls for change in the next election “if we value parliament.” Law’s an ass. A referendum will fix it. Let’s do away with anything that gets in government’s way.

Whatever Turnbull’s tactic, his rush to prejudgement backfires, Thursday. Chief Justice Susan Kiefel sets a hearing for October 10, 11 and 12, a month later than Attorney-General George “bring-it-on” Brandis bargains on.  Everything  about the Chief Justice’s demeanour suggests that she is reluctant to allow proceedings to be hurried along by anyone.

Justice Kiefel asks the Solicitor-General Dr Stephen Donaghue QC, who represents Brandis, if there is any “practical difficulty” or “issue of governance” if the court hears the matter in October.  No. There is not, young Donaghue meekly replies. The real possibility that the government could lose its majority over Barnaby is not something to bring up here.

It’s a stiff rebuke from the chief beak; yet another miscalculation by a government with a genius for self-sabotage.

In a further blow, the court grants Tony Windsor permission to appear “as a contradictor” because he polled second in New England in 2016. Windsor may challenge the government’s arguments and put forward contrary views.

Windsor will argue that Joyce, a dual citizen of New Zealand, has breached the constitution by standing for federal parliament. His lawyers have also argued for the right to cross-examine Joyce, if needed, for their case.

Even more damaging to the government’s cause, Signor Canavani, our Italian Senator, changes his story. No longer does he blame his mother, Maria, for his Italian citizenship. Instead, it’s his mother country. Italy changed its law in 1983 conferring citizenship by descent upon him when he was but two years old. He knew nothing. Besides the law is an ass.

“Assolutamente ridicolo” Matteo’s lawyer, Barrister David Bennett QC, contends that to apply section 44 (i) to citizenship by descent is ridiculous. He’ll use ABS statistics to show that citizenship by descent could apply to half the parliament.

Absolutely. The Law’s at fault; not the responsibility of the candidate to check he makes an true and accurate declaration.  And follows procedure. A novel twist is introduced by one (former) dual citizen amongst the magnificent seven now awaiting clarification. Malcolm Roberts says he emailed The British Home Office to renounce his citizenship.

Roberts did not hear back and emailed his renunciation again. His lawyer, Robert Newlinds, SC says the Senator was sent a form by the Home Office after the election, and sometime later, the British authorities accepted his renunciation.

Mr Newlinds said it remains unclear whether the Home Office “were accepting the renunciation by the form, or the earlier email”. To the non-legal observer it would seem, by his own admission, nevertheless, that Roberts was still a dual citizen at the time of his election and that the supply of a form indicates that there was a process yet to complete.

The political stage is set for a bean-feast of casuistry, pettifogging and bush-laywering.  Until Roberts’ case is thrown out.

The notion that the Leader of the Opposition must disprove his dual citizenship is irresistible to a government desperate to distract. The week begins with a series of government MPs demanding Bill Shorten produce documentation showing he’s renounced the British citizenship he inherited from his Tyneside father William. It’s a game anyone can play.

Coalition climate change guru Craig Kelly calls for an audit of all MPs eligibility to sit in parliament. He believes all MPs “should be forced to prove” they are not dual citizens of another country, thereby reversing the onus of proof in an imitation of the American birther movement. Others chime in, assisted by the ABC’s Tony Jones on Monday’s Q&A.

Liberal Fran Kelly pesters guests on her RN breakfast show over several days as to why Bill Shorten won’t provide proof he’s renounced British citizenship. Bugger justice. Sabra Lane also badgers Labor MPs who appear on ABC AM.

The onus or burden of proof is borne by the prosecution in a legal tradition which is hailed as the golden thread of English criminal law and is fundamental to the presumption of innocence. As the High Court put it three years ago:

” …[o]ur system of criminal justice reflects a balance struck between the power of the State to prosecute and the position of an individual who stands accused. The principle of the common law is that the prosecution is to prove the guilt of an accused person.”

Shorten’s in trouble  -as we all know – just for being Bill Shorten, a predicament created by Tony Abbott whose sole political legacy is his capacity to see clear past policy to focus solely on persecuting his opponents by any means possible. It hurt Rudd and worked a treat with Gillard, thanks in no small part to the support of the Murdoch press.

After Abbott wasted $50 million on the witch hunt that was the Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption a circus which failed to find Shorten or Julia Gillard guilty of a single criminal offence, this week, in desperation the Coalition allows its ferocious Belgian Schutzhund, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann off his leash.

Cormann takes the lead in demonising Shorten in a speech at Gerard and Anne Henderson’s tax-deductible, home, also grandly titled The Sydney Institute. Not only is he a socialist, the Labor leader is taking his party back to its failed socialist roots, barks Matthias. No-one is rude enough to point out that Shorten is a member of the Victorian right. Nor dare anyone suggest that Coalition proposals to build state coal mines or Adani a railway are very much socialist ideas.

Cormann shows a slide with a link to a quotation from Karl Marx. The clue is in the key word inequality.

“Bill Shorten says he will fight inequality everywhere. Who else used that sort of language?” The Messiah?

Smart as a whip, Julie Bishop calls Shorten the most left-wing Labor leader than Arthur Calwell, Gough Whitlam’s predecessor, a gibe which is sure to create mass panic amongst the over seventies. Or amuse those who attend Liberal Party meetings. A delinquent focus group somewhere, surely, must be laughing at its mischief.

Cormann’s evidence is equally laughable. Shorten’s keeping the deficit levy which the Coalition itself brought in – at a whopping 49.5%, a whole half a percent higher than under Abbott’s regime. Then there’s his restriction of negative gearing, his limitation of self-managed super funds to borrow from the fund to buy property, itself part of the government’s Murray inquiry into the financial system.

In brief, even after a scare about the tax cuts for business which Labor may even keep for small business, Cormann’s case is light on for detail – and substance. Much like his government’s economic policy. Yet then again, in a post-fact, fake news era, it’s more the vibe of the thing that matters. Bagging Bill does leave less time to spin your own lies.

Of course to hit any political target you need a good aim. So far the war on Shorten has failed to even identify its target, let alone score any hits. A large part of the problem is that the Coalition has two Bill Shortens in its sights. One is a dangerously lunatic leftie who will socialise everything from the local milk-bar to the banking system.

The other is a regular visitor to the Pratt household, a class traitor who hobnobs with millionaires and who does dodgy deals with rich employers to rip off workers for union benefit and to line his own pockets. “Slithering snake.”

This caricature overlaps, it is true, with our PM himself who features this week in the media in ecstatic sycophantic communion with a member of the Pratt family. Demonise Bill all you will – but two demons is one too many.

While the war on Bill Shorten is waged, Bernard Keane suggests, the government wastes time it could put into promoting its success in employment growth. Or could it? 220,000 new full-time jobs since September 2016 sounds impressive, as Alan Austin notes unless you are also told that the adult population increased by 265,300 over that time.

Or might just as well explain its half a trillion debt due entirely to its mismanagement of the economy something which mainstream media ignores scrupulously because -as everyone knows – Coalition governments are so much better at economic management and have been ever since Howard made up the lie.

Kill Bill or the war on Shorten will continue at least for another week because, as Tony Abbott capably demonstrated, it’s so much easier to survive in Coalition politics if you focus solely on attacking your opponents and let the IPA do the policies.  And there’s a most obliging media who are only too happy to publish scare-mongering and slurs.

In a month’s time, however, all the distraction in the world won’t help a government which may not get to keep its deputy PM and which may – for a while at least – have to govern without a majority. Yet even if it retains Barnaby Joyce and no other dual citizen is uncovered on its lower house benches, it will have lost.

Even should it retain government, the mean and tricky Coalition’s citizenship fiasco with its one set of rules for the Greens and another for its deputy PM and Minister for Resources has helped it lose the electorate. You can see by its responses to local councils and its judgemental dismissal of protesters that it is well down that road already.

Turnbull government loses plot in its worst week ever.

barnaby a kiwi

“Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, is ‘e? Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, eh?”, a catchy 1930s hit, could be the theme song of the entire 45th Parliament this week as three more MPs are exposed as dodgy double-dipping dual nationals under their Akubras, their RM Williams and their Drizabones. It’s like a masked ball. No-one is who they seem.

Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Nick Xenophon are all, in quick succession, revealed to hold dual citizenship.

It’s a shocking predicament. A government so over-invested on prizing citizenship, a government which has even added tough language tests and waiting periods in order to “accept the right people” as soon-to-be-Super Minister Dutton puts it, a government which fetishises the “priceless gift of citizenship” (akin to Tony Abbott’s “precious gift of virginity”) may be utterly undone by alien MPs who appear lax; blasé, even, over their own nationality.

Of course it’s all Labor’s fault, at least in the case of our iconic Deputy PM, bow-yang Barnaby, as Aussie as a dog on a tucker-box, last glimpsed succumbing to the spell of the water naiads of the Murray Darling Basin.

Barnaby goes to water. Panic grips the entire front bench. Pyne is petrified. What if the truth about Fiona Nash leaks? A fool-proof diversion is called for. A red kiwi conspiracy? Brilliant!

Turning crisis into catastrophe, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Turnbull government sheds any last vestige of credibility with a Kiwis-under-the-bed witch hunt.

Labor is colluding with “a foreign power” to out Barnaby Joyce as a New Zealander. It’s a stroke of genius.

Our Foreign Minister channels her inner Trump. Bugger diplomacy: a stunt is much more fun. Reason flies out the window. Julie Bishop denounces Wellington, now the Pyongyang of the South Pacific. Howls down the Pig Islanders. She feigns paranoid madness in a cunning ploy to divert everyone from the Barnaby Joyce disaster.

Clearly there’s a conspiracy between the Bolshevik parties on both sides of the Tasman, she implies. Demon Bill Shorten’s “sneakiness, dishonesty and disloyalty” pipes up her PM, adding his own ostinato to the Kill Bill theme, make him the cause of every self-inflicted government catastrophe, ever. Heads nod. Sinodinos applauds.

“The Australian people elected the government,” Turnbull tells Coalition MPs on Tuesday. Applause. “Bill Shorten wants to steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power.” How low can he go?

Adding a clever bit of cold war era top spin, the PM claims ALP fifth columnists are “conspiring with the NZ Labour Party to undermine the position of the deputy prime minister and the government of Australia.”

Really? So the proper, patriotic thing to do would have been to collude to cover up Barnaby’s Kiwi paternity? It’s unclear how checking the facts could “undermine” the government unless it wanted to hide its illegitimacy.

The charge is as dishonest as it is absurd. How could Joyce’s “position” which stems from his own false declaration of nationality be further undermined? Could he be more compromised? Inquiries, moreover, were not made by Labor but by a reporter working for The Australian. Fairfax journalist Adam Gartrell was also asking questions.

Yet for Bishop, a class act, who shows no signs of snubbing mass-murderer Duterte, payback doesn’t stop there.

“I would find it very difficult to build trust with members of a political party that had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian government,” Bishop sniffs Tuesday, upping the ante; clearly aiming to make a full-blown diplomatic incident out of her government’s desperately lame strategy.

“Forget the trans-Tasman friendship in 2017 – Australia is basically a bully,” says Jesse Mulligan, host of New Zealand’s The Project.

“Julie Bishop – when you say you’ll find it hard to work with New Zealand, what exactly do you mean? How much worse could it possibly get?”

 Bishop has touched a raw nerve with New Zealanders who view the relationship as one-sided and who find it difficult to overlook evidence that access to citizenship and social security entitlements for Australians in New Zealand are not reciprocated in the treatment of Kiwis in Australia – before anyone brings up the summary deportation via Christmas Islands of Kiwis in Australia whom Peter Dutton doesn’t like the look of.

Trans-Tasman relations aside, for Laura Tingle, of The Australian Financial Review Bishop descends into a “whirlpool of hysteria and conspiracy theories that would do Donald Trump proud”. It’s disturbing.

Yet Bishop’s done the government a favour. Her stunt is more than enough to dispel any delusion that she might, somehow, be a “safe pair of hands’ or a potential replacement for a dead man walking at the head of a mortally wounded government, Malcolm Turnbull. Even the smitten Peter Hartcher says she’s “over-cooked” her bid.

Deputy PM Barnaby “Bow-yang” Joyce outs himself in the House of Reps. He has to. Labor asks a leading question. Media hacks are shocked. Not Ocker Barnaby, our best retail politician? A Kiwi dual national who has, for years, been impersonating a true blue, bush Aussie? No half measures either. Hands down, he’s got the part off pat.

Just listen to him some time. The Barnaby garble is New England’s – New Zealand’s answer to Bob Katter’s rant.

Baa-narby. Stop bleating about your Tamworth mother and grandmother, Baa-narby. You’re busted. On cue, a mob of MPs rushes to point the finger and snigger. Baa-Baa-arnby sheep noises erupt from Labor benches.

Yet things are so crook in the 45th parliament that even a ribbing is risky. Never know who’ll be next.

“Things are looking baaaaaaaa-d for Barnaby Joyce” tweets a snickering Nick Xenophon in RM Williams boot in mouth Schadenfreude of the week “that’s why an independent audit of all MPs citizenship urgently needed.”

Xenophon is visibly dismayed to learn he is a UK citizen and while he goes to some length to point out it’s through his father and a very rare blink- and- you’d- miss- it type of citizenship, his special pleading sits oddly with his decision not to resign.

He refers himself to a High Court which may not make a decision until October, a High Court which staffed by conservative black-letter judges which Turnbull oddly seems to believe will suddenly become progressives to suit his government. Joyce, similarly, seems unable to countenance anything but a favourable High Court decision.

Barnaby Joyce’s father, James Joyce – no less, hails from Dunedin, Edinburgh of New Zealand’s South, technically making his son a dour Kiwi by descent, a fact Joyce could easily have checked for himself but didn’t. It’s odd that he was never even curious. The complacency and the sense of entitlement is all his own – and his undoing.

Yet Joyce’s not the only 45th Parliamentarian whose inner voice told him not to bother. Fiona Nash can’t even bring herself to confess until the last-minute before the senate rises. Three Nats out of a total of 20 is a lot.

Is it chutzpah? Arrogance? Agrarian socialists never read the fine print? Something tells him he’s above all that?

Joyce receives a box of finest kiwi-fruit from gal-pal, puppy-lover, Amber Heard who tweets

‘When Barnaby Joyce said ‘no one is above the law’ I didn’t realise he meant New Zealand law.’

Yet Joyce won’t stand down. That’s something for others – such as his hated Greens to do. Listen to them moaning about how billions of litres of Murray-Darling water is rorted by big cotton irrigators and other National Party pals in direct contravention of the $13 billion Murray Darling Basin plan, a boondoggle which means that water paid for by taxpayers to protect the river ecosystem is, instead, subsidising local billion-dollar agricultural firms.

The notion of a Kiwi fifth column is no more absurd than the idea of leaving Barnaby Joyce in charge next week when the PM attends the Pacific Islands forum in Samoa, 4-7 September a nation with a history of resistance to European rule. Labor says leaving Joyce in charge is untenable and that it will not grant a pair for Turnbull.

But it’s about more than Barnaby. Into its regular, heady mix of state sponsored intolerance and paranoia, the government blends a swift Kiwi-kicking, a bagging of our ANZAC partners and post-colonial cousins-the soul mates we love to hate.

It’s a ritual attack, born of a complex mutual self-loathing, the cultural-cringing, sibling rivalry of two small nations upside down at the bottom of the world whose complex history is inextricably interwoven.

“Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, is ‘e? Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, eh?  

Not only are we close, we may all now be Kiwi-aliens. According to the letter of section 44 of the Australian Constitution, no Australian is entitled to sit in Australian Parliament, given recent changes in New Zealand law.

As Sydney barrister Robert Angyal reminds us, Section 44 (i) of the constitution bars anyone “under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power” from serving in federal parliament.

“Under recent and little-noticed changes to New Zealand law, however, Australian citizens now don’t need a visa to live, study or work in NZ. Any Australian citizen is entitled to live, study and work there,” he says. All are thereby entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power.  

“New Zealand law has made every Australian citizen incapable of being elected to, or serving in, the Australian Parliament. It’s not just Barnaby Joyce: It’s everyone,” he adds.

Doubtless this is something for The High Court to take into consideration. Lighten things up a bit. Certainly it will have to screen out the comments made by the Prime Minister that “it will find” that Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash can remain in parliament, an extraordinary prompting from the PM in parliament. Even if he is merely reflecting the Solicitor General’s view, it appears as if he is directing the judges to a favourable outcome.

The government redoubles its efforts to keep us in a state of perpetual hysteria; alert but no alarmed. There’s always pressing national security news on hand to divert us; feed our anxiety. By Sunday, the PM is talking up bollards and other anti-terror attack preparations while praising police for arresting three men who are currently in custody over an alleged arson attack on an Islamic Centre a year ago.  Cutting edge anti-terror stuff.

It’s one of the weekly terror announceables which Laura Tingle recently warned us the government has put by.

Turnbull’s backing group is a nod squad of heavily-braided, shoulder-patched anti-terror cops, a riot of silver frogging and rank insignia all over the collars and the epaulettes of their black shirts and braid on the peaks of their caps. They are on hand to add laconic gravitas. Praise policing. They also update us on their bust.

One speaks of “male individuals” with that agonisingly indirect death-in-life depersonalisation so beloved by authorities, together with an arch coyness that is practically an anti-terror weapon in itself.

Not that the names are secret. Ever helpful, Murdoch’s Herald Sun published them in a law and order piece last year complete with illustrations of the Fawkner mosque which bears graffiti reading The Islamic State.

The definite article is troubling. Islamic State would look more less like a fit-up.

Everything is not what it seems, another cop not beating things up, tells us earnestly. “This is a really complex investigation.” “These are not just arson attacks – what we are going to allege is that these were Islamic State inspired arson attacks.” “… Designed to put fear into a particular group in the community.”

“It interferes with the whole process of social cohesion that we so heavily promote,” he adds, straight-faced.”

In reality, the Coalition continues to divide the body politic with its war on terror, its rabid nationalism and its cynical manipulation of our fear of the other. Elevating citizenship into a “cherished prize” also stokes division.

By week’s end “all bets are off” in “light of the deputy prime minister’s citizenship situation” declares a shattered Bob Katter. He will no longer guarantee Coalition support on supply and confidence. He’s offended, above all, by Turnbull’s failure to even adequately consult with him, as promised, let alone meet Katter’s needs.

“I wanted and need certain things. I wasn’t delivered certain things,” he says. By this, presumably, a cryptic Katter means The Hell’s Gate Dam on the Upper Burdekin river, Indigenous land title, and the Galilee rail project. He also wins Golden Litotes for incisive political understatement of the week when he says of the PM,

“This is not a decision-maker who has a lot of political acumen.”

Failing to deliver justice also is a government which clearly expects other dual nationals to step aside or resign while its own MPs may stay on while their cases are referred to the High Court. Turnbull’s own crowing over the “remarkable” failure of The Greens’ Scott Ludlum to check his dual citizenship hasn’t helped.

The hypocrisy and injustice of preferential treatment rankles cross-benchers.

An outraged Katter protests to Paul Bongiorno at “two sets of rules at work here: one for Matt Canavan, a less senior minister in the Nationals, and one for the number two in the Coalition government, Joyce.”

“I am quite frustrated with the Prime Minister” for retaining in cabinet Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash, adds Rebekah Sharkie.

Now Turnbull’s government risks losing its majority. Nick Xenophon Team MP, Rebekah Sharkie, MP for Mayo, also withdraws her support for the government, saying the PM needs to stand aside two of his team while The High Court deliberates on the eligibility of dual citizens Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce to be in parliament.

While by Sunday, nifty Nick the crypto-Liberal appears to tone down Sharkie’s threat, the Coalition’s majority is still uncertain. Even if it retains its dual citizens, can it stumble along all the way to October?

The path to this impasse reveals a government whose ineptitude is surpassed only by its gift for self-sabotage.

Along with its bungling of who should stay and who should stand down, must go its mismanagement of dual-Scot, Fiona-food-label Nash who is permitted to deploy delaying tactics which only further damage the government.

“As Senator Nash admitted, she has known since Monday that she was a dual citizen, yet waited until one minute before the Senate rose for a two-week break to inform the Parliament,” protests Labor Senator Katy Gallagher .

Labor is not bluffed.  “We’ve never had a government before, ever since Federation, that has had to go to the High Court because they just weren’t sure if they had a majority,” says Tony Burke, in the best zinger of the week.

It’s a line which highlights how the reality of the government’s one seat majority dictates its special treatment of Joyce.

Not to be upstaged, professional attention-seeker, Pauline Hanson stages her own bizarre performance theatre by wearing a burqa to the senate, an act which earns her a powerful serve from Senate Leader AG George Brandis but which achieves her attention-seeking, anti-Muslim dog-whistling objective.

Brandis is open to criticism with his solely pragmatic concern that Hanson may alienate the Muslim community a first line of defence – “vital to law enforcement agencies”, although he does protest at her intent saying “to ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do.”

Typically, Hanson dresses up her stunt in ways which further discredit her motives. “They’re spending $16m to put in more security because they’re worried about terrorism,” she smirks, ever eager to conflate burqa and terror.

Yet this is a misrepresentation. There was no security slip. She wears her senate pin. Hanson’s identity is checked by officials; she is granted access to her Senate seat because of who she is not what she was wearing. Whether or not she should have been permitted to take her seat given her clear intention to use the burqa as a cheap stunt is another matter. The same indulgence is not granted to other members who seek to bring in props.

Hanson’s not concerned with security, moreover, despite being happy to imply that Muslims are women-oppressing potential terrorists, a line not too far from some of Peter Dutton’s own remarks. Nor is she prompted to protest at any perceived subjugation of women by the garment. Rather, she is content to promote her own brand of toxic, mindless bigotry in the knowledge that any media attention at all can only help her publicity.

Never shy of publicity and not to be outbid by the crazy desperation manifest elsewhere in his government, Treasurer Scott Morrison makes his own magnificent contribution or debit entry, as Greg Jericho notes, by beginning the week accusing Labor of raising taxes and ending it with a bill to raise taxes.

Monday’s News Corp papers all obligingly relay his scaremongering that Labor’s taxes would  cost the economy $167 billion based on Parliamentary Budget Office modelling, or so it seems, until Monday lunchtime.

“References in the media this morning to modelling being released today by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) are incorrect. The analysis reported in the media this morning was not conducted by the PBO”, ” the PBO’s Jenny Wilkinson says in a rare slapdown of the Treasurer.

As Chris Bowen notes ScoMo’s modelling fails to take into account Labor plans to cut income taxes for low and middle-income earners. Instead it is the quick and dirty scare campaign figuring favoured by Morrison in election mode. Could his attack of madness be taken as a sign an early election is being prepared?

Whatever his motive, the Treasurer ignores the electorate’s interest in reducing income inequality in Australia. Morrison remains fixated on the same shonky formulaic debt and deficit nonsense of the Abbott years.

Team Turnbull members may well now rue their Schadenfreude, their jeering and sanctimonious hypocrisy at the time yet The Greens did resign on discovering their dual citizenship. Set a benchmark. As the week concludes, the Coalition has succeeded only in conveying its desperation, its poor judgement and lack of moral compass.

Even should the High Court, somehow, decide to permit Joyce to remain, saving the Coalition its wafer-thin majority the verdict may not be known until October and in the meantime it has done itself irreparable harm both to its legitimacy and to its credibility.

And just how long can a nation can be distracted with national security announceables on bollard placement and breathless details of new charges being laid on last year’s arsonists?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turnbull’s weak leadership revealed in junk-mail marriage-equality rip-off.

turnbull and cormann

Red Star flags and missile carriers are everywhere in this week’s best-directed mass military rally in Pyongyang Wednesday. North Korean soldiers in high-crowned hats like painted halos march frenetically across our screens, their unique, bouncing goose-step a tribute to their athleticism, indomitable spirit and edgy photogenic villainy.

‘Rogue state’ hysteria triggers fear of global nuclear war. Our local MPs heave a sigh of relief. Out of the spotlight, Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew “Mafia” Guy takes a spell from his epic struggle to shake himself free of news of his “lobster with a mobster” Liberal fundraiser.  His Laura Norder campaign is at risk.

The Victorian Liberals don’t have anything else by way of policy. News Corp backs them heavily – raving about how victims love Liberals’ promises of “toughest ever sentences”. The Herald Sun creates a rising crime wave hysteria. Victoria is the state of danger. It will be safe only when the Liberals bring in a two strike approach.

Mandatory minimum sentencing policies ignore a vast body of evidence showing that this approach to sentencing is expensive, unlikely to improve public safety and of no use in deterring future offending. But it has populist appeal and – as with any good terror programme -it cynically obscures the lack of any real policy.

Things get tricky when a secret recording shows Guy is lying. He claims he didn’t know which cool Calabrian businessman dude was about to shout him a cray at Beaumaris’ The Lobster Cave. Yet Fairfax sources report Guy’s office was informed that Mr Madafferi would be one of the guests. He attacks the secret recording.

Guy lies about the gathering’s size. His claim of 20 becomes six or seven when a witness dobs him in to 3AW.

The Opposition Leader is busted when Liberal staffer, Barrie Macmillan, un tipo losco, (a shady character) himself, is taped advising how to split up donations under the $13,200 threshold to avert being traced back to their donors.

“They want to give Matthew a substantial donation towards next year. Now, I understand what they can and can’t do,” bagman Bazza helpfully explains on a recording obtained by ABC’s Four Corners and Fairfax.

“I know how that all works, so you can’t associate Matthew with money, and I would have to be the intermediary, but I’m talking about a swag of money that they’re prepared to give for them.”

Shady? Astonishingly, the five year veteran Liberal Party fundraiser, turns out to have a criminal past. In 2006, while convicting him and ordering him to repay $25,000 to a local junior football team he defrauded , the magistrate told Macca he should never be involved in fund-raising-again.  But the Libs did not help him.

Liberal Party membership application rules do not require new members to declare prior convictions.

It has been alleged, in court, that Guy’s pal, Antonio “Tony” Madafferi, a market gardener whose business interests include the La Porchetta restaurant chain, is a don in Melbourne’s Calabrian mafia.

Madafferi denies any connections with organised crime. He has never been charged with any offences.

Madafferi has, however, been banned from Crown Casino and all Victorian racetracks over his alleged links with crime. None of this of course would ever have come to the attention of Matthew Guy or his office.

In an affidavit filed in court in June, Detective Superintendent Peter Brigham said police hold “substantial intelligence” indicating that Madafferi had “substantial and close involvement with serious criminal conduct including drug importation, murder and extortion”.

Brigham also alleged that 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”.

Yet Guy insists he met with long-time Liberal supporter Frank Lamattina and his cousin, Tony Madafferi, to discuss fruit and vegetable markets. Epping. As you do. No donations were made. But how would we know?

Macmillan, a former Datsun salesman and Tattersall’s agent resigns. Anywhere else, Guy would also have to resign, but in Victoria the (market) garden state, Liberals have powerful friends.

In 2013, as Victoria’s Planning Minister, Guy also was just an innocent diner who attended Liberal fundraising dinners with developers who had major planning applications he would decide on. “I did nothing wrong”, he explained at the time, despite then Premier, Ted Baillieu’s ban on ministers doing dinner with donors.

Also doing nothing wrong but being caught out not reporting 53,000 deposits of $20,000 because of just one maverick line of code is the Commonwealth Bank. Such a simple, innocent mistake – and only one error.

CEO Ian “nifty” Narev’s brilliant one slip-$1060 000 000 -defence is playing well. So clever of the bank to cast a Sontaran as its top banana.  Narev will slip out quietly with a golden parachute discreetly after his show.

Yet the CBA, part of our nation’s oligopoly of usurers, extortionists and silver-tongued con-men is relieved to be out of the spotlight over its you-beaut money-laundering for terrorists and drug syndicates ATM scam while Bruce Billson’s delicious double-dipping scandal can’t compete with nukes. Oh what a lovely war-scare.

Being paid by The Franchise Council of Australia, the same outfit he was lobbying for, while still being paid to be an MP, “for months”, as former Small-Business Minister Billson admits this week, will not embarrass a Liberal Party joined at the hip to employers, bankers, developers – and fruiterers. He’s off the hook. Almost.

In politics, there ain’t no such thing as a free lobster.

Always eager to promote the small business backbone of our economy, Billson was instrumental in helping Francesco, another Madafferi family member and suspected Mafia figure, obtain a permanent visa in 2004 – a year after his supporters, who included Antonio Madafferi, donated to the Liberal Party.

Billson, along with Greg Hunt, Marise Payne, Russell Broadbent successfully lobbied or contacted then Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. Whilst the MPs protest their naivete, their association raises serious questions and has inspired calls for reform of the nation’s political party donations racket.

Billson “conveys his apologies to the clerk of the house for this error”.  Yet you can barely hear Billson’s apology for his corrupt behaviour, so loudly bark the dogs of war. Suddenly humdrum, day to day dealings of our nation’s rogues, knaves and MPs are swept aside in a tsunami of  “Konghanzheng” or Koreaphobia.

2GB’s veteran guest MP, expert military fetishist, the ever-practical Tony Abbott, calls for a national missile shield to be installed immediately. Later, the junkyard dog-whistler, may insist the North Koreans pay for it.

MSM hiss “the rogue state’s” rude defiance of US threats of nuclear annihilation and eternal demonisation.  How dare North Korea reject new ‘UN sanctions’ – on its exports of coal, iron and metallic ores, and seafood, amounting to $US1 billion or a third of its earnings from exports to China, its major trading partner?

Kim calls the measures “a panicky response by a US bully”. He warns he has four missiles ready to lob into the sea off Guam unless the US stops its B51 long-range bomber sorties from its US Pacific island territory.

Such base ingratitude. Media frame Kim as an utter psychopath; a suicidal maniac or just “The Fat Kid”. Not even the administration’s leaked decapitation strike plan can get Kim to pull his oddly tonsured head in.

Worse. Dear Leader has the US president’s number. In diplomatic slap-down of the week, Kim-Jung-un says Trump is “spouting nonsense”. No more Mr Nice Guy from the leader of the world’s top “evil regime”.

Kim hits back. The sanctions will cripple his nation’s economy. He gets personal. “Sound dialogue” is impossible with a person “bereft of reason”. He echoes other leaders’ frustration with Trump’s just “Being There” presidency. “Only absolute force can work on him”, he adds. At least he’ll get Trump’s attention.

He’s on to Trump. Even fun-loving Kim can tell, Trump is wasting his time “on the golf links,” instead of skulking behind a desk faking being president, as he must, on non-golfing or non-Fox News-watching days.

Ouch. At least he leaves alone the Commander in cheat’s multiple mulligans or how he forges his scorecard.

Kim says Trump’s gone dotty. He’s “bereft of reason”. He does not “grasp the ongoing grave situation.” His comments “show his senility.” He is “extremely getting on the nerves” of North Korean soldiers.  Take that.

No pussy-footing around from a chap who’s fed his rellies to his dogs – a Chinese satirical newspaper’s joke which instantly became “fact” in MSM accounts of Kim’s depravity and North Korea’s weirdness.

The demonisation of Kim and his state is throughgoing and includes the myth of the official Kim haircut, a fabrication recently exposed by two Aussie journalists who made a film, The Haircut (2017) – A North Korean Adventure about their recent trip to Pyongyang for a hipster haircut.

There is little doubt, however, he sent his uncle Jang to his death. But what if the US pushes him to the wall?

His people have had a gutful – according to the street theatre. Thousands of white-shirted workers march through Pyongyang Square angrily brandishing flags. The other hand does a taekwondo air punch.

Back in Canberra, a macho Mal endorses The Donald’s latest madness in provoking North Korea; threatening “fire and fury”. Turnbull invokes ANZUS, for the second time in our history. It’s a distortion of a treaty which is just an agreement to consult but he’s playing hard the only card left him, the loyal US sycophant.

Turnbull pledges Australia’s unqualified support in an unknown conflict between a con-man, a fake president and a crazy dictator. Oddly, there seems to be a reluctance from any other US ally to rush headlong into another bloodbath. By Sunday, he’s looking typically over eager – just as he did when he fawned and gushed all over Trump in his meeting last May on the USS Intrepid, in New York.

Is war with North Korea likely? Despite Trump’s bluster, there’s been no change to US troop deployment or alert status in the region. Unlike our own leader, China’s president Xi Jinping rings Trump Saturday to ask him to tone down his rhetoric. All is going to plan. Trump’s real aim is to get China to cut off North Korea’s oil.

The show must go on. All trace of last week’s electrifying travelling family mincer-jihadi terror drama is expunged by the fire and fury of this week’s national thriller. “Locked and loaded”, Donald Trump’s hairy-chested homage to John Wayne of Iwo Jima, goes viral. Malcolm Turnbull tries out a macho swagger himself.

“I am a strong leader,” Malcolm Turnbull tells Canberra’s press, Monday, despite his lame-duck government’s latest failure of nerve; a plebiscite-cum-survey to kick the can of marriage equality down the road.

“Strong leaders carry out their promises. Weak leaders break them.”  It’s a dig at Abbott and a hollow boast which backfires badly. It’s obvious to all assembled that Turnbull’s promise to be anything but Abbott in a better suit is now irretrievably broken. Only a weak leader would draw attention to his own inadequacy so publicly.  Whatever epithet he may end up wearing, he will always be the Liberals Great Disappointment.

On the back foot again, this time, the PM shoots himself in the other. Journalists smirk. No strong leader ever talks up his toughness. Or needs a side-kick on stage for backup. On twin lectern, to add grunt in stereo, is muscular straight-face heavyweight, Matthias Cormann, the Liberals’ fiscal Belgian schutzhund.

Can the government afford to go postal?  Does it have authority to fund the survey? The Finance Minister claims he has a $295 million line of credit to fund “anything unexpected or unforeseen”. A $122 million non-compulsory postal opinion poll to do parliament’s job for it certainly fits the bill. Other experts disagree.

The PM attempts to set the week’s tone. He certainly fails to set the agenda. Authority rules.  Briefly.  Seven’s Mark Riley cheekily asks why he is so weak on marriage equality; why yet again he is so keen to follow others rather than take the lead himself.

It’s not for want of body language. Our PM demonstrates his personal authority with his signature choppy hand movements. It’s as if he’s rinsing a lettuce at a sink. Then he’s back to Kill Bill, a game the whole party can play. And fear. Shorten will be “the most dangerous leftwing leader in generations”.

Left wing? Bill’s a member of the Victorian ALP Right?

Shorten has got to Turnbull. Cut him to the quick with an impassioned speech in the house on marriage equality. And he has threatened to hold Mr Turnbull “responsible for every hurtful bit of filth” “unleashed” during the same-sex marriage survey debate.

In an amazing performance, our government by evasion has duck-shoved its responsibility while pretending it’s honouring a fake election pledge to lumber us with a same sex marriage plebiscite. There was no campaign promise of a postal plan B if a plebiscite failed to pass the senate, as a reporter reminds the PM.

It’s not a plebiscite of course and it the term survey soon replaces it. No-one knows what authority it will have. It’s being tested in the High Court in two legal challenges which will come before the full bench of the court on September 5 and 6, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel tells a hearing in Sydney on Friday.

One challenge is by Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie and Australian Marriage Equality and Victorian Greens senator. Janet Rice. Should these succeed, the government has no plan B.

What’s certain is, whatever the court decides about the legality of the postal survey, it’s no substitute for the conscience vote in parliament that Turnbull is forbidden by his gerrymandered National minority minders to embrace.

Nor is it fair, given the capacity for postal surveys to favour older voters, conservative voters and retain the status quo. Despite all the prompting the yes cause can muster, young people may well be loath to register just to take part in a junk-mail survey which is likely to be ignored by a government that has lost their trust.

Last election, there were almost a million young people missing from the electoral roll; too alienated to bother to register to vote. Voter turnout was the lowest since 1925.

Not only does it lack leadership, there is something fundamentally tacky about a government which can contrive to allow itself to be guided by a non-binding, non compulsory postal opinion survey on a basic human right. After calculated vacillation, indecision and cowardly prevarication, the Coalition has opted to allow the mob-majority to sit in judgement on the human rights of a minority.

Shorten is right to voice his fears that in the process many Australians will be hurt. In effect, the process virtually guarantees a maximum of damaging propaganda. It’s already started. Bronwyn Bishop on Sky News claims that marriage equality will lead to bestiality and the killing of newborn children.

Worse, old jelly-back Malcolm Turnbull, a leader who bizarrely tells parliament that being PM makes him too busy to lead debate, has made no effort to rebuke, rebut or reprimand her. It’s a telling abdication.

Then there’s Tony Abbott, disciple of BA Santamaria and nineteen fifties throwback, who leads those who would make the campaign about something else. He would turn his back on modernity while spreading his irrational fear of a nurturing, tolerant, progressive, pluralist society. He doesn’t care if he causes suffering.

He’s prepared to lie because he knows most Australians are in favour of marriage equality and he knows he can’t win if he acknowledges that a no vote is a denial of a human right. He’s cynically misrepresenting the issue. He’s got a solid track record of success in that whether it be in his white-anting of Gillard or his repeal of a price on carbon emissions we urgently needed but which he labelled a great big new tax on everything.

“I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no,” says Abbott. “If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”

Director of an organisation which calls itself the Australian Christian Lobby, but which gets plenty of support from US fundamentalists, Lyle Shelton, writes that “the marriage plebiscite is a referendum on freedom of speech and ‘safe schools'”. He laments the “stolen generation” that are the children of Australian gays.

The week ends in uncertainty as the diversion tactic of the threat of nuclear war yields to something more prosaic and destructive, a government which lacks both leadership and moral authority.

As the case of Matthew “Mafia” Guy and lobster with the mobster suggests, the modern Liberal Party covets funds above all else. It is as recklessly indulgent of its donors as it is heedless of the needs of the ordinary voter – or as it is of any promptings of conscience; or moral compass.

Bluster all he may about being a strong leader, Australia can see ever more clearly how deeply Malcolm Turnbull is in thrall to his party’s moribund conservatives and its modern amoral money-men.

He is a Prime Minister in title only who heads a government in retreat from reality, a government which is so keen to evade its basic responsibilities that it it is willing to commission a $122 million junk-mail survey to prove the point. It has no real concern over the hurt it will cause nor of the human rights it tramples.

Ironically, if the Turnbull government had hoped to consign the issue to the background for the next three months, to clear the decks to prepare itself for re-election, it will find it has instead done everything in its power to guarantee the reverse.

Turnbull’s terror bust raises big questions over his government and his leadership.

yellow and blue afp

Riotous splashes of daffodil – Petals on a wet, black bough, cheer a bleak Lakemba Street, in the flare of an OB TV van’s lighting, while the sounds of big diesel heaving and the grinding -peep-peep-peep of a garbage truck in reverse greet the nation Monday as it wakes to a motley squad of glum Teletubbies sifting rubbish. Who are they?

Surely it’s not our jolly AFP, out to fit up another Labor NBN leaker? Colvin’s cowboys? It’s all a visual riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, all rolled up in sodden copies of the Bankstown-Canterbury Torch, ever at hand to take care of any Lakemba household’s potato-peelings and discarded jihadi bomb components.

Sproule St’s canary-kitted bin-pickers are an establishing shot in a post-modern apocalyptic story of four Muslims, a halal meat-grinder and a fart gas plot. Fittingly, this week’s freak-out anti-terror squad is not in camouflage grunge. Last week’s gas masks, machine guns and assault vehicles yield to a form of Bananas in Pyjamas rig.

Oblivious to all hysteria, the wallopers seem part of a slow dance routine. Cue Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers.

The week’s wondrous political theatre includes a piece to camera in a brilliantly improvised disaster narrative – “one of the most sophisticated plots“…  ever attempted on Australian soil” – (we’ve had none before.) And what a ripper plot it is.

Four Men and a Mincer is a televisual feast. Every tidbit is filled with suspense and wonder. Fart gas? Wood scraps – errant Kebab skewers, perhaps? Brother, Khaled, planned to fly to Jakarta, terror capital of Indonesia?

Unknown to the airline, the police and even his brother, Mr Khayat packed a military-grade bomb, concealed in a kitchen meat mincer, in his brother’s check-in bag”? Bro didn’t notice the extra weight?  His bro’s teary farewell?

And “how very dare he”, as Catherine Tate says, not notify police or at least Etihad airlines, his carrier of choice.

In a novel twist the bomb or “IED”, (acronyms boost legitimacy), is Australia’s first FIFO explosive. “Authorities”, a term which helps convey authority, (together with breathless hyperbole and a total bypass of scepticism or hint of critical thinking), report bomb ingredients were flown from ISIS in Turkey, and delivered via the recently retired $4.8 million dollar gunpowder-runner Ahmed Fahour’s Australia Post. In another first, our terror goes postal.

FIFO clinches it. Terror fans today all know, full well, how ISIS has fiendishly ingenious ways of achieving the impossible – possibly disguising the explosives in a cunningly re-purposed receptacle such as a pressure-cooker. It’s extraordinary, moreover, that no traces of Semtex or C4 seem to have been found despite extreme “scouring”.

But wait. As luck has it, The Daily Telegraph a terror-organ hot-wired to Coalition HQ, is on hand to record a major discovery. OMG. Just as well the plot was foiled. Could’ve been Australia’s 9/11. Sharri Markson has a moment.

“Officers, dressed in yellow plastic jumpsuits, meticulously went through each garbage bag, going through avocado skins, beer bottles, egg shells and fast food wrappers before finding the flight receipt, which was ripped and soggy,” Markson records. Kerbside developments are relayed in relentlessly prosaic detail. Terrifying.

Soggy? NSW Commissioner Mick malaprop Fuller uses “forensic” to stress how well his men scour the area.

As befits any witch-hunt, there is no right to privacy. Nor is any presumption of innocence extended by The Tele which helpfully provides photographs, names, addresses and maps to assist rubber-neckers and vigilantes.

Nothing is left to chance, however. Neighbour Kate Harrison swoons.“There must have been at least 40 riot squad police with huge guns.” Massive swarms of police help reinforce the myth of our “probable” terror threat; the diabolical cunning, the fiendish “sophistication” of our enemies, the Lakemba jihadis, one of whom didn’t notice the sudden extra weight as a heavy home-made bomb disguised as a mincer made its way into his hand luggage.

Spin-off of the week is won by the tall tale of the travelling mincer. Top Cops, boost airport security whilst maintaining peak paranoia, by taking an each-way bet. Yeah. It was yet to pass metal detectors, they say, before being rejected because it was too heavy to be allowed on the flight. Yeah. Nah. Our systems didn’t fail us.

Sophisticated? Imagine the scene. “I know you say your bastard brother always packs the family travelling halal mincer for you, but I’m sorry, Mr Khaled, you either remove that IED from your bag or we can’t let you on board.”

All is calculated to steal the nation’s gaze away from the government’s Murray-Darling $13.5 bn water scandal, its NBN disaster, its energy policy failure, news of record carbon emissions, its marriage equality snafu, the revelation of un-renounced dual citizen-fifth columnists lurking in its midst, the leaking of the PM’s duplicity over our refugee deal, the CBA bank’s money-laundering for drug syndicates and other self-inflicted crises and catastrophes.

Self-inflicted? In another of its brilliant reforms, the Abbott government made AUSTRAC, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre financially dependent on the same mafia it was supposed to keep honest. It moved AUSTRAC in 2014 to what it said with a straight face was ” a full industry-based funding model” which meant government funding would be replaced by an industry level. As long as AUSTRAC kept in sweet with the banks.

But look over there. No. Not our shameful abdication of responsibility for Manus. Not the farce of a non-binding, non-compulsory postal plebiscite, certain to be served upon the nation, Tuesday. Not The Great Equivocator Malcolm Turnbull’s slapdown over his resolute evasion of constitutional recognition for indigenous peoples – that’s too ambitious” even though – or, perhaps – because Labor is proposing it. No. It’s a Lakemba-terror. Look out!

Of course it’s not all meant to drive us to distraction. A well-executed terror scare helps us embrace our political leaders and reinforce their need to frighten us further. As experts point out, it is not clear-cut, however, although evidence suggests a terror threat can benefit right wing politicians, especially election candidates.

To create maximum consternation, a mincer is pressed into service as the engine of an “Islamic-based” plot. An inspired choice of device, “mincer” bolts the exotic to the domestic right in your own kitchen. Inventive? Sinister. Not only is ISIS coming to get us, as Abbott warned, our household appliances are not what they may seem.

There is a teensy evidentiary problem. No-one has been able to find the Kenwood in question. Happily, habeas corpus no longer holds up our streamlined anti terror laws. Mostly it’s straight to jail even if you only have a dumb plan. Yet it’s deadly serious. The attention to detail in costume alone signals a bin squad that means business.

Yellow plastic terror-proof cover-alls contrast vividly with blue kitchen gloves, blue plastic bags and the cerulean blue tarps everything in the bin is tipped out on. It’s more than a visual feast to lift a nation’s spirits, it’s a religious ceremony, the ritual elevation of the AFP into a priestly class.

Almost up there with ASIO, our AFP hierophants are blessed with supernatural powers to divine all manner of evil.

And keep us safe. The saffron vestments help cement the deal. A buttercup cop in a surgical mask upends a gun-metal grey garbage bin. Voila! But take heed, political deviants and dissenters. Our moral, metaphysical, if not spiritual, guardians sift rubbish with all the unhurried, unsmiling thoroughness of a gang of Mumbai rag-pickers.

Four Men … is a high-stakes, top-quality attention-grabbing drama, a long, suspenseful, terrifying stake-out.

Lethal. Yairs. Top cops tell us how an exploding mince-maker could bring down an airliner in a setting of utter suburban dullness, a plot device and a location so humdrum it takes the banality of evil to a whole new level.

Worse, Channel 7 rants, in more, explosive, revelations. It has wind of a back up plan to launch a Hydrogen Sulphide or fart gas attack on a public transport network system in Sydney. Is there no end to Muslim perfidy? But, wait, something’s on the nose. Of course, Seven has just re-releasing an AFP press release – and it’s a bit whiffy.

The gas is toxic in sufficient concentration but the volume required, Professor Greg Barton, who enjoys regular media billing as a Deakin counter-terrorism expert, argues, rules out any carry on luggage. You’d need a truckload.

And it’s only talk. AFP deputy commissioner of national security Michael Phelan reveals that a second terror plot was “allegedly being discussed by the accused”. Yet even this can be dressed up as scary. The men discussed “… building of an improved chemical dispersion device,” Phelan claims. It’s enough, moreover, to get you charged.

For News Corp’s Sharri Markson, who relays an anonymous minister (not Peter Dutton) the real terrorists are Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Dean Smith and Warren Entsch who are agitating for a conscience vote.

“Today we need to be talking about terrorism and the fantastic work our agencies have done — but instead, because of these saboteurs, these suicide bombers in our own party, we’re talking about same-sex marriage.”

Not another agenda hi-jack! Markson’s “minister” (not Peter Dutton) pretends that government can’t possibly talk about more than one thing at a time. It’s an indictment, to claim our elected representatives can’t “fart and chew gum at the same time” (as Johnson said of Gerald Ford) but it’s now a Coalition orthodoxy; a standard evasion.

Do we really need to baste the carcass of an open society in its own juices by gushing praise over police, paramilitary and other agents of coercion? Haven’t we valorised anyone in uniform enough already? What we need to acknowledge is how well anti-terror laws and terror bust theatre help conceal the terror of the state.

Our draconian security laws threaten our open society. As The MEAA points out we have criminalised the truth and suppressed the right to know. Despite George Brandis, Barnaby Joyce and company, it’s the state whose terror laws are “law-fare” – not the protests of environmental groups which the government seeks to silence.

Michael Forst, UN Special Rapporteur, last October criticised The Turnbull government for its bill to prevent individuals or organisations that have engaged in environmental activities in the past two years from challenging decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Others have instanced our Border Force Act 2015 which can put you in jail for two years if you reveal anything about Manus or Nauru. Too bad if this cuts across your professional obligation to report physical and mental harm.

But the Coalition has not been content just to outlaw whistleblowers and suppress dissent. It deploys its own terror. News “breaks” this week that 38,000 Centrelink pensioners receive “Taskforce Integrity” letters from the Department of Human Services which bear an AFP logo to help instil fear. The letters, sent late July, warn often terrified recipients against deliberately withholding or providing false information to dishonestly collect payments.

Since 2015, DHS has sent over 85,000 letters with AFP logo to welfare recipients in nine national locations. Should any  government put the frighteners on its most vulnerable?  ACOSS head, Sandra Goldie, is in no doubt,

“It is completely inappropriate for the government to send letters to income support recipients with the Australian Federal Police logo asking if their details are up to date.” “These letters are threatening and completely disregard any mental health issue the person may have.”

Yet, distressingly, the issue attracts little MSM attention and despite its Robo-claw debt recovery debacle, the government is determined to press on with its standover tactics and its efforts to shakedown pensioners to find the small change down the back of the couch while allowing 36 per cent of large companies to pay no tax whatsoever. Oxfam calculates multinational tax avoidance costs Australia $6 billion in revenue every year.

No-one on the Tele, nor any another MSM recalls that it was a “relaxed and comfortable” John Howard in 2004 who took it upon himself to change the Marriage Act to exclude gay couples. Nor that he did it without plebiscite.

True, there was a bit of a fuss when he also proposed to ban same sex couples from adopting children from other countries, but he was able to abandon that part of his “reform” in his hope of quickly wedging Labor.

He wished, he claimed, “…to  make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament…”

In fact, as he did with school chaplains, arch-conservative Howard imposed his own prejudices on the nation, pausing only to insult us that he had read our’ minds for us. In this sense, he planted an IED of his own that his indulged disciple, Tony Abbott, our accidental Prime Minister, was able to augment with a bomb of his own.

Losing control of an unruly six hour party room meeting stacked with Nationals dinosaurs and desperate to head off a conscience vote, Abbott got his then deputy PM Julie Bishop to propose a plebiscite. It was a word which Wokka Entsch reckons he never heard. Yet it put a time-bomb under Turnbull which is ticking louder by the day.

In a secret, special “emergency” meeting of the Liberal party room scheduled for next Monday, Turnbull  will continue his mission of open and transparent, cabinet based decision-making government by trying to engineer a solution which will preserve his confidential, Faustian compact with the National Party.

What has upset the conservatives is news that WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith wishes to introduce a private member’s bill in favour of a conscience vote in parliament. Planning of this was leaked when last June when in a kiss of death, Christopher Pyne overshared his view that a bill would be introduced “sooner than everyone thinks.”

It was not so much the assertion itself which had Liberal die-hard rightists spluttering but his allied claim that the left-wing of the Liberal Party had taken over a vision calculated to inflame the passions of the Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and the ten or so “Deplorables” who like to style themselves as conservatives.

Michelle Grattan who knows people who know people in Canberra believes the five amigos have unleashed an existential battle which goes to the heart of Turnbull’s leadership, a locus, itself a vexed conundrum. Like some reverse terror group, those pro a SSM conscience vote, she says, have engineered an “extraordinary implosion”.

It won’t come to a fight. In typically assertive fashion, the PM’s made it clear that he won’t lead or embrace a position himself. In truth he doesn’t have the political capital to do much else – and even less authority.

What could possibly go wrong? Courting disaster is the par for the course with him. Politics, Groucho Marx reminds us, is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

If all goes to plan, the PM will be able to brandish a non-binding, non-compulsory postal plebiscite which could cost the nation $100 million – to reach a verdict which his government can then reject. Malcolm Farr on ABC Insiders Sunday, says he’s charging the tax-payer to come up with a decision which parliament should be making.

In brief, a postal plebiscite is another political expedient; an evasion of Tony Abbott’s initial evasion of a conscience vote which would undo John Howard’s original 2004 political expedient. Bugger what the nation wants.

Polls show majority support for marriage equality. Only about 25% of Australians oppose same sex marriage.

In the end, the issue illuminates how far Turnbull’s need to keep his leadership outweighs all other concerns and how much his need to appease the right of the party leads his government further away from popular opinion.

The secret deal with the Nationals he made to gain the leadership has not been divulged even after FOI requests.  But it’s clear that he’s meant to keep a leash on the liberals in the party while the National party keeps a leash on him.

A joint party room will follow Tuesday where Turnbull will take a secret ballot, banking on the status quo. Whatever the outcome, the Nationals – who have seven times the number of seats as The Greens but less than half the votes – thanks to our gerrymandered political system, will exercise their right of veto, Friday.

In a ray of (setting) sunshine for the right wing, groundhog day for peak stupid arrives Saturday. Craig Kelly is on ABC crowing over the proposed visit of Trump EPA Head and climate change global village idiot, Scott Pruitt. Kelly gushes over the chance to hear Pruitt.

“The head of the EPA in the United States of America is a very high ranking and prestigious position and if he’s got time amongst his busy schedule to come and visit us down in Australia we should welcome him with open arms,” Kelly says.

Nonsense. Just let us know, Craig, if it were you or Josh who invited him. Pruitt does not need our endorsement; nor do we need to hear his stupidity nor his coal-lobby spin. We are being softened up for more coal-fired power stations. On cue this week, PM has been waffling about how ideology must not get in the way of energy security.

By the end of the week, the Turnbull government is in crisis even before parliament has resumed. Luckily a tape is leaked which gives the lie to claims that Turnbull has not talked tough to the US President, Donald Trump over our heroic refugee-swap which will see us clear Manus and Nauru in return for some unwanted Columbians.

He has “held the line” claim MSM applauding our PM’s assertiveness and offering other glowing endorsements his office has press-released them. In reality, the transcript reveals Turnbull’s thoroughgoing duplicity and cynicism. He is unconcerned if the US takes only a hundred refugees as long as the deal appears outwardly to be a success.

The leak is a damning indictment. It provides a privileged insight into a totally cynical Turnbull and his government to whom nothing matters, least of all the suffering of our refugees, detained offshore in conditions and circumstances which amount to torture.

Turnbull’s sole motivation is to cling to power by whatever means present themselves.

Above all the leaked transcript points to the callous inhumanity of our refugee policy. Whatever the outcome of its gay-marriage imbroglio, the Turnbull government needs to bring our refugees home immediately.

Similarly he could make the call for a conscience vote in Parliament and let his opponents be damned. It would require courage but he has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Spare us the surreal terror scare tactics, the endless hype about security and the dog-whistling of division, Mr Turnbull. For once in your life do something healing.